The best books of 2007

FICTIONCompiled by Angel Gurria-Quintana

DivisaderoBy Michael OndaatjeBloomsbury £17.99, 288 pagesFT bookshop price: £14.39

A new novel by the author of The English Patient is always worth the wait. This delicate meditation on love and its aftermath reveals Ondaatje’s gift for evoking emotional nuance.

Lost City RadioBy Daniel AlarconFourth Estate £12.99, 336 pagesFT bookshop price: £10.39

In an unnamed South American country scarred by civil war, a radio presenter meets one of her melancholy listeners and is forced to reconsider her own loss. Peruvian-American Alarcon was this year named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists.

Measuring the WorldBy Daniel KehlmannTranslated by Carol Brown JanewayQuercus £12.99, 272 pagesFT bookshop price: £10.39

This magnificent German bestseller has as its unlikely protagonists two of the 19th-century’s most inquisitive minds – naturalist Alexander von Humboldt and mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss.

Diary of a Bad YearBy J.M. CoetzeeHarvill Secker £16.99, 240 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.59

In a genre-defying hybrid of fiction and essays, a professor muses over his “strong opinions” while lusting after his young female assistant.

The PastBy Alan PaulsTranslated by Nick CaistorHarvill Secker £17.99, 474 pagesFT bookshop price: £14.39

From Argentina, an exhilarating novel about love, jealousy, addiction and the obsessive presence of the past. The book has recently been made into a film starring Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal.

The Reluctant FundamentalistBy Mohsin HamidHamish Hamilton £14.99, 224 pagesFT bookshop price: £11.99

“Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America.” So Changez, the novel’s Pakistani narrator, begins his account of how he embraced the American dream, only to be repelled by it after 9/11.

The New Granta Book of the American Short StoryEdited by Richard FordGranta £25, 756 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

If you pick up a single volume of the year’s fiction, make it this one. Richard Ford’s selection includes classic stories by authors including Eudora Welty and Raymond Carver, but also incorporates newer voices.

The GatheringBy Anne EnrightJonathan Cape £12.99, 272 pagesFT bookshop price: £10.39

Exquisitely crafted, this grimly unsettling novel about an Irish woman attending the funeral of her alcoholic brother won Enright this year’s Man Booker Prize.

Blank GazeBy Jose Luis PeixotoTranslated by Richard ZenithBloomsbury £15.99 256 pagesFT bookshop price: £12.79

This first novel from a young Portuguese author is as remarkable for its subtle language as it is for its characters – which include a blind prostitute, twins joined at the tips of their little fingers, and the devil himself.

No One Belongs Here More Than YouBy Miranda JulyCanongate £9.99, 224 pagesFT bookshop price: £7.99

Anyone who enjoyed July’s quirky indie film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, will cherish this collection of short stories.

Rhett Butler’s PeopleBy Donald McCaigMacMillan £17.99, 480 pagesFT bookshop price: £14.39

A sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind told from Rhett Butler’s perspective. With thoroughness and zest, McCaig fills us in on the life of the infamous scoundrel.

The Archivist’s StoryBy Travis HollandBloomsbury £12.99, 256 pagesFT bookshop price: £10.39

This powerful debut about the extinction of memory in Stalin’s Soviet Union tells the story of a disgraced literature teacher turned secret service archivist.

Tree of SmokeBy Denis JohnsonPicador £16.99, 614 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.59

Winner of the 2007 National Book Award for fiction, Johnson’s gargantuan novel serves up a grisly feast of rogue CIA agents, unhinged servicemen, Seventh-day Adventists and failed assassins against a backdrop of conflict in Vietnam and the Philippines. An appropriately multilayered novel about the US’s dirtiest war.

AfterwardsBy Rachel SeiffertHeinemann £14.99, 336 pagesFT bookshop price: £11.99

In stripped-down prose, Seiffert explores a relationship heavy with the silences of things that cannot be spoken. Fulfilling the promise of her debut, The Dark Room, this follow-up is an unsettling examination of guilt, and of the foreignness of those we love.

Salmon Fishing in the YemenBy Paul TordayPhoenix £7.99, 352 pagesFT bookshop price: £6.39

A surprise hit, Torday’s satirical debut imagines one of the most unlikely schemes ever cooked up by British officials meddling in Middle Eastern affairs.

DayBy A.L. KennedyJonathan Cape £16.99, 279 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.59

Kennedy takes on a second world war RAF airman. The protagonist is engaging, but it’s the author’s style that mesmerises.

The PesthouseBy Jim CracePicador £12.99, 320 pagesFT bookshop price: £10.39

“This used to be America … It used to be the safest place on earth. Crace, one of Britain’s most unclassifiable authors, envisages the US in the aftermath of an apocalyptic cataclysm.

Exit GhostBy Philip RothJonathan Cape £16.99, 304 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.59

The final curtain comes down on Nathan Zuckerman, veteran narrator of nine Roth novels. His powers may be waning, and he may be incontinent, but Zuckerman is not ready to leave quietly.

Falling ManBy Don DeLilloPicador £16.99, 246 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.59

Delillo’s unsettling tale is the most convincing depiction yet of the disorientation suffered by New Yorkers after 9/11.

RunBy Ann PatchettBloomsbury £14.99, 295 pagesFT bookshop price: £11.99

A new novel from the author of Bel Canto. Readers will savour Patchett’s plot of families lost and found, and the pleasures and surprises that Patchett’s writing has to offer.

MontanoBy Enrique Vila-MatasTranslated by Jonathan DunneHarvill Secker £14.99, 272 pagesFT bookshop price: £11.99

By the author of Bartleby & Co, this is a bookish fable about a writer afflicted by a perverse malady – “a tragic inability to write”.

A Thousand Splendid SunsBy Khaled HosseiniBloomsbury £16.99, 384 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.59

The Kite Runner, Hosseini’s first (and extraordinarily successful) novel, opened a window on to Afghan boyhood. His latest book achieves the same for the closed world of women in Afghanistan.

