July 1, 2011 10:02 pm

When minds take flight

FT critics offer a wide-ranging selection of the best in summer reading

Fiction

Last Man in Tower, by Aravind Adiga, Atlantic, RRP£17.99, 432 pages

Residents of an old Mumbai tower block are made an offer they can hardly refuse by an unscrupulous property developer. This rich and acutely observed novel about a city whose inhabitants are caught between extremes of wealth and poverty is a worthy follow-up to Adiga’s prize-winning The White Tiger.

The Good Muslim, by Tahmima Anam, Canongate, RRP£16.99, 304 pages

This fine sequel to Anam’s debut, The Golden Age, tells the story of Maya and Sohail, a brother and sister torn in opposite directions by Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence. Maya is a liberal doctor. Sohail is veering towards Islamism. Their clash of perspectives reflects the fledgling country’s search for an identity.

The Girl in the Polka-dot Dress, by Beryl Bainbridge, Little, Brown, RRP£16.99, 208 pages

The author was working on this, her 18th work of fiction, when she died last year. In her inimitable style, Bainbridge tells the story of Rose, a young English woman, driving across the US in 1968 with the much older Harold in their peculiar quest to find the elusive Dr Wheeler.

A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan, Corsair, RRP£14.99, 336 pages

Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Egan’s shape-shifting novel comprises a sequence of loosely connected stories that defy narrative conventions. An inventive investigation into perceptions of time in an era of fast living.

The Stranger’s Child, by Alan Hollinghurst, Picador, RRP£20, 576 pages

Seven years after his Man Booker-winning The Line of Beauty, Hollinghurst has delivered another extraordinary work of fiction. Heartbreaking, humorous and filled with wondrously precise prose, the novel centres on Cecil Valance, a mediocre poet killed in the first world war.

Anatomy of a Disappearance, by Hisham Matar, Penguin, RRP£16.99, 256 pages

Its timing could hardly have been more propitious. The second novel by Libyan-born Matar, about a child haunted by his father’s kidnap, appeared just as the Arab uprising began sweeping through the region. A beautifully written, poignant story about loss and desire.

Saints and Sinners, by Edna O’Brien, Faber, RRP£12.99, 250 pages

More than 50 years after O’Brien’s debut novel, The Country Girls, her latest short story collection proves her powers of observation and description remain undiminished. There is much tenderness and compassion about remembered childhood, exile and return, and desires repressed or violently acted upon.

Lionel Barber, Editor of the Financial Times

In No Way Down: Life and Death on K2, 30 international climbers attempt the most testing ascent on earth. Their expedition unfolds in ever more harrowing tragedy.

Graham Bowley’s account is the most riveting mountain disaster story since Jon Krakauer’s Everest tale Into Thin Air. It is a tale of hubris and incompetence, tempered by courage and selflessness in the most savage conditions imaginable. You may not be a climber, you may not even like mountains, but this book is a pageturner with plenty of historical context to inform and engross the general reader.

There But For The, by Ali Smith, Hamish Hamilton, RRP£16, 384 pages

A dinner party guest locks himself in the host’s spare room and refuses to leave. Around this simple storyline, Smith gathers an extraordinary cast of characters – from smug middle-class philistines to a precocious, pun-loving nine-year-old. But the novel’s greatest joy is in the author’s relish at riffing on language.

At Last, by Edward St Aubyn, Picador, RRP£16.99, 272 pages

The FT called St Aubyn’s novel, the fifth in the extraordinary cycle charting the life of Patrick Melrose, “a miraculously wrought piece of art”. Set during the funeral of Patrick’s mother Eleanor, it puts the protagonist on an unpredictable course towards reconciling himself to the damage caused by his parents.

Wish You Were Here, by Graham Swift, Picador, RRP£18.99, 256 pages

Grief, loss and memory are the themes of this elliptical novel. Over a single night, Jack Luxton, an uprooted farmer who has sold his family’s estate in Devon to manage a trailer park on the Isle of Wight, ponders the death of his brother Tom, recently killed in combat in Iraq.

The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace, Hamish Hamilton, RRP£20, 560 pages

Surely one of this year’s most eagerly anticipated novels, Wallace’s unfinished and posthumously published follow-up to Infinite Jest revolves around tax agents at the Internal Revenue Service’s office in Peoria, Illinois. Fragmented, challenging, humorous and typically digressive.

Ángel Gurría-Quintana

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Debut novels

The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht, Phoenix, RRP£7.99, 352 pages

In war-ravaged Yugoslavia a young doctor tries to discover the truth about her grandfather’s death with Kipling’s Jungle Book as her guide. Obreht’s Orange Prize-winning slice of magical realism exhilaratingly plunders Balkan legends, including the tale of the tiger that escaped from Belgrade zoo in 1941.

