The best books that embrace show business and history

Who am I?

I’ve been an actor and a writer all my life. After many years performing in theatre and television in both Australia and the UK, I turned my hand to prose and revelled in the creative freedom. Thirty years and sixteen novels later I’m still revelling. As both actor and writer, the mix of fact and fiction has always intrigued me and I love travelling my characters through historical times of great impact, particularly upon Australia. In 2015 I was honoured to be made a Member of the Order of Australia for my service to the performing arts as an actor and to literature as an author.

I wrote...


By Judy Nunn,

Book cover of Showtime!

What is my book about?

Showtime! takes the reader on a journey from the cotton mills of England and the orphanages of London to the gold mining towns ‘Down Under’ and the magnificent theatres of Melbourne and Sydney. This work of historical fiction is a trip through the world of Australian show business in its wildest days from the 1880s to the end of the First World War. 

Following the mid-19th century gold rushes, Australia became a mecca for the thousands who rushed from every corner of the globe and Melbourne went from country backwater to the most cosmopolitan, fastest-growing city in the world. And close on the heels of the hopefuls came the entrepreneurs who knew only too well that where people craved gold, they also craved entertainment.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Why did I love this book?

For me, no book connects more wonderfully the themes of show business and history than The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Opening with the daring escape of a young Jewish magician from the clutches of Hitler to unite with his equally young cousin, a devotee of the burgeoning comic book craze, in America, this novel is about as theatrical as it gets. The two teenagers scale the heights of invention creating new comic book heroes who enthrall America as World War 2 brings the earth crashing all about them. It’s thrilling, compelling, funny, utterly engrossing and one of my favourite novels of all time.

By Michael Chabon,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay' is a heart-wrenching story of escape, love and comic-book heroes set in Prague, New York and the Arctic - from the author of 'Wonder Boys'.

One night in 1939, Josef Kavalier shuffles into his cousin Sam Clay's cramped New York bedroom, his nerve-racking escape from Prague finally achieved. Little does he realise that this is the beginning of an extraordinary friendship and even more fruitful business partnership. Together, they create a comic strip called 'The Escapist', its superhero a Nazi-busting saviour who liberates the oppressed…

A Gentleman in Moscow

By Amor Towles,

Book cover of A Gentleman in Moscow

Why did I love this book?

This is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read, and again with a wonderfully theatrical flavour. When Count Rostov is placed under house arrest for life by the Russian Bolsheviks his prison becomes - to me anyway - a glorious theatre set inhabited by the most fascinating cast of characters you’re ever likely to meet. Why? Because his prison just happens to be the opulent Hotel Metropol in central Moscow, with the finest of wines, haute cuisine, and five-star service. 

The hotel’s highly colourful inhabitants include a Russian chef, a French maitre d’hotel, a philosophical bartender, and a capable seamstress, all of whom mingle with political hierarchy, princes, famous actresses, poets, orchestra conductors and the like. This book is such a feast of delights that as you savour every mouthful you don’t even realise you’ve been treated to a fantastically constructed story until you get to the end.      

By Amor Towles,

Why should I read it?

26 authors picked A Gentleman in Moscow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The mega-bestseller with more than 2 million readers, soon to be a major television series

From the #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Lincoln Highway and Rules of Civility, a beautifully transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and…

Book cover of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Why did I love this book?

Sapiens blew my brain, as I believe it did the brains of many millions of readers all over the world. I’m aware some scholars disagree with Harari’s theories, but I’m no scholar and I found them riveting. In fact, Harari really did open my eyes to a great many things that made a great deal of sense to me. I have also read the following two books of his trilogy – Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century – which I found equally compelling, although rather bleak in the final prognosis. However, his writing is so accessible, his use of analogy and metaphor for complex situations so clever that one grasps every argument in an instant. As the ‘blurb’ promised, Sapiens really did ‘change the way I view life’. And one can’t help but be impressed by that, surely. 

By Yuval Noah Harari,

Why should I read it?

19 authors picked Sapiens as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

100,000 years ago, at least six human species inhabited the earth. Today there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens. How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations and human rights; to trust money, books and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables and consumerism? And what will our world be like in the millennia to come?

In Sapiens, Dr Yuval Noah Harari spans the whole of human history, from the very first humans to walk the…

Identity Crisis

By Ben Elton,

Book cover of Identity Crisis

Why did I love this book?

Identity Crisis is the most delicious satire! It is so much a send-up of modern times it will unfortunately date, and all too quickly become tomorrow’s history. But I don’t care. I will always find this one of the funniest books I have ever had the pleasure to read - indeed a wickedly witty laugh-out-loud on every page. Anyone who chooses to find the political incorrectness that abounds in Identity Crisis offensive really will need to delve deep in order to discover their obviously lost or sadly under-developed sense of humour.  

By Ben Elton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Identity Crisis as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why are we all so hostile? So quick to take offence? Truly we are living in the age of outrage.

A series of apparently random murders draws amiable, old-school Detective Mick Matlock into a world of sex, politics, reality TV and a bewildering kaleidoscope of opposing identity groups. Lost in a blizzard of hashtags, his already complex investigation is further impeded by the fact that he simply doesn't 'get' a single thing about anything anymore.

Meanwhile, each day another public figure confesses to having 'misspoken' and prostrates themselves before the judgement of Twitter. Begging for forgiveness, assuring the public "that…

Grand Days

By Frank Moorhouse,

Book cover of Grand Days

Why did I love this book?

There is one major reason I include Grand Days in my list of "best" books and her name is Edith Campbell Berry. Some might suggest that as Edith happens to be an Australian character and Frank Moorhouse an Australian author I’m favouring the pair, being Australian myself. But this is definitely not so. To me, Edith Campbell Berry is one of the most beautifully conceived heroines in literary fiction. And when I make this sweeping statement I include every great leading lady you can think of. 

From the moment I met Edith on the train from Paris to Geneva where she was to take up her position with the newly-created League of Nations in the 1920s, I was captivated. She is wickedly naïve, worldly innocent, outrageously proper and every other contradiction imaginable. She continued to bewitch me in Frank Moorhouse’s companion Edith novels, Dark Palace and Cold Light, but if you decide to introduce yourself to her do start with Grand Days

By Frank Moorhouse,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Grand Days as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This novel's backdrop is the ill-fated League of Nations, the peace-keeping organization set up after World War I to ensure the world never had to go to war again. The central character is Edith Berry, a spirited young woman full of good intentions.

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