Business & Economics
The Fearful Rise of Markets: A Short View of Global Bubbles and Synchronised Meltdowns, by John Authers, Financial Times/Prentice Hall RRP£20
A concise, elegant and accessible view of the financial crisis. What else would you expect from the editor of the FT’s Lex column? Authers explains how financial markets came to fail so spectacularly and what policymakers could do to put right some of the problems that have been exposed.
The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations?, by Ian Bremmer, Viking RRP£20
The big news in the world economy this year has been the much faster recovery in emerging economies than in the developed world. Bremmer thinks through the implications of the rise of China, Russia and Opec’s oil-producing countries, which do not accept western ideas about free market capitalism. Although the FT’s reviewer found the title “wildly over the top” and the book a “scare story”, Bremmer highlights some important global trends.
Banking on the Future: The Fall and Rise of Central Banking, by Howard Davies and David Green, Princeton University Press RRP£24.95
The best assessment yet of the role played by the leading western central banks – the US Federal Reserve, the ECB and the Bank of England – in the run-up to the financial crisis and beyond, from two former insiders at the top level of UK policymaking.
The Art of Choosing: The Decisions We Make Every Day – What They Say About Us and How We Can Improve Them, by Sheena Iyengar, Little, Brown RRP£12.99
Iyengar, a psychologist and professor at Columbia Business School, is a pioneer in the study of how we make choices, and her book is in a class apart from the pop-psych ramblings that clog the bookshelves. An erudite and elegant investigation of choice and its effect on issues such as marketing, employment and healthcare.
The Facebook Effect: The Insider Story of the Company that is Connecting the World, by David Kirkpatrick, Virgin Books RRP£11.99
The first authoritative account of one of the most dramatic corporate stories of the decade. Less sensationalist than some other versions of Facebook’s rise to global dominance, and written with the benefit of access to the company, it is still far from being a whitewash.
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis, Allen Lane RRP£25
Much, much more fun than a book about the financial crisis has any right to be. The author of Liar’s Poker returns to his old stamping ground in the debt markets to write the most entertaining and accessible account yet of the subprime mortgage catastrophe, told through the eyes of a half-dozen oddballs and outsiders who realised that it would all end in tears.
More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of the New Elite, by Sebastian Mallaby, Bloomsbury RRP£10.99
A lively history of the shadowy world of hedge funds, from the very first, created by a former anti-Nazi activist in 1949, to the mayhem of 2008. Mallaby’s conclusion: in spite of all the fear of the fund industry, “its incentives and culture are ultimately less flawed than those of other financial companies” and “regulators should want to encourage hedge funds, not rein them in.”
Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us, by John Quiggin, Princeton University Press RRP£16.95
A critical look, from a left-leaning perspective, at some of the defining intellectual fashions of the past three decades. Quiggin is a writer of great verve who marshals some powerful evidence.
Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy, by Raghuram G Rajan, Princeton University Press RRP£18.95
A high-powered yet accessible analysis of the financial crisis and its aftermath, Fault Lines was awarded the FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year. Rajan, a University of Chicago economist, was one of the few who warned that the crisis was coming and his book fizzes with striking and thought-provoking ideas.
The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, by Matt Ridley, Fourth Estate RRP£20
Ridley saw the financial crisis up close and personal as chairman of the failed mortgage lender Northern Rock, rescued by a government bail-out. But this book takes a different tack to argue that in 100 years it is likely that humanity will be “much, much better off than it is today”. A refreshing, if sometimes tendentious, change from the widespread mood of despondency.
Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy, by Joseph Stiglitz, Allen Lane RRP£9.99
A Nobel prize-winning economist, Stiglitz analyses the crisis from a Keynesian perspective, tracing its roots in the drive to deregulate banking that started in the 1980s. “The best book so far on the financial crisis,” according to the FT’s review by John Kay.
MacroWikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World, by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, Atlantic Books RRP£19.99
A follow-up to Wikinomics, which superbly illustrated how technology was opening up a new era of collaboration in business. The sequel extends the analysis to government, the media, healthcare and education.
FT US industry and energy editor
At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson, Doubleday RRP£20
The ever-entertaining Bryson provides a trawl through the ways we have lived since Neolithic times, taking as his point of departure his own Victorian rectory in Norfolk. Cheery and idiosyncratic, he is a genial guide with a dizzying variety of discursions and anecdotes.
Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World, by Nick Bunker, Bodley Head RRP£25
The mythologised vision of the Pilgrim Fathers we have today – their black hats, their lace collars, the landing on Plymouth Rock – is largely a sentimental Victorian fabrication, says this rewriting of one of America’s most sacred fables by an English author. Far from being poor religious outcasts, they were the nouveaux riches of rural England and used their Calvinism to gain financial backing.
She Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth, by Helen Castor, Faber RRP£20
With driving narratives and vivid details from contemporary chronicles, Castor tells the stories of four women who grasped regal power in England between the 12th and 16th centuries: Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Margaret of Anjou and Isabella of France. One gasps at the brutality of medieval power struggles – and at the strength and vitality of the women.
Voltaire: A Life, by Ian Davidson, Profile RRP£25
This biography, one of the best of the man who was the Enlightenment incarnate, concentrates on the adventure that was Voltaire’s life instead of the obscure details of his writing. We need Voltaire, champion of human freedoms against church and state, more than ever and this book is written with the lucid intelligence he displayed.