Life ClassBy Pat BarkerHamish Hamilton £16.99, 249 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.59

The Booker-winning author of the “Regeneration” trilogy brings us a titillating love triangle at London’s Slade School of Art that contrasts brutally with front-line operating rooms of the first world war.

The DissidentBy Nell FreudenbergerPicador £14.99, 427 pagesFT bookshop price: £11.99

Freudenberger caused a sensation with her first book of short stories, Lucky Girls. Her debut novel follows the misadventures of a Beijing underground artist in LA.

Michael Tolliver LivesBy Armistead MaupinDoubleday £17.99, 277 pagesFT bookshop price: £14.39

Fans of Tales of the City will enjoy the nostalgia trip as Maupin revisits his characters 20 years on.

Nine NightsBy Bernardo CarvalhoTranslated by Benjamin MoserVintage £7.99, 224 pagesFT bookshop price: £6.39

Why did an American ethnographer commit suicide on an Amazonian research trip? There are echoes of Heart of Darkness in this novel by one of Brazil’s finest young writers.

Mister PipBy Lloyd JonesJohn Murray £12.99, 223 pagesFT bookshop price: £10.39

On a tiny island in Papua New Guinea, civil war has scared away all the teachers. The sole remaining white man steps in armed only with Dickens’ Great Expectations.

ShutterspeedBy Erwin MortierTranslated by Ina RilkeHarvill Secker £12.99, 208 pagesFT bookshop price: £10.39

A small gem by a Flemish author with an elegiac sensibility, this is the story of Joris, a solitary boy brooding over the loss of his parents.

POETRYCompiled by Natalie Whittle

Look We Have Coming to Dover!By Daljit NagraFaber £6.99, 55 pagesFT bookshop price: £5.59

Winner of this year’s Forward prize for best first collection, Nagra makes a bright tableau of multicultural Britain, peppered and spiced with Punjabi words and cleverly rendered accents from Yorkshire, India and elsewhere. It’s a comedy of errors, with misunderstandings multiplying across the ethnicities.

A Worldly CountryBy John AshberyCarcanet £9.95, 96 pagesFT bookshop price: £7.95

The octogenarian Ashbery still produces hugely influential poetry; his “worldly country” in this latest collection is a place of obscure menace and fear. The shuffling everyday language is spoken by an unsteady protagonist, unsure of his place in an inescapably capitalist domain.

The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492Translated, edited and introduced by Peter ColePrinceton University Press £11.95, 548 pagesFT bookshop price: £9.55

The highly esteemed translator Peter Cole makes this survey of medieval Hebrew poetry a beguiling, soulful book; scholarly but romantic. The poets (all male) were part of a golden age in Hebrew verse, and write movingly about God and love, pleasure and grief.

Bird With a Broken WingBy Adam ThorpeCape £9, 64 pagesFT bookshop price: £7.20

Understated and thoughtful, this fifth collection of poetry by Adam Thorpe reads like a private audience with his most memorable, yet unresolved experiences, each told with superbly exact imagery. Thorpe is no solipsist, however: he is deeply absorbed with nature, place and family.

The Meanest FlowerBy Mimi KhalvatiCarcanet £8.95, 96 pagesFT bookshop price: £7.15

Iranian-born Khalvati’s limpid style is applied to impressive effect on the ancient Persian form of the ghazal (rhyming couplets with a refrain). There is an ongoing struggle against despair and self-pity, with sorrows gently and charmingly expressed.

The Drowned BookBy Sean O’BrienPicador £8.99, 80 pagesFT bookshop price: £7.20

A strikingly confident collection, The Drowned Book occupies an aqueous hinterland haunted by the prospect of mortality and decay. Its sophistication scored O’Brien a third Forward prize for best collection this year.

The Pomegranates of KandharBy Sarah MaguireChatto & Windus £9, 80 pagesFT bookshop price: £7.20

A patient, restrained work that shows off Maguire’s customary skill in observing nature and horticulture. It explodes with the title poem, where she makes an uneasy celebration of the “joyful fruit” in the Afghan city.

ARTCompiled by Jackie Wullschlager

KlimtEdited by Alfred WeidingerPrestel £89, 320 pagesFT bookshop price: £71.20

Klimt, painter of gilt-layered excess, has found his monument in this lavish, cased, gold-lined, giant catalogue raisonne that commemorates his stellar rise this century. Gorgeously produced and designed, scholarly yet an enjoyable read, it is a tribute from our extravagant noughties to the decadent 1900s: the year’s most seductive gift in hard covers.

The Society Portrait: Painting, Prestige and the Pursuit of EleganceBy Gabriel Badea-PaunThames & Hudson £35, 223 pagesFT bookshop price: £28

A glossy, intelligent exploration of 200 years of portraiture on canvas and camera, from Goya and Jacques-Louis David to Cecil Beaton and Andy Warhol, which eloquently questions why “painting, prestige and the pursuit of elegance” was written out of art history for the past half century, and is now reviving.

Matisse: Painter as SculptorBy Dorothy Kosinski, Jay Fisher and Steven NashYale £35, 296 pagesFT bookshop price: £28

Even for Matisse aficionados, this elegant cloth-bound volume should prove a revelation. It traces the relationship between the artist’s three-dimensional work and his paintings to show how both aimed to achieve “a condensation of sensations”.

Louise BourgeoisEdited by Frances Morris and Marie-Laure BernadacTate £35, 320 pagesFT bookshop price: £28

Far more than a catalogue to the superb current retrospective: a Bourgeois A-Z in sparky, iconoclastic French style. Essential browsing for anyone concerned with the story of women and 20th-century art.

Edward Steichen: Lives in PhotographyBy Todd Brandow and William EwingThames & Hudson £48, 335 pagesFT bookshop price: £38.40

The catalogue to the current Jeu de Paume exhibition treats Steichen as symbolist, colourist, modernist, commercial photographer, designer. Definitive and glamorous: my photography book of the year.

The Origins of American Photography: From Daguerreotype to Dry-plate, 1839-1885By Keith F. DavisYale £40, 358 pagesFT bookshop price: £32

The world from which Steichen emerged: a panoramic survey of the young medium, between 1839 and 1885, and a compelling record of 19th-century America.