The Fates Will Find Their Way, by Hannah Pittard, William Heinemann, RRP£12.99, 246 pages

What starts as a mystery about the disappearance of a teenage girl in a small American town turns into something far more thoughtful as her male classmates speculate about her fate. Pittard marshals a Greek chorus of narrators to moving effect.

Geoff Dyer, Writer

My novel of the year so far is Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child: social history on an epic scale – from the brink of the first world war to the present day – without any diminution of the author’s trademark precision of observation, gesture, dialogue and language.

Working with a smaller canvas but displaying a similar command of material and narrative, Janet Malcolm has produced another masterpiece of literary reportage (about a murder trial) with Iphigenia in Forest Hills.

Crime, by Ferdinand von Schirach, translated by Carol Brown Janeway, Chatto & Windus, RRP£12.99, 192 pages

Von Schirach is a leading defence lawyer in Germany, which lends an extra frisson to this volume of courtroom-set short stories, a bestseller in his homeland. The writing, however, makes its own case: quizzical, worldly, and with consistent sympathy for the underdog.

Vaclav & Lena, by Hayley Tanner, William Heinemann, RRP£12.99, 304 pages

New York’s Russian émigré community provides the setting for Tanner’s tale of aspiring conjuror Vaclav and his sensitive assistant Lena, childhood sweethearts who are destined to part, then magically meet again. It is a triumph of style over sentimentality that demands to be read in one sitting.

Before I Go to Sleep, by SJ Watson, Doubleday, RRP£12.99, 368 pages

Watson’s amnesia thriller begins with a woman waking up beside a man with no idea who he – or she – is. Then it repeats and repeats and repeats in dizzying fashion. An impressive exploration of the link between memory and personality.

When God Was a Rabbit, by Sarah Winman, Headline Review, RRP£7.99, 352 pages

One of the year’s big commercial hits, this is quality beach popcorn. Moving from 1970s Cornwall to 9/11 New York, Winman’s sister-brother family saga revels in oddballs and eccentrics. Imagine if Armistead Maupin had been born straight, British and a woman.

Adrian Turpin

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Fiction in translation

A Palace in the Old Village, by Tahar Ben Jelloun, translated by Linda Coverdale, Arcadia, RRP£7.99, 200 pages

“I wouldn’t like to leave my body in a French hole,” says Mohammed, a Moroccan immigrant recently retired from a lifetime of toil in a Paris suburb. Alienated from his own assimilated children, yearning to return to his village, he discovers that “home” is no longer as he remembered it.

Hate: A Romance, by Tristan Garcia, translated by Marion Duvert and Lorin Stein, Faber, RRP£12.99, 320 pages

Garcia was awarded the prestigious Prix de Flore for this novel, a powerful debut charting the friendships and fallings-out of four French intellectuals at the centre of Paris’s buzzing gay scene in the 1980s, whose views and allegiances are tested as the Aids epidemic upends old certainties.

The Troubled Man, by Henning Mankell, translated by Laurie Thompson, Harvill Secker, RRP£17.99, 384 pages

Twenty years after the appearance of his first book featuring dour Swedish detective Kurt Wallander, and much to his fans’ disappointment, Mankell has called it a day. This final Wallander novel follows the ailing, increasingly irascible detective as he uncovers cold war plots and a rightwing military conspiracy.

New Finnish Grammar, by Diego Marani, translated by Judith Landry, Dedalus, RRP£9.99, 187 pages

A wounded sailor is found on a Trieste quay – amnesic, unable to speak and with nothing to identify him except a name tag pointing to Finnish origins. A passing doctor resolves to teach him Finnish to restore his memory and rebuild his identity. Charming and beguiling.

Ángel Gurría-Quintana

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Science fiction

The Kings Of Eternity, by Eric Brown, Solaris, RRP£7.99, 448 pages

Brown’s best novel yet centres on a pair of writers in 1935 and the grandson of one of them, also a writer, in 1999. Dual narratives interweave in a book that is both a love letter to the classic “scientific romances” and a romantic science-fiction novel celebrating love.

Embassytown, by China Miéville, Macmillan, RRP£17.99, 432 pages

British sci-fi’s golden boy can do no wrong. Miéville proves it yet again with this, his seventh novel, a tale about language and miscommunication, set on a far-flung planet where humans are very much the alien species.

What Wolves Know, by Kit Reed, PS Publishing, RRP£19.99, 232 pages

A new collection from a veteran author. Calm on the surface, vicious below, Reed’s short stories flirt with the fringes of sci-fi but have a deep intellectual weirdness all their own. Lives of cosy domesticity teeter on the brink of apocalypse. Mothers, in particular, are monsters.

James Lovegrove

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Crime

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin, Macmillan, RRP£7.99, 288 pages

Larry and Silas, white and black, boyhood friends in rural Mississippi 30 years ago, are separated by an apparent crime that changes their lives. This beautifully crafted thriller has a powerful sense of time and place, and explores the nature of friendship and bigotry. One of the year’s finest novels.

The Case of The Man Who Died Laughing, by Tarquin Hall, Hutchinson, RRP£14.99, 320 pages

Vish Puri, Delhi’s epicurean “Most Private Investigator”, is trying to find out how an apparition of the goddess Kali could have stabbed a man during an open-air laughter therapy session in a crowded park. Life is complicated by a family that’s a cross-section of modern Indian society. Sweet-natured and hilarious.

Snowdrops, by AD Miller, Atlantic, RRP£12.99, 288 pages

“Snowdrops” are corpses that appear as the Moscow ice melts. A young English corporate lawyer in Russia becomes involved, then morally compromised when he’s befriended by two women who need his help. It’s a hypnotically seductive read that paints an alarming and sinister portrait of the newly capitalist Russia.

Christopher Fowler

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Children’s

Bracelet of Bones, by Kevin Crossley-Holland, Quercus, RRP£12.99, 272 pages

Historical novels for children don’t get much better than this. A Norse girl sets off on a quest to find her absent father. Her journey takes her across an 11th-century world of clashing faiths that we don’t often see depicted in fiction.

Grace, by Morris Gleitzman, Penguin, RRP£6.99, 192 pages

Free-thinking Grace questions the tenets of the patriarchal Christian sect she has been brought up in. Her father pays the price: banishment from church and family. It’s a terrific story about loyalty and self-determination which eschews easy answers and prejudices about organised religion.

Fantastic Frankie and the Brain-Drain Machine, by Anna Kemp, Simon & Schuster, RRP£5.99, 256 pages

An uproarious romp featuring a mad-scientist headmaster who wants to create a school full of high-achieving zombie pupils and a former French resistance fighter now working as a nanny. The closest a book can come to the frenetic lunacy of a TV cartoon.

James Lovegrove

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Teen

Magus of Stonewylde, by Kit Berry, Gollancz, RRP£7.99, 352 pages

Ailing Sylvie leaves her city tower block to recuperate at an idyllic Dorset estate run by the charismatic Magus. Through her friendship with outcast Yul, she soon spots the serpents in this paradise (The Wicker Man is an obvious influence). A well-written teen romance, the first in a series.

Here Lies Bridget, by Paige Harbison, Mira Ink, RRP£6.99, 464 pages

Gossipy, manipulative Bridget is queen of her high school but a mysterious new girl threatens her status. After a car crash, Bridget gets a brief reprieve from death to undo all the harm she’s caused. Will she have enough time? Written by a teenager, this is sharp and compulsively readable.

Lex, by James Mylet, Quercus, RRP£12.99, 300 pages

Lex is a music-mad 17-year-old living in a small town “on the real arse end of the west coast” of Ireland. Between classes he runs a pirate radio show and longs to go to London. The plot, centred on his virgin status, is incidental; the focus is the funny, naive narrative voice. For midteens and up, with some strong language.

Suzi Feay

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Business and economics

Idea Man: A Memoir by the Co-founder of Microsoft, by Paul Allen, Portfolio Penguin, RRP£20, 368 pages

In his memoir, Microsoft’s co-founder sets up his erstwhile partner Bill Gates as the driven, sometimes ruthless pragmatist against Allen’s cerebral visionary. You may want to take that characterisation with a pinch of salt but Richard Waters, reviewing the book for the FT, says it also offers a fascinating insight into the early days of the software industry.

The Economics of Enough: How to Run the Economy as If the Future Matters, by Diane Coyle, Princeton University Press, RRP£16.95, 336 pages

Christopher Cook applauded Coyle’s book for its well-targeted “blasts at woolly thinking” in his February review for the FT. Coyle’s arguments are a grounded, orthodox antidote to the hot air that sometimes replaces economic policy at the highest levels of government.

Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier, by Edward L Glaeser, Macmillan, RRP£25, 456 pages

Glaeser is one of a number of ardent urbanists writing passionately, and counter-intuitively, about the environmental, creative and financial value of densely knit metropolitan communities. The book is a grand tour, both geographically (from Boston to Mumbai) and historically (from Constantinople to Córdoba), and it makes a compelling case that humans should head for high-rises rather than the hills.

The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here, by Lynda Gratton, Collins, RRP£18.99, 384 pages

As futurology goes, Gratton’s book is more practical than most. As well as imagining what the world of work may look like in 2025 – both its negatives and positives – Gratton, professor of management at London Business School, urges readers to consider their own situation and to make three “shifts” to exploit the rapid changes ahead.

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, by Tim Harford, Little, Brown, RRP£20, 320 pages

The FT columnist tackles a question everyone has asked – how do complex problems (from how to build a toaster to how to stop a terrorist attack) get solved? The stories of how notorious failures and spectacular successes happened are colourfully told but Harford also argues compellingly that the lessons could and should be applied more rigorously to important global problems.

Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at our Peril, by Margaret Heffernan, Simon & Schuster, RRP£12.99, 304 pages

Some of the world’s greatest disasters were allowed to happen by people who ignored the obvious, Heffernan writes. The book examines how jargon and in-built bias lead to groupthink, only occasionally challenged by whistleblowers. FT reviewer Philip Delves Broughton said the book made “a convincing case” that wilful blindness persisted at all levels.

The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust, by Diana B Henriques, Times Books, RRP$30, 448 pages

Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme had one identifiable villain at its centre but Henriques makes clear that it took plenty of negligence, greed and misplaced trust on the part of others to build his pyramid. Madoff is in jail but, with investigations ongoing, this is a first draft of history. It is an engaging one despite that.

Fixing the Game: How Runaway Expectations Broke the Economy, and How to Get Back to Reality, by Roger L Martin, Harvard Business School Press, RRP£19.99, 251 pages

An obsession with maximising shareholder value continues to blight American capitalism, says Martin. His conclusions have a global relevance: by straining to hit quarterly targets, chief executives are not only short-changing their customers, they are losing touch with the real reasons for being in business.

Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters, by Richard Rumelt, Profile Books, RRP£12.99, 336 pages

The UCLA strategy expert puts mission statements, visionary leadership and strategic “fluff” entertainingly to the sword. His frustration with “bad strategy” – from Wall Street to Iraq – comes through strongly, together with useful prescriptions for how leaders can improve.

Andrew Hill, FT management editor

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Politics

On The State of Egypt: What Caused the Revolution, by Alaa Al Aswany, Canongate, RRP£9.99, 208 pages

Al Aswany, an acclaimed novelist, is also a prolific journalist (and a dentist). In the years preceding the Egyptian revolution, he was a fierce critic of the Mubarak regime. This collection of his newspaper columns focuses on Al Aswany’s characteristic concerns – corruption, illiberal fundamentalism, autocracy, torture and the mistreatment of women. It is the authentic voice of Egyptian liberalism.

Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979-1989, by Rodric Braithwaite, Profile Books, RRP£25, 417 pages

Former ambassador Braithwaite’s book is simultaneously a grim account of the Soviet Union’s costly efforts to remake Afghanistan 30 years ago and an ironic commentary on the west’s efforts to do the same today.

Chris Patten, Chairman of the BBC Trust and chancellor of the University of Oxford

Bob Marshall-Andrews’ publisher announces on the cover of Off Message that it is an antidote to political humbug. It’s also an antidote to all those self-justifying blockbuster memoirs about the Blair and Brown years.

The author is the sort of politician, regarded as a maverick troublemaker by party managers, who is needed to protect our civil liberties from unprincipled assault. He is also very funny, another reason for his unpopularity with parliamentary whips. If you can bear to read about politics on holiday, take Off Message with you and find out why we still have a jury system in Britain.

The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua, Bloomsbury, RRP£16.99, 256 pages

One of the publishing sensations of the year, Chua’s book about her ferocious Chinese parenting style taps into two western neuroses – anxiety about how to bring up children and fear of China’s rise. Some of the condemnatory commentary on the book misses the fact that Chua’s battle hymn is also funny and self-critical.

Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World, by William D Cohan, Allen Lane, RRP£25, 572 pages

A well-researched history and analysis of the world’s most powerful investment bank. Written with the co-operation of the top people at Goldman, Cohan’s book is neither a hatchet-job nor a whitewash – and all the better for that.

Civilisation: The West and the Rest, by Niall Ferguson, Allen Lane, RRP£25, 432 pages

Ferguson’s trademarks as a historian are his range, his boldness and his financial literacy. All three qualities are in display in this sharp, superbly readable book, which analyses the rise and potential fall of western global dominance.

India: A Portrait, by Patrick French, Allen Lane, RRP£25, 448 pages

French is a beautiful writer with a deep knowledge of India. He celebrates the economic transformation and dynamism of modern India while remaining alive to the country’s problems, from caste prejudice to corruption and political violence.

The Origins of Political Order, by Francis Fukuyama, Profile Books, RRP£25, 608 pages

Fukuyama will forever be famous for his essay and book on the “end of history”. He is also a considerable scholar, as well as a phrasemaker, and this is the first volume of his magnum opus. It examines how states have developed and the origins of political stability and the rule of law.

Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis and Transformation of the American World Order, by John Ikenberry, Princeton University Press, RRP£24.95, 392 pages

One of the US’s leading political scientists takes on one of the big questions in international politics. Will relations between the major powers, particularly the US and China, be characterised more by co-operation or rivalry?

On China, by Henry Kissinger, Allen Lane, RRP£30, 586 pages

Perhaps Kissinger’s most notable achievement during his period as US secretary of state was the secret negotiation of America’s “opening to China”. It was the start of a personal fascination with China that has lasted for decades. Some critics have found this book too forgiving of the Communist party and too reverential towards the Chinese elite. But it is still characterised by a compelling mixture of scholarship, high intelligence and personal experience.

Pakistan: A Hard Country, by Anatol Lieven, Allen Lane, RRP£30, 576 pages

Lieven’s book goes beyond the usual, scary headlines about failed states and the rise of militant Islam. While he does not minimise Pakistan’s problems, Lieven seeks to explain, rather than simply condemn, Pakistani sympathy for the Taliban and argues that one of the biggest risks to Pakistan’s stability is US policy in the region.

The Unfinished Global Revolution: The Limits of Nations and the Pursuit of a New Politics, by Mark Malloch Brown, Allen Lane, RRP£25, 272 pages

This is a well-informed and passionate plea for new forms of international cooperation. Its real charm lies in the personal memories of an international civil servant, who has done everything from write the UN handbook on building emergency latrines to serving as Kofi Annan’s deputy at the top of the UN.

Gideon Rachman, FT chief foreign affairs commentator

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Science

Unnatural: The Heretical Idea of Making People, by Philip Ball, Bodley Head, RRP£20, 372 pages

Ball tells the fascinating story of anthropoesis, the artificial creation of human life, from ancient Greek myths to today’s embryo research and human cloning. As he shows, people’s historical distaste for these “unnatural” practices lives on in contemporary attitudes to reproductive technology.

The Book of Universes, by John D Barrow, Bodley Head, RRP£20, 354 pages

A take on the multiverse and infinity by a cosmologist who can write beautifully for the non-scientist. Barrow provides a good historical account of attempts to understand our own universe during the 20th century before he launches out into multiple versions.

Here on Earth: A New Beginning, by Tim Flannery, Allen Lane, RRP£14.99, 336 pages

Australia’s best-known environmental scientist has written the ultimate interdisciplinary account of life on earth so far – and what might happen next. Planetary history, evolutionary biology and the author’s own experiences come together to give us a blueprint for a brighter global future.

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos, by Brian Greene, Allen Lane, RRP£25, 384 pages

The further reaches of cosmology offer some of the most stimulating intellectual territory available to the reader of scientific non-fiction. Tackling the fashionable topic of multiple and parallel universes, Greene asks whether an infinite number of identical copies of our world exist somewhere out there. This is serious science, not sci-fi or fantasy.

The Tell-Tale Brain: Unlocking the Mystery of Human Nature, by VS Ramachandran, Heinemann, RRP£20, 382 pages

The world’s leading neuroscientists have recently brought out some wonderful books showing the excitement of contemporary brain research and Ramachandran’s is the best of them. It draws on case histories of people with neural abnormalities to demonstrate the amazing extent to which different areas of the brain interact and even take over each other’s functions.

Clive Cookson, FT science editor

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History

The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean, by David Abulafia, Allen Lane, RRP£30, 783 pages

Lucy Kellaway, FT columnist

Seldom, since reading Jane Austen, have I wanted to slip between the pages of a book and become one of its characters. But in Tides of War, Stella Tillyard’s first novel, the clever, messy heroine who prefers chemistry to needlework filled me with roughly the same longing I felt when reading Emma as a teenager.

Set during the Peninsular War, the story moves from battlefield to bedroom, with gory and gorgeous detail described with intelligence, verisimilitude and heart. Tillyard’s Aristocrats made history slip down as easily as fiction; with Tides of War, she makes fiction as real as history and considerably more compelling.

The epic sweep of this study is matched by its immense scholarship and lucid prose. Abulafia ranges from the Phoenicians of antiquity to the pirates of the medieval and early modern periods, to the present day. A magnificent study of a great centre of world civilisation.

London Under, by Peter Ackroyd, Chatto & Windus, RRP£12.99, 208 pages

What exactly goes on underneath London’s bustling streets? And what has gone on down the centuries? In a short but intriguing book, Ackroyd explores the idea that, beneath the surface, there has existed another world with rules and conventions of its own.

