Compiled by Ángel Gurría-Quintana
The Pregnant Widow, by Martin Amis, Jonathan Cape RRP£18.99
Hailed as a return to form, Amis’s 12th novel recaptures the melancholy humour of The Rachel Papers and London Fields. Its protagonist, Keith Nearing, is a 20-year-old holidaying in Italy in the 1970s, torn between studying for Eng Lit exams and conquering the attention of the desirable but unattainable Sheherazade.
Burley Cross Postbox Theft, by Nicola Barker, Fourth Estate RRP£16.99
An epistolary heist novel set in an idyllic rural community sounds like an unlikely genre for Barker’s darkly exuberant imagination. It is, in fact, a perfect match, as the author of Darkmans unleashes her powers of observation to reveal the inherent weirdness and the seething viciousness of English village life.
Parrot and Olivier in America, by Peter Carey, Faber RRP£18.99
The latest offering by Australia’s prolific Carey is a picaresque romp through 1830s America featuring a coddled French aristocrat, Olivier de Garmont (based loosely on the writer Alexis de Tocqueville), and his sidekick, journeyman forger John Larrit – nicknamed Parrot for his ability to imitate speech.
The Memory of Love, by Aminatta Forna, Bloomsbury RRP£17.99
Forna’s beautiful novel traces the fates of damaged characters in the wake of Sierra Leone’s civil conflict during the 1990s, as those who would rather forget it are forced to live with those who cannot.
Our GG in Havana, by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, translated by John King, Faber RRP£9.99
Mistaken identities, Nazi hunters, vacuum-cleaner salesmen, cold war spies, Italian-American mafiosi and transsexual cabaret performers abound in a droll novel set in 1950s pre-revolutionary Havana. Gutiérrez, the author of Dirty Havana Trilogy, has fun exploring the cauldron of depravity and double-dealing that inspired Graham Greene’s classic Our Man in Havana.
We The Drowned, by Carsten Jensen, translated by Charlotte Barslund, Harvill Secker RRP£17.99
A rollicking debut by Jensen, the latest in a lineage of authors of maritime sagas stretching from Homer to Patrick O’Brien. Following four generations of seafarers from the Danish island of Marstal, the novel navigates from Samoa to the North Atlantic, and from the mid-19th century to the second world war.
The Birth of Love, by Joanna Kavenna, Faber RRP£12.99
Second-timer Kavenna boldly goes where few novelists have dared to go before – the emotional (and medical) minefield surrounding childbirth. The result is an unsettling four-part novel set in present-day London, 19th-century Vienna and a dystopian future where natural procreation and childbirth have been outlawed.
In Office Hours, by Lucy Kellaway, Fig Tree RRP£12.99
According to one study, two-thirds of corporate employees have had sex with a colleague. Kellaway, this newspaper’s very own management agony aunt, has used her hard-gleaned insights to pen a satirical novel about workplace trysts and power struggles.
Desert, by JMG Le Clézio, translated by C Dickson, Atlantic RRP£16.99
Thirty years after it was first published and won the Académie Française’s most prestigious award, Le Clézio’s breakthrough novel is published in Britain. Better late than never for this diptych in which Nour, a Tuareg boy, and Laila, a Moroccan orphan who migrates to France, cope with modernity’s encroachments.
The Long Song, by Andrea Levy, Headline Review RRP£18.99
Levy’s follow-up to Small Island tells the story of July, a mixed-race girl, coming of age in Jamaica as the old world of masters and slaves crumbles around her. A moving tale about the struggle for race and gender equality, and about the empowering force of storytelling.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, by David Mitchell, Sceptre RRP£18.99
Clashing cultures and illicit love affairs drive Mitchell’s fifth novel, a feast of literary invention and historical ventriloquism. The book’s titular character is an inexperienced Dutch bookkeeper charged with cleaning up the accounts of a corrupt Dutch East India Company in its dealings with 18th-century Japan.
The Changeling, by Kenzaburo Oe, translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm, Atlantic RRP£18.99
In a vaguely autobiographical novel packed with ruminations about the purpose of art and the nature of memory, Japan’s Nobel Laureate tells the story of writer Kogito Choko and his strained but fruitful relationship with his brother-in-law, filmmaker Goro Hanawa.
