These are febrile, unpredictable times, with society facing new challenges and quandaries each day, from the rise of populist politics to the migrant crisis to climate change. Mark Richards, publisher at John Murray Press, sees the return to serious works of nonfiction as a response to the spirit of the age. “We’re living in a world that suddenly seems less certain than it did even two years ago, and the natural reaction is for people to try and find out as much about it as possible,” he says. “People have a hunger both for information and facts, and for nuanced exploration of issues, of a sort that books are in a prime position to provide.”
The idea that Richards sets out here – that books retain a special place in our culture, an aura that means we look to them first when searching for deep truths about the world – rings particularly true when you scan through the list of those works of nonfiction that we’ve been buying consistently over recent years. From Siddhartha Mukherjee on cancer to Peter Frankopan on the history of trade, from Elizabeth Kolbert on extinction to Atul Gawande on end-of-life care, great nonfiction offers us levels of detail, breadth of scope and depth of engagement that we simply don’t get from other media.