I don't think I intentionally seek out books that abound in tragedy, shock-value or disaster, but I seem to be sensing a theme in the five I have chosen as my favourites
My favourite reads: Ashleigh Stewart
Ashleigh Stewart is assistant home page editor at The National
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (1997)
Jon Krakauer’s account of the 1996 Everest disaster is fascinating. He was covering the ascent as a journalist when a storm rolled in, leading to the deaths of eight climbers. This book inspired the 2015 film Everest and describes the factors that led to the tragedy, in often excruciating detail, but also details several incredible survival stories.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2003)
This gritty and, at times, shocking novel is the real-life account of an Australian bank robber and drug addict who escapes from prison and flees to India. What ensues is a vivid and confrontational journey into the bowels of the underbelly of Bombay, where the book gets even grittier. Sometimes it pays to follow the masses.
Losing my Virginity by Richard Branson (1998)
If you ever wanted to feel completely inferior, read a chapter of self-made billionaire Richard Branson’s memoirs. Just a few paragraphs of his take on his impressive life, from editor of Student magazine to leading one of Britain’s largest companies, will inspire you. Virgin boss Branson has achieved incredible feats, not just in business
The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (1998)
The stories of a female detective in a small town in Botswana, this novel has spawned another 17 to date, so there’s obviously enough dodgy business there to keep Mma Precious Ramotswe’s sleuthing going. But this heartwarming book is also as much about the characters and their calamities as it is about Mma Ramotswe’s investigations.
Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall (2015)
Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I’ve been reading Tim Marshall's offering – the only geographical book I’ve ever tackled. It has been eye-opening, especially for a journalist who has covered many of the regions. Perhaps the most thorough take on geopolitics and the role of geography in diplomacy, it is also a useful resource.