High Financier: The Lives and Time of Siegmund Warburg, by Niall Ferguson, Allen Lane RRP£30
Ascetic, troubled and multi-faceted, Siegmund Warburg was the exiled German Jew who built and defined SG Warburg, the London-based merchant bank. It survived by its morals and reputation, says this illuminating biography. Had his conservative approach lasted, banks might have avoided excess risk and dodged the recent crisis.
Did You Really Shoot The Television? A Family Fable, by Max Hastings, HarperPress RRP£20
On the surface this appears to be a chronicle of tales of derring-do but there is darkness in this account by a leading British journalist whose family contains three generations of journalists and jobbing writers. He does not shrink from describing difficult relationships, not least between his improvident, romantic father and his mother, one of Fleet Street’s female pioneers.
A History of the World in 100 Objects, by Neil MacGregor, Allen Lane RRP£30
This is the lavishly illustrated book of the hit BBC Radio 4 programme, in which the British Museum’s director relates the history of the world by reference to 100 objects that can be found in the museum. The style is authentic, personal and humorous, and he demonstrates the power of objects to recover the place in history of lost civilisations.
Berlin At War: Life and Death in Hitler’s Capital 1939-1945, by Roger Moorhouse, Bodley Head RRP£25
Berlin was the least fascist of any major German city yet it was among the most heavily bombed by Allies and its women suffered mass gang-rape by the Red Army. The searing experiences of Berliners are brought to life through often deeply morally compromised personal stories.
Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life, by Nicholas Phillipson, Allen Lane RRP£25
Adam Smith is not the easiest of biographical subjects. Quiet and cautious, he published only two full-length books and just over 300 letters to or from the great economist survive. But Phillipson, an Edinburgh historian who has studied the explosion of genius in the 18th-century Scottish Enlightenment all his career, is a trustworthy guide.
Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris, by Graham Robb, Picador RRP£18.99
This entertaining book takes some liberties with history. It is a “mini-human Comedy of Paris”, using the author’s imagination to tell the story of the city in vignettes through the eyes of the figures that have shaped it, from Napoleon and Zola to Hitler (during his 1940 visit) and Sarkozy.
State of Emergency: The Way We Were, Britain 1970-1974, by Dominic Sandbrook, Allen Lane RRP£30
This sweeping, subtle portrait of the most tumultuous period in Britain’s postwar history mixes political, social and cultural history. Sandbrook describes a society caught between past and present, yet often more stable than it looked. Vividly portrayed is the uncomfortable figure of Edward Heath, one of the grumpiest men ever to have occupied 10 Downing Street.
Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: Writings on Ice Cream, Obama, Churchill and My Mother, by Simon Schama, Bodley Head RRP£20
Addictively readable, this bulky miscellany is a selection of the historian’s writings on all kinds of topics in magazines and newspapers, including the FT, over three decades. With dazzling ease and varied styles of writing, he tackles subjects from his own handwriting, Churchill’s oratory and fine art to 9/11, Katrina and Obama.
Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, by James Shapiro, Faber RRP£20
For centuries, the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays has been disputed. Shapiro is fascinated not by the authorship question – he does not doubt Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare – but by the reasons, ranging from snobbery to politics and religion, why there have been so many doubters.
Bloodlands: Europe between Stalin and Hitler, by Timothy Snyder, Bodley Head RRP£25
This superb and harrowing history tells of 14m people murdered in the land between Berlin and Moscow between 1933 and 1945 – not only those who died in the Holocaust, but the 3.3m victims of Stalin’s starvation of the Soviet Ukraine, the many members of Poland’s elite who perished and the Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians starved by Hitler.
Burying the Bones: Pearl Buck’s Life in China, by Hilary Spurling, Profile RRP£15
This is a biographical masterpiece that unpicks the vulnerability behind the inscrutable persona of the Nobel Prize-winning novelist. Buck gave voice to the screams of Chinese women, as well as drawing on her own struggles as the daughter of American missionaries and her experience of a painful marriage.
FT UK business and employment editor
Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War, by Andrew Bacevich, Metropolitan RRP£25
A radical critique of modern American foreign policy that argues that successive US governments have been captured by a military-industrial complex with a vested interest in relentless military expansion. The result is a “path to permanent war”.
The Rule of Law, by Tom Bingham, Allen Lane RRP£20
Lord Bingham died in September after a distinguished career, including a period as senior law lord of the UK. This closely argued and very readable work serves as a lucid restatement of the importance of the rule of law, particularly after the excesses of the “war on terror”.
A Journey, by Tony Blair, Hutchinson RRP£25
Blair’s autobiography makes unusually compelling reading for a political memoir. But it has also earned condemnation for everything from its writing style to its defence of the Iraq war and its willingness to take the reader everywhere, from toilet to bedroom.
Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalisation, by Gordon Brown, Simon & Schuster RRP£20
Brown’s book, to be published on December 6, is characteristically less personal and more cerebral than the works of Blair and Bush. Brown’s finest hour as prime minister was, arguably, his role in dealing with the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis. Here he looks back at the “first crisis of globalisation” and suggests how global governance and international co-operation can be strengthened.
