Best summer books of 2022: Literary non-fiction

Last Call at the Imperial Hotel: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War
by Deborah Cohen, William Collins £25

Cohen’s group biography explores the lives of four young American newshounds who bestrode the media world like behemoths in the 1930s. They interviewed Trotsky, Gandhi and Mussolini, tracked down Hitler’s relatives, advised President Roosevelt, and inspired Katharine Hepburn’s character in Woman of the Year and Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent. Fast paced and thickening.

In the Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing
by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein, Europe £12.99

This slim volume of four original essays exploring reading and writing reveals Ferrante’s art and the inspiration behind it. Fans of her novels by Ella will find familiar themes emerging here, and the collection as a whole serves to illuminate Ferrante’s fiction by Ella.

The Fairy Tellers: A Journey into the Secret History of Fairy Tales
by Nicholas Jubber, John Murray£20

“Cinderella”, “Hansel and Gretel”, “Beauty and the Beast” — these and more are beloved fairy tales passed down and retold over and over. But who were the storytellers behind them? Jubber’s riveting book celebrates these magical stories and explores the odd and unlikely people who originally brought them to life.

The Premonitions Bureau: A True Story
by Sam Knight, Faber £14.99/Penguin Press $28

Knight’s tale is a fascinating account of John Barker, an eccentric English psychiatrist, and an experiment into dreams and precognitions of future events run by the London Evening Standard newspaper in the 1960s. A gripping, compulsive story about the search for meaning in an unpredictable world.

rogue: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks
by Patrick Radden Keefe, Chopper £20/Doubleday $30

Last year’s Empire of Pain told the story of the Sackler family and the OxyContin scandal in the US. Keefe follows his award-winning opus with a collection of 12 pen portraits (originally published in the New Yorker), that are no less compelling for being sketched on a smaller canvas.

Tell us what you think

What are your favorites from this list — and what books have we missed? Tell us in the comments below

Super Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne
by Katherine Rundell, Faber £16.99

Soldier, poet, prisoner and priest, John Donne — a contemporary of Shakespeare — was many things, making him a tricky biographical subject. However, Rundell, a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, has produced a remarkable life of the great poet of love, sex and death. Her biography of her, wrote the FT reviewer, is “equal to its subject: a sensitive, witty, slim and abundant book.”

I Used to Live Here Once: The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys
by Miranda Seymour, William Collins £25

Seymour’s biography of the contrarian author of Wide Sargasso Sea is clear-eyed yet sympathetic. It not only tells the story of an extraordinary, complicated life — but offers an appreciation of Rhys’s great literary legacy that is sure to send readers back to her novels by him.

Circus of Dreams: Adventures in the 1980s Literary World
by John Walsh, Constable £25

In the 1980s, the publishing industry boomed thanks to a new generation of writers such as Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie and Angela Carter. John Walsh, a longtime book critic and commentator, gives an insider’s account of how the decade’s literary scene dispelled Britain’s previously “moribund, backward-looking and stale” attitudes — and prose. An immersive, celebrity-strewn memoir written with verve.

Summer Books 2022

All this week, FT writers and critics share their favourites. Some highlights are:

Monday: Economics by Martin Wolf
Tuesday: Environment by Pilita Clark
Wednesday: Fiction by Laura Battle
Thursday: History by Tony Barber
Friday: Politics by Gideon Rachman
Saturday: Critics’ Choice

Join our online book group on Facebook at FT Books Cafe

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