The best books telling stories from real life

Peter Chapman Author Of Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World
By Peter Chapman

Who am I?

Fact is often more fascinating than fiction, and on occasions, a lot weirder too. As someone, London-based though lucky to have travelled extensively in Europe since childhood (my mother was keen to visit places where my father had been stationed in the Second World War) and more recently as a journalist (for The Financial Times, BBC, The Guardian, and others) in the Americas, Asia, and Africa, I have always been attracted to stories that strongly convey senses of time, place and the people you just happen to meet.

I wrote...

Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World

By Peter Chapman,

Book cover of Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World

What is my book about?

Bananas shows how a single company can dominate the affairs of whole countries, large or small. The United Fruit Company took bananas from the jungles of Costa Rica to the halls of power in Washington D.C. It employed supremely clever marketing, covert CIA operations, bloody coups, and brutalised workforces. Along the way, it turned the banana into a blueprint for a new model of unfettered capitalism: one that serves corporate power at any cost.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time

Why did I love this book?

Until about the mid-18th century, ships routinely got lost when out of sight of land, their crews at risk of starvation, dying of thirst, or being wrecked on inconveniently located rocks. While the likes of Galileo had failed to find a solution in the stars to navigation's "longitude problem", English clockmaker John Harrison was convinced he had the mechanical answer. Sobel's finely and simply crafted tale highlights the jealousies of powerful people that Harrison had to overcome in proving his point.

By Dava Sobel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest and of one man's forty-year obsession to find a solution to the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day--"the longitude problem."

Anyone alive in the eighteenth century would have known that "the longitude problem" was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day-and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives and the increasing fortunes of nations hung on a resolution. One man, John Harrison, in…

Book cover of As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

Why did I love this book?

Still in his teens and a young poet in the making, Lee set out in the 1930s from his village in the rural west of England, first to walk to London and then to take a boat to Spain. Landing with no return ticket and little knowledge of where he was, he walked across the country earning his keep by playing his violin on the streets. His story captures the romance of Spain, plus its drama and tensions of the time.

By Laurie Lee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The author of Cider with Rosie continues his bestselling autobiographical trilogy with “a wondrous adventure” through Spain on the eve of its civil war (Library Journal).

On a bright Sunday morning in June 1934, Laurie Lee left the village home so lovingly portrayed in his bestselling memoir, Cider with Rosie. His plan was to walk the hundred miles from Slad to London, with a detour of an extra hundred miles to see the sea for the first time. He was nineteen years old and brought with him only what he could carry on his back: a tent, a change of…

Goodbye to Berlin

By Christopher Isherwood,

Book cover of Goodbye to Berlin

Why did I love this book?

The book, set in the early 1930s, is from a fleeting period when the liberal pleasures of the German capital made it the European place to be. An English teacher of reserved social origins, Isherwood writes of the Berlin characters who enlivened his life, against the forbidding backdrop of Hitler's rise to power. Cabaret, the film adapted from the book, led Isherwood to insist his version of events was far nearer to how things were.

By Christopher Isherwood,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Goodbye to Berlin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1934, Goodbye to Berlin has been popularized on stage and screen by Julie Harris in I Am a Camera and Liza Minelli in Cabaret. Isherwood magnificently captures 1931 Berlin: charming, with its avenues and cafes; marvelously grotesque, with its nightlife and dreamers; dangerous, with its vice and intrigue; powerful and seedy, with its mobs and millionaires - this was the period when Hitler was beginning his move to power. Goodbye to Berlin is inhabited by a wealth of characters: the unforgettable and "divinely decadent"Sally Bowles; plump Fraulein Schroeder, who considers reducing her Buste relieve her heart palpitations;…

Book cover of Naples '44: A World War II Diary of Occupied Italy

Why did I love this book?

Lewis was a British intelligence officer during the Allied forces' northward advance through Italy during the second world war. His stay in and around Naples enabled him not only to witness the 1944 eruption of Vesuvius, but also to appreciate the struggles to survive and graciousness of the local people. Lewis concludes that if he were to be offered a second life on earth he would want to come back as Italian.

By Norman Lewis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Naples '44 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As a young intelligence officer stationed in Naples following its liberation from Nazi forces, Norman Lewis recorded the lives of a proud and vibrant people forced to survive on prostitution, thievery, and a desperate belief in miracles and cures. The most popular of Lewis's twenty-seven books, Naples'44 is a landmark poetic study of the agony of wartime occupation and its ability to bring out the worst, and often the best, in human nature. In prose both heartrending and comic, Lewis describes an era of disillusionment, escapism, and hysteria in which the Allied occupiers mete out justice unfairly and fail to…

Call the Midwife

By Jennifer Worth,

Book cover of Call the Midwife

Why did I love this book?

London's East End dockland in the 1950s had no midwife services other than those organised by a small order of nuns. A trained nurse, Worth was one of its staff confronted by the needs of the slum tenements of the area, which at the time still laid claim to being the largest port in the world. Her story is of mainly closed, self-contained communities, elements of which exist today next to the British capital's new financial centre of Canary Wharf. Both sad and uplifting, the book is an incitement to come, walk and imagine the ghosts of the old London docks.

By Jennifer Worth,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Call the Midwife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The highest-rated drama in BBC history, Call the Midwife will delight fans of Downton Abbey

Viewers everywhere have fallen in love with this candid look at post-war London. In the 1950s, twenty-two-year-old Jenny Lee leaves her comfortable home to move into a convent and become a midwife in London's East End slums. While delivering babies all over the city, Jenny encounters a colorful cast of women—from the plucky, warm-hearted nuns with whom she lives, to the woman with twenty-four children who can't speak English, to the prostitutes of the city's seedier side.

An unfortgettable story of motherhood, the bravery of…

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