• The Publishing Post

Political Non-fiction

By Mary Karayel, Hayley Cadel and Alexandra Constable


In this issue we discuss the ever-expanding world of political non-fiction. In a tumultuous and vastly-changing political climate, people are turning to political non-fiction for a number of reasons. First and foremost, we believe, is the need to educate oneself. An effective way to reform our societal behaviours and systematic prejudices is to really understand what these are. Political non-fiction can be an informative and educational way to expand one’s knowledge, not only of purely political issues, but also of humanitarian ones. Waterstones, for example, have dedicated a blog post to the various books one can read to inform themselves about the history between Russia and Ukraine amidst the current Ukrainian crisis. By understanding the ways in which we can help and incite positive change, readers feel less powerless in the situations they are geographically distant from. The complexity of today’s political climate and its ever-changing nature also requires research to fully understand. Amazon has recently named its number one political sale to be a memoir of Putin that was published just last year. Reading political non-fiction has become an invaluable way to understand occurrences of major historic events happening in our lifetimes, such as the EU referendum and the Grenfell Tower tragedy. These books help us understand what happened in the lead up, during and in the aftermath of such political landmarks.


An ever-growing trend in political memoirs and biographies is the promise of providing readers with the inside scoop on politicians, political crises and administrations that readers would otherwise never get. Whether you are interested in fiction or non-fiction, everybody is fascinated by what happens behind closed doors, including those of 10 Downing Street and Parliament. Different MPs have offered exclusives about their time in politics such as Maria Fyfe's A Problem Like Maria (Luath Press) in 2014. The memoir recounts how Fyfe was the only female Labour MP in Scotland when first elected and the difficulties she faced working in such a male-dominated sphere. Another great example of a political scoop book is former Prime Minister David Cameron's book For the Record (Harper Collins). The book covers Cameron's decision to call for the 2016 EU referendum, the result and his subsequent decision to step down. The Sunday Times deemed this book "the political memoir of the decade." Since its publication, there have been numerous other books offering a similar confessional. In September 2021, Gavin Barwell published Chief of Staff (Atlantic Books) offering a momentous reflection on Theresa May's run as Prime Minister, including working alongside Donald Trump, the Grenfell Tower fire and May's decision to resign. Alan Duncan's book In The Thick of It (Harper Collins) looks at similar political events but from the perspective of Boris Johnson's “pooper scooper,” known for cleaning up after Johnson. In reflecting on the tumultuous and confusing nature of British politics at the moment, these books are perfect for those trying to understand how decisions are made in politics and how mistakes are handled.


This trend in non-fiction is also creating a celebrity element, with politicians crossing over in public perception, one example being Michelle Obama’s Becoming (Penguin). People-based politics has always been popular in the States, but now this trend is also emerging in the UK. Next year Penguin is publishing the memoir of Diane Abbott, A Woman Like Me, which recounts her experience as the first elected Black female politician. We’ve seen this foray into memoir before with Gordon Brown’s My Life, Our Times (Vintage) and Tony Blair’s A Journey (Cornerstone), with publishers keen to pinpoint what makes their perspective unique and using this to create content readers will find engaging. With the public becoming increasingly interested in celebrities, a tell-all style of writing appeals to this nature. Perhaps it could also be suggested that when public opinion is good, a full term in office leaves a section of the population wanting more, opening the opportunity for further discourse to be published on their life and reactions to political events.


Going forward, we might potentially see even more political non-fiction following the pandemic. As we move into a more reflective, retrospective phrase, there will surely be a wealth of material to discuss, with writers directly addressing and dissecting the response of politicians to the pandemic. While we anticipate a lot of this will work as criticisms of the treatment of the pandemic, concurrently to this will be a desire to learn from the mistakes made. There will be a genuine desire not to repeat history. We look forward to seeing what comes of these predications and eagerly anticipate any political non-fiction that may find its way to our shelves in the near future.


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