Decision Points, by George W Bush, Virgin RRP£25
Bush’s account of his presidency has been unsurprisingly controversial. The former president’s critics have leapt upon his justification for the use of water-boarding as evidence of his moral flaws. Bush himself insists that later generations will judge him more favourably.
Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick, Granta RRP£8.99
Much-praised 2010 winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, this is a painstakingly researched and gruelling account of the hardships and cruelties of life in the world’s most isolated, eccentric and oppressive state.
What if Latin America Ruled the World?, by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, Bloomsbury RRP£20
An improbable proposition that is used to examine the economic dynamism and political creativity of a continent that is relatively neglected amid all the excitement about the emergence of new powers in Asia.
Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, Penguin RRP£25
After every US presidential election, there is an informal contest to write the best book about the campaign. This is, without doubt, the winner for the 2008 race. Purists and idealists may find this gossipy account of modern politics a little tawdry but, for anybody interested in American elections, this is exciting reading.
The Frugal Superpower: America’s Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era, by Michael Mandelbaum, Public Affairs RRP$23.95
A professor at Johns Hopkins University argues that American global leadership will increasingly be constrained by a lack of cash. The world may cheer at first but will come to regret the US’s waning power.
The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers, by Richard McGregor, Allen Lane RRP£25
Such is the excitement about China’s headlong economic development that it is easy to forget that it is still, nominally at least, a Communist country. Richard McGregor, a former Beijing bureau chief for the FT, argues that any understanding of modern China still has to begin with the central role of the Communist party.
Decline and Fall: Diaries 2005-2010, by Chris Mullin, Profile RRP£20
Amid more high-profile releases, these diaries, written by a junior minister in the Blair government, have been praised for their humour, humanity and insight into politics outside the inner circle.
Imagining India: Ideas for a New Century, by Nandan Nilekani, Penguin RRP£12.99
The man sometimes described as “Bangalore’s Bill Gates” offers a very readable account of the challenges and opportunities facing a country that seems certain to be one of the great powers of the next century.
War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern Times, by Linda Polman, Viking RRP£12.99
Linda Polman, a Dutch writer and journalist, suggests that development aid can sometimes fail to achieve its objectives or, at worst, can actually fuel and prolong conflicts.
The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour, by Andrew Rawnsley, Viking RRP£25
Now that Gordon Brown and New Labour have lost office, Rawnsley’s book may seem a little less urgent. Yet it is likely to stand as the best journalistic account of the last years of the Blair-Brown duopoly. Rawnsley’s anecdotes about Brown’s raging temper and inability to control his emotions as prime minister were fiercely denied but have the ring of truth.
The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama, by David Remnick, Picador RRP£20
Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, has come up with a balanced, highly readable and well-researched account of Obama’s unlikely rise from Hawaii to Harvard to the Illinois state legislature and, finally, the White House. Remnick is particularly good on Chicago politics and Obama’s controversial relationship with Pastor Jeremiah Wright.
Neo-Conservatism: The Biography of a Movement, by Justin Vaïsse, Harvard RRP£25.95
A French scholar provides an unusually nuanced and historically grounded account of the controversial neo-conservative movement – tracing its origins to disputes among New York liberals in revolt against the excesses of the 1960s.
FT columnist and the author of ‘Zero Sum World’ (Atlantic Books)
Science & Environment
How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything, by Mike Berners-Lee, Profile RRP£8.99
The most practical guide so far for people wanting to reduce their carbon footprint. Berners-Lee tells us how much carbon dioxide is emitted by (almost) everything we buy, including its production, transport and operation. He covers everyday experiences (eating a banana or shopping for clothes) and luxuries (sending a Valentine rose or taking a holiday on the other side of the world).
Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, by Antonio Damasio, Heinemann RRP£25
One of the world’s most creative brain researchers tackles one of the biggest questions in science: how does human consciousness arise? Although the answer remains “we don’t really know”, Damasio gives a plausible account of the way our sense of self might emerge from neural processes. The book ranges readably from brain anatomy to evolutionary biology.
The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe?, by Paul Davies, Allen Lane RRP£20
This is the best of a bunch of books about life on other worlds marking the 50th anniversary of Seti, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Davies, an astrobiology professor at Arizona State University, tells us entertainingly how to look for alien civilisations and, if we hear from one, how to respond.
Through the Language Glass: How Words Colour Your World, by Guy Deutscher, Heinemann RRP£20
Deutscher uses colour – how we perceive and describe it – as the central theme of his brilliant account of linguistic research over two centuries. He argues persuasively that, contrary to prevailing opinion today, our mother tongue has a fundamental effect on the way we think.
The Mind’s Eye, by Oliver Sacks, Picador RRP£20
The master storyteller of psychiatry has written another compelling book looking at neuroscience through case studies of patients with brain disorders. This one focuses on sight and our visual experience of the world. The unusual feature is that Sacks himself appears as one of the patients, after a tumour on his right eye.
