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.

The books I picked & why

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

By Dava Sobel,

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

Why 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.


As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

By Laurie Lee,

Book cover of As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

Why 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.


Goodbye to Berlin

By Christopher Isherwood,

Book cover of Goodbye to Berlin

Why 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.


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

By Norman Lewis,

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

Why 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.


Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

By Jennifer Worth,

Book cover of Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

Why 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.


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