The Museum of Innocence, by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Maureen Freely, Faber RRP£18.99
Pamuk shines in a novel as rich in its evocation of a lost city – 1970s and 1980s Istanbul – as in its depiction of soulful yearning. Kemal, a westernised playboy, foregoes his comfortable life in an attempt to recapture a lost love that he memorialises in a collection of meaningful mementoes.
So Much for That, by Lionel Shriver, HarperCollins RRP£15
The timing could not have been more propitious. Launched as the battle over the US’s health bill reached its deafening climax, Shriver’s novel offers an uncompromisingly acrid glimpse of the country’s flawed health insurance system as refracted through the faltering family life of its protagonist, Shep Knacker.
Ilustrado, by Miguel Syjuco, Picador RRP£14.99
A forceful debut by Filipino novelist Syjuco, in which his namesake investigates the life and works of expatriate writer Crispin Salvador after he is found dead in the Hudson River. A humorous denunciation of his country’s vacuous literary elites, it is also a bittersweet reflection on diasporas and uprootedness.
Trespass, by Rose Tremain, Chatto & Windus RRP£17.99
In her 11th novel, Orange Prize-winner Tremain charts the inevitable collision between locals and outsiders as Anthony Verey, a Chelsea antiques dealer in the grip of “a universal letting-go”, sets his mind on acquiring an old house in the Cévennes that is jointly owned by feuding siblings Aramon and Audrun.
The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas, Tuskar Rock Press RRP£12.99
An apparently isolated incident – a man slapping someone else’s brattish three-year-old at an otherwise placid barbecue – is the trigger for unexpected events in this electrifying novel by Australia’s Tsiolkas. Winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, it is a masterful study of strained family ties, unravelling friendships and multicultural suburban malaise.
Compiled by James Lovegrove
The Dragon Factory, by Jonathan Maberry, Gollancz RRP£12.99
For those who like their SF to have a little blood and thunder – or indeed a lot – Maberry is the man. This tale of genetically engineered supersoldiers on the loose is as over-the-top violent as they come. The mayhem is given weight, however, by a chillingly plausible plot involving race-specific killer viruses.
Impact, by Douglas Preston, Macmillan RRP£12.99
The setup seems earthbound enough: a search for a missing meteorite. But Preston, much as he did in a previous novel, The Ice Limit, wrongfoots the reader. Impact, with its pacy take on the first-contact-with-extraterrestrials scenario, is a pure SF tale masquerading as a mainstream conspiracy thriller.
Compiled by Christopher Fowler
The Whisperers, by John Connolly, Hodder & Stoughton RRP£16.99
Controlled by a trio of monstrous gothic villains, a gang of suicidal ex-Iraq soldiers is complicit in smuggling something mysterious across the Canadian border, with gumshoe Charlie Parker on their blood-soaked trail. Another dense, dark, sardonically funny winner from Connolly.
I Kill, by Giorgio Faletti, Corsair RRP£6.99
A serial-killer thriller with a twist, this pulse-racer is set in Monte Carlo’s local radio station, where the murderer announces his crimes in phone calls that link songs with deaths. Italy’s publishing sensation finally arrives in Britain.
The Poison Tree, by Erin Kelly, Hodder & Stoughton RRP£12.99
The spirit of Daphne Du Maurier hangs heavily over Kelly’s debut novel, from the gloomy old Highgate house where the heroine is lured to the unnerving, claustrophobic denouement. A taut chamber-piece of psychological suspense.
Compiled by James Lovegrove
Farticus Maximus, by Felice Arena, Scholastic RRP£4.99
Here are nine funny, forthright, and at times informative fart-based stories. Australian author (and former Neighbours actor) Arena might be attempting to remove some of the stigma from an unfortunate bodily function, but his mission, principally, is to amuse and entertain.
Three Diamonds and a Donkey, by Josh Lacey, Marion Lloyd Books RRP£5.99
A third outing for the Amis/Fitzroy clan, known as the Misfitz for short. Set in Morocco, it’s a kid-detective adventure centred around the theft of an engagement ring by a street boy. The mystery-solving is straightforward but satisfying, and the book treats issues of poverty and wealth with a surprising sophistication.