Soviet Posters: The Sergo Grigorian CollectionBy Maria LafontPrestel £12.99, 286 pagesFT bookshop price: £10.39

They tell the visual history of Russia from 1918 to the 1980s, but most were destroyed soon after they were made. The 200 posters reproduced here are utterly absorbing.

Vitebsk: The Life of ArtBy Aleksandra ShatskikhYale £30, 391 pagesFT bookshop price: £24

The offbeat story of the obscure White Russian town, which briefly became a capital of art during the revolution, when Chagall, Malevich, Lissitzky and others fought out the battles of modernism’s future there.

Stained Glass: Masterpieces of the Modern EraBy Xavier Barral i AltetThames & Hudson £32, 216 pagesFT bookshop price: £25.60

An ideal Christmas book: an optimistic, surprising account of how the avant-garde established a dialogue with religious art in the 20th century.

The Writer’s Brush: Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture by WritersBy Donald FriedmanMid-List Press £25, 457 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

Little-known work in the visual arts by hundreds of writers – including Kafka, Ibsen, Lawrence, Updike, Vonnegut – casts light both on aspects of their creativity and on the zeitgeist.

Howard Hodgkin: Paintings 1992-2007Edited by Julia Maciari Alexander and David ScraseYale £25, 179 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

Books about this bookish painter are always exceptionally well produced and written. This, though, the catalogue to the Cambridge and Yale exhibition of new work – this year’s most enthralling show by a living painter – is a gem.

The Great Naturalists: From Aristotle to DarwinBy Julia BrittainEdited by Robert HuxleyThames & Hudson £24.95, 304 pagesFT bookshop price: £19.96

A cabinet of delights and visual splendour, this survey of three dozen naturalists, from the ancients to Renaissance, Enlightenment and 19th-century figures, is history of thought at its accessible best.

HorsesBy Yann Arthus-BertrandThames & Hudson £16.95, 336 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.56

In our house of teenage girls, you cannot have too many equestrian tomes. This is a classic, in an appealing new chunky format.

God’s Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic BritainBy Rosemary HillPenguin £30, 602 pagesFT bookshop price: £24

Pugin was not a crusty ornamental Victorian; he was, this dazzling biography argues, the man whose uncompromising vision shaped the texture of our towns and country.

A Life of Picasso: Volume III: The Triumphant Years 1917-1932By John RichardsonJonathan Cape £30, 555 pagesFT bookshop price: £24

Gossipy, profound, insightful and non-judgmental, Richardson is terrific company. This volume joins its predecessors as unrivalled among artists’ biographies.

Two Lives: Gertrude and AliceBy Janet MalcolmYale £16.99, 227 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.59

How did these modernity-worshipping lesbians survive Vichy France? Janet Malcolm’s book packs heavyweight punches about truth versus fiction, in the guise of a chic stocking-filler.

POLITICS & RELIGIONCompiled by David Honigmann

Comrades: A World History of CommunismBy Robert ServiceMacmillan £25, 624 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

Robert Service, a historian of Soviet communism, widens his discussion to take in the rest of the world. His general judiciousness, noting that the poverty and injustice that fuel communism remain ever present, makes his condemnation all the more weighty.

The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad PoliciesBy Bryan CaplanPrinceton University Press £17.95 280 pagesFT bookshop price: £14.36

Far from favouring constituents, argues Caplan, democracies tend to adopt policies that harm most of their voters. Worse, they do this not because of elite or bureaucratic capture but because voters are irrational even in their own self-interest: socially injurious policies win by popular demand.

Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian MovementBy Brian DohertyPublic Affairs $35, 768 pages

Brian Doherty’s sympathetic, well-informed and endlessly entertaining tour traces the ways in which American libertarianism punches above its weight.

The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of CivilizationBy Thomas Homer-DixonSouvenir £15, 448 pagesFT bookshop price: £12

The Canadian political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon takes a pessimistic view of the prospects for a world beset by population, energy, environmental, climate and economic stress. Globalisation has multiplied the impact of all these, making us vulnerable to any sudden shock.

God and Gold: Britain, America and the Making of the Modern WorldBy Walter Russell MeadAtlantic £25, 320 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

Walter Russell Mead adds religion to the mix of Anglo-Saxon virtues, alongside entrepreneurial capitalism and a devotion to individual liberty. He also sets out clearly and not unsympathetically how infuriating Anglospheric pieties are to the rest of the world.

More Time for Politics: Diaries, 2001-2007By Tony BennHutchinson £20, 352 pagesFT bookshop price: £16

More time for politics was what Tony Benn wanted when he gave up his parliamentary seat, and this is what he got: touring and lecturing, and watching with horror as the Iraq war unfolds.

The Blair YearsBy Alastair CampbellHutchinson £25, 816 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

The revelations about Brown were sanitised but Campbell’s diaries paint a convincing picture – wittingly or unwittingly – of the febrile fug at the centre of New Labour. See also Peter Oborne, below.

The Triumph of the Political ClassBy Peter OborneSimon & Schuster £18.99, 390 pagesFT bookshop price: £15.19

What has gone wrong with British politics, argues Peter Oborne, is the rise of the professional politician – ambitious young men and women who have never held a job outside the world of political research and spin.

Dancing in the Street: A History of Collective JoyBy Barbara EhrenreichGranta £16.99, 240 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.59

Public celebration has often been the preserve of the working class and of those regarded by western elites as “inferior”’. Barbara Ehrenreich celebrates the underground tradition of carnival public dance and its revival in the 1960s as rock celebration.

Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of UtopiaBy John GrayAllen Lane £18.99, 256 pagesFT bookshop price: £15.19

John Gray’s book charts Utopianism’s declining trajectory from Jesus to Stalin, Hitler and Mao, and from there to the neocons’ war in Iraq: all ambitious politics, for Gray, is mere millenarianism. Stolid resignation would serve us better.

