Imagine your dream dinner party. Who would you invite to ensure an intriguing, memorable night of conversation? A leading physicist would probably be on the guest list. A neurosurgeon, ditto. And how about an expert on the Australian psyche…

Non-fiction writers and big-picture thinkers from around the world are heading to this year's Festival, with enough expertise, wit, and wonder to keep dinner party conversation going for at least several weeks. While there may not be any food involved, we guarantee plenty of food for thought.

Check out just a few thinkers heading to this years’ Festival below.


“We neurosurgeons do wonderful, but terrible things.’’ Whether picking up a scalpel or pen, Dr Henry Marsh has a gift. The top London neurosurgeon has spent more than 34 years developing pioneering brain surgery procedures, and knows more than anyone the life or death consequences of his profession. For 22 years, he volunteered in the Ukraine to improve the “shocking” conditions of neurosurgery, an experience that became the subject of a 2010 Emmy Award-winning documentary The English Surgeon. Henry brought his considerable knowledge to Do No Harm, a gripping and confronting account of modern neurosurgery – both its discoveries and its deficiencies. The book has been winning over readers around the world, both for its unique viewpoint and for raising profound societal questions. Henry’s latest work, Admissions: A Life in Brain Surgery, is a searing, provocative and deeply personal memoir, reflecting life on the surgical front line.

You might not know: when he’s not performing brain surgery, Henry is an ardent bee-keeper. 



The world is a complex place, and navigating its political, social, and cultural complexities is no easy feat. For American reporter, author, and columnist Thomas Friedman, it’s all in a day’s work. The three-time Pulitzer Prize winner has written extensively on foreign affairs, global trade, the Middle East, globalisation, and the environment, is the New York Times’ foreign correspondent, and has published six bestsellers. Among them is his most recent book, Thank You for Being Late, a “field guide” to life in the 21st century. With his idiosyncratic prose and on-the-ground expertise, Tom is uniquely situated to ask – and answer – questions of how to live in the here and now.

You might not know: Thomas’ childhood dream was to be a pro-golfer – his golf handicap is a 5.9 index.



Why are we here? Prepare to jump straight into the big questions with Canadian-American theoretical physicist Lawrence, whose work starts at the origin of the universe, swings by dark matter, and explores general relativity and astrophysics along the way. Foundation Professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University and author of several bestselling books, including The Physics of Star Trek, Lawrence's latest work, The Greatest Story Ever Told…So Far is a “grand poetic vision of nature”. In Sydney, Lawrence is set to deliver a Festival-goer’s guide to the galaxy.

You might not know: Lawrence also officiates the occasional wedding.



“Trying to take the numb out of numbers,” is how Mona describes her inimitable approach to data journalism. The British writer, illustrator and presenter is data editor of The Guardian US and a former New York Magazine columnist, whose advice column “Dear Mona” answered readers’ questions using numbers instead of personal experience. While the word “data” may conjure images of spreadsheets, Mona’s skill as an illustrator ensures her approach is anything but dull. Mona thinks about, and presents data in ways others don’t: from the percentage of people who pee in the shower, to racial dating preferences, her hand-drawn Instagram feed show numbers as you’ve never seen them before. Mona has written and presented for the likes of National Geographic, the BBC, and VICE.

You might not know: Mona once interviewed a Muppet.



Casually changing our thoughts about history is all in a book’s work for Norman. Blitzed, his astonishing account of drug addiction in the Third Reich, lifted the lid on a largely untold aspect of Nazi Germany. Its examination of the role methamphetamine played in World War II concluded that many of the German leaders, including Hitler, abused psychoactive drugs, questioning and re-writing our ideas about the past. The book has become an international bestseller, translated into over 25 languages. The German author has also written three novels including Die Quotenmaschine (regarded as the world's first hypertext novel), two novellas, as well as co-writing the screenplay for Wim Wenders' film Palermo Shooting.

You might not know: In the movie of his life, Norman says he’d like to be played by Johnny Depp.



Australia is “better, wiser and more united than cynics would have you believe,” says Rebecca – and she would know. The celebrated social researcher, writer, broadcaster and Festival Guest Curator has spent years delving into the Australian psyche, laying our dreams and fears out on the page. Rebecca is currently head of research at Essential Media and adjunct senior lecturer at UNSW. Her recent book Still Lucky is essential reading for all Australians, covering everything from the experiences of migrants, to gen Y, to new fathers, putting a human face to the mind and the mood of the nation. Describing Australia’s racism as its “Achilles heel”, Rebecca will be tackling some of the most important questions facing the country today.

You might not know: Rebecca hosts a podcast where well-known guests tell anecdotes about times when life went so bad, it was funny.

More non-fiction to discover: