The FT’s Summer books 2014
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest Life & Arts news every morning.
Editor of the Financial Times
Scott Anderson’s Lawrence in Arabia (Atlantic) is a gripping narrative featuring TE Lawrence, the adventurer, archaeologist, Arabist and spy whose exploits in the first world war helped to shape the modern Middle East. Anderson sets the Oxford man alongside three other larger-than-life characters, an American oilman, a German diplomat-cum-provocateur and a polyglot Romanian Jew who helped found the state of Israel. It is a novel approach but Lawrence and his own contradictions ultimately capture the day. A must read for anyone trying to understand the region.
Author of ‘A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’ (Faber)
Nothing I’ve read this year has affected or disturbed me as greatly as CB Editions’ timely reissue of The Notebook by Agota Kristof. In an unnamed country at the end of an unnamed war, the central characters – a pair of eerily self-disciplined identical twins – force themselves through a carefully planned programme of dehumanisation. Drawing understated parallels between acts of private, collective and state-sponsored violence throughout, Kristof’s chilling indictment of totalitarianism in all its forms reads like an alternative – and equally dread-inducing – eastern European Nineteen Eighty-Four. Both stylistically inventive and politically incisive, this is a book to worry readers for years.
Literary people can be snooty about Donna Tartt’s third novel, The Goldfinch (Abacus), yet this is a book written for the reader’s sheer pleasure. There is plot – and then some. There are memorable characters. There is sharp writing. There is even a deep philosophical bit at the end. Indeed, the book was such a treat that I am left bereft on finishing it. I have turned to Philip Roth, knowing he hardly ever disappoints. But halfway through American Pastoral, I find the sacrilegious thought crossing my mind: couldn’t he take a leaf out of Tartt’s book and write more for the reader and less for himself?
Executive chairman of Google and co-author of ‘The New Digital Age (John Murray)
An economist wrote in 1971 that, “in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else . . . ” Now, our senses are overwhelmed by multitasking, information and stimulation. Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir’s Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (Allen Lane) concludes that attention is everything but with focus we can tunnel and miss things. The authors apply the rules of scarcity to all of our activities, even love. They explain why scarcity begets scarcity. Winners in this world have better patience and control over impulses. This is a book to read – but not while you are watching something else at the same time.
FT contributing editor and author of ‘The Story of the Jews’ (Bodley Head)
“He could not understand why no one was as disturbed as he by the clicking of her heels on the paving stones . . . why everyone did not go mad with the movements of her braid . . . ” Nothing else you read this summer will come close to Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera (Penguin). Do not read it out of memorial piety. Read it to understand what the language animal can do at the height of his powers. Read it to see the world with sharpened sight, drink a deep draft of sensual passion, sweat in the Caribbean heat, and laugh at the malice of a lethal parrot.
Karl Ove Knausgaard
Author of the ‘My Struggle’ six-book cycle (Vintage)
When a book opens like this: “I often have to cut into the brain and it is something I hate doing” – you can’t let it go, you have to read on, don’t you? Brain surgery, that’s the most remote thing for me, I don’t know anything about it, and as it is with everything I’m ignorant of, I trust completely the skills of those who practise it, and tend to forget the human element, which is failures, misunderstandings, mistakes, luck and bad luck, but also the non-professional, everyday life that they have. Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) by Henry Marsh reveals all of this, in the midst of life-threatening situations, and that’s one reason to read it; true honesty in an unexpected place. But there are plenty of others – for instance, the mechanical, material side of being, that we also are wire and strings that can be fixed, not unlike cars and washing machines, really.
Author of ‘It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens’ (Yale)
Alice Goffman’s On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (University of Chicago Press) brilliantly deciphers the cultural logic of American black men’s relationship with law enforcement, revealing why black communities respond the way they do to policing culture. Today’s poor youth are trying to navigate a system that is unfair and disempowering. The lesson many take away is to trust no one. On the Run is an eye-opening book, full of beauty and sorrow, that challenges most people’s assumptions about policing and inequality in America.
MP and author of ‘War and Gold’ (Bloomsbury)
I have enjoyed many books this year but one that stood out, partly because of its unusual nature, was Altered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History (Little, Brown) by Richard J Evans. Counterfactuals are the kind of guessing game we play when we wonder what would have happened if, say, Napoleon had won the battle of Waterloo. Evans’s book reveals how much of our modern thinking about history is dominated by counterfactuals. For example, in the last 20 years, many novels have featured lurid depictions of a Britain conquered by the Nazis. Altered Pasts is a good read, which stimulates further reflection about the nature of history.
Author of ‘To Rise Again at a Decent Hour’ (Viking)
My favourite novel of 2014 is Zachary Lazar’s I Pity The Poor Immigrant (Little, Brown). Lazar is part of a new wave of writers – I’d include Rachel Kushner and Dana Spiotta with him – who have taken up the mantle of Didion and DeLillo in their preoccupations with the elusiveness of truth and the historical forces that shape, whittle, destroy the individual. I Pity The Poor Immigrant is the multilayered story of, on the one hand, the writer Hannah Groff’s investigation into the murder of David Bellen, an Israeli poet, and on the other, the mid-century Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky and his crimes. But it’s the telling that’s most thrilling. Deploying narrative techniques ranging from memoir, essay, photography, and journalism, Lazar shows how history is an act of storytelling and how storytelling is constructed bit by bit from our desperate and limited human perspectives.
Author of ‘Economics: The User’s Guide’ (Pelican)
An Officer and a Spy (Arrow) by Robert Harris is a remarkable fictionalisation of an extraordinary historical event, the Dreyfus Affair, but it has a chilling resonance for our time. I firmly believe that actions by the state can promote “the greater good”, but the book powerfully reminds us that the notion can be abused by a self-selected elite as an excuse to wield arbitrary power, to intimidate and discredit whistleblowers, and to distort the very notion of what is “good”. The book forces us to confront similar issues of our time, ranging from the dossier on the Iraqi WMD to the NSA files.
Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace, Bantam, RRP£20/ Random House, RRP$28
Catmull defies the curse of the “founder memoir” – a business genre in which the author uses the pulpit of success to lecture readers about how he or she did it – with his account of the ups and downs of Pixar, the animation studio. From the creative chaos, he and Wallace manage to conjure lessons about how to handle innovative and imaginative obsessives, whose very perfectionism may sometimes be a liability.
Flash Boys: Cracking the Money Code, by Michael Lewis, Allen Lane, RRP£30/ WW Norton, RRP$27.95
Lewis touched a nerve with his book about the growth of high-frequency trading. He takes the view that, under the guise of providing useful liquidity to markets, high-speed data lines and powerful programs in fact give traders a split-second to take advantage of other investors. What nobody disputes is that Lewis has wrought another great narrative from an esoteric topic.
Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade, by Adam Minter, Bloomsbury, RRP£18.99/ $26
Minter, the China-based son of a junkyard owner, is ideally placed to tell the story of what happens to the goods that the rest of the world decides to recycle. The answer is that they end up being broken up, shredded and melted down in China to help fuel the appetite for raw materials of one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. One sobering conclusion is that recycling, with its by-products of more pollution and human health problems, is no environmental panacea for western consumers.
Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits, by Kevin Roose, Grand Central Publishing, RRP$27
By tracking young recruits to Wall Street – and allowing them to remain anonymous – Roose opens a window on to the incentives to join the Lower Manhattan rat race before the financial crisis. He charts the transformation highly qualified newcomers undergo as they are inducted into its biggest financial institutions. FT reviewer Sujeet Indap, himself a former investment banker, disputed the idea that America was worse off for encouraging talented graduates into the profession, but lauded Roose’s in-depth reporting.
Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less, by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao, Random House Business, RRP£14.99/ Crown Business, RRP$26
The two Stanford professors tackle one of the biggest challenges for growing businesses: how to get larger without becoming entangled in bureaucracy. Most of the book is practical and spiced with entertaining case studies. They do not shy away, either, from pointing out that it may sometimes make sense to stay small.
The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters, by Gregory Zuckerman, Portfolio, RRP£14.99/$29.95
Authors are mining the “shale gas revolution” for stories about the pros and cons of fracking. Zuckerman is generally supportive of the technique in a book laced with colour and detail. Ed Crooks, reviewing in the FT, said that by focusing on the characters at the centre of the phenomenon, Zuckerman had managed to tell “a classic American story” of creativity, bravado and the quest for great wealth.
Fragile by Design: The Political Origins of Banking Crises and Scarce Credit, by Charles W Calomiris and Stephen H Haber, Princeton University Press, RRP£24.95/$35
We get the banking systems we deserve or, more precisely, that our political systems choose. The US has had 12 systemic banking crises since 1840, while Canada has had none. In some cases, therefore, the outcome of political bargaining is stability and in other apparently not dissimilar cases it is instability. Better awareness of how the political forces work might lead to superior bargains. But this informative book does not leave the reader optimistic. It is hard to shift bad political equilibria.
Shredded: Inside RBS, the Bank that Broke Britain, by Ian Fraser, Birlinn, RRP£25
RBS, briefly the biggest bank in the world, was a rogue bank. In this gripping account, Fraser explains how this was allowed to happen. Evidently, the management – above all chief executive Fred Goodwin – bears immediate responsibility for the grotesque hubris and incompetence displayed but so, too, do the regulators and politicians. RBS was a rogue business, operating in what had become a rogue industry, with the connivance of government. Read it and weep.
Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises, by Timothy Geithner, Random House Business, RRP£25/ Crown, RRP$35
Geithner was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and then Treasury secretary to Barack Obama through the worst years of the global financial crisis. His book offers a lively account of what this experience felt like. Geithner also argues that the way the US handled the crisis and particularly its use of stress tests is a model for crisis management in future. Sadly, he also believes that crises are sure to recur.
European Spring: Why our Economies and Politics are in a Mess and How to Put Them Right, by Philippe Legrain, CB Books, RRP£12.99/ $14.99
A splendid book on the European malaise. Legrain argues compellingly that policy makers’ response to that crisis was and remains a disaster. He warns that the eurozone is still far from healthy and that the German example, which members are supposed to follow, is a delusion. He notes, too, that the UK’s recovery is built on sand. He goes well beyond this to show that radical reforms are needed to produce an “adaptable, dynamic and decent” Europe.
House of Debt: How They (and You) Caused the Great Recession, and How We Can Prevent it from Happening Again, by Atif Mian and Amir Sufi, University of Chicago Press, RRP£18/ $26
In this important book, Professors Mian and Sufi argue that “economic disasters are almost always preceded by a large increase in household debt”. It is debatable whether this is a universal truth. But it is certainly true of the financial crisis of 2007-08. The authors argue, persuasively, for a shift from traditional debt towards contracts that share losses between the suppliers and users of finance.
War: What is it Good for? The Role of Conflict in Civilisation, from Primates to Robots, by Ian Morris, Profile, RRP£25/ Farrar, Straus and Giroux, RRP$30
In this remarkable book, historian Morris argues not only that war is a source of technological advance but that it brings peace. Through war, more powerful and effective states emerge and these in turn do not merely offer the blessings of peace, but impose it. The thesis is disturbingly persuasive. But, in a nuclear age, the great powers will have to try something else.
Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty translated by Arthur Goldhammer, Harvard University Press, RRP£29.95/ Belknap Press, RRP$39.95
The blockbuster success of the year. Despite the controversies surrounding it, the book throws much light upon one of the most important questions in economics: what determines the distribution of income and wealth. With a wealth of data and some simple and powerful theories, Piketty has transformed the debate. This is an immensely important contribution to public understanding and political debate.
Roy Jenkins: A Well-Rounded Life, by John Campbell, Jonathan Cape, RRP£30
The biography of a centre-left politician who never made it to the top of British politics and operated in a period when the country was in gentle decline might not sound too promising. But Campbell is a superb biographer and he makes Jenkins a fascinating and emblematic figure.
The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China, by Geoff Dyer, Allen Lane, RRP£20/ Knopf, RRP$26.95
The FT’s Geoff Dyer looks at the emerging US-China rivalry. His widely praised book examines the military, economic and political aspects of the contest – and makes clear how developments in one area will affect others. In particular, both the Chinese and US leaderships face daunting domestic reform challenges.
The French Intifada: The Long War Between France and Its Arabs, by Andrew Hussey, Granta, RRP£25/ Faber, RRP$35
One of the most eye-catching developments in European politics, the rise of France’s far-right National Front, is put in context by Hussey’s study of the growing divisions between mainstream France and an embittered, radicalised section of its Muslim minority. The book argues that the “intifada” is as much about culture as economics.
The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, by John Mearsheimer, WW Norton, RRP£13.99/$19.95
A classic work of political science, first published in 2001, now reissued with a new chapter on the rise of China. Mearsheimer, a doyen of the gloomy “realist” school of international relations, predicts that relations between the US and China will be characterised by “intense security competition with considerable potential for war”.
The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, Allen Lane, RRP£20/ Penguin Press, RRP$27.95
The editor and management guru at the Economist take on a characteristically large subject: the history and future of government. Their book has the characteristic virtues of the Economist: confidence, clarity, a sense of history and a global perspective.
Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China, by Evan Osnos, Bodley Head, RRP£20/ Farrar, Straus and Giroux, RRP$27
As the New Yorker’s Beijing correspondent, Osnos built up a reputation as one of the finest and most vivid western writers on China. Here he pulls together his reportage to draw a portrait of a country torn between the rise of individualism and an entrenched one-party state.
Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival, by David Pilling, Allen Lane, RRP£20/ Penguin Press, RRP$29.95
Pilling, the FT’s Asia editor, was based in Tokyo for many years. His affection and admiration for Japan shines through in this perceptive account, which stresses Japan’s ability to reinvent itself – and so cuts through much of the fashionable pessimism about the country.
Brazil: The Troubled Rise of a Global Power, by Michael Reid, Yale, RRP£20/ $32.50
Perfectly timed for the World Cup, Reid’s book is highly readable and scholarly. His subtle analysis is captured in a subtitle that makes clear that Brazil is both an emerging world power and a nation with deep-seated problems rooted in its colonial past, slavery and official paternalism.
Nixon, Kissinger and the Shah: The United States and Iran in the Cold War, by Roham Alvandi, Oxford University Press, RRP£35.99/$55
Knowledge of the 1970s, when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was one of Washington’s closest global allies, is essential for anyone wishing to understand why it is so difficult for the US and Iran to overcome their differences. Alvandi throws new light on the period by showing that Iran’s last shah was more than just President Richard Nixon’s cat’s paw in the Middle East.
God’s Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England, by Jessie Childs, Bodley Head, RRP£25/$29.95
In her fast-paced and well-researched book, Childs focuses on one family, the Vaux of Northamptonshire, to recount the broader story of England’s Catholic minority from Elizabeth I’s accession in 1558 to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991, by Orlando Figes, Pelican, RRP£7.99/ Metropolitan Books, RRP$28
A stimulating introduction to late Tsarist and Soviet history from one of Britain’s foremost historians of Russia. Figes deftly analyses how the revolutionary tides that swept the Bolsheviks to power in 1917 affected the outlook of the Kremlin’s rulers right up to Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet Union’s demise in 1991.
Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from the Rights of Man to Robespierre, by Jonathan Israel, Princeton, RRP£27.95/$39.95
Israel, a professor of modern European history at Princeton, is a world authority on the 18th-century Enlightenment. Here he constructs a bold and brilliantly argued case that the 1789 French Revolution was propelled by the clash of innovative political doctrines that supported or contested Enlightenment values.
Let God Arise: The War and Rebellion of the Camisards, by W Gregory Monahan, Oxford University Press, RRP£75/$115
In 1702 the Protestant Camisards of the remote Cévennes region of southern France rose up against the crown and the Catholic authorities. Monahan, professor emeritus at Eastern Oregon university, is the first English-language historian to devote an entire book to this often overlooked episode of early modern French history, and he tells the story with great verve and erudition.
The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century, by Jürgen Osterhammel translated by Patrick Camiller, Princeton RRP£27.95/$39.95
The 19th century was an age marked by dramatic scientific progress, the rise of capitalism, the expansion of European empires, revolutionary nationalism and other recognisably modern trends. Osterhammel, a professor at the University of Konstanz in Germany, has written a work of panoramic scope and rare historical imagination.
The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act, by Clay Risen, Bloomsbury, RRP£18.99/$28
Risen, a New York Times editor, provides a gripping account of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a monument of 20th-century liberal US legislation. What emerges from his studiously documented book is how much the bill’s success depended on backroom dealmaking in Congress as well as the support of President Lyndon Johnson and civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order, 1916-1931, by Adam Tooze, Allen Lane, RRP£30
Tooze, a Yale-based historian, made his name with The Wages of Destruction, a superb 2006 study of the Nazi German economy. His study of the post-1918 era is equally impressive, explaining why the US and its allies, having defeated Germany, were unable to stabilise the world economy and build a collective security system in Europe.
Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, by Nick Bostrom, Oxford University Press, RRP£18.99/$29.95
Bostrom, founding director of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, casts a philosopher’s eye at the past, present and future of artificial intelligence. He believes that AI research could lead to runaway superintelligence that might threaten the very existence of human civilisation – and he outlines precautions we could take.
Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story, by Rob Dinnis and Chris Stringer, Natural History Museum, RRP£12.99/£19.95
A beautifully written and illustrated account of a million years of human habitation of the British Isles, published to coincide with a spectacular exhibition at London’s Natural History Museum. It describes an epic struggle between people, animals and climate change.
Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions, by Gerd Gigerenzer, Allen Lane, RRP£14.99/ Viking, RRP$26.95
An engaging analysis of the cost of misjudging risk, both in human suffering and financial losses. Gigerenzer, based at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, blames experts – particularly doctors and investment advisers – for a lamentable failure to understand and communicate risks in their fields. And he shows how to do it better.
We Are Our Brains: From the Womb to Alzheimer’s, by Dick Swaab, Allen Lane, RRP£20/ Spiegel & Grau, RRP$28
An extraordinarily broad sweep through the past and present of neuroscience. Swaab, neurobiology professor at the University of Amsterdam, offers insights about the two ends of life: how an individual’s psychology is determined before birth; and how to die with dignity – from the perspective of a medical campaigner who helped frame the liberal Dutch laws on assisted dying.
Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality, by Max Tegmark, Allen Lane, RRP£25/ Knopf, RRP$30
Tegmark, a physics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, takes us on an amazing ride through the rich landscape of contemporary cosmology to infinity and beyond. He is the best guide available to the current vogue for multiple universes.
Futebol Nation: A Footballing History of Brazil, by David Goldblatt, Penguin, RRP£9.99/ Nation Books, RRP$16.99
Brazil-lit has been the defining theme of the sports year so far. As Simon Kuper wrote in the FT recently, the story of this “futebol nation” is best told by British author Goldblatt, whose juggling of socio-economic analysis and sporting history explains how the development of the game has echoed Brazil’s debates about its place in the world.
Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty, by Ben Lyttleton, Bantam Press, RRP£14.99
Another World Cup book, Lyttleton’s Twelve Yards, acquires particular resonance as the knockout stage of the tournament – where games can be decided by the dreaded penalty shoot-out – begins. English fans have been spared customary heartbreak by the team thoughtfully finding other ways to get eliminated. Instead, they can use this excellent primer to enjoy other countries’ misery.
The Climb, by Chris Froome, Viking, RRP£20
Britain’s cycling boom – fuelled by two successive Tour de France wins – has produced an upsurge in books about the sport. With 2013 champ Chris Froome hot favourite to win again next month, his recent autobiography The Climb is hard to beat for a top pro’s perspective.
John Wayne: The Life and Legend, by Scott Eyman, Simon & Schuster, RRP£25/$32.50
Born in 1907 in Iowa (where he rode his horse to school), the Duke went on to define in his 50-year career not just screen westerns but America itself. A passionate but pragmatic tribute that offers us an unyielding but decent, odd but essentially self-aware guy (“I’ve played the kind of man I’d like to have been”).
Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War, by Mark Harris, Canongate, RRP£30/ Penguin Press, RRP$29.95
A startling account of how five exemplary film-makers (John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler, Frank Capra) enlisted in every branch of the US forces, only to return, deeply moved and changed, to approach cinema in new ways.
Brando’s Smile: His Life, Thought, and Work, by Susan Mizruchi, WW Norton, RRP£16.49/$27.95
With unprecedented access to the eccentric but often profound personal annotations in the thousands of books in Brando’s eclectic library, this exhilarating new biography homes in on the kind of details that any serious Brando fan will devour like a starving man in the desert.
Cézanne and the Modern: Masterpieces of European Art from the Pearlman Collection, Princeton University Press, RRP£35/$65
Catalogue to the starry exhibition of paintings collected by American businessman Henry Pearlman, currently on their first tour of Europe. Beautifully produced, it includes Pearlman’s reminiscences – he started buying at 50, on seeing a Soutine in a gallery window – and penetrating essays on Cézanne’s watercolours, Modigliani’s portraits, Degas’ nudes, and more.
Landscapes of London: The City, the Country and the Suburbs 1660-1840, by Elizabeth McKellar, Yale, RRP£45/$85
That rare thing, a scholarly volume of interest to the non-specialist. Tracing suburbia since the 17th century, McKellar shows historic London as the forerunner of today’s culturally and architecturally complex, multi-faceted cities; she made me look at the layers of the city I thought I knew with fresh eyes.
John Ruskin: Artist and Observer, by Christopher Newall, Paul Holberton, RRP£37.50/$60
Ruskin’s ideas about art and its role in society influenced thinkers from Gandhi to Proust and are still pertinent. Amplifying understanding of his thought, this volume unfolds his drawings of nature and buildings, lyrical, fluid, meticulous, as windows into a brilliant mind and troubled soul. It accompanies a forthcoming exhibition in Edinburgh.
A Way of Living: The Art of Willem de Kooning, by Judith Zilczer, Phaidon, RRP£59.95/$100
“Any kind of painting, any style of painting – to be painting at all – is a way of living . . . It is exactly in its uselessness that it is free.” This lavish monograph unravels how de Kooning lived by that romantic mantra, creating “visions of a temperament seen through nature”.
Critique of Everyday Life, by Henri Lefebvre, Verso, RRP£25/$44.95
Lefebvre (1901-91) saw the realm of everyday life as something that needed to be seized back from the space of capitalist consumption. The quotidian demanded a revolution and, in 1968, Paris almost got it. Those events might not have happened without this book. Beautifully designed by Neil Donnelly, this new edition looks as good as it reads and remains fiercely relevant.
Mies, by Detlef Mertins, Phaidon, RRP£100/$150
Less is more but, occasionally, more is good too. This is the definitive book on the great architect of modernism, Mr Minimal himself, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. It’s big, it’s expensive but it is also serious, a reminder of just why the German architect and one-time head of the Bauhaus was so good.
The Good Life: Perceptions of the Ordinary, by Jasper Morrison, Lars Müller Publishers, RRP€20
This slim book celebrates the ingenuity of the ordinary seen through the eyes of an industrial designer. Morrison, in search of what he calls the “Super Normal”, collates his snaps of occasionally beautiful, bizarre and ad hoc inventions by people unconcerned with the language of design who have, nevertheless, got it just right.
Landmarks: The Modern House in Denmark, by Michael Sheridan, Hatje Cantz, RRP€39.80
Strange title this; in fact, the contents of the book are the opposite of landmarks. Instead, they are gorgeously simple and seductively elegant postwar houses from Denmark, where domestic architecture is almost a religion. There are some famous names here (Arne Jacobsen, Jørn Utzon) but mostly these are just unpretentious, deceptively simple houses. Almost perfect.
Piano Man: A Life of John Ogdon, by Charles Beauclerk, Simon & Schuster, RRP£20/$29.99
Ogdon was one of the most gifted pianists of modern times but, after scaling the heights of his profession, he ended his life in penury and mental breakdown. Beauclerk’s immaculately researched biography encapsulates the extremes of Ogdon’s life, public and private, manic and depressive, in a way that makes for compulsive reading.
Harrison Birtwistle: Wild Tracks, by Fiona Maddocks, Faber, RRP£22.50
Maddocks’ long familiarity with one of Britain’s leading composers, 80 this year, has given her privileged access to his thoughts, making her “conversation diary” an illuminating study of compositional psychology and process. We eavesdrop on Birtwistle’s insecurities and obsessions, and learn how the wider threads of his life are woven into his music.
Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews – Notes from the Heart, collected, introduced and annotated by Nicolas Southon, translated by Roger Nichols, Ashgate, RRP£65/$109.95
Not just a witty composer, Poulenc’s writings and correspondence are full of breezy aperçus, as this fascinating volume makes clear. He writes “in praise of banality”, analyses Strauss’s Elektra and waxes lyrical about “the heart of Maurice Ravel”. Poulenc’s independence of spirit is emblazoned on every page.
Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys, by Viv Albertine, Faber £14.99
“Anyone who writes an autobiography is either a twat or broke,” says Albertine, who is “a bit of both”. Cue an engaging and honest memoir about her time as guitarist with feminist punk pioneers the Slits, followed by suburban marriage, boredom and then a return to music.
Rock Stars Stole My Life! A Big Bad Love Affair with Music, by Mark Ellen, Coronet, RRP£18.99
Q magazine’s founder conducts a breezy tour through a life of rock journalism. The tone is self-deprecating and anecdotal, like the time Ellen interviews a drugged Iggy Pop on live radio: “I sensed this powerful cocktail could be about to wear off and then things might get worse . . . ”
Travelling Sprinkler, by Nicholson Baker, Serpent’s Tail, RRP£8.99/ Blue Rider Press, RRP$26.95
In this latest expert dissection of everyday life, we are plunged headlong into the mind of Paul Chowder, the none-too-successful poet of Baker’s 2009’s novel The Anthologist, now struggling to deal with the sagging disappointments of middle-age. Chowder’s rants about everything from US foreign policy to his ex-partner form a web of connections brought together with symphonic skill.
The Strangler Vine, by Miranda Carter, Fig Tree, RRP£14.99/ Putnam Adult, RRP$26.95
Carter’s rip-roaring debut novel takes us to the India of the 1830s, where the violent Thugee sect are at large. We follow Old India hand, Jeremiah Blake, along with Lieutenant William Avery, on their hunt for Xavier Mountstuart, a poet obsessed with the Thugs. A rattling good yarn with a sceptical view of imperialist propaganda.
Every Day is for the Thief, by Teju Cole, Faber, RRP£12.99/ Random House, RRP$23
After the success of his 2011 novel Open City, Nigerian-American writer Cole returns with this genre-bending mix of travelogue, memoir and essay (first published in Nigeria in 2007, and now updated) in which a nameless narrator returns to his homeland after a 15-year absence. But the main character here is the city of Lagos, with its Danfo buses, colourful markets and entrenched corruption.
Can’t and Won’t, by Lydia Davis, Hamish Hamilton, RRP£16.99/ Farrar, Straus & Giroux, RRP$26
“The dramas and ironies of [Davis’s] short – often very short – stories,” wrote Claire Messud in these pages, “are those of our everyday lives, held up before us as if for the first time.” From breezy, delightful riffs, to more substantial and often moving tales, Davis’s writing is idiosyncratic and joyous.
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, by Joshua Ferris, Viking, RRP£16.99/ Little, Brown, RRP$26
A dazzling comic novel about midlife crisis which, as our reviewer put it, also “has some important, timely and well-researched things to say about dentistry”. Protagonist Paul O’Rourke is a successful New York dentist struggling to feel at ease in the modern world, who finds himself governed by obsessive ritual and obsessive pursuit of women from different creeds. Exuberant and enjoyably ramshackle.
In the Wolf’s Mouth, by Adam Foulds, Jonathan Cape, RRP£16.99/ Farrar, Straus & Giroux, RRP$26
Foulds tells the story of an English field security officer and an Italian-American infantryman in the north African campaign of 1942, and later in Sicily, where they become embroiled with a local mafioso. A poetic exploration of the horrors of war that builds to a denouement that has all the pacy tension of a political thriller.
Everland, by Rebecca Hunt, Fig Tree, RRP£12.99
After her light-hearted debut Mr Chartwell, Hunt’s second novel is quite a departure. Everland is a deftly interwoven tale of two Antarctic journeys, a century apart – the first loosely based on Scott’s mission, the second a contemporary field trip. The author spent a month in the Arctic Circle, and she conjures the breathtaking starkness of the landscape expertly.
All the Rage, by AL Kennedy, Jonathan Cape, RRP£16.99/ New Harvest, RRP$24
Billed as a set of love stories, Kennedy’s sparely written collection is more a study of the alienation, dismay and misery that love, or lovelessness, can generate. If her characters would “only connect” as Forster would say – but their attempts are woeful.
Redeployment, by Phil Klay, Canongate, RRP£15/ Penguin Press, RRP$26.95
A relentless and compelling collection of short stories based on Klay’s experiences as a soldier in Iraq. With a focus on the pain and pleasure of homecoming, these tales are unified by combatants’ attempts to cope with what comes after violence – and to rationalise what they saw and did. Taut and sharply observed.
The Last Word, by Hanif Kureishi, Faber, RRP£18.99
Kureishi takes on the slippery subject of biography. Young gun Harry is commissioned to write a life of an evasive literary grandee, Mamoon Azam. Installed in Azam’s country estate, their lengthy conversations soon turn into a peacock display, masking a heady level of sexual and intellectual competition. Can Harry divine the truth about the old man?
On Such a Full Sea, by Chang-Rae Lee, Little, Brown, RRP£13.99/ Riverhead, RRP$27.95
Lee’s latest engrossing fable is set in a near-future dystopia, a disturbing civilisation in which humans belong to one of three categories: decadent elites, quiescent labourers or fearful migrants. This is the story of how Fan, a teenage runaway, upsets the status quo.
The Medici Boy, by John L’Heureux, Astor & Blue, RRP£14.99/$24.95
A tremendous historical tale evoking the creative fervour of Renaissance Florence. Narrator Luca, apprentice to the great sculptor Donatello, witnesses the creation of a masterpiece: his “David”, the first full-size bronze nude for 1,000 years. Inspired by a coquettish 16-year-old, the sculpture is at heart a portrait of an artist’s suffering over the love of his life.
Kinder than Solitude, by Yiyun Li, Fourth Estate, RRP£14.99/ Random House, RRP$26
A bold, unsettling novel from the award-winning Chinese-American novelist about three friends and their attempts to rebuild their lives after a tragic incident. A fascinating and finely wrought study of sentimental America versus unyielding China, the lure of both and the impossibility of moving on.
Leaving the Sea, by Ben Marcus, Granta, RRP£16.99/ Knopf, RRP$25.95
American writer Marcus has established himself as a leading practitioner of bleak, experimental fiction. His new darkly humorous collection centres largely on middle-aged men and their perceived failures in life. These linguistically adventurous stories showcase Marcus’s interest in the playful potential of modern storytelling.
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride, Faber, RRP£7.99
McBride won this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction for her extraordinary debut (first published last year by a independent imprint and since picked up by Faber). Written as a stream of consciousness, this is a soul-wrenching tale about a girl’s relationship with her brother, who is suffering from a brain tumour.
Bark, by Lorrie Moore, Faber, RRP£14.99/ Knopf, RRP$24.95
Sixteen years since her last volume of stories and five years since her last novel, Moore returns with what our reviewer called a “collection of taught, coherent, breathtaking enchantments”. On the surface these eight stories revolve around ordinary people and their familiar discontentments, yet Moore’s gift is to question just what “ordinary” means or if, indeed, it really exists.
Family Life, by Akhil Sharma, Faber, RRP£14.99/ WW Norton, RRP$23.95
Sharma’s autobiographical novel, 12 years in the writing, tells of a terrible swimming pool accident that left his family in disarray shortly after they arrived in the US from India. Through the voice of young Ajay, we see life before and after the incident, and his family’s individual attempts to adapt to the painful reality of their new situation. A heartbreaking achievement.
FICTION IN TRANSLATION
Falling Out of Time, by David Grossman, translated by Jessica Cohen, Jonathan Cape, RRP£14.99/ Knopf, RRP$24.95
Part narrative poem, part play, part novel, Grossman’s poignant study of bereavement and loss – informed by the death of the author’s own son during the Lebanon war of 2006 – is populated by a cast of characters with one thing in common: all have lost a child to the stubbornness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Decoded: A Novel, by Mai Jia, translated by Olivia Milburn and Christopher Payne, Allen Lane, RRP£18.99/ Farrar, Straus and Giroux, RRP$26
Twelve years after it was published in China, this best-selling debut finally gets an English-language outing. It tells the story of Rong Jinzhen, a gifted cryptographer recruited into a top-secret department of the Communist government in 1950s China, as a present-day journalist tries to piece together the events leading to his breakdown and disappearance.
Boyhood Island, by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Don Bartlett, Harvill Secker, RRP£12.99/ Archipelago, RRP$27
Does it matter that what is nominally a volume of memoir is presented to its readers as a work of fiction? The third instalment in the Norwegian sensation’s six-volume autobiography, My Struggle (published in the US as My Struggle: Book Three), focuses on the delights and anxieties of childhood. No anecdote is too insignificant, no episode too trivial, to escape Knausgaard’s omnivorous appetite for self-examination.
Diary of the Fall, by Michel Laub, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, Harvill Secker, RRP£14.99
Memory, guilt and fatherhood are at the centre of this poignant novel by Laub (named among the “Best of Young Brazilian Novelists” by Granta magazine in 2012), in which an unnamed narrator remembers the consequences of a schoolboy prank that went wrong, and reveals his own family’s history of survival, emigration and willing forgetfulness.
Talking to Ourselves, by Andrés Neuman, translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia, Pushkin Press, RRP£8.99/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, RRP$23
In this powerful meditation on grief from the Argentine author of Traveller of the Century, terminally ill Mario decides to take his 10-year-old son, Lito, on a road trip that he will never forget. Back at home, Lito’s mother, Elena, tries to cope with the inevitable loss by immersing herself in books.
The Man Who Loved Dogs, by Leonardo Padura, translated by Anna Kushner, Bitter Lemon Press, RRP£20/ Farrar, Straus and Giroux, RRP$35
Known for his detective novels set in Havana, Padura has now fictionalised the life of Ramón Mercader, the Spanish revolutionary who, on Stalin’s orders, assassinated Leon Trotsky in Mexico City before living out his final years in Cuban exile. A powerful denunciation of totalitarian regimes in all their forms.
Look Who’s Back, by Timur Vermes, translated by Jamie Bulloch, MacLehose Press, RRP£15
In Vermes’ debut, a bestseller in Germany, Adolf Hitler inexplicably wakes up in contemporary Berlin, and is soon swooped up by media executives who take him for a hilarious comedian. The joke is not on the reanimated Führer, spouting predictably on immigrants and Jews, but on the ironic flippancy of the YouTube generation.
Moontide, by Niall Campbell, Bloodaxe, RRP£9.95/$26
In his understated debut collection, Campbell, who spent his childhood on South Uist in the Outer Hebrides, draws on an intimately known landscape as witness to solitude and shared lives. Images such as an old rope’s “frayed lengths knotting into ampersands” draw parallels between the challenges of island life and artistic expression.
Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting, by Kevin Powers, Sceptre, RRP£12.99/ Little, Brown, RRP$23
Powers, an Iraq war veteran and novelist, presents harrowing scenes from the front line and back home in the US. His first collection is a timely reminder, in this centenary year, of a poet’s ability to capture the inner conflicts wrought by war. Brutal images are unfiltered through a soldier’s eyes, and no explanation is needed for the alienation and loss of self in the aftermath.
Grun-tu-molani, by Vidyan Ravinthiran, Bloodaxe RRP£9.95/$26
“Grun-tu-molani” is borrowed from Bellow’s phrase meaning “man wants to live” and Ravinthiran’s verse seems driven by a comparably urgent impulse, to perfect his craft. From translations of ancient Tamil texts to contemporary riffs on recession and technology, he combines formal range with wit as well as moral, sensual and emotional complexity.
I Knew the Bride, by Hugo Williams, Faber, RRP£12.99
Speaking to us from the bar at the Savoy, a hospital ward or the kitchen sink, Williams gives us a selection of settings as meandering as his ideas. If there is a unifying theme here – apart from a remarkable freshness of tone in the poet’s 11th collection – it is his use of deceptively plain language, wit and levity to achieve serious, stunning, lasting effects.
Vicious, by VE Schwab, Titan, RRP£7.99
College friends Victor and Eli use near-death experiences to trigger the emergence of latent super powers. Vicious is a low-key, spandex-free exploration of the superhero genre in which there are no clear-cut good guys or bad guys, just fallible, morally compromised humans struggling to cope with extraordinary, godlike abilities.
Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer, Fourth Estate, RRP£10/FSG Originals, RRP$13
A four-woman expedition into a mysterious disaster zone ends in chaos, paranoia and madness. The first in a trilogy whose three parts are all being published this year, VanderMeer’s novel is a psycho-geographical tour de force, channelling Ballard and Lovecraft to instil the reader with a deep, delicious unease.