God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons EverythingBy Christopher HitchensAtlantic £17.99, 320 pagesFT bookshop price: £14.39

Christopher Hitchens has made so many enemies of former friends and so many friends of former enemies that it is surprising to find he still counts the Almighty as a foe. Unlike his scientist-atheist comrades, Hitchens is nimble enough to tangle entertainingly and convincingly in theology.

The Bible: The BiographyBy Karen ArmstrongAtlantic Books £16.99, 302 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.59

Karen Armstrong sets out to reclaim the Bible from the fundamentalists, tracing the disparate and contradictory sources that went into the Good Book, as well as different ways of reading it.

God’s Own Country: Tales from the Bible BeltBy Stephen BatesHodder & Stoughton £12.99, 388 pagesFT bookshop price: £10.39

This tour of the wilder shores of US evangelism engages seriously with its ideas; now that James Dobson – the man dubbed “the most influential evangelical leader in America” – has endorsed Rudy Giuliani for president, it is clear that the evangelicals need the Republicans more than vice versa.

Darwin’s Angel: An Angelic Riposte to ‘The God Delusion’By John CornwellProfile Books £10.99, 160 pagesFT bookshop price: £8.79

This counterblast against Richard Dawkins lands some telling blows, particularly when Cornwell asks why Dawkins can distinguish good science from bad science but not good theology from bad theology.

The Messenger: The Meanings of the Life of MuhammadBy Tariq RamadanAllen Lane £20, 256 pagesFT bookshop price: £16

The Muslim academic presents Muhammad as the very model of a moderate religious leader, who emphasised tolerance and the importance of waging war ethically.

HISTORYCompiled by Christian Tyler

Thames: Sacred RiverBy Peter AckroydChatto & Windus £25, 490 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

The view from the river changes everything. Ackroyd’s waterborne excursion into history, a sequel to his biography of London, is as soothing as a summer boating party; and the author is a sympathetic steersman.

Prehistory: The Making of the Human MindBy Colin RenfrewWeidenfeld & Nicolson £14.99, 256 pagesFT bookshop price: £11.99

Mankind’s great leap forward occurred not 40,000 years ago in the caves of Lascaux and Altamira, but only 10,000 years ago with the agricultural revolution. This masterly resume argues that the leap was not evolutionary and asks why it was so long delayed.

Them and Us: The American Invasion of British High SocietyBy Charles JenningsSutton £20, 318 pagesFT bookshop price: £16

A comedy of manners about the industrial heiresses freighted in to save a crumbling English aristocracy from 1870 on. It ends in tears with Edward VIII’s abdication.

The Disinherited: The Exiles who Created Spanish CultureBy Henry KamenAllen Lane £30, 524 pagesFT bookshop price: £24

An astonishing roll-call of the creative souls who, from 1492, were driven from Spain. The country’s record of self-inflicted loss is matched in Europe only by Russia.

Napoleon in Egypt: The Greatest GloryBy Paul StrathernJonathan Cape £20, 480 pagesFT bookshop price: £16

Napoleon’s inglorious dry run for his disastrous invasion of Russia was aimed at the conquest of British India. But the fiasco down the Nile did wonders for Egyptology.

City of the Sharp-nosed Fish: Greek Lives in Roman EgyptBy Peter ParsonsWeidenfeld & Nicolson £20, 286 pagesFT bookshop price: £16

The desiccated rubbish dumps of Oxyrhyncos yielded the largest-ever haul of papyri: fragments of classical literature and a Christian gospel, as well as private letters and municipal documents. From them, Parsons has restored the city to life.

The Greeks and Greek Love: A Radical Reappraisal of Homosexuality in Ancient GreeceBy James DavidsonWeidenfeld & Nicolson £30, 650 pagesFT bookshop price: £24

From the author of Courtesans and Fishcakes, an epic enquiry with a shocking conclusion: it wasn’t all about sex.

World war one: A Short HistoryBy Norman StoneAllen Lane £16.99, 200 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.59

Only a virtuoso could, in the space of a long essay, cover the fighting on all its fronts and still find room for high politics, trenchant comment and colourful detail.

Weimar Germany: Promise and TragedyBy Eric D. WeitzPrinceton University Press £17.95 425 pagesFT bookshop price: £14.36

Fascinating account of how the old guard’s rejection of a social and artistic revolution in defeated Germany undermined the new republic, allowing the Nazis to kill it off and resume the world war.

Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World, 1940-41By Ian KershawAllen Lane £30, 648 pagesFT bookshop price: £24

History without hindsight: including Britain’s far-from-automatic decision to fight on after Dunkirk, Stalin’s decision to trust Hitler (the only man he ever trusted), and Hitler’s decision to annihilate the Jews.

Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain’s Asian EmpireBy Christopher Bayly and Tim HarperAllen Lane £30, 704 pagesFT bookshop price: £24

The aftermath of war can be worse than war itself. The messy withdrawal of exhausted British armies after VJ Day left time-bombs ticking in Vietnam, Indonesia and Burma, as well as India.

State of the Nation: British Theatre Since 1945By Michael BillingtonFaber £25, 435 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

History as recorded by our dramatists. The Guardian’s theatre critic is wittily perceptive in describing how public preoccupation and political fashion have been reflected from the stage. But will playwrights survive?

Worth the Detour: A History of the GuidebookBy Nicholas T. ParsonsSutton £20, 378 pagesFT bookshop price: £16

They used to be educational handbooks telling travellers where to go and what to think. They have become fashion accessories responding to consumer psychology. Sharply written, humorous and a serious study.

A Little History of the English Country ChurchBy Roy StrongJonathan Cape £16.99, 264 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.59

Less about corbels and chancels and more about congregations, this is a nostalgic account of how community worship was disrupted by doctrinal dispute, zealotry, state interference and finally gentrification. The church fabric bears the scars.

The Noble Revolt: The Overthrow of Charles IBy John AdamsonWeidenfeld & Nicolson £25, 764 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

This is a blockbuster justification (more than 220 pages of notes and index) of a controversial thesis that a small conspiracy of aristocrats was mainly responsible for the regicide and civil war.

