The best non-fiction books to buy this autumn

Daunt Books Marylebone

If silver linings are the best we can hope for these days, then let us mark the glut of exciting new writing being published this autumn as one. Books originally due out in the spring are being published now and some top authors have spent lockdown putting pen to paper, all in addition to the usual drop of pre-Christmas books. So with a bumper crop of literary treats over the next few of months we have complied our list of some of the best new nonfiction coming out this year.

Lockdown Thinking

How anyone got through lockdown and managed to produce work fit for publication we don’t know but apparently it is possible…

Zadie Smith – Intimations 

Six essays on her experiences of lockdown, this is sure to be absorbing and thought provoking.

Dawn O’Porter – Her Life in Pieces: Thoughts from a Year That Changed Us All

If anyone can be relied upon to tell us how it is, TV presenter and acclaimed author Dawn O’Porter certainly can. A brilliant collection of essays on life as it has been in 2020. 

Arundhati Roy – Azadi: Freedom, Facism, Fiction

Writing during lockdown and the Delhi riots, legendary writer Arundhati Roy looks at how freedom is being challenged in a world of growing authoritarianism. She offers the idea that the pandemic provides an invitation to humankind to imagine another world.

Current Affairs/Politics/History

Elif Shafak – How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division

A pocket-sized polemic from this much-lauded writer on living in an age of pessimism, when misinformation and fear seem the norm.

Bob Woodward – Untitled

This (as yet unnamed) book on President Trump by the renowned journalist is due to drop just before the election for maximum impact.

Carlo Rovelli – There Are Places in the World where Rules Are Less Important Than Kindness

One of the world’s most inspiring and innovative thinkers reflects on science, history and humanity. Author of bestselling Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.

Isabel Wilkerson – Caste: The Lies That Divide Us

Probably the most discussed book of the last month, we had to include it here. Essential reading for anyone interested in why society looks and feels like it does today.


Hilary Mantel – Mantel Pieces

Fans of the Wolf Hall trilogy mustn’t miss this collection of essays and memoir from 30 years of writing for The London Review of Books.

David Attenborough – A Life on our Planet: My Witness Statement and Vision for the Future

This is being touted as his ‘legacy-defining book’ and is one we should probably all be reading.

Claudia Winkleman – Quite

Her debut book is everything her fans could hope for. She shares her thoughts on friendship, art, parenting and, of course, eyeliner.

Caitlin Moran – More Than A Woman

How to grow old, a decade (we know) after the success of How To Be A Woman.

Ben Macintyre – Agent Sonya: Mother, Lover, Soldier, Spy

Finally, the extraordinary stories of the female Cold War operatives are being told. This the life of ’the greatest female spy in history’ by a master storyteller.

Kate Summerscale – The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story

One for a cold Halloween night by the author of The Confessions of Mr Whicher.

Barbara Amiel – Friends and Enemies: A Memoir

A long anticipated and shockingly honest memoir from the journalist wife of Conrad Black ‘I love fashion, sex and opera,’ she once told an interviewer, ‘but life would have been easier if my passions had been for train-spotting and stamp collecting.’ The cast include Elton John, Princess Diana, Tom Stoppard, Ghislaine Maxwell and many others.

Tamsin Calidas – I Am An Island

We have been waiting impatiently for this to be published. Vogue called it the ‘memoir of the year’ and all the reviews agree.

Natural World/Food

James Rebank – English Pastoral

Rebank returns after the success of A Shepherd’s Life with an engrossing history of three generations of a Lake District farming family. English Pastoral is an elegy to the past and yet full of hope for the future of rural life. 

Raynor Winn – Wild Silence

Hotly-awaited follow up to Raynor Winn’s hugely successful The Salt Path 

Helen Macdonald – Vesper Flights

Wonderful essays on our relationship with the natural world from the author of H is for Hawk.

Jonathan C Slaght – Owls of the Eastern Ice 

A spectacular story of Slaght’s passionate mission to save the Blakiston’s Fish Owl from extinction in remote ice bound Russia. This debut is receiving lots of good critical attention.

Yottam Ottolenghi – Flavour

Full of sure fire hits for vegetarians with limited time to spare for culinary gymnastics.

Sabrina Ghayour – Simply

More from the author of bestselling Persiana

Merlin Sheldrake – Funghi: How Mushrooms Make Our Worlds, Change our Minds and Shape Our Futures

A mind-altering journey to discovering the key role mushrooms play in our everyday world


Clemmie Jackson-Stops runs Vellum Libraries, curating book collections and libraries for individuals and discerning businesses.  Check out their Lockdown Libraries – five books, chosen to suit the reader’s taste, gift-wrapped and sent with a handwritten note.

— Francesca
3rd September 2020