The Martian, by Andy Weir, Del Rey, RRP£9.99/ Crown, RRP$24
Stranded on Mars, an astronaut must figure how he is to survive for four years before rescue comes. His greatest weapon, beside his intellect, is his unflagging sense of humour. Scientifically rigorous, remorselessly gripping, Weir’s debut is easily the best SF novel of the year so far.
The Moon King, by Neil Williamson, NewCon Press, RRP£12.99
Island city Glassholm is governed by lunar phases, the mood of its populace growing positive as the moon waxes, negative as it wanes. This scintillating, ambitious dark-fantasy debut is at once whodunnit thriller, eco-fable and elaborate study of duality and the tension between the masculine and the feminine.
The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith, Little, Brown, RRP£20/ Mulholland Books, RRP$28
Now that her cover is blown and we all know that Robert Galbraith is actually the mega-selling JK Rowling, we can judge this second outing for her detective Cormoran Strike more objectively. In fact, The Silkworm is even more beguiling than its predecessor, with Strike on the trail of a missing writer.
The Devil in the Marshalsea, by Antonia Hodgson, Hodder & Stoughton, RRP£17.99/ Mariner, RRP$15.95
Hodgson’s territory is London in 1727. Tom Hawkins has been enjoying the fleshpots, luxuriating in a world of brothels and gambling dens, but he is about to enter the debtors’ prison, Marshalsea, where dark forces reign. Something new in the world of historical crime fiction, with mesmerising detail and atmosphere.
The Bone Seeker, by MJ McGrath, Mantle, RRP£16.99/ Viking, RRP$27.95
Wrap up warmly. Melanie McGrath’s earlier Arctic-set novels were non-pareil in their freshness, and The Bone Seeker, the latest investigation for her female Inuit hunter/sleuth Edie Kiglatuk, is her best yet. There is an astonishing evocation of the frigid landscape here, along with the sharply conjured details of Inuit life.
Linda, as in the Linda Murder, by Leif GW Persson, Black Swan, RRP£8.99
Winner of the 2014 Petrona Award for Scandinavian crime fiction, Persson’s sprawling, state-of-the-nation novels use the mechanics of crime fiction to expose the faultlines in Scandinavian society. Linda has all the vitality of Persson’s earlier books; its difficult hero is one of the most distinctive in the field.
Spook’s: A New Darkness, by Joseph Delaney, Bodley Head, RRP£12.99
The spook is dead, long live the spook! Tom Ward, formerly the Spook’s Apprentice of the 13 books in the Wardstone Chronicles, steps up to take his dead master’s place in this first of a new series. Thrilling Lancashire-set Gothic horror, replete with witches, ghosts and guttering candles aplenty.
Rock War, by Robert Muchamore, Hodder, RRP£12.99
Mismatched teens Dylan, Summer and Jay flex their musical muscles for the chance to appear in a rock-themed reality show, while battling personal issues and poor parenting. This new series from the author of the Cherub books is as OTT as we’ve come to expect but has a big heart.
The Dark Inside, by Rupert Wallis, Simon & Schuster, RRP£6.99
There are echoes of David Almond’s Skellig in Wallis’s beautifully written debut. James is an unhappy boy who befriends a man lurking in an abandoned house. Pursued by a menacing gypsy clan, Webster is convinced he is a werewolf and James seeks to free him from the curse. Profound and moving.
The Legend of Frog, by Guy Bass, Stripes, RRP£5.99
A Pythonesque retelling of The Frog Prince with a gung-ho amphibian hero who goes out into the world searching for adventure and winds up sparking an alien invasion. Everything about this book is good goofy fun, from the daft characters to the deft use of movie quotations.
Scam on the Cam, by Clémentine Beauvais, Hodder, RRP£6.99
A jaunty romp set in Cambridge and featuring 11-year-old sleuth Sophie “Sesame” Seade. Someone is trying to sabotage the university’s Boat Race squad. Our precocious, garrulous heroine investigates. Witty and pun-filled, this book should appeal to any reader who loves mysteries, wordplay and the intricacies of the English language.
Jane, the Fox and Me, by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault, Walker Books, RRP£15/Groundwood, RRP$19.95
In this beautiful, uplifting graphic novel by a Québécois author/ illustrator team, a lonely, ostracised girl finds solace in Jane Eyre and companionship in a fox she encounters one night at summer camp. The anti-bullying angle is downplayed; this is a story about empathy, bravery and perseverance.
Valentine Joe, by Rebecca Stevens, Chicken House, RRP£6.99
On a trip to Belgium with her grandfather, Rose time-travels back to the killing fields of the first world war and forms a tender, touching relationship with a young soldier she knows is doomed. Stevens’s gentle, unostentatious novel is a celebration of life continuing under the shadow of death.
Kicking a Ball, by Allan Ahlberg, Puffin, RRP£6.99
A poem about perpetuating the enthusiasms of youth by passing them on to the next generation is exquisitely illustrated by French artist Sébastien Braun. In catchily bouncy rhyming cadences, Ahlberg shows how a football-mad boy grows up to be proud dad to a football-mad girl.
The Story Machine, by Tom McLaughlin, Bloomsbury, RRP£10.99
Discovering a typewriter in the attic, Elliott starts composing stories on it, only to find that he is more adept at creating pictures out of the letters. McLaughlin’s book is based on his own experiences of being a child with dyslexia, and is rewarding and informative, not to mention inspiring.
Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey, by Alex Milway, Walker Books, RRP£6.99/ Candlewick, RRP$12.99
Would-be famous explorer Pigsticks and his taciturn hamster assistant Harold embark on a journey to the Ends of the Earth, fuelled by cake and delusions of greatness. Pure, joyous silliness abounds in a story about ambition, trust, self-belief, and the dangers of goats. Oh, and the importance of cake.
The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book, by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée, Harvill, RRP£20/ Pantheon, RRP$26.95
Unknown to Boris Pasternak, the CIA organised to have his epic novel Doctor Zhivago published in Russian and smuggled back into the Soviet Union, where it had been banned. Using previously unreleased US government documents, The Zhivago Affair tells the story of this intriguing cold war battle.
Eleanor Marx: A Life, by Rachel Holmes, Bloomsbury, RRP£25
Marx produced the first English translation of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, was the first woman to lead the British dock workers’ and gas workers’ trade unions and worked as personal secretary to her father Karl. Holmes’ vivid biography of this Victorian intellectual brings her – and her age – to life. As the FT’s reviewer Lisa Jardine wrote, it “reads less like a biography than a 19th-century novel”.