The Khyber Pass: A History of Empire and InvasionBy Paddy DochertyFaber & Faber £17.99, 285 pagesFT bookshop price: £14.39

From the Scythians of ancient times to the Taliban, this is an ambitious survey of the succession of armies and influences that funnelled through this wild corridor.

FOODCompiled by Ian Irvine

Moro EastBy Sam & Sam ClarkEbury Press £25, 312 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

The third cookbook from the London restaurant Moro takes its influential neo-Spanish/ Mediterranean cuisine further east (by way of the couple’s allotment in east London) with endearing simplicity, loads of vegetables and original spicing.

Beyond Nose to Tail: A Kind of British Cooking: Part IIBy Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers GellatlyBloomsbury £17.99, 225 pagesFT bookshop price: £14.39

For the adventurous and carnivorous, the chef-proprietor of St John, the London restaurant that has become a sort of shrine to offal, provides a sequel to his groundbreaking cookbook. There’s braised squirrel and pressed pig’s ear, but also some original salads, breads, cakes and traditional puddings.

Citrus: A HistoryBy Pierre LaszloChicago University Press £14, 239 pagesFT bookshop price: £11.20

Today, a billion citrus trees produce 100 million tons of fruit annually. Their diversity is astonishing, with more than 1,500 species. Pierre Laszlo’s short, brilliant history summarises citrus’s global importance, including religion and the arts, and also contains some excellent recipes.

Pork & SonsBy Stephane ReynaudPhaidon £24.95, 368 pagesFT bookshop price: £19.96

With its camp-as-Christmas pink chintz cover, this might seem a triumph of style over substance. But it’s a serious work celebrating all aspects of pork cookery from a third-generation French charcutier, with more than 150 recipes from rillettes to choucroute.

The Last Food of England: English Food: Its Past, Present and FutureBy Marwood YeatmanEbury Press £25, 488 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

England has more breeds of livestock, fruit cultivars and possibly vegetable seeds to its credit than any other country. This beautifully written (and illustrated) work discovers what happened to English food and its intensely local connection to the land.

The River Cottage Fish BookBy Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick FisherBloomsbury £30, 605 pagesFT bookshop price: £24

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall now does for marine life what his Meat Book did for our four-legged and feathered friends. A trenchant overview of the ethics, politics and sustainability of catching and eating fish, with – it almost goes without saying – dozens of fine recipes.

Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good LifeBy Jamie OliverMichael Joseph £25, 407 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

The Essex boy delivers again, with an excellent selection of easy, delicious and original recipes based on the produce of his own garden.

Let Me Eat CakeBy Paul ArnottSceptre £7.99, 240 pagesFT bookshop price: £6.39

One of the funniest books of the year, this nostalgic 40-something memoir of growing up addicted to Wagon Wheels, Mars bars and Battenburg cake also offers a history of the confectionery industry.

TRAVELCompiled by Ian Irvine

Travels with HerodotusBy Ryszard KapuscinskiAllen Lane £20, 288 pagesFT bookshop price: £16

In his final book, Poland’s greatest journalist recalls his childhood hardships and reflects on both his own travels in India, China and Africa and those of Herodotus, the first great travel writer. Stimulating, provoking and humane.

The Hill of KronosBy Peter LeviEland Books, £12.99, 258 pagesFT bookshop price: £10.39

Out of print for more than a decade, this is a welcome and elegant new edition of a classic. It’s a witty, lyrical and learned account of the scholar and poet Peter Levi’s love affair with Greece and the Greeks, ancient and modern.

No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of VeniceBy Judith MartinNorton £15.99, 256 pagesFT bookshop price: £12.79

Many cities have their passionate admirers, but La Serenissima takes the palm for the sheer dottiness of its devotees. Martin, a self-confessed Venetophile, wittily describes the fantasies, snobberies and cultural aspirations that comprise her condition.

The Snake StoneBy Jason GoodwinFaber & Faber £12.99, 320 pagesFT bookshop price: £10.39

The streets, mosques, churches and palaces of Constantinople are brought to life in Goodwin’s second Ottoman crime novel with an endearing eunuch for a detective .

The Barefoot Emperor: An Ethiopian TragedyBy Philip MarsdenHarper Press £17.99, 404 pagesFT bookshop price: £14.39

A compelling account of the ancient half-forgotten kingdom of Ethiopia in the 1860s, when a military expedition came to rescue British diplomats from their imprisonment by the charismatic, enigmatic and brutal Tewodros II, self-made ruler of Abyssinia.

The Wild PlacesBy Robert MacfarlaneGranta Books £18.99, 352 pagesFT bookshop price: £15.19

The author goes in search of wildness in Britain today and offers an elegant personal essay in the great tradition of maverick English nature writing. His descriptions have a marvellous precision and beauty: a sky is “a slurless blue”.

The Ends of the EarthEdited by Elizabeth Kolbert and Francis SpuffordGranta Books £25, 288 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

A hundred years ago the Arctic and Antarctic were vast blank spaces, unknown and forbidding. Today they are cruise destinations, and ice, as this anthology attests, inspires the imagination.

BUSINESSCompiled by Stefan Stern

The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Freres & CoBy William D. CohanDoubleday $29.95, 752 pages

Sex, violence and investment banking: a gripping tale of high finance and high jinks. Confirms all your worst fears about Wall Street – and adds a few new ones for good measure. Winner of the FT/Goldman Sachs business book of the year award.

The Secret Language of Leadership: How Leaders Inspire Action Through NarrativeBy Stephen DenningWiley £14.99, 304 pagesFT bookshop price: £11.99

Leaders don’t just execute strategy, they must inspire others to follow. Which means they need to be great storytellers as well as great business people. This book explains how.

The Halo Effect … and the Eight Other Business Delusions that Deceive ManagersBy Phil RosenzweigSimon & Schuster £16.99, 256 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.59

Almost everything you thought you knew about business success is wrong. Rosenzweig shatters some of our most cherished beliefs with serious, deep scepticism. Marvellous.