Apple Pie ABC, by Alison Murray, Orchard RRP£10.99
A puppy is determined to get his paws on the freshly baked pie sitting on the kitchen table. His young owner is equally determined that he won’t. Lovely 1960s-retro illustrations are matched with a cunning use of the alphabet to spell out the pup’s various efforts to obtain his prize.
Compiled by Suzi Feay
The Fool’s Girl, by Celia Rees, Bloomsbury RRP£10.99
Violetta and the fool, Feste, take refuge in Tudor London after a usurper seizes her Illyrian throne. As street performers on Bankside, they attract the attention of one Master Shakespeare. Rees spins an elaborate tale that plays wittily upon the plot of Twelfth Night.
Wyrmeweald: Returner’s Wealth, by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, Doubleday RRP£12.99
This rollicking story of love and dragons kicks off the new adventure series from the creators of The Edge Chronicles. Riddell’s intricate drawings match the imaginative language (“screechwyrme”, “snatterjab”), but with its “passionate kisses”, it’s aimed at slightly older readers.
The Liberators, by Philip Womack, Bloomsbury RRP£6.99
Womack brings Greek myth to life with this tale of two sinister brothers who unleash the spirit of Dionysus in modern London. The superficial attraction and ultimate catastrophe of total licence are cleverly evoked as young Ivo Moncrieff battles to restore Apollonian order.
Compiled by Ed Crooks
The Fearful Rise of Markets: A Short View of Global Bubbles and Synchronised Meltdowns, by John Authers, Financial Times/Prentice Hall RRP£20
The editor of the FT’s Lex column gives a concise, elegant and accessible view of the financial crisis. He explains how financial markets failed so spectacularly, what policy-makers could do to put right some of the problems that have been exposed, and how investors can protect themselves.
Beyond Business: An Inspirational Memoir from a Visionary Leader, by John Browne, Weidenfeld & Nicolson RRP£20
Lord Browne, chief executive of BP from 1995-2007, tells how he built the oil group from a “two pipeline company” to a global giant. A good insider’s account of a fascinating industry.
High Financier: The Lives and Time of Siegmund Warburg, by Niall Ferguson, Allen Lane RRP£30
The academic and a contributing editor of the FT returns to financial history with this biography of one of the greatest bankers of the 20th century, who founded SG Warburg in 1946. Written with access to more than 10,000 letters and diary entries.
The Rise and Fall of Bear Stearns, by Alan C Greenberg, Simon & Schuster RRP$26
When Bear Stearns had to be rescued by JPMorgan Chase in the spring of 2008, it became Wall Street’s first victim of the crisis. Greenberg, who started at the company in 1949, and became CEO and then chairman, gives his side of the story.
Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly, by John Kay, Profile RRP£10.99
Kay is both a first-class economist and an excellent writer. Here he expands on an idea set out previously in the FT: “If you want to go in one direction, the best route may involve going in another.”
Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay, by John Lanchester, Allen Lane RRP£20
A lively lay reader’s guide to the financial crisis, written by a novelist who sought to educate himself about banking and its failures. Funny and pointed, it exposes the gulf between the two cultures of modern Britain: financial and non-financial.
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis, Allen Lane RRP£25
Another excellent introduction for the non-specialist, this time with an American perspective, from the author of Liar’s Poker. Written with Lewis’s characteristic verve, it tells the stories of the little-known investors who realised that something was going very badly wrong on Wall Street.
On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System , by Hank Paulson, Business Plus RRP£18.99
Grisly though the results of the financial crisis may be, it could have been worse. The former US Treasury secretary gives a gripping account of how he battled to prevent complete meltdown in the financial system, with plenty of illuminating detail.
The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence at Work, by Tom Peters, HarperBusiness RRP£16.99
The latest from the doyen of modern management: 163 short chapters drawn from Peters’ blog, delivering pithy epigrammatic advice. His tips would help any business from a global giant to a corner shop.
Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance, by Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm, Allen Lane RRP£25
Derisively referred to as “Dr Doom” for his pessimism about the world economy, Roubini was comprehensively vindicated by the financial crisis. He explains how it happened, and sets out a thoughtful programme for reform.