Honeybee Democracy, by Thomas D Seeley, Princeton University Press RRP£20.95
The year’s most enchanting science book. Seeley, biology professor at Cornell University, distils the insights of 40 years studying and keeping bees. He focuses on the astonishing “democratic” process that takes place when a swarm of thousands of bees leaves an overcrowded hive to find a new home: how scouts evaluate potential sites and advertise their merits, how a final choice is made, and how the swarm navigates to its new nest.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, Pan Macmillan RRP£18.99
One of the great medical biographies of our time. Its subject is not a famous doctor or scientist but a black American patient, Henrietta Lacks, who died of cervical cancer almost 60 years ago in poverty and obscurity. Skloot contrasts the sad story of the Lacks family with the glamorous science that made Henrietta’s “immortal” cells, known as HeLa, into a mainstay of modern medical research.
FT science editor
Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate, by Terry Eagleton, Yale University Press RRP£16
Eagleton has collected his notions on Richard Dawkins’ and Christopher Hitchens’ attacks on belief in a fascinating series of essays, mainly appealing to the medieval philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. Eagleton insists that it is entirely fair to balance reason with faith, and that the quest for divinity has always been a preoccupation of wise philosophers. As ever he adds a dash of Marxism to provoke even those who would otherwise applaud him.
The Future of Islam, by John L Esposito, Oxford University Press RRP£16.99
This leading Islamic scholar explores the complex and wide-ranging futures and fates of Muslim practice, culture and politics, globally and within individual states. Especially brilliant on Islam in western democracies such as Britain and the US, where he believes tensions will be reduced and terrorism isolated as Islam engages pluralist institutions.
Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England, by Anthony Julius, Oxford University Press RRP£25
Julius is especially penetrating on literary anti-Semitism, from Shakespeare to TS Eliot, and the impetus to demonise a purely imaginary ethnic community. He ends with contemporary anti-Zionism and the questioning of Israel’s right to exist. A tragic history, with ominous reflections for the future.
Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century, by Eric Kaufmann, Profile RRP£15
Kaufmann argues that fundamentalist religionists of every kind have more children than liberal believers or secularists. So by the middle of the century, fundamentalists will begin to outnumber non-believers. His thesis challenges the notion that atheism is in the ascendancy but it is also a warning that religions will become increasingly hardline. Sobering and controversial.
A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, by Diarmaid MacCulloch, Allen Lane RRP£35
This huge sweep of Christianity’s troubled and conflicted history is a tour de force. Accessible, and entertaining, MacCulloch orchestrates the great themes of the world’s largest religious group, punctuated by telling anecdotes and micro-histories. But will the greatest danger for Christianity in the 21st century be indifference? A superb narrative and a useful work of reference.
Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, and author of ‘Newman’s Unquiet Grave’ (Continuum)
Africa United: How Football Explains Africa, by Steve Bloomfield, Canongate RRP£12.99
This journalist’s odyssey takes in many African countries most of us will never see. The book is often too ambitious in its claims for football’s power. However, there is some wonderful travel writing, notably on Bloomfield’s visit to Mogadishu, the wrecked yet splendid Somali capital, where he briefly contemplates opening a seafood restaurant.
Gaming the World: How Sports Are Reshaping Global Politics and Culture, by Andrei S Markovits and Lars Rensmann, Princeton University Press RRP£20.95
A very readable guide to the recent globalisation of sport by academics who understand both US and European sports. Packed with examples, from David Beckham to Kobe Bryant, the book explores the tension between sport’s globalisation and the fact that most teams still arouse the greatest emotions in their local areas.
Frankincense and More: The Biography of Barry Hills, by Robin Oakley, Racing Post RRP£18.99
Best known as a political commentator, Oakley is also the FT’s former racing correspondent. Hills is an intriguing figure: he has trained more than 3,000 winning horses, fought cancer for decades, and raised a racing dynasty. Oakley is close to “Barry” and the book sometimes shades into hagiography, but that’s part of the price for the wonderful access.
FT columnist and co-author of ‘Why England Lose’ (HarperSport)
Picasso by Picasso: His First Museum Exhibition 1932, by Tobia Bezzola, Prestel RRP£35
One for aficionados: the princely catalogue of a show just opened in Zurich, recreates painting-by-painting Picasso’s first museum exhibition, curated by the artist himself. Photographs of the 1932 show and accounts of its reception and impact are also highlights.
Henri Matisse: Rooms with a View, by Shirley Neilsen Blum, Thames & Hudson RRP£35
“In order to paint, I need to remain for several days in the same state of mind, and I do not find this in any atmosphere but that of the Côte d’Azur.” Thus Matisse, turbulent creator of modern art’s greatest hard-won images of serenity: many of them wonderfully assembled here.
Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand, by Malcolm Daniel, Yale RRP£25
In the work of this seminal triumvirate of American artists, photography aped painting only to break through to its own language: lyrical yet modernist, deliberate yet spontaneous, and so powerful – Stieglitz’s “Fifth Avenue”, Steichen’s “Flatiron”, Strand’s “Wall Street” – that it still fixes our perception of early 20th-century New York.
Hokusai, by Matthi Forrer, Prestel RRP£80
Hokusai was born 250 years ago but feels every inch our contemporary. This deluxe volume marks his anniversary with a scholarly text and reproductions of his diverse works at exceptional standards. Japanese binding with traditionally folded paper emphasises his delicacy, and makes this book an exquisite object.
Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century, by Peter Galassi, Thames & Hudson RRP£55
Peter Galassi had “the outrageous good luck” to work with Cartier-Bresson for two decades, and brings sympathetic understanding and broad intellectual scope to the panoramic range of the great photographer’s oeuvre. Packed with famous and less familiar images.
Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud, by Martin Gayford, Thames & Hudson RRP£18.95
If portrait painting is performance, so is this spirited recounting of it. Gayford sat for Freud for seven months, as winter turned to summer and the blue scarf became an annoying mistake. Gossipy anecdotes, reflections on art and life, Freud’s negotiation of his position in the canon: all in a stocking-filler.
A Museum of One’s Own: Private Collecting, Public Gift, by Anne Higonnet, Periscope Publishing RRP£24.95
The best art of every time was for sale, and the private museums of the richest collectors remain haunted by “the person who once acquired all these things and wanted them to stay together for ... ever”. Higonnet’s entertaining subjects range from Isabella Stewart Gardner to the de Menils and Ronald Lauder.
In Giacometti’s Studio, by Michael Peppiatt, Yale RRP£35
Armed with a scrawled introduction from Francis Bacon, Peppiatt turned up at Giacometti’s Paris studio in 1966 but was too shy to knock. Months later, the great sculptor died. Peppiatt has been stalking his ghost ever since; this marvellous, original account, intelligently illustrated, is the product of a lifetime’s thought.
The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance, by Edmund de Waal, Chatto & Windus RRP£16.99
Ceramic artist de Waal inherited a group of netsuke pieces from his eccentric, well-connected European uncle who lived in Japan. His delightful memoir on the cross-continental travels of this collection is suffused with absolute conviction in art’s central place in life.
Albrecht Dürer, by Norbert Wolf, Prestel RRP£80
Northern Renaissance artists, exponents of a piquant naturalism, remain less well known than their Italian counterparts. Here Germany’s greatest painter of both sacred and secular themes – with a record number of self-portraits – is explored at the stretch of a giant-size, lavishly illustrated monograph which is also the definitive catalogue raisonné.
FT visual art critic and author of ‘Chagall: Love and Exile’ (Penguin)
Sviatoslav Richter: Pianist, by Karl Aage Rasmussen, Northeastern University Press RRP$39.95
This first biography of the legendary Russian musician (1915-1997) reveals the man behind the enigma. Many of Richter’s colleagues are quoted and many of his less ingratiating quirks laid bare. Rasmussen dispels the myths without debunking Richter’s greatness.
Richard Wagner and the Centrality of Love, by Barry Emslie, The Boydell Press RRP£50
Emslie’s dense but entertainingly opinionated examination of Wagner’s operas offers a psychological study of the composer, a guide to his often contradictory writings and an up-to-the minute commentary on interpretation.
Cosima Wagner: The Lady of Bayreuth, by Oliver Hilmes, Yale RRP£25
Liszt’s daughter became not just Wagner’s second wife but high priestess of the Wagnerian cult, surviving the composer for nearly 50 years and controlling his legacy. Hilmes probes a fascinating and under-documented period of music history.
Mozart and the Nazis: How the Third Reich Abused a Cultural Icon, by Erik Levi, Yale RRP£25
Unlike Wagner, whose ideas were easily bent to the Nazi cause, Mozart proved difficult to manipulate. Levi documents the often comical attempts by Hitler’s minions to adapt Mozartian ideals to their ideological rulebook.
Chopin: Prince of the Romantics, by Adam Zamoyski, HarperPress RRP£12.99
The best book to have come out of the Chopin bicentenary. There’s not much musical insight, the aim being more to evoke Chopin’s effete personality and fastidious lifestyle, on which George Sand had such an explosive impact.
FT chief music critic
Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head, by Rob Chapman, Faber RRP£14.99
Chapman’s biography digs beneath the romanticising of Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett as crazed psychedelic Icarus to find a dreamy child of Cambridge intellectuals, a 1960s bridge between the English Edwardian fantasies of Wind in the Willows and the acid-fuelled explorations of US psychedelic rock.
Death of a Pirate: British Radio and the Making of the Information Age, by Adrian Johns, WW Norton RRP£19.99
Johns takes a lurid moment in British radio history – the shooting of a pirate radio operator by a rival in 1966 – and spins it into a superb account of the rise of modern broadcasting, centring on the ideological and commercial challenges to the BBC’s monopoly.
Apathy for the Devil: A 1970s Memoir, by Nick Kent, Faber RRP£12.99
Keith Richards looms large in Kent’s memoir of rock journalism in the 1970s, introducing the NME scribe to “the real breakfast of champions”: a 6in line of cocaine and heroin. Kent turns his time as chief London rock hack into an entertainingly Hogarthian tale of dandyism and downfall.
Life, by Keith Richards, Weidenfeld & Nicolson RRP£20
Reading as if it’s been drawled into a tape recorder after a bottle of wine or two, Richards’ ghostwritten autobiography is a free-wheeling tour of the Rolling Stones guitarist’s life, encompassing drab postwar childhood, blues worship, bacchanalia and bitchy asides about Keef’s great lost love: Mick Jagger.
Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981), by Stephen Sondheim, Virgin RRP£30
The first volume of Sondheim’s collected lyrics isn’t just a tribute to his dazzling rhymes (who else could yoke together “merely so-so” and “virtuoso”?), it’s also a fascinating guide to the art of the musical, complete with stiletto judgments of fellow lyricists: Noël Coward gets it in the neck, elegantly.