Zoom: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the FutureBy Iain Carson and Vijay V. VaitheeswaranLittle, Brown & Co $27.99, 352 pages

What sort of future will there be for cars in a world of energy scarcity? An ambitious piece of crystal-ball gazing.

The Upside: The 7 Strategies for Turning Big Threats Into Growth BreakthroughsBy Adrian SlywotzkyCrown Business $27.50, 288 pages

Oliver Wyman’s leading business thinker challenges the conventional notion that you have to take big risks to win big rewards. “De-risking” is in fact the way to go. An ingenious new approach.

Hot Spots: Why Some Companies Buzz with Energy and Innovation, and Others Don’tBy Lynda GrattonFT/Prentice Hall £20, 232 pagesFT bookshop price: £16

London Business School’s own hot property, Gratton, describes in vibrant terms how to make teams work – even when they are separated by geography and time zones. This is a compelling, practical guide on making globalisation work.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly ImprobableBy Nassim Nicholas TalebAllen Lane £20, 366 pagesFT bookshop price: £16

Why do we ignore the significance of rare and dramatic events? The next big surprise is never far away, and Taleb explains all.

Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes EverythingBy Don Tapscott and Anthony D. WilliamsAtlantic £16.99, 408 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.59

The DIY economy offers chances for all. Tapscott and Williams are the gurus of every journalist’s worst nightmare: user-generated content.

Immigrants: Your Country Needs ThemBy Philippe LegrainLittle, Brown £12.99, 374 pagesFT bookshop price: £10.39

The provocative and radical case, based on hard economics, for high levels of immigration. Capital and goods move freely: why not people?

The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New WorldBy Alan GreenspanAllen Lane £25, 531 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

The former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, appointed by President Reagan in 1987, has quite a story to tell. (And it looks like he got out in time.)

Mobilizing Minds: Creating Wealth from Talent in the 21st Century OrganizationBy Lowell L. Bryan and Claudia L. JoyceMcGraw-Hill £16.99, 300 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.59

Stuck with inherited structures and failing systems, we need a radical recasting of the organisation say these two McKinsey consultants. Profit per employee is the goal in the new “knowledge-intensive” economy.

Unstoppable: Finding Hidden Assets to Renew the Core and Fuel Profitable GrowthBy Chris ZookHarvard Business School Press £17.99, 208 pagesFT bookshop price: £14.39

Bain & Co’s leading strategist completes his trilogy of books, urging business leaders to look harder at their existing assets to see where more value could be created. It’s there if you think about it. Good advice.

The CEO Within: Why Inside-Outsiders are the Key to Succession PlanningBy Joseph L. BowerHarvard Business School Press £19.99, 272 pagesFT bookshop price: £15.99

Business and organisations should grow their own leaders, this Harvard professor explains, but candidates must retain an edgy outsider’s perspective. Succession planning solved. Essential reading.

The Future of ManagementBy Gary HamelHarvard Business School Press £15.99, 288 pagesFT bookshop price: £12.79

A radical call from one of management’s liveliest commentators. It is time to throw off the burden of legacy thinking and reshape the way we do business. Bold, challenging and exciting stuff.

The Puritan Gift: Triumph, Collapse and Revival of an American DreamBy Kenneth and Will HopperI.B. Tauris, £24.50, 352 pagesFT bookshop price: £14.39

The Hopper brothers, long-time admirers of the American business model of old, voice their concerns about the developments of the past 30 years in this ambitious and stimulating story covering more than four centuries of history.

Five Minds for the FutureBy Howard GardnerHarvard Business School Press £14.99, 196 pagesFT bookshop price: £11.99

Harvard psychologist Prof Gardner continues his exploration of the different “intelligences” and mind-sets required by people today.

SCIENCECompiled by Clive Cookson

The Kiwi’s Egg: Charles Darwin and Natural SelectionBy David QuammenWeidenfeld & Nicolson £18.99, 286 pages

An exquisite example of popular science writing. Quammen explains clearly and entertainingly Darwin’s thought processes between the end of his voyage on the Beagle in 1836 and the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859.

The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science and What Comes NextBy Lee SmolinPenguin Books £25, 416 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

Smolin, a leading theoretical physicist, outlines the academic debate over “string theory” and how well it describes the universe. Hard-going, but this is a great intro to one of the most bitter disputes in modern physics.

A Life Decoded: My Genome, My LifeBy J. Craig VenterAllen Lane £25, 390 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

The genomics pioneer has written an all-action autobiography covering his life from a wild child in 1950s California to his present existence as a 21st-century scientific celebrity. Should convince anyone science can be exciting.

Avoid Boring People: and Other Lessons from a Life in ScienceBy James D. WatsonOxford University Press £14.99, 348 pagesFT bookshop price: £11.99

Not quite up to Venter’s standard, but a lively and provocative book nonetheless. Watson, co-discoverer of the DNA double helix, is a scientific and social iconoclast.

Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar QuestBy Gerard DeGrootJonathan Cape £18.99, 320 pagesFT bookshop price: £15.19

DeGroot, son of a Californian rocket engineer and now history professor at St Andrews, exposes the “cynics, demagogues, tyrants and even a few criminals” who manipulated US public opinion into spending $35bn on the Apollo space programme.

Everything Conceivable: How Assisted Reproduction is Changing Men, Women, and the WorldBy Liza MundyAllen Lane £20, 406 pagesFT bookshop price: £16

A folksy romp through the US fertility industry and its clients from homosexuals, lesbians and single parents, to conventional married couples desperate for children.

Why Beauty is Truth: The History of SymmetryBy Ian StewartBasic Books £15.99, 290 pagesFT bookshop price: £12.79

The pick of this year’s maths books. Stewart, a veteran professor and populariser, uses a historical approach to show the significance of symmetry, one of the most powerful concepts in his field. Few equations, plenty of anecdotes.

SPORTCompiled by David Owen

Left for Dead: The Untold Story of the Tragic 1979 Fastnet DisasterBy Nick Ward and Sinead O’BrienA&C Black £16.99, 186 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.59

Astonishingly vivid, painstakingly honest and utterly gripping. The story of one man’s battle to survive the 1979 Fastnet yacht race, which claimed 15 lives. A tour de force.