The Age of Instability: The Global Financial Crisis and What Comes Next, by David Smith, Profile RRP£15
Another crisis book, from the economics editor of the Sunday Times. Covers a lot of ground in a short space, but remains lucid and readable throughout. Particularly good on the delusions of British economic policy under Gordon Brown.
Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy, by Joseph Stiglitz, Allen Lane RRP£25
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.
The Devil’s Casino: Friendship, Betrayal, and the High Stakes Games Played Inside Lehman Brothers, by Vicky Ward, John Wiley & Sons RRP£18.99
A gripping, gossipy account of the rise and fall of Lehman Brothers which reads like a novel. Written by a Vanity Fair reporter, it shows the central characters as real people, not pantomime villains.
Compiled by Gideon Rachman
The Rule of Law, by Tom Bingham, Allen Lane RRP£20
Chris Patten, who reviewed this book for the FT, suggested that it should be made “a set text” for the incoming British government. Lord Bingham traces the origins of the rule of law from the Magna Carta onwards and makes short work of the legal justification for the Iraq war.
The End of the Free Market: Who Wins The War Between States and Corporations?, by Ian Bremmer, Portfolio RRP£20
Bremmer believes that a conflict is emerging between the “state capitalism” practised by authoritarian governments such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia and the free-market, private-sector capitalism championed in the west, and that this will shake the global economic system.
The Plundered Planet: How to Reconcile Prosperity with Nature, by Paul Collier, Allen Lane RRP£20
Collier’s The Bottom Billion was a bestselling book on global poverty. Now Collier, an Oxford academic, returns with a book that attempts to reconcile greenery and growth. He lambasts both the green romantics who oppose capitalism, and the economically driven “ostriches” who do not recognise that “nature matters and we are making a mess of it”.
The Beijing Consensus: How China’s Authoritarian Model will Dominate the Twenty-First Century, by Stefan Halper, Basic Books RRP£16.99
Halper believes that the coming decades will see an increasingly overt competition between the US and China. China, he asserts, “poses the most serious challenge to the United States since the half-century cold war struggle with the Soviets”.
Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House , by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, Viking RRP£25
After every US presidential election, there is an informal contest to write the best book about the campaign. The winner for the 2008 race is Heilemann and Halperin’s Race of a Lifetime. Purists and idealists may find this gossipy account a little on the tawdry side. Even admirers of the book might feel like taking a shower after finishing it. But for anybody interested in US politics this is compelling reading.
Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East, by David Hirst, Faber RRP£20
Hirst, author and former Guardian journalist, has lived in Beirut and lived through Lebanon’s violent history for 50 years. Reviewing Hirst’s book in the FT, Eugene Rogan wrote: “There are no good guys in Hirst’s story, only the ambitious who have pursued their objectives ruthlessly, oblivious to the human cost.”
Ill Fares the Land: A Treatise on Our Present Discontents, by Tony Judt, Allen Lane RRP£20
A passionate and closely argued defence of the social democratic tradition by a British historian based in New York. Judt argues that, over the past 30 years, Britain and America have been too tolerant of inequality, too dismissive of the welfare state and too confident in the power of markets.
Capitalism 4.0: The Birth of a New Economy, by Anatole Kaletsky, Bloomsbury RRP£20
One of Britain’s leading economic journalists argues that capitalism has been through three major iterations since the 18th century. Kaletsky believes that the stage is now set for a new version – the Capitalism 4.0 of the title.
The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers, by Richard McGregor, Allen Lane RRP£25
McGregor, FT journalist and former Beijing bureau chief, argues that any understanding of modern China still has to begin with the central role of the Communist Party. McGregor demonstrates the party’s continuing role in military, security and business affairs.
Nothing But The Truth: Selected Dispatches, by Anna Politkovskaya, translated by Arch Tait, Harvill Secker RRP£18.99
The campaigning Russian journalist Politkovskaya was murdered in 2006. This collection of her work is an impressive testimony to the most courageous form of journalism – dedicated to unearthing inconvenient facts and making uncomfortable arguments.
War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern Times, by Linda Polman, Viking RRP£12.99
Polman, a Dutch journalist, suggests that development aid can actually fuel and prolong conflicts. Polman argues that an apolitical “see no evil” approach on the part of aid agencies has led to them being exploited by political regimes.
