Expert’s view

Curtis Sittenfeld: my five best books

The author of American Wife and Prep picks her favourite non-fiction books

Curtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Sittenfeld is a judge for this year’s Sunday Times Audible Short Story Prize, which will be announced on 8 July. Her novel Rodham is now out in paperback.

1

Yuval Noah Harari (2011)

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind cover

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Although I’m a novelist, I’ve been consuming non-fiction to try to understand how we – Americans specifically, human beings in general – arrived at this point. Sapiens, which starts with the Big Bang and runs to the recent past, helped me to contextualise just how fleeting – and precarious – our moment in time is.

2

Isabel Wilkerson (2020)

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents cover

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

That the US has a deeply racist history is not exactly news, but Wilkerson’s lucid analysis challenged me to think about racism in new ways. She’s exceptionally good at telling vivid anecdotes about both minor moments and enormous historical tragedies.

3

Stephanie Coontz (1992)

The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap cover

The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap

Published in 1992 and reissued in updated form in 2016, this book argues that much of the received wisdom about “traditional” families is based on 1950s American sitcoms – even though the 1950s were ahistorical and atypical in terms of gender roles and economic opportunity.

4

Brad Stone (2021)

Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire cover

Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire

Amazon’s reach is so extensive that it can seem easier to list the few areas of commerce that it doesn’t touch than the many it does. Stone even-handedly describes the history, expansion and major personalities of the company.

5

Jon Ronson (2015)

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed cover

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

I’ve been listening to the audio version of this book, perfectly read by the author. I had the idea that Ronson’s take on online shaming would be coolly analytical, but I was mistaken – though what it describes is deeply disturbing, the book is warmly anecdotal and often oddly funny.

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