The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot, by Rebecca Mead, Granta, RRP£16.99/Crown, RRP$25
New Yorker writer Mead mixes biography, memoir and a close reading of George Eliot’s classic novel Middlemarch in what our reviewer described as a “captivating and lucid book” that sheds light on both the novelist and Mead herself, while advocating the affect great literature can have on all readers.
William S Burroughs: A Life, by Barry Miles, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, RRP£30
This scholarly biography of Burroughs by his friend argues that the writer was driven by his wife’s death. Burroughs had shot her during a drunken William Tell moment and writing, says Miles, was his way of shaking off his “Ugly Spirit”. The FT called the book “a riveting documentary of a most peculiar life lived in the American underbelly”.
My Salinger Year, by Joanna Rakoff, Bloomsbury Circus, RRP£16.99/ Knopf, RRP$25.95
Aged 23, Joanna Rakoff started work at a New York literary agency. Her job was to fend off JD Salinger’s fans with a terse form letter, but instead she started to write back and found herself swept up in one of the great literary stories. The FT’s verdict: “Elegantly written, wryly observed, Rakoff’s memoir is a high-quality literary snack.”
The Fly Trap, by Fredrik Sjöberg, Particular Books, RRP£14.99
This Swedish bestseller about an entomologist who collects hover flies on the tiny island of Runmarö east of Stockholm is a joyful, whimsical and erudite delight that traces an erratic flight path of ideas and associations.
The Cairngorms: A Secret History, by Patrick Baker, Birlinn, RRP£9.99
The Cairngorms are often referred to as “Britain’s last wilderness”, a windswept mountain range that has long enchanted lovers of the great outdoors. Describing a series of walks, Baker illuminates the bleak landscape, revealing the many stories linked to its ruined bothies, ancient gem mines and even haunted summits.
Down to the Sea in Ships, by Horatio Clare, Chatto & Windus, RRP£20
Travelling between continents by cargo ship remains a great travel fantasy for many. In this lyrical account of two great voyages (from Felixstowe to Los Angeles, and Antwerp to Montreal) Clare captures that sense of wonder, while painting an intimate portrait of an industry we all depend on but about which we know little.
A Strange Kind of Paradise: India Through Foreign Eyes, by Sam Miller, Jonathan Cape, RRP£18.99/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, RRP$27
A former BBC Delhi correspondent, Sam Miller traces the history of the world’s engagement with India – from ancient Greek sailor Scylax to The Beatles and Steve Jobs – while also recounting his own love affair with the country. Fascinating and funny, it has been as well-received by Indian as western reviewers.
Gironimo! Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy, by Tim Moore, Yellow Jersey, RRP£14.99
In 2000, travel writer Moore cycled the entire route of that year’s Tour de France, a feat that formed the basis of the hilarious (and much imitated) French Revolutions. Now he has turned to the Giro d’Italia, setting out to ride the route of the 1914 event, reputedly the toughest of all time, on a period bike complete with wooden rims.
Indonesia Etc: Exploring the Improbable Nation, by Elizabeth Pisani, Granta, RRP£18.99/ WW Norton, RRP$26.95
In 2012, Pisani asked 50 strangers in London to point to Indonesia on an inflatable globe. Only four could – a stark demonstration of how the world’s fourth most populous country is overlooked by the outside world. Frustrated by that ignorance, Pisani travels widely through the archipelago to deliver an affectionate portrait of a diverse, dynamic and eccentric country.
Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding: Sweet and Savoury Recipes from Britain’s Best Baker, by Justin Gellatly, Fig Tree, RRP£25
Though the title of this one makes my teeth itch – what an awesome bit of hubris – it’s entirely deserved. Gellatly put St John restaurant on the map for its bakery several years ago and is now sharing some of his secrets. Beautiful photography by Andrew Sewell even does justice to the magnificence of his doughnuts.
Konditor & Cook: Deservedly Legendary Baking, by Gerhard Jenne, Ebury, RRP£20
In a world oversupplied with celebrity bakers Jenne has quietly developed a distinctive and winning style. Understated design and breathtaking photography communicate that style directly. Certainly one of my favourite baking books in several years.
My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories, by David Lebovitz, Ten Speed Press, RRP£28/$35
Another book, by another American writer, about cooking in Paris? You think you know what to expect but Lebovitz has plundered the city’s ethnic influences and has come up with a string of fresh Spanish, Levantine, Moorish and Indian-inspired dishes. Ten Speed rarely fails to make its books stunning. This is no exception.
In the Charcuterie: Making Sausage, Salumi, Pâtés, Roasts, Confits, and Other Meaty Goods, by Toponia Miller and Taylor Boetticher, Square Peg £25/ Ten Speed Press, RRP$40
Excellently workable charcuterie techniques plus proper – not “dumbed down” – recipes for things such as cassoulet and “Chicken-fried” quail. Nothing ridiculously innovative here but it passes the toughest test of any cookbook – you want to cook and eat every recipe it contains.
The Recipe Wheel, by Rosie Ramsden, Ebury, RRP£18.99
These days, making beautiful books using illustration instead of food porn photography is a brave publishing decision. Building it around a kind of “mind-mapping” technique to create exciting new recipes from simple ingredients is positively audacious. If you love cookbooks as objects this is a beaut.
Great Gardens of America, by Tim Richardson and Andrea Jones, Frances Lincoln, RRP£20
Tim Richardson’s survey of 25 US gardens includes some of my favourites: the subtle landscape of Innisfree; the dramatically colourful Baja Garden in Phoenix Arizona and the startling plots at Cornerstone Place, California. Andrea Jones’ exquisite pictures set this book apart.
Garden Cities, by Sarah Rutherford, Shire, RRP£6.99/ Random House, RRP$12.95
This brief, well-informed read is a key to the current debate on the built environment. How have visionary schemes to integrate living space with greenery worked in the past? Are there lessons to be learnt?
Remaking a Garden: The Laskett Transformed, by Roy Strong, Frances Lincoln, RRP£30/$50
Sir Roy Strong has reinvented the garden he created in the 1970s with his late wife Julia Trevelyan Oman. It is a gallery of their marriage and their work (she the distinguished theatre designer, he the director of both the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum) and a reminder that ruthlessness is at the heart of good garden-making.
Illustration by Chris Wormell
Get alerts on Life & Arts when a new story is published