The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour, by Andrew Rawnsley, Penguin Viking RRP£25
Rawnsley’s book 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
Barack Obama has written so well about his own life that it is difficult for a biographer to compete. But Remnick has come up with a highly readable, well-researched account of Obama’s unlikely rise from Hawaii to Harvard to the Illinois state legislature and, finally, the White House.
Compiled by Clive Cookson
Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society, edited by Bill Bryson, Harper Press RRP£25,
Bryson has pulled together 21 essays by distinguished scientists and writers to celebrate the 350th birthday of the Royal Society, Britain’s national academy of sciences. Contributors range from Richard Dawkins on Darwin and Steve Jones on biodiversity to Simon Schaffer on the 18th-century debate about lightning rods.
The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe?, by Paul Davies, Allen Lane RRP£20
The best of a bunch of books about life in other worlds has been published to mark the 50th anniversary of Seti, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Of course no Earthling knows whether alien civilisations really exist but Davies entertainingly tells us how to look for them and, if we find one, how to respond.
Through the Language Glass: How Words Colour Your World, by Guy Deutscher, Heinemann RRP£20
A brilliant account of linguistic research over two centuries. Deutscher shows that, contrary to prevailing opinion today, our mother tongue has a fundamental effect on the way we think. And he writes as well as a language expert should.
Turned Out Nice: How the British Isles Will Change as the World Heats Up, by Marek Kohn, Faber RRP£12.99
If the world warms over the coming century Britain will be in a favoured geographical position. Kohn imagines in persuasive detail the impact of climate change on the country’s wildlife and human inhabitants – and envisages its political system coping (just about) with the immense pressure of migrants fleeing from less fortunate parts of the globe.
Peoplequake: Mass Migration, Ageing Nations and the Coming Population Crash, by Fred Pearce, Eden Project Books RRP£12.99
Pearce’s polemic will infuriate campaigners who believe that tackling overpopulation should be a public policy priority. His super-optimistic book argues that the so-called population problem is already solving itself without the need for further action. Even those who disagree should welcome this articulate contribution to a much needed debate.
Compiled by Brian Groom
At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson, Doubleday RRP£20
Bryson’s history of domestic life is characteristically entertaining, although at times it seems more of a collection of anecdotes that lacks a central thesis. His facts, ranging from the Stone Age to the 20th century, are as arresting as ever.
Making Haste From Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World, by Nick Bunker, Bodley Head RRP£25
An English writer and former FT journalist rewrites one of America’s most sacred fables, using neglected primary sources. Far from being poor religious outcasts, the Pilgrims, he says, were the nouveaux riches of rural England, and their brand of Calvinism a tool for gaining financial backing.
The World That Never Was: The True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Agents, by Alex Butterworth, Bodley Head RRP£25
This is an exhilarating gallop through the history of anarchism from the Paris Commune of 1871 to the Russian revolution in 1917, full of itinerant schemers whose stories seem too outrageous to be credible. They came in 57 varieties, were riddled with spies and ultimately were no match for authoritarian communism.
Voltaire: A Life, by Ian Davidson, Profile RRP£25
There is no shortage of biographies of Voltaire, but this is one of the best. It places the emphasis on the man rather than his works, using his correspondence to portray in revealing detail a figure who was the Enlightenment incarnate and an early champion of human rights against church and state.
The Thirties: An Intimate History, by Juliet Gardiner, HarperCollins RRP£30
This full and entertaining history leaves no corner of life unexplored, from the decade’s fads, fashions and successful social innovations to the menace of unemployment, ambivalence about appeasement and the rise of British fascism alongside solid suburban conservatism.
Crater’s Edge: A Family’s Epic Journey Through Wartime Russia, by Michal Giedroyc, Bene Factum Publishing RRP£19.99
An idyllic prewar childhood in eastern Poland is shattered when the author, aged 10, is deported with his mother and sisters to the impoverished Russian steppes. They eventually make it to the Middle East and settle in Britain. A moving family story.