My Manchester United Years: The AutobiographyBy Sir Bobby Charlton with James LawtonHeadline £20, 388 pagesFT bookshop price: £16

As a footballer, Charlton was dependably brilliant; as a sportswriter, Lawton is much the same. A carefully crafted narrative that sifts much wisdom from the events of a glittering career, and the horrors of the Munich air crash that nearly destroyed it.

Searching for Heroes: Fifty Years of Sporting EncountersBy Ian WooldridgeHodder & Stoughton £20 408 pagesFT bookshop price: £16

A collection of pieces by the great sportswriter, who died this year. George Best, Mike Tyson, Shane Warne are all here. As is Wooldridge’s searing account of the memorial service for Israeli athletes killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Tommy’s Honour: The Extraordinary Story of Golf’s Founding Father and SonBy Kevin CookHarperSport £16.99, 356 pagesFT bookshop price: £13.59

Deftly written life story of two early giants of golf – Tom Morris and his precocious son Tommy. Cook vividly evokes the harshness of existence for all but a tiny elite in 19th-century Scotland. Exquisite descriptions of equipment manufacture: the craft of making feather balls was “equal parts science and upholstery”.

Bellies and Bullseyes: The Outrageous True Story of DartsBy Sid WaddellEbury Press £17.99, 326 pagesFT bookshop price: £14.39

The virtuoso commentator chronicles three decades of top-flight darts with insight and affection. His trademark humour, often comparing the sport’s pudgy-fingered gladiators with great men of history, works better on the small screen. But no one knows this garish sub-culture better.

A Very British Coop: Pigeon Racing from Blackpool to Sun CityBy Mark CollingsMacmillan £12.99, 247 pagesFT bookshop price: £10.39

You might feel pigeon racing is an alien land. Not so: the Germans still win the big one and China is a huge potential market for pigeon-sellers.

Baseball Haiku: The Best Haiku Ever Written About the GameEdited by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae TamuraNorton £11.99, 214 pagesFT bookshop price: £9.59

Irresistible. Like wandering through an exhibition of pristine miniature paintings. My favourite: “The last kid picked / running his fastest / to right field” by Mike Dillon.

CHILDREN’S BOOKS: TEENAGERSCompiled by James Lovegrove

WildernessBy Roddy DoyleScholastic £12.99, 220 pagesFT bookshop price: £10.39

Two brothers lose their mother on a husky-sledding holiday in Finland and brave the Arctic elements to find her. Meanwhile their half-sister is reunited with the mother who abandoned her as an infant. Doyle’s book expertly balances these two contrasting voyages of discovery to show the different forms that courage can take.

Burn My HeartBy Beverley NaidooPuffin £5.99, 193 pagesFT bookshop price: £4.79

Set in 1950s Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising, Naidoo’s novel follows the fortunes of two boys on either side of the political divide (wealthy white, poor black). It’s a simmering evocation of one of the bloodiest blots on the copybook of British colonial rule.

Blood Red Snow WhiteBy Marcus SedgwickOrion Books £9.99, 278 pagesFT bookshop price: £7.99

Sedgwick tells of Arthur Ransome’s time in Bolshevik-era Russia, first as a journalist, then as a spy. It’s an adventure novel infused with the power of myth and folk legend, an elegy to a nation’s dreams that were almost stamped out by revolution.

Uncle Montague’s Tales of TerrorBy Chris PriestleyBloomsbury £9.99, 239 pagesFT bookshop price: £7.99

This collection of ghost stories in the style of M.R. James manages to stay on the right side of the line between pastiche and parody, delivering a chilled, fruity cocktail of Edwardian ghoulishness. Lovely illustrations, full of insinuating crosshatched shadows, add to the atmosphere.

FearlessBy Tim LottWalker Books £9.99, 267 pagesFT bookshop price: £7.99

Lott’s first book for younger readers – after several for their parents – distils elements from other fictional dystopian futures and from history into a neat, dark parable of oppression and rebellion. A girl known only as Little Fearless fights the powers-that-be at a state-run workhouse, with martyrdom the inevitable outcome.

The Medici CurseBy Matt ChamingsFaber £6.99, 314 pagesFT bookshop price: £5.59

In Renaissance Florence, an artist’s apprentice paints a portrait of Lorenzo de Medici’s daughter. In modern Italy, a young English girl discovers the same portrait, hidden beneath another. The twin plot strands converge, of course, but in ways that are unexpected and daring. It’s like The Da Vinci Code, but good.

River SongBy Belinda HollyerOrchard Books £5.99, 201 pagesFT bookshop price: £4.79

Jessye is a Maori girl living with her grandmother while her father is nowhere to be found and her mother chases futile dreams and feckless men. Nothing much happens in terms of plot, but this is still a wise, wry, elegantly written novel that offers an illuminating insight into Maori lore and culture.

CHILDREN’S BOOKS: UNDER-10sCompiled by Neville Hawcock

The Picture History of BritainBy Clarke HuttonOxford University Press £10.99, 62 pagesFT bookshop price: £8.79

A facsimile of a 1945 original, this is a master illustrator’s gallop through British history, from cavemen to VJ Day. The clear text and lively images will intrigue children of seven and up, and delight nostalgic grans.

Sensible Hare and the Case of CarrotsBy Daren KingFaber & Faber £9.99, 106 pagesFT bookshop price: £7.99

More masterly daftness from the author of the award-winning Mouse Noses on Toast. A whimsical riff on the conventions of the detective story that will amuse readers of seven and up.

Not a BoxBy Antoinette PortisHarperCollins £10.99, 28 pagesFT bookshop price: £8.79

What is Rabbit doing in that cardboard box? Ah but it’s not a box, says Rabbit: it’s a car, a mountain, a spaceship – a thing of infinite possibilities. A stylish paean to the imagination for two- to four-year-olds.