The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire 1832-1914, by Robert Bickers, Allen Lane, RRP£30, 512 pages

Erudite and judicious, this carefully researched study explains how China was subjected in the 19th century to the unwelcome attentions of European commercial and military intruders. Food for thought for anyone wondering how an increasingly powerful China will deal in future decades with the rest of the world.

The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples, by David Gilmour, Allen Lane, RRP£25, 480 pages

A beautifully written, up-to-date and reliable guide to Italian history. Gilmour contends that there was nothing inevitable about Italian unification and that the country’s strengths lie in its fascinatingly diverse regional identities.

Shattering Empires: The Clash and Collapse of the Ottoman and Russian Empires 1908-1918, by Michael A Reynolds, Cambridge University Press, RRP£19.99, 324 pages

Reynolds delivers an impressive and original account of events in the Ottoman and Russian empires between the Young Turk revolution and the end of the first world war. He is particularly good on the Ottoman deportations and massacres of Armenians in 1915.

Jerusalem: The Biography, by Simon Sebag Montefiore, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, RRP£25, 638 pages

Already a classic – a gripping and thought-provoking study of the city whose modern religious, political and ethnic rivalries can be understood only in the context of its preceding 3,000 years of history. Montefiore writes with verve, sensitivity and a keen eye for the entertaining historical detail.

With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918, by David Stevenson, Allen Lane, RRP£30, 736 pages

Stevenson, a leading authority on the first world war, tells how Britain, France and the US survived ferocious German onslaughts and marched to victory by November 1918. A compelling work of history based on a masterly grasp of the war’s inter-related military, political and economic themes.

Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War, by John Stubbs, Viking, RRP£25, 560 pages

This is an ambitious, kaleidoscopic work that seamlessly knits together the art and politics of mid-17th century England. Especially strong on the era’s poets and dramatists, Stubbs brings to life the remarkable cast of aristocrats, courtiers and soldiers who sided with the Royalists in the civil war.

Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder and the Cold War in the Caribbean, by Alex von Tunzelmann, Simon & Schuster, RRP£25, 558 pages

A study of US-Soviet rivalry in the western hemisphere in the 1950s and 1960s, Red Heat recounts Washington’s readiness to support local strongmen as bulwarks against the perceived threat of communist expansion. The author concentrates on Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, telling her tale with verve.

Tony Barber, FT special projects writer

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Sport

Out of the Ashes: The Remarkable Rise and Rise of the Afghanistan Cricket Team, by Tim Albone, Virgin, RRP£11.99, 304 pages

Despite their country being mired in war, the Afghanistan cricket team – many of whom had been forced to live in refugee camps – almost made it to the 2011 World Cup, beating the US in a particularly meaningful encounter on the way. Albone, a former newspaper correspondent in Afghanistan, does justice to their heroic efforts.

Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France, by Richard Moore, Yellow Jersey, RRP£12.99, 304 pages

The duel between the great French cyclist Bernard Hinault (the Badger) and his US teammate, Greg LeMond, during the 1986 Tour may have been less documented than some other sporting showdowns but was no less fierce, with LeMond feeling he had been betrayed by his French team.

High Strung: Björn Borg, John McEnroe and the last days of Tennis’s Golden Age, by Stephen Tignor, HarperCollins, RRP£14.99, 238 pages

The stuff of sporting myth is often just that. Borg and McEnroe had very different styles on court but, as Tignor’s portrait reveals, the blond Swede was not made of ice. Nor was his opponent always a close-to-tears tantrum merchant. The contest between the two, however, was undoubtedly the real thing and thrillingly close to call.

Ian Botham: The Power and the Glory, by Simon Wilde, Simon & Schuster, RRP£20, 384 pages

Not the first biography of the larger-than-life England cricketer and unlikely to be the last. But Wilde’s skilful assembly of top sources, such as Mike Brearley and Derek Pringle, enables him to explode a few myths and to shed new light on the “Beefy” so beloved of tabloid caricature.

Neil O’Sullivan, FT Life & Arts deputy editor

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Food

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, by Gabrielle Hamilton, Random House, RRP£12.99, 304 pages

My favourite food book of the past few years, a thrilling and visceral personal memoir of a New York chef. It merits a review that for once does not concentrate on the fact that the author is female and that doesn’t mention Anthony Bourdain.

Building a Wood-Fired Oven for Bread and Pizza, by Tom Jaine, Prospect Books, RRP£9.99, 136 pages

This is the kind of deep nerdery that will delight any proper food geek. A slim volume from a specialist publisher, it details the construction of an oven, brick by brick, and is liberally dusted with history and baking tips.

Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking, by Signe Johansen, Saltyard Books, RRP£20, 224 pages

If you thought Scandinavian food was all about rotting shark, think again. It is, as they say in the fashion world, so hot right now, as is Signe Johansen, a food anthropologist with a winning style and a great way with a recipe.

Bocca, by Jacob Kenedy, Bloomsbury, RRP£30, 480 pages

London’s Bocca di Lupo has been one of the more exciting restaurant openings in the past few years with its updated pan-Italian menu but, with this, chef Jacob Kenedy digs deep into all his influences. This book deserves to be up there with the River Café, Moro and Ottolenghi cookbooks as a culinary game-changer.

Classic Voices in Food, by various authors, Quadrille (various)

Reprints they may be but this series of books from Quadrille, in gorgeously designed hardback bindings, fills in the spaces in our culinary history for those without bottomless wallets and a penchant for book auctions. You won’t get a beautiful copy of Leyel and Hartley’s Gentle Art of Cookery or Boulestin’s Simple French Cooking, or Madame Prunier’s awesome Fish Cookery Book for less than the price of a family car these days – unless you invest in these. More to come, I hope.

Tim Hayward, Editor of Fire & Knives Magazine

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Travel

Wild Coast: Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge, by John Gimlette, Profile Books, RRP£15, 358 pages

Simon Schama, Historian and FT contributing editor

I’m parti pris. I knew Tony Judt since Cambridge. We argued a fair bit. But, faced with a most terrible end, every part of him seizing up except the brain, Judt unself-pityingly wrote the most exquisite meditation on memory, childhood, being Jewish in London, trains, the Green Line bus – and history – you can possibly imagine. The Memory Chalet is his posthumous gift to us: delicate, passionate and true; an aptly imperishable achievement.

Earlier this year, Paul Theroux argued in these pages against the notion that there was nowhere left for travel writers to explore. Gimlette’s book illustrates this to a T – while much of South America has become familiar to tourists in the past two decades, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana remain rarely visited. The result is a fascinating tale of rebels and remote jungle, snakes and slavery. Perfect armchair adventure.

To The River: A Journey Beneath the Surface, by Olivia Lang, Canongate, RRP£16.99, 304 pages

A far more modest expedition than the other books mentioned here – Laing’s journey amounts to just 42 miles and only takes a week – but in some ways it is the most affecting of the lot. After losing her job and a relationship break-up, Laing sets off to walk the length of the river Ouse in Sussex. She writes about the river’s history and tells the stories of those connected with it (in particular Virginia Woolf, who committed suicide by drowning in it), but, above all, it is her lyrical description of nature that makes the book shine.

To a Mountain in Tibet, by Colin Thubron, Chatto & Windus, RRP£16.99, 240 pages

Thubron’s latest sees him joining Hindu, Buddhist and Jain pilgrims as they perform a ritual trek around Mount Kailas in Tibet. His measured prose matches the region’s stark beauty. Refreshing.

Ox Travels: Meetings with Remarkable Travel Writers, by various authors, Profile Books, RRP£9.99, 480 pages

Sometimes a hot beach can make it hard to muster the attention span for serious reading, which makes Ox Travels an ideal holiday companion. A collection of 36 short pieces, its list of contributors covers just about every travel writer you’ve heard of – Patrick Leigh Fermor, William Dalrymple, Jan Morris and so on. There’s a foreword by Michael Palin and all profits go to the charity Oxfam.

Tom Robbins, FT travel editor

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Art

The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde, edited by Janet Bishop, Cécile Debray, Rebecca Rabinow Yale, RRP£50, 492 pages

No collectors had greater impact on modern art than the passionate, squabbling trio Leo, Gertrude and Michael Stein. They provided pivotal support for Matisse and Picasso, assembling a stunning array of works. This magnificent volume accompanies an important touring exhibition.

Pissarro’s People, by Richard R Brettell, Prestel, RRP£40, 304 pages

Most of the impressionists were at one time or another Pissarro’s people, helped and guided by this avuncular, humane member of the group. His paintings of the human figure are interpreted in the context of his sociopolitical interests – as anarchist and Jew – in this beautifully illustrated, insightful biography.

My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, edited by Sarah Greenough, Yale, RRP£28, 832 pages

She is sparse and vibrant, he is fervent and lyrical; American art history’s most celebrated couple exchanged 5,000 letters describing in rich detail their lives and ideas. A marvellous correspondence, personally and culturally evocative.

Jackie Wullschlager, FT visual arts critic

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Architecture/Design

Usefulness in Small Things, by Kim Colin and Sam Hecht, foreword by Paul Smith, Rizzoli International, RRP£19.95, 224 pages

This collection of things for “Under a Fiver” offers a refreshing look at everyday objects produced for the mass market that appear as beautiful and ingenious as the products of high-end design art or the expensive artefacts of contemporary conspicuous consumption.