Did You Really Shoot the Television? A Family Fable, by Max Hastings, HarperPress RRP£20
This account of three generations of journalists and jobbing writers in Hastings’ family is not just a chronicle of tales of derring-do: it is a dark and moving memoir of difficult relationships, not least between his improvident, romantic father and his mother, one of Fleet Street’s female pioneers.
Nine Wartime Lives: Mass-Observation and the Making of the Modern Self, by James Hinton, Oxford University Press RRP£25
These biographical studies are drawn from the much-plundered resources of ordinary people who kept diaries for Mass-Observation during the second world war. Six are women; all but one are thoughtfully reflective; all demonstrate that everyone’s war was different.
Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris, by Graham Robb, Picador RRP£18.99
This is a “mini-Human Comedy of Paris”, the city’s story told imaginatively in a series of vignettes through the eyes of larger than life figures from Napoléon and Zola to Hitler (during his 1940 visit) and Sarkozy. Not an entirely true history, but entertaining.
Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, by James Shapiro, Faber RRP£20
This is not about who wrote Shakespeare – Shapiro has no doubt that Shakespeare did – but about how and why his authorship came to be doubted, for reasons that embrace snobbery, politics and religion. Sceptics, he says, fail to credit the bard with the imagination to create a world out of words.
Burying the Bones: Pearl Buck’s Life in China, by Hilary Spurling, Profile RRP£15
Born in 1892, the novelist gave voice to the screams of repressed Chinese women, her own struggles as the daughter of American missionaries, and her experience of a painful marriage. This biographical masterpiece balances the Nobel Prize-winner’s inscrutable persona with revelations of vulnerability.
Compiled by Simon Kuper
Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson , by Rus Bradburd, HarperCollins RRP£16.95
Like all good sports books, this one is about more than just sport: it’s about the old south, black people and a racism that endures. The black basketball coach of the University of Arkansas wins a national championship, but gets fired eight years later. Bradburd digs up the root causes and shows why the American debate on race increasingly focuses on sports coaches.
One Night in Turin: The Inside Story of a World Cup that Changed Our Footballing Nation Forever, by Pete Davies, Yellow Jersey Press RRP£8.99
This book changed our footballing literature forever when first published. In 1990 Davies, a young novelist, arranged to spend the World Cup in the England team’s hotel. He met the players, tabloid journalists, hooligans, agents and everyone else at the tournament. All Played Out – the book’s original title – proved to publishers that literate football fans existed. Nick Hornby et al followed. Davies deserves this reissue under a new title.
The Anatomy of England: A History in Ten Matches, by Jonathan Wilson, Orion RRP£14.99
No recycled myths about England here. One of football’s leading historians goes back and watches some of the national team’s epochal matches on DVD to see what actually happened. Wilson uncovers eternal English traits: the team reverts to top-speed “headless-chickenness” when in panic; press and public always think the spoiled players should work harder.
Food and travel
Compiled by Harry Eyres
Let Our Fame Be Great: Journeys Among the Defiant Peoples of the Caucasus, by Oliver Bullough, Allen Lane RRP£25
A courageous young journalist illuminates one of the world’s most ethnically and culturally diverse regions. His travels and historical back-stories show that contemporary brutality in Chechnya is nothing new, and reminds us of the fate of whole nations such as the Circassians, scattered to the winds by Russian imperialism.
Yemen: Dancing on the Heads of Snakes, by Victoria Clark, Yale University Press RRP£14.99
An experienced foreign correspondent casts a timely light on the complex, fissiparous, impoverished country now seen as a haven for al-Qaeda. Yemen is a place of great beauty and cultural interest as well as political turbulence – better understood than demonised, though the danger remains.
Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, Hamish Hamilton RRP£20
This is a book you might not want to read – Foer’s investigations into the cruelty of factory farming could have you gagging over your next plate of sausages. The sanctimonious tone may grate at times, but this is a powerful exposé.
Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip, by Peter Hessler, Canongate RRP£14.99
The New Yorker correspondent in Beijing has the inspired idea of going on the road in northern China in a hired jeep. China’s highways become a metaphor for a whole country embracing modernity with little sense of road safety but infectious enthusiasm and charm.
