Best non-fiction of 2017: The books everyone was reading this year

Francesca Washtell
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A women reads a book under the sun in th
She's probably reading Sapiens. (Source: Getty)

From our summer holiday reads to the books we ploughed through on the Tube and last-minute stocking fillers, 2017 gave us a lot of great non-fiction to choose from.

Not all of these books were published in the last 12 months, but it was this year they left an indelible mark on the UK reading charts and the Square Mile's bookworms.

Here, in no particular order, are our best picks of the non-fiction books everyone was reading in 2017:

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

In November 2016, a majority of American voters cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton to become the first female president of the US. The final result unfolded differently, but the why, the how, and the consequences of Clinton’s loss continue to echo through the global political arena. Released 10 months after the election, What Happened doesn’t have, or need, years of hindsight. A notoriously guarded public figure, with this public form of catharsis Clinton also offers a kind of prospectus of what will be the central question of her legacy. Clinton’s training as a lawyer has always shown in her writing, but where her narrative lags at moments, it is not without vulnerability, humour or very real glimpses of anger at losing a race she assumed was in the bag. The pillars of Clinton’s story will be familiar to those who followed the election, but What Happened is Clinton’s account of a mighty political clash and a flawed campaign. Lauren Young

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton | Simon & Schuster | £20.00

Read more: Hillary Clinton shares pain of US presidential election loss to Trump

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis

The author of The Big Short turns his attention to the friendship that was the genesis for behavioural economics in The Undoing Project. Michael Lewis charts the lives and collision, as he calls it, of psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky to unpick how two such different characters created one of the most fruitful academic partnerships of the 20th century and how both came to question the prevailing view of “rational man”. Nobel Prize-winning Kahneman has gained mainstream attention since his book Thinking, Fast and Slow topped bestseller lists in 2011, but it was his earlier work with Tversky that first elevated both of their suspicions about human error, biases and thinking to the level of truly groundbreaking. The Undoing Project a moving character study about the complicated relationship behind high-level theory written, as ever, in an entirely accessible way. Francesca Washtell

The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed the World by Michael Lewis | Penguin | £8.50

Talking to My Daughter About the Economy

If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself, as Albert Einstein probably did not once say. Yanis Varoufakis follows the same basic approach in Talking to My Daughter About the Economy, a whistlestop tour from Aboriginal Australia to a vision of a dystopian, Matrix-like world not too far into the future, written in a barely believable nine days. A broad range, then, but this slim volume follows the familiar popular economics route of going back to first principles with the added spice of well-known analogies: Faust, Frankenstein and Blade Runner. This is no school textbook: Varoufakis has a clear agenda to challenge mainstream economics. He entered the British public’s eye during the Eurozone debt crisis as a radical Greek finance minister and that same radicalism is on show here. Jasper Jolly

Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: A Brief History of Capitalism by Yanis Varoufakis | Bodley Head | £14.99

Read more: Yanis Varoufakis has some advice for the UK, Theresa May and Labour


Making it this long without seeing the front cover of Sapiens in every bookshop window and airport gift shop would truly be a feat. The book has been featured on The New York Times best-seller list and won multiple prizes, but does the nearly 500-page tome live up to the hype? For the curious, self-reflective and short of time, it certainly does. Yuval Noah Harari has written up a history of humankind, from our beginnings as an animal of no significance to a veritable god. Although the book covers tens of thousands of years, Harari presents the material in often witty bite-sized chunks. Critics have said the book verges on the sensational, but, sweeping statements aside, what Sapiens does best is explain the facts behind why we are the way we are. From how we’re hardwired to love a bit of gossip to how we came to throw our trust behind money, Harari does his best to break down the science behind the big ideas. Courtney Goldsmith

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari | Vintage | £9.99

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