Experts > William Fiennes

William Fiennes's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books William Fiennes recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of William Fiennes's favorite book recommendations of all time.


Up in the Old Hotel

Saloon-keepers and street preachers, gypsies and steel-walking Mohawks, a bearded lady and a 93-year-old “seafoodetarian” who believes his specialized diet will keep him alive for another two decades. These are among the people that Joseph Mitchell immortalized in his reportage for The New Yorker and in four books—McSorley's Wonderful Saloon, Old Mr. Flood, The Bottom of the Harbor, and Joe Gould's Secret—that are still renowned for their precise, respectful observation, their graveyard humor, and their offhand perfection of style.These masterpieces (along... more
Recommended by Mike Dash, William Fiennes, and 2 others.

Mike DashFor 30 to 40 years he wrote about all the people on the margins of society in New York. But he did this in such a humane way, it’s just wonderful. (Source)

William FiennesThey’re incredibly vivid and moving stories, and often they feel closer to short stories than newspaper or magazine articles. (Source)

See more recommendations for this book...


The Peregrine

From autumn to spring, J.A. Baker set out to track the daily comings and goings of a pair of peregrine falcons across the flat fen lands of eastern England. He followed the birds obsessively, observing them in the air and on the ground, in pursuit of their prey, making a kill, eating, and at rest, activities he describes with an extraordinary fusion of precision and poetry. And as he continued his mysterious private quest, his sense of human self slowly dissolved, to be replaced with the alien and implacable consciousness of a hawk.

It is this extraordinary metamorphosis, magical...

Robert MacfarlaneBaker turned his bulging set of ornithological field journals into a 120-page prose poem. It’s astonishingly energy-filled. (Source)

Jeremy MynottIt’s the story of this pursuit of the bird and how he came to feel a kind of affinity with it, and how he uses the bird as a symbol for the things he feels, or wants to feel, about the natural world. (Source)

William FiennesIt’s hard to imagine a greater contrast with U and I, although it was written by another Baker. My book The Snow Geese had a lot to do with birds and the non-human world around us, but I didn’t read this book until I’d finished. I wish I’d read it earlier than I did. The way he describes the world outside him, particularly birds, is so electric. It avoids all the traps of rhapsody and the sort of... (Source)

See more recommendations for this book...


U and I

Baker muses on the creative process via his obsession with John Updike. less
Recommended by William Fiennes, and 1 others.

William FiennesGosse is making a point, so he emphasises the archetypal opposition between fathers and sons. Nicholson Baker also does this in U and I, although he’s talking about authors and authors. Baker had written two novels before he wrote this. Recently he’s hit the front pages for writing about sex so much, and for referring to the male member as “the Malcolm Gladwell” [the bestselling author and... (Source)

See more recommendations for this book...


Father and Son

'This book is the record of a struggle between two temperaments, two consciences and almost two epochs.' Father and Son stands as one of English literature's seminal autobiographies. In it Edmund Gosse recounts, with humour and pathos, his childhood as a member of a Victorian Protestant sect and his struggles to forge his own identity despite the loving control of his father. A key document of the crisis of faith and doubt; a penetrating exploration of the impact of evolutionary science; an astute, well-observed, and moving portrait of the tensions of family life: Father and Son... more
Recommended by William Fiennes, Dorothy Rowe, and 2 others.

William FiennesThere are autobiographies that are fantastically egotistical, but they tend to be not very good books. The universal is in the small. You write about your own life, but if you write about it with enough love and care then it will have the universal running through it. This book is a good illustration. It’s alive with specificity but it’s full of the universal – fathers and sons, children growing... (Source)

Dorothy RoweI have read innumerable books over my lifetime and some I would have said in the past were wonderful. But the only book that, in my eyes, has remained wonderful is Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son. When it was first published in 1907 it was shocking because up till then no son would ever criticise his father. (Source)

See more recommendations for this book...


The Periodic Table

The Periodic Table by Primo Levi is an impassioned response to the Holocaust: Consisting of 21 short stories, each possessing the name of a chemical element, the collection tells of the author's experiences as a Jewish-Italian chemist before, during, and after Auschwitz in luminous, clear, and unfailingly beautiful prose. It has been named the best science book ever by the Royal Institution of Great Britain, and is considered to be Levi's crowning achievement. less
Recommended by William Fiennes, Tim Radford, and 2 others.

William FiennesThey’re a mixture of short stories and autobiographical essays, or essays in autobiography. Levi uses the elements from the periodic table as a way of organising memory. He uses 21 elements, each as a doorway or wormhole into a particular area of his experience, into a particular memory – but leaving out his time in Auschwitz, because he’d already written about that. You get his early interest in... (Source)

Tim RadfordIt’s a life story by a chemist seen through the prism of an elemental substance. Some of it doesn’t work very well and some of it works very well. There’s a lovely chapter on iron that refers to the arrival of the Fascist era. There’s a much more personal account involving mine tailings and the extraction of precious metals from mine tailing, which he was employed at. That gives him a chance to... (Source)

See more recommendations for this book...

Don't have time to read William Fiennes's favorite books? Read Shortform summaries.

Shortform summaries help you learn 10x faster by:

  • Being comprehensive: you learn the most important points in the book
  • Cutting out the fluff: you focus your time on what's important to know
  • Interactive exercises: apply the book's ideas to your own life with our educators' guidance.