Best Books of 2016: Bios, History and Trailblazing Non-Fiction

by |January 16, 2017

Here at Booktopia we’ve done the hard work for you. We’re read countless books this year, flicked over thousands of pages, and forgone sleep, all in search of the very best books published this year.

Below, you’ll find the bios, history and non-fiction books we haven’t stopped talking about. The books we can’t stop re-reading, can’t stop bragging about. Buy, borrow or steal yourself a copy. Either way, these stories need to be read and shared.


Biographies and Memoirs: Winner


Working Class Boy
by Jimmy Barnes

A household name, an Australian rock icon, the elder statesman of Ozrock – there isn’t an accolade or cliche that doesn’t apply to Jimmy Barnes. But long before Cold Chisel and Barnesy, long before the tall tales of success and excess, there was the true story of James Dixon Swan – a working class boy whose family made the journey from Scotland to Australia in search of a better life.

Working Class Boy is a powerful reflection on a traumatic and violent childhood, which fuelled the excess and recklessness that would define, but almost destroy, the rock’n’roll legend. This is the story of how James Swan became Jimmy Barnes. It is a memoir burning with the frustration and frenetic energy of teenage sex, drugs, violence and ambition for more than what you have… Learn more

PODCAST: Listen to Jimmy Barnes chat about writing his memoir.


Biographies and Memoirs: The Shortlist


The Shortlist: The Pigeon Tunnel by John le Carre, Songs of a War Boy by Deng Thiak Adut, The Boy Behind the Curtain by Tim Winton, Victoria by Julia Baird, Release the Bats by DBC Pierre, and The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke.


History: Winner


Victory at Villers-Bretonneux
by Peter FitzSimons

On Anzac Day 1918, when the town of Villers-Bretonneux falls to the British defenders, it is the Australians who are called on to save the day, the town, and the entire battle.

It’s early 1918, and after four brutal years, the fate of the Great War hangs in the balance. On the one hand, the fact that Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks have seized power in Russia – immediately suing for peace with Germany – means that no fewer than one million of the Kaiser’s soldiers can now be transferred from there to the Western Front.

On the other, now that America has entered the war, it means that two million American soldiers are also on their way, to tip the scales of war to the Allies. The Germans, realising that their only hope is striking at the Allied lines first, do exactly that, and on the morning of 21 March 1918, the Kaiserschlacht, the Kaiser’s battle, is launched – the biggest set-piece battle the world has ever seen… Learn more.


History: The Shortlist


The Shortlist: Ghost Empire by Richard Fidler, True Girt by David Hunt, The Age of Genius by A.C. Grayling, Error Australis by Ben Pobjie, Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba, and A Handful of Sand by Charlie Ward.


Trailblazing Non-Fiction: Winner


Talking to my Country
by Stan Grant

In July 2015, as the debate over Adam Goodes being booed at AFL games raged and got ever more heated and ugly, Stan Grant wrote a short but powerful piece for The Guardian that went viral, not only in Australia but right around the world, shared over 100,000 times on social media. His was a personal, passionate and powerful response to racism in Australian and the sorrow, shame, anger and hardship of being an indigenous man.

‘We are the detritus of the brutality of the Australian frontier’, he wrote, ‘We remained a reminder of what was lost, what was taken, what was destroyed to scaffold the building of this nation’s prosperity.’

Stan Grant was lucky enough to find an escape route, making his way through education to become one of our leading journalists. He also spent many years outside Australia, working in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, a time that liberate… Learn more. 


Trailblazing Non-Fiction: The Shortlist


The Shortlist: No to Feminism by Rebecca Shaw, Forces of Nature by Brian Cox, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, Speaking Out by Tara Moss, The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**ck by Sarah Knight, and Fight Like a Girl by Clementine Ford.

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