CCCP: Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed, by Frédéric Chaubin, Taschen, RRP£34.99, 288 pages

The sheer modernist exuberance of postwar communist concrete expressionism is little known. This superb photographic survey documents some of the wildest and wackiest architecture of the modern era: space-age resorts, gargantuan monuments and insanely sculptural scout camps.

Dubai High: A Culture Trip, by Michael Schindhelm, Arabian Publishing, RRP$50, 237 pages

There was a moment when it looked like Dubai was the future. Schindhelm, former director of Berlin’s Opera House, went to head the emirate’s embryonic cultural council. This is the story of his encounters with Emiratis and the existential loneliness he experienced. Engaging and excruciating.

Edwin Heathcote, FT architecture critic

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Film

Lucy Prebble, Playwright

Tina Fey’s Bossypants is an easy, heartfelt romp through her rise to becoming comedy royalty and show-running role model. She wears all this lightly and it’s warmly honest about her own foibles and missteps.

When comedy is so often viewed through a prism of masculine damage, excess and transgression, here’s a fascinating and well-rounded account of someone a bit controlling, anxious but wise, being very, very funny.

I Found It at the Movies: Reflections of a Cinephile, by Philip French, Carcanet Press, RRP£19.95, 292 pages

Before the internet, there was Observer film critic Philip French – a storehouse mind containing all known movie facts. The range, wit and scholarship of these collected essays is formidable. The title plays on Pauline Kael’s anthology I Lost it at the Movies (her innocence). French’s “innocence”, his still unjaded love of cinema, is never in doubt.

An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War, by J Hoberman, The New Press, RRP$29.95, 408 pages

This study of geopolitical anxiety in 1950s/1960s cinema is written by the critic of New York’s Village Voice. Every title you can think of, and a few you can’t, are brought to the debate.

Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s, by Kim Newman, Bloomsbury, RRP£30, 640 pages

Fifty years of screaming in the cinema: how we spectators love to suffer. Kim Newman, a witty, intelligent horror buff, defies the old proverb, “Beware of geeks bearing gifts”. He traces influences as intricately as veins and arteries. From Night of the Living Dead (1968) to The Blair Witch Project (1999), the analyses intrigue and the arguments compel.

Nigel Andrews, FT film critic

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Pop music

Paradoxical Undressing, by Kristin Hersh, Atlantic, RRP£18.99, 336 pages

Hersh’s memoir is based on a diary she kept in 1985 aged 18. It’s a snapshot of a young life unravelling while also moving forward: her band Throwing Muses record their first album and she gives birth to her first child.

Bob Dylan: Writings 1968-2010, by Greil Marcus, Faber, RRP£15.99, 512 pages

Being a Dylan fan made Marcus want to be a writer. He went on to be a celebrated critic while Dylan went on being Dylan: as apt to bemuse as enthral. Marcus’s reflections have a similarly footloose quality: suggestive, sinuous and, at times, baffling.

Retromania, by Simon Reynolds, Faber, RRP£17.99, 300 pages

As music grows more high-tech, so its content becomes more backward-looking. In Retromania, Simon Reynolds examines pop’s self-investiture in its own history.

The Man Who Recorded the World, by John Szwed, Heinemann, RRP£20, 448 pages

A biography of “one of the most influential Americans of the 20th century”, Alan Lomax, the musicologist whose song-hunting expeditions helped bring the blues to public attention.

Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, FT pop critic

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Poetry

Six Children, by Mark Ford, Faber, RRP£9.99, 96 pages

Playful erudition is worn lightly in Ford’s third book of poems, exploring offbeat icons of America – Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, the extinct passenger pigeon. Sadnesses for lost companions (there is a poem for the late Mick Imlah) and for lost lands (Kenya, where Ford was born) are tenderly clear.

Fiere, by Jackie Kay, Picador, RRP£8.99, 72 pages

A rich companion to Kay’s memoir, Red Dust Road, about her journey to meet her birth father in Nigeria, Fiere depicts the landscapes of her identity – part Scottish, part Nigerian; part mother, part lover – switching dextrously between a rhyming Scots voice and a tongue twisted with unfamiliar Igbo words.

A Hundred Doors, by Michael Longley, Cape, RRP£10, 64 pages

A Hundred Doors evinces a family life intertwined with nature. Many of the poems are set in the Mayo townland Carrigskeewaun, where Longley’s house is both an aide to reflection and an eyrie to observe the swan’s nests, salt marsh and bog cotton. There are also poems for the war dead, the enduring ghosts in Longley’s work. A beautiful collection.

Natalie Whittle, FT Magazine associate editor

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