FT pop critic
America, by Jean Baudrillard, Verso RRP£9.99
Not so much architecture as landscape, Baudrillard’s stunning contemplation on the vastness of the US was first published in English in 1988 and is reissued here with an excellent introduction by Geoff Dyer. Baudrillard’s writing can be heavy and impenetrable, but the US rubs off on him. “Over there, even theory becomes once again what it is: a fiction,” he concludes.
Building Brasilia, by Kenneth Frampton, photographs by Marcel Gautherot, Thames & Hudson RRP£39.95
Brasilia turned 50 this year and the superb photos in this book document the extraordinarily ambitious attempt to build a resolutely modern capital in the middle of nowhere. The city itself may not be seen as an unqualified success but here, in isolation, the buildings look as beautiful as anything that came out of the 20th century.
Small Scale, Big Change, by Andres Lepik, Birkhauser RRP£27
The perfect antidote to the starchitecture that dominates contemporary discourse. It is an exploration of intelligent, unashamedly political and extremely worthwhile architectures of intervention into impoverished communities. This is building that faces up to the very real problems of a world which is urbanising at eye-watering pace.
In Passing, by Mark Pimlott, Jap Sam Books RRP£22.95
Pimlott’s photos, some from his childhood and youth, others snapped on his iPhone, capture haunting landscapes conjured from everyday scenes. He sees deserts and airport lobbies, car parks and ploughed fields as strange cocktails of the familiar and the uncanny. Superb.
Architecture & Beauty: Conversations with Architects about a Troubled Relationship, by Yael Reisner with Fleur Watson, Wiley RRP£50
Architects have inherited from modernism an unshakeable suspicion of the notion of beauty. Reisner is right to tackle the issue but the conclusions, while interesting, reveal a real discomfort in contemporary architecture.
FT architecture critic
Von Sternberg, by John Baxter, University Press of Kentucky RRP£25
The ego has landed. The most indefatigable self-glorifier in US cinema (born plain Joe Sternberg and affecting the “von”) gets thoroughgoing, perceptive and even sympathetic treatment from a veteran biographer. The maker of The Blue Angel, Morocco, Blonde Venus and The Scarlet Empress deserves no less.
Popcorn: 50 Years of Rock’n’Roll Movies, by Garry Mulholland, Orion Books RRP£16.99
Everything you wanted to know about pop and rock cinema but were afraid you might learn from the wrong writer. Music journalist Mulholland is the right writer. His compact book is the perfect length and style: pithy, irreverent and on the money about the best movies and makers.
Franco Zeffirelli: Complete Works, edited by Caterina Napoleone, Thames & Hudson RRP£95
A coffee table book to die for – and possibly from, if it were to fall on you from a great height. This giant tome, in a deluxe cardboard cover, has half a thousand pages of sumptuous photos, designs and effusive, sometimes intelligent, prose, taking you through Zeffirelli’s long multitasking, theatrical, operatic and cinematic career.
The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder, by David Thomson, Basic Books RRP£13.99
This is the foremost Anglo-American film critic’s take on the foremost Anglo-American filmmaker. As in a good Hitchcock movie, every angle is covered and some angles are more revealing or mischievously original than others.
FT film critic
Swiss Watching, by Diccon Bewes, Nicholas Brealey RRP£12.99
We all know that Switzerland gave the world cuckoo clocks, triangular chocolate and penknives, but how about the Toilet Duck, Velcro and LSD? Europe’s “landlocked island” is a great subject for a cultural anthropologist and Bewes, manager of an English language bookshop in Bern, is a perfect guide.
No Way Down, by Graham Bowley, Viking RRP£18.99
Jon Krakauer’s 1998 book, Into Thin Air, about a climbing disaster on Everest, reinvigorated the genre but is a hard act to follow. Despite never having climbed in his life, Bowley has managed to produce a worthy successor in this account of a 2008 tragedy on K2 that claimed 11 lives.
Chasing the Devil: The Search for Africa’s Fighting Spirit, by Tim Butcher, Chatto & Windus RRP£18.99
The follow-up to Butcher’s hugely successful Blood River sees the author travel to Sierra Leone and Liberia, trekking 350 miles through jungle and swamp to trace the route taken by Graham Greene in 1935. The unflinching descriptions of the horrors of the recent wars in both countries are hard to shake from the mind.
Winter on the Nile, by Anthony Sattin, Hutchinson RRP£20
In November 1849, both Gustave Flaubert and Florence Nightingale happened to take the same cruise down the Nile and this book tells us what they got up to. She dashed about seeing as many ruins and mosques as possible; he was more interested in the brothels. Fans of either will find a fascinating glimpse into their lives before they were famous; for others it is a revealing look at how tourism used to be.
The Honey Gatherers, by Mimlu Sen, Rider & Co RRP£12.99
Sen was living in Paris when she saw a performance of three visiting Indian musicians. Captivated by their artistry, she followed them back to Bengal and travelled with them between performances in shanty towns and rural villages, learning about the history and traditions of the Baul singers. Along the way she falls in love with Paban das Baul, one of the musicians, lending a new layer to an already fascinating book.