Ottoline and the Yellow CatBy Chris RiddellMacmillan £8.99, 172 pagesFT bookshop price: £7.19

Dauntless sleuthette solves cat-burglary mystery in skyscraper-gothic wonderland. Riddell’s copious, intricate illustrations blend seamlessly with the quirky story. Fun for newly confident readers of seven or so.

Tyrannosaurus DripBy Julia Donaldson and David RobertsMacmillan £10.99, 30 pagesFT bookshop price: £8.79

Who else but Gruffalo writer Donaldson could put “Compsognathus” into a rhyme and still make it trip off the tongue? Dinosaur fans of four and up will love this witty tale of a plucky herbivore.

George’s Secret Key to the UnicerseBy Lucy and Stephen HawkingDoubleday £12.99, 304 pagesFT bookshop price: £10.39

Cosmology made fun for beginners of nine and up. The Brief History of Time physicist and his daughter introduce the basic concepts painlessly via a fast-paced yarn about a kidnapped supercomputer.

Little Neighbours of Sunnyside StreetBy Jessica SpanyolWalker Books £10.99, 64 pagesFT bookshop price: £8.79

“Playing, making, bumping, bashing, singing” runs the coverline, and indeed Spanyol’s animal pals just don’t stop until bedtime. With funny characters and bright, detail-packed illustrations, this is a street two- to five-year-olds will want to visit often

MUSICCompiled by Ludovic Hunter-Tilney

Let’s Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and SupergroupiesBy Pamela Des BarresHelter Skelter £17.99, 384 pages

Pamela Des Barres, a groupie back in the 1970s, interviews fellow rock star playthings with fabulous names such Tura Santana, the “spicy, seasoned doll” who snared Elvis, and Cherry Vanilla, once the PA to David Bowie. Zingy prose and proud attitudes ensure an enjoyably unrepentant read.

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the BrainBy Oliver SacksPicador £17.99, 400 pagesFT bookshop price: £14.39

Brain boffin Oliver Sacks leads us down obscure neural pathways, shedding light on our physiological relationship to music.

Hand Me My Travelin’ ShoesBy Michael GrayBloomsbury £25, 432 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

Blind Willie McTell was posthumously celebrated as a great bluesman. Michael Gray traces his pre-war rambling through the American South at a time of segregation and an emerging music industry. Fascinating.

Ronnie: The AutobiographyBy Ronnie WoodPan Macmillan £20, 358 pagesFT bookshop price: £16

Roguish anecdotes tumble from Ronnie Wood’s autobiography: horseplay with Rod Stewart and Keith Richards, a wife-swapping episode with George Harrison, and an improbable encounter with Groucho Marx, who clocks Ronnie’s hairstyle and asks, “What are you, a man or a chicken?”

Eric Clapton: The AutobiographyBy Eric Clapton, with Christopher Simon SykesCentury £20, 392 pagesFT bookshop price: £16

Drawn to solitary activities, “not very good at outward emotion”, Clapton is oddly revealing in his memoir. A warm portrait of swinging Sixties bohemia leads to an unsparing portrait of 1970s rock excess, as heroin addiction and alcoholism take a toll on the emotionally numbed guitar virtuoso.

My Bass and Other AnimalsBy Guy PrattOrion £12.99, 293 pagesFT bookshop price: £10.39

In this genial memoir, session musician Guy Pratt spills the beans on studio encounters with the likes of Tina Turner, who asked him to make his bass sound “more purple”, and Madonna, who shouted “Time is money and the money is mine” at him.

The Wagner ClanBy Jonathan CarrFaber £20, 384 pagesFT bookshop price: £16

A former FT journalist conjures up a gripping history of the controversies and power struggles in Germany’s most famous family, focusing on Bayreuth’s links with Hitler and the Third Reich.

ARCHITECTURECompiled by Edwin Heathcote

Architecture by AuthorityBy Richard RossAperture £22, 144 pages

A powerful and often sinister photographic record of the way space is used in maintaining terror and fear. From the bleak interiors of execution rooms and holding cells to border crossings and empty waiting rooms, this is the perfect document of the strange common language of everyday bureaucracy and extraordinary terror.

The Architecture of ParkingBy Simon HenleyThames & Hudson £24.95, 256 pagesFT Bookshop Price: £19.99

We think of them as the epitome of banality, yet this beautifully photographed (by Sue Barr) study of perhaps the least glamorous arm of architecture shows that car parks offer some of the most astonishingly sculptural forms and surfaces in contemporary architecture.

From Agit Prop to Free Space: The Architecture of Cedric PriceBy Stanley MathewsBlack Dog £29.95, 352 pagesFT bookshop price: £23.99

Influential only through his ideas, many of Price’s notions were brilliantly realised by others (Richard Rogers’ inside-out Pompidou Centre for example). And while much of his influence (London’s unfortunate temporary Olympic Buildings) has been questionable, Price himself remains fascinating.

Mapping London: Making Sense of the CityBy Simon FoxellBlack Dog £39.95, 288 pagesFT bookshop price: £31.99

Using all the key visualisations of London since the 1550s – from Wenceslaus Hollar’s panoramas of the pre-Great Fire city to the Tube map – Foxell shows the influence of maps on our perceptions of the city.

ChurchesBy David SperoSteidlMack £25, 144 pagesFT bookshop price: £20

Not London’s classical and gothic churches, but those stuck above garages and down alleys – the new powerhouses of an evangelical movement utterly uninterested in buildings as buildings.

Papers 2By Jonathan Sergison and Stephen BatesSergison Bates £22, 163 pages

Sergison Bates have built an international reputation for serious, thoughtful and urbane design and this little book forms part of a continuous examination of their cultural and physical surroundings. Clear and beautifully presented, this is publishing as an arm of architecture, rather than vice-versa.

Without and WithinBy Mark PimlottEpisode £39, 336 pages

Pimlott argues that the American ideas of endless space, the frontier and the grid have influenced contemporary architecture, and that the suburb – the modern response to an idea of the pioneering spirit – has come back to haunt the city in the neutered world of the mall

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