Non-Fiction Book Recommendations 2020

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It’s not very often that I review books, as I really don’t get to read as much as I would like to. But, given the current C-Word situation I’ve had a bit more spare time on my hands! I’ve really been enjoying non-fiction reads, so thought I would share with you some of my top non-fiction book recommendations.

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In Your Defence: Stories of Life and Law by Sarah Langford

In this book about the real stories of a criminal barrister, Langford sensitively tells us of her experiences with eleven individuals. Using a compelling narrative style that blurs the lines between fact and fiction, the reader gains an invaluable insight into the criminal justice system from the viewpoint of the law. Langford puts herself in the shoes of her previous clients, describing the precipitating incidents which led to legal proceedings through their eyes.

I knew as soon as I heard about In Your Defence that I would really enjoy it as I’ve always had a fascination with the criminal justice system and anything relating to the law in general. I studied elements of criminology and law as part of my degree and watch so many documentaries about courts and prisons that it wasn’t a surprise I was so taken in by the idea of this book. 

The book itself is separated into different cases, all of which have a slightly different story. The types of cases covered range from custody cases to parental orders, but cover so much of the background of the client as well that each section is like it’s own mini book. Langford explains the legal side of each case really well, as well as letting the reader in to show us how each case changed her perception of the law slightly. 

Of course, all personal details and names of Langford’s clients have been changed for the book, but you would never guess as it is written so delicately and with such respect that you feel you can really identify with all of those involved. 

The Prison Doctor by Dr Amanda Brown

The Prison Doctor is a non-fictional memoir written by Dr Amanda Brown, covering the twelve years she has been working as a doctor in a number of UK prisons including Wormwood Scrubs. Again, the prison system is something I find really interesting and I’m always reading and watching documentaries about, but I can’t say I had given much thought to prison healthcare before so this really intrigued me.

This book is a window into a world most of society would like to forget, and into people most will have written off as criminals not worthy of compassion or support. I have, for some years, wondered about why people end up in prison, and find the study of prisons and criminals fascinating. Are we predisposed to crime based on nature or nurture, or is it somewhere in between?

Dr Amanda Brown shows us just some of the causes. Abuse. Assault. Addiction. So many of the people she encounters, especially the women, were victims failed by the system that’s now imprisoned them. And it’s heart-breaking. A lot of the women Dr Brown introduces us to shouldn’t be in prison (in my opinion). They should be in therapy. Getting counselling, getting support to recover or find ways to live with the trauma they have experienced over and over.

One thing I liked about the book is that it’s not full of waffle, it’s almost like Dr Brown has thought back and just written down her memories, without the need for lengthy description or build up. It feels more like a conversation with friends over a drink than it does a heavy, tension-building recollection of her experiences.

I was fully engrossed for the couple of hours it took me to finish it and I just couldn’t put it down!

Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepherd

As I think we’ve established by the rest of the books in this post, I’m a bit fascinated by the whole world surrounding crime and death and anything a bit gruesome. So, Unnatural Causes was a no-brainer for me. 

Unnatural Causes is the story of Dr Richard Shepherd, one of the UK’s top forensic pathologists. In this book, you learn about specific cases that Dr Shepherd has worked on over his career, but also more about the role of a forensic pathologist in general. Dr Shepherd frequently talks about his role in the process of death, something which I had never really given much thought to but is fascinating. 

I found every page of this tell-all account of a forensic pathologist super interesting – and really enjoyed the way the author vividly described the realities of his every day work. Hearing about how he reacted to both the scene of the crimes and the analysis of the bodies afterwards is so interesting, particularly in the first case in the book (I won’t give you any spoilers!). There are, of course, moments that really do tug at your heartstrings and put life into perspective, but this emotive undertone is definitely needed and welcomed in my opinion.

Unnatural Causes is a fascinating insight into a almost forgotten and unknown industry that shines a light of the demanding world of forensic pathology. I would definitely recommend this (as long as you’re not squeamish).

Have you read any of these non-fiction books, or have any non-fiction book recommendations of your own? Let me know in the comments!

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  1. Elin says

    I’m not usually drawn to non-fiction books as I am with fiction but I’ve been on the hunt for something a little bit different recently. These books sound really interesting so I’ll definitely have to pop them on to my TBR list! Hope you’re doing ok Abi x

    • whatabigailsays says

      There’s just something about knowing that I’m reading people’s actual experiences that I find really intriguing and gripping. Let me know how you get on! X

  2. Lauren Victoria says

    I’ve not read any of these before but keep seeing the Prison Doctor around! It seems like such an interesting read and a book I wouldn’t usually go for but I seem quite curious about x

    Lauren |

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