Scotland, by Chris Townsend, Cicerone RRP£25
Sometimes a straight, factual guidebook can end up being more evocative than the most lyrical prose (there’s even a school of thought that the most engaging travel book ever written is the Thomas Cook Overseas Rail Timetable). Townsend’s book is a perfect example. More than six years in the writing, it gives encyclopaedic coverage of walking and climbing routes on every Scottish mountain of note. Dipping into the pages feels like a bracing escape from urban life.
Atlantic: A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, by Simon Winchester, HarperPress RRP£25
Don’t let the intimidating sub-title put you off. The wide range of disparate subjects, all linked by a common connection to the sea, make for an enthralling book. Winchester’s stories take in geology, ecology and human history, his focus ranging from slavery to to the single-celled bacterium that might save the world.
FT travel editor and author of ‘White Weekends’ (Bantam Press)
Reinventing Food – Ferran Adrià: The Man Who Changed The Way We Eat, by Colman Andrews, Phaidon RRP£19.95
Much has been written about the food at El Bulli, Adrià’s extraordinary restaurant on the Catalan coast, but this book offers something new. It’s a fascinating account not only of Adrià the artist-chef but of the circumstances that allowed his genius to flourish, from the restaurant’s eccentric location to his unusual partnership with manager Juli Soler.
Empires of Food: Feast, Famine and the Rise and Fall of Civilisations, by Evan DG Fraser and Andrew Rimas, Random House RRP£20
A racy, swashbuckling journey through the boom and bust of “food empires”, the elaborate systems of storing, transporting and exchanging food that underpin all civilisations. The writing is entertaining but the message is grim: we are feeding ourselves on a transient glut of fossil fuels and good weather, and a violent contraction in global food supplies looms.
The Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes, by Harold McGee, Hodder and Stoughton RRP£25
McGee’s On Food and Cooking is the seminal text for anyone who wishes to understand what’s really going on when they cook. This slimmed-down volume, aimed at the general reader, offers more practical tips on cooking equipment and methods, ingredients, safety and hygiene.
Noma Cookbook: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine, by René Redzepi, Phaidon RRP£35
Redzepi’s Copenhagen restaurant, Noma, soared to the top of the San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants league this year. This collection of essays, recipes and beautiful photographs, explains how a young chef managed to defy the scepticism of those who dismissed him and create a modern cuisine based on Nordic ingredients.
Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, Hamish Hamilton RRP£20
An unflinching examination of what it means to eat animals, and of the disgusting reality of factory farming, by someone who couldn’t bear to look the other way. Safran Foer coolly exposes the ethical inconsistency of those of us who eat meat, and asks how long we can go on ignoring the grisly origins of the flesh on our plates just because its taste gives us pleasure.
The Flavour Thesaurus: Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook, by Niki Segnit, Bloomsbury RRP£18.99
A compendium of flavour combinations, wittily written and peppered with fascinating facts and cooking suggestions. With its wide range of sources and inspirations, it has the air of an old-fashioned miscellany. A fun and often eyebrow-raising read.
Tender Volume II: A Cook’s Guide to the Fruit Garden, by Nigel Slater, Fourth Estate RRP£30
Last year Slater divulged the secrets of his vegetable patch; this year, it’s the fruit garden where he experiments with apples, plums, gooseberries and vines. His recipes, both sweet and savoury, are enticing and eminently doable, while his prose has a richness and sensuality that never cloys.
Food writer and author of ‘Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China’ (WW Norton)
Thoughtful Gardening: Great Plants, Great Gardens, Great Gardeners, by Robin Lane Fox, Particular Books RRP£25
The FT gardening columnist for the past 40 years gives us his educated, outrageous and entertaining guide to gardening. Read it and watch Robin’s video, made in his private Oxfordshire garden, on FT.com, where you can also read Helen Dillon’s review of this excellent book.
Bizarre Botanicals, by Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross, Timber Press RRP£17.99
The great early 20th-century plantsman EA Bowles had a lunatic asylum of plant oddities that the authors do not mention, although their book is a continuation of his wonderful, barmy work. The cover features something euphemistically called Fox Face. I know it as Nipple Fruit. Inside, the full-page colour picture of “Dutchman’s pipe” shows a disappointingly chaste version of this strange flower, which I last saw exposing itself over an arch in the Cayman Island Botanical Park.
Wicked Plants: The A-Z of Plants That Kill, Maim, Intoxicate and Otherwise Offend, by Amy Stewart, Timber Press RRP£9.99
A dip into the dank underworld of plants at their most noxious, from the hemlock that killed Socrates to the plague-and-pestilence plant, water hyacinth. A refreshing antidote to some of the limp-wristed garden books that have landed on my desk over the years. No cultivation notes but plenty of entertaining anecdotes.
Gardens of the World: The Great Traditions, by Rory Stuart, Frances Lincoln RRP£30
Stuart puts gardens in their historical and social contexts, picks out broad themes – the English landscape park, the oriental tradition – and explains them with the eye of a visitor from today. Patchy pictures but the text gives a solid summary of mainstream garden history.
Mr Hamilton’s Elysium: The Gardens of Painshill, by Michael Symes, Frances Lincoln RRP£35
In 1772, John Wilkes wrote that Hamilton had created a “veritable paradise” at Painshill. He had, and Symes, a garden historian involved in the landscape’s 30-year restoration, takes us on an illuminating tour around the crystal studded grotto, Turkish tent, American plant rarities and other features that have influenced generations of garden makers.
