Richard Fitzpatrick recommends a selection of biographies and other factual books.


The best biographies and factual reads for the non-novel readers amongst us to enjoy this summer

For those who don’t fancy novels for their summer reading, Richard Fitzpatrick recommends a selection of biographies and other factual books.

The best biographies and factual reads for the non-novel readers amongst us to enjoy this summer

For those who don’t fancy novels for their summer reading, Richard Fitzpatrick recommends a selection of biographies and other factual books.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, David Grann (Simon & Schuster, €9.99)

The elements of Killers of the Flower Moon are the stuff of movies. In fact, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are developing a film adaptation of the book, which has come out in paperback this year.

It’s an eye-watering read. Because they sat on some fantastic oil reserves, family members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma were the richest people per capita in the world in the 1920s until they began dying mysteriously.

The murder toll — which reached into the hundreds — mobilised J Edgar Hoover and his fledgling FBI outfit to investigate what has become one American history’s great, untold conspiracies.

Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944, Antony Beevor (Viking, €27)

The latest instalment of Antony Beevor’s Second World War chronicles dives into Arnhem, the Allies failed airborne invasion of the Netherlands, a story known to many of us from the Hollywood classic, A Bridge Too Far.

Because of his grasp of military detail and in particular his ability to weave in biographical stories of the combatants, Beevor writes history with unrivalled verve. His accounts of German reprisals make for chilling reading and are leavened by his descriptions of the weird Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery and his sidekicks.

Cork Strolls: Exploring Cork’s Architectural Treasures, Gregory Bracken & Audrey Bracken (Collins Press, €12.99)

One of the books flying off the shelves this year in the Cork’s Waterstones branch is a primer on the city’s architectural treasures, including curiosities like the hotel Michael Collins spent his last night, as well as landmarks such as the old Beamish and Crawford brewery, the English Market and St Fin Barre’s Cathedral.

The book, which is beautifully illustrated, is the brainchild of a sister-and-brother team from Co Kildare. It also takes its brief beyond the city boundaries to include outlying castles, country homes and seaside towns, Cobh and Kinsale.

On Michael Jackson, Margo Jefferson (Granta, €10.99)

Michael Jackson, who is dead almost a decade, provides fertile ground for a biography, especially in the hands of a Pulitzer Prize-winning author with its themes of race, body image and pop stardom.

Margo Jefferson’s take on his life covers all its complexities — the brutal upbringing as a child star who made his television debut as a 10-year-old in 1968, paraded around like a circus animal by a domineering father; his freak-show life as an adult superstar; most troubling of all, the trial for child molestation; and finally his mysterious death in 2009.

Room to Dream, David Lynch & Kristine McKenna (Canongate Books, €27)

David Lynch has invited us into his mind with a biography of his life, co-written with the journalist Kristine McKenna. It’s a tantalising prospect, and is based on over 100 interviews, with contributing voices including Sting and Kyle MacLachlan, as it goes through the motivations of one of the most original American filmmakers — auteur of Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and other masterpieces — as well as the tawdry elements of his life, having endured a nomadic upbringing in several American outposts during “Eisenhower-era Fifties” and four marriages.

Tony 10: The Astonishing Story of The Postman Who Gambled €10,000,000 …And Lost it All, Declan Lynch & Tony O’Reilly (Gill Books, €16.99)

Tony 10 is the name Tony O’Reilly, a postmaster from Carlow, took for his online betting username in 2003.

His book, co-written with Declan Lynch, is an extraordinary story about one man’s descent into gambling hell, which ends up in a spell on the run in Northern Ireland in 2011 and ultimately imprisonment for stealing €1.75 million from his employers, An Post, which he used to fund his addiction. It is a cautionary tale, particularly about the perils of online gambling, and is full of human drama as it pulls the reader along compulsively to its conclusion.

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor, Adam Kay (Picador, €17.99)

One of the surprise hits for Irish book-selling shops this season has been Adam Kay’s insider account of his six years toiling as a junior doctor in the UK’s National Health Service hospitals.

It’s a story that will have familiar echoes for Irish medics — the 100-hour weeks and “the hospital parking meter that earns more than you” — and is illuminating for the general public too as he recounts his battles on the front line, the saving of lives and laugh-out-loud gory details.

The only downer is that his anecdotes about celebrity hospital patients in for embarrassing procedures didn’t survive a libel read.

The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee, Paul D Gibson (Mercier Press, €15.99)

The boxing journalist Paul D Gibson has landed a knockout punch with his biography of Eamonn Magee, the hard-as-nails fighter who sprung from the Ardoyne area of north Belfast to become a world-boxing champion in 2003.

The scrapes Magee has had out of the ring — including life as a functioning alcoholic; several punishment beatings by the IRA and one that ended in a bullet to his calf muscle; as well as the murder of his son in 2015 — outdo anything he endured in the ring. It’s an unputdownable story.

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Michael Wolff (Little Brown, €21.99)

The closest a book has come to capturing the mania of Donald Trump’s presidency arrived early in the year with the publication of Michael Wolff’s explosive, fly-on-the-wall account of the goings-on in Trump’s White House.

Wolff, who is an experienced writer and author, for example, of a book on Rupert Murdoch, floated around the corridors of power with extraordinary access. His findings – which are disputed by some and cost Trump strategist, Steve Bannon, his job — and the salacious anecdotes makes for thrilling reading.

Calypso, David Sedaris (Little Brown, €17.99)

It would be difficult to think of a better poolside companion than the humourist, David Sedaris. In his latest collection, 21 stories about his life and family, he touches on heavy subjects, including the premature death of his mother, who was an alcoholic, and his estranged sister, whom he hadn’t spoken to in eight years before she committed suicide in 2013. Always, however, lingering close by is his cutthroat sense of humour.

As he remarks at one stage: “From the dawn of time, the one irrefutably good thing about gay men and lesbians was that we didn’t force people to sit through our weddings.”

The Collected Letters of Flann O’Brien, edited by Maebh Long (Dalkey Archive Press, €20.99)

This is one of the Irish publishing treasures of the year — a harvesting of the correspondence of Brian O’Nolan (aka Flann O’Brien, or Myles na Gopaleen, his postmodern persona who loved to dispense arrogant advice).

The letters cover the years 1934 until his death on April Fool’s Day, 1966, and offer insight into an enigmatic personality — a thwarted, alcohol-soaked literary talent who is remembered as one of the great Irish satirists of the twentieth century.

He was a man who couldn’t help skewering pomposity, once wondering if Seán Ó Faoláin “might consider presenting the pants of his discarded pyjamas to the nation”.

Making an Elephant, Graham Swift (Simon & Schuster, €22)

Graham Swift is one of the great, perhaps underrated English novelists. For his first non- fiction title, he has gathered together essays, reflections, poetry and interviews from his writing life, which outlines his evolution as a writer.

He escaped the slog of his father’s nine-to-five existence — the poor man, who worked as a civil servant in the National Debt Office, once summarised his work in a form with the word: “Drudgery”.

The literary friends of a lifetime loom large, including encounters with Kazuo Ishiguro, Ted Hughes (who he used to go fishing with) and Salmon Rushdie, who spent Christmas with Swift and his family during his fatwa years, arriving under guard.

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