Dictators by Frank Dikotter

To continu with non-fiction November, I picked up ‘Dictators’ by Frank Dikotter. This was my choice because, as a history teacher, you always seem to be sharing knowledge of some of the famous dictators of history – how they get there always seems to make sense, but how they successfully stay there always seems to be harder to explain. I am always without a doubt asked why nobody stops them, and the obvious answer is always the fear many of them used to control. But also, as this makes clear, ‘ordinary’ people really did support them – however hard that is for some of us to believe.

This book is absolutely fascinating as it guides you through the history of eight 20th century dictators. And, it really explains how they managed to build up such a cult following which led to them having genuine support from their people. A ‘misguided’ idealism from each of the men led to them establishing their regimes. However, there was also a carefully crafted celebrity status created for each of these men, either by themselves or by those that surrounded them.

I found it interesting how similar at points the tales of these characters of history were. And that, in fact the biggest threat to any dictator and their regime is themselves.

This is a great book for any fans of moder history. A concise overview of some figures of history and a well-written and clear to follow guide to some of the 20th century’s most infamous figures.

Black and British: A Short, Essential Guide by David Olusoga

It is non-fiction November, and I have been a little slow off the mark with it this year, because there are just so many books to read. However, I have now started with a truly fantastic read.

I am a huge fan of the work of the historian David Olusoga and often watch his documentaries. I found out that he had a book that makes his work ‘Black and British’ accessiable to a younger audience, I decided I really wanted to read it, especially, as a History teacher I am always looking for books that I can recommend to the pupils.

Yet, this is a book that I would recommend everyone should read. Olusoga takes us through the ages to educate us about the meaning of ‘Black and British’ throughout history. It also makes key links between the slave trade and British history, and how sometimes these links are forgotten as we discuss key moments such as the Industrial Revolution.

I learned so much as I read this book, especially about more recent history, which is definitely something that seems to remain in the past. However, it is brought bang up to date with the events of 2020, which has become a spark to reignite the passion to ensure Black and British history is given the true and accurate representation it deserves.

This is beautifully written in Olusoga’s distinctive voice; you almost feel that he is reading the book to you.

A sign of a great non-fiction book is that it makes you want to find out more about the things you have read, and that it is exactly what I am ready to do now.

Son of a Silverback by Russell Kane

At the start of November there was the chance to meet Russell Kane at Waterstones in Birmingham. This was an opportunity I could not let slip by, as I am a fan of Kane’s comedy (you may remember in August I went to a recording of his podcast ‘Evil Genius’). So, I am now a proud owner of a signed copy of his autobiography, ‘Son of a Silverback’.

This is a wonderful autobiograpy because, rather than Kane just taking us step by step through his life, it examines the relationship he had with his father. And, yet this is still cleverly done, as this is all about the influence his dad had over his life, and how that has shaped the path that Russell Kane has taken.

Russell Kane’s father was an alpha male, a product of his time who had his ideas, views and beliefs and he stuck to them. They may not be ideas that his son always agreed with, and Kane certainly did not fit into the clearly defined mould his father thought he should. However, it appears through the memoir that this did not hold Kane back, but at points, indeed, spurred him on.

Throughout the book, Russell Kane also analyses his own character and personality, considering the impact that they have had on his decisions and relationships with those around him.

This book is beautifully written and the ‘story’ told with warmth, emotion and, of course, humour. I really enjoyed this book, as it is honest; this is not a memoir to impress but a book to inform. And, for some, even support, if they feel any of their relationships or experiences are similar.

It has certainly made me want to ensure that I treasure time with my dad. A wonderful read for Non-fiction November.

A History of the World in 21 Women by Jenni Murray

Early this year, I read ‘A History of Britain in 21 Women’, so spent a lot of the rest of the year waiting for this one to come out in paperback. Therefore, it was a great choice for my ‘Non-Fiction November’.

The best thing about these books is that they are a short and sweet introduction to some wonderfully fascinating women who you want to find out more about. Of course, this is not a definitive collection of fabulous females – and you may not agree with all of Murray’s choices – but you will certainly learn something.

As I read about some women who I had never come across – such as Pharaoh Hatshepsut – I found myself admiring the determination of all of these women who have all fought for their place in ‘Her-story’, often against all odds.

The stories that really made me think and have left me wanting to find out even more were those of Joan of Arc, Marie Curie and Artemisa Gentileschi. Of course, I have a working knowledge of the first two women, but now I want to find out even more about them to draw my own conclusions. However, Artemisa Gentileschi was a figure new to me and her story, as well as her art, has really caught my attention.

All of these stories are those of women who have changed the world. In their own way, they have made an impact on the history of the world, and should be an inspiration to us all to make our mark.

There is only one small issue with the book. A teeny, tiny one that even had me texting my mum for confirmation. The book suggests in the TV series ‘Morse’ you never find out Inspector Morse’s christian name. However, as a dedicated fan (I was brought up on all the classics), I can confirm that this is incorrect – you do indeed find out his christian name. But, let’s be honest, it does not stop it from being a great book.

Over The Top by Jonathan Van Ness

This is a book that I challenge you not to read in the Jonathan’s dulcet tones – in fact, he even makes reference to the fact that, as a reader, you may be doing exactly that.

Anyway, down to business: book two of ‘Non-fiction November’ is ‘Over The Top’ from another star of my beloved ‘Queer Eye’. Jonathan Van Ness is responsible for grooming on the show (just in case you have never seen it – which, of course you have). However, he does not make his tale about ‘Queer Eye’. I mean, do not get me wrong, it gets a mention, but it is not the full focus of the book. This is a bit of a warts-and-all telling of the journey Jonathan Van Ness has been on to become who he is today.

This not a book for the faint-hearted, as Jonathan is honest about the demons and struggles he has had in his life. However, it is told, at times, with humour and always with strong emotion. This is not a sob story, but it will allow you to build even nore respect for Jonathan.

An interesting point was that Jonathan presents meeting Karamo very much as Tan did in his book. And the way that they talk about their time on the show suggests they are really the team that we see on the screen – which makes me happy!

I feel that putting this book together was an important step for Jonathan Van Ness on his journey, and I am so glad that he has put pen to paper, because it will be a story to help others.