FT House and Home editor
In the second part of our Books of the Year round-up next week, our critics choose their favourite fiction of 2010
Dave Eggers, Writer
Edwidge Danticat’s new book Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work (Princeton University Press) is the one I keep finding myself recommending. It’s a collection of essays that realign your thinking about what it means to write about actual people, actual history – and recent history in particular. Danticat is always convincing, always clear, but here she hits some very high notes and gets at questions no one else has answered adequately or at all.
Lucy Kellaway, FT columnist
Jane Robins’ book, The Magnificent Spilsbury and The Case of the Brides in the Bath (John Murray), is the tale of an Edwardian conman who marries a series of vulnerable young women and proceeds to drown them in baths in boarding houses. It is also the tale of Bernard Spilsbury, the first great criminal pathologist who discovers how these women died with no sign of struggle. Written with economy, elegance and wit, the book grips with the ghoulish fascination of a murder mystery while educating about the unhappy role of women in Edwardian society, the early importance of the expert witness and the evil underbelly of human nature.
Andrew Marr, Presenter and writer
It’s been a fabulous year for books but if I must choose, I plump for How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell (Chatto & Windus). Montaigne is one of the glories of France and most lovable of humanist writers but just slightly harder to concentrate on than people pretend – some dense classical references, forgotten quarrels and the looping (occasionally loopy) structures. Bakewell voyages round and through him in a delightful, unorthodox book that had me going back to the essays themselves. The title is not pretentious, just a factual tinned-goods label.
Lionel Barber, Editor of the FT
My vote goes to Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy (Princeton University Press), a comprehensive analysis of the global financial crisis, written by Professor Raghuram Rajan, a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund who now teaches at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. The book is rigorous, the prose pellucid, the conclusions highly relevant to where we go from here. No wonder it won the FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year.
Geoff Dyer, Writer
Richard Misrach’s Destroy this Memory (Aperture) is a book of photographs with no words that is full of words: large-scale images of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. No people, just abandoned homes – and cars – and the messages spray-painted on them, either by authorities conducting searches or by the absent residents themselves. Misrach is consciously extending a photographic tradition observed by Walker Evans and Lee Friedlander, and taking it into the realm of the post-apocalyptic: “Help!”; “Looters Will Be Shot survivors Will Be Shot Again”; “Lisa + Donnie R OK”; “Hey Katrina!! That’s All You Got? You Big Sissy!! We Will Be Back!!”; “T & E – We Love What You’ve Done With The Place”; “Lost Our Asses”; “Elvis Has Left The House”. The range and rage, the despair, compassion and fortitude are mind-blowing. A masterpiece.
Chris Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University
The late Tony Judt published two books in 2010. The first, Ill Fares the Land (Allen Lane), was a spirited polemic against the recent ideological and financial extremes of capitalism. But my book of the year is the volume of his essays, The Memory Chalet (Heinemann), many of which were written as he was dying of motor neurone disease and were published originally in The New York Review of Books. Judt was one of the finest historians of the past half-century and a brilliant memoirist and essayist.
Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
Czeslaw Milosz was a poet of immense distinction but also a pungent, surprising essayist. Proud To Be a Mammal (Penguin Modern Classics) brings together fragments vividly recollecting life in wartime Poland with reflections on human nature and the cost of popular scientism, on the seven deadly sins, the role of ritual and doctrine, even for a sometimes half-hearted believer, and much more besides. Humane, ironic, sceptical and catholic, this book has a unique flavour.
Raghuram Rajan, Winner of the 2010 FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year
The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma by Gurcharan Das (Allen Lane). The book describes the author’s attempts to understand the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, and to relate it to his own life and the world we live in. Having always been intrigued, as well as puzzled, by the great epic, I was fascinated to see the lessons Das draws, and how he arrives at them.
AS Byatt, Writer
Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes (Chatto & Windus) is his account of how he went in search of his unknown European Jewish family, their riches, possessions, and fates. There are passages in Proust’s Paris, fin de siècle Vienna and modern Japan. Both the story he uncovers and the objects he describes are fascinating and startling.
Edmund White, Writer
My favourite book of the year was Christopher Isherwood’s diaries, The Sixties (Chatto & Windus), with brilliant end notes by Katherine Bucknell identifying the whole cast of characters. Isherwood was writing his best book, A Single Man, studying Vedanta, cranking out Hollywood scripts and conducting a tempestuous affair with Don Bachardy, 30 years his junior. A strange and heady mix of elements.
Andrew Roberts, Historian
George W Bush’s Decision Points (Virgin Books) puts the reader in his chair behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office and presents him with the (often classified) intelligence reports upon which the president had to base some of the most important policy choices of our recent history. Far from the bumbling idiot of popular caricature and leftwing demonology, Bush emerges as an immensely thoughtful, decent, principled and likeable man. Read it and surprise yourself.
Gillian Tett, FT US managing editor
Michael Lewis’s The Big Short (Allen Lane) provides a very convincing explanation and account of the recent financial disaster as well as being thoroughly readable. The writing is absorbing, dotted throughout with some very memorable characters; his finest book since Liar’s Poker.