The End of Overeating: Taking Control of Our Insatiable Appetite, by David A Kessler, Penguin RRP£9.99
The former Dean of Yale Medical School and scourge of the tobacco trade is the latest to take on the fast food industry. He argues that relentless exposure to temptations we cannot resist is reprogramming our brains to override natural satiety mechanisms. Clear, gripping and frightening.
Compiled by Jackie Wullschlager
Matisse: Radical Invention 1913-1917, by Stephanie D’Allesandro and John Elderfield, Yale RRP£45
Beautiful and of exemplary scholarship, this essential, scintillating addition to any library of modern art complements Chicago’s and MOMA’s exhibition this summer. Exploring in intense detail the experimental, enigmatic grey-black paintings Matisse made during the first world war, it repositions these rigorous abstractions at the core of the artist’s entire oeuvre.
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 20 years; he brings a fresh, sympathetic understanding to the panoramic scope of the great photographer’s work, in a volume packed with both famous images and those never seen before.
The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance, by Edmund de Waal, Chatto & Windus RRP£16.99
An exquisite netsuke collection which crossed mid-20th century Europe with the legendary Ephrussi family before bizarrely finding its way back to Japan is the leitmotif of this gorgeous memoir. Ceramic artist de Waal inherited it from his Ephrussi uncle; underlying storytelling of terrific conviction are his reflections on art’s central place in human experience.
Compiled by Edwin Heathcote
Restless Cities, edited by Matthew Beaumont and Gregory Dart, Verso RRP£12.99
A series of essays on aspects of the rituals and rhythms of everyday life in the city, this is a truly stimulating book. The best of the texts illuminates the parts of life that cultural theorists have hitherto ignored, from driving to convalescing, lodging to commuting.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh, by James Macaulay, WW Norton & Co RRP£42
Mackintosh was a unique and hugely influential architect, but not in Britain. His work had a powerful impact on the Vienna Secession and, consequently, the whole of modernism. When his reputation was finally resurrected in Britain, his home city went bananas and, during the 1980s there was barely a tea towel or menu in the whole of Glasgow that was free of faux-Mackintosh flourishes. A serious and beautiful reappraisal of one of the real greats of architecture.
Visual Planning and the Picturesque, by Nikolaus Pevsner, Getty Publications RRP£21.95
Pevsner, a German-born art historian was a unique scholar of English culture: his The Englishness of English Art was something only a foreigner could write. This book, from an unfinished manuscript, explores the peculiar English approach to planning – a blend of pragmatism and nostalgia for an idealised landscape.
Compiled by Nigel Andrews
Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America, by Peter Biskind, Simon & Schuster RRP£17.99
More blockbusting scholarship from the Easy Riders, Raging Bulls author. Everything you wanted, or feared, to know about Hollywood’s multi-tasking Prince Charming (star, director, producer, screenwriter) is here. Beatty was a bully, an obsessive, a giant ego. He also made Bonnie and Clyde and Reds, for which we forgive almost everything.
The Moment of Psycho, by David Thomson, Basic Books RRP£13.99
The doyen of Anglo-American film critics – British-born, US-based – pays homage to the greatest Anglo-American filmmaker. Hitchcock never surpassed Psycho, a crime-and-punishment tale brilliantly mixing horror with black comedy.
Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince, by Mark A Vieira, University of California Press RRP24.95
The jury has been out for 70 years on the MGM studio chief, even though F Scott Fitzgerald immortalised him as the “last tycoon”. Was Thalberg art’s gift to Hollywood, with his well-bred epics (Romeo and Juliet, Marie Antoinette)? Or was he a mogul playing to the middlebrow? Read this impressively researched study and decide.
Compiled by Ludovic Hunter-Tilney
The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It, by Philip Ball, Bodley Head RRP£20
Ranging from Bach and Bartók to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Led Zeppelin, science writer Philip Ball examines the way we make sense of music, arguing that our tools for decoding it are biologically innate. The result is a thought-provoking tour of music’s inner workings.
Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head, by Rob Chapman, Faber RRP£14.99
Rob Chapman has written a big biography of a fleeting talent. Syd Barrett was washed up by 25, having launched Pink Floyd as London’s leading psychedelic adventurers. Then came mental breakdown. Chapman charts the life of rock’s most famous burnt-out case with tact and insight.
Apathy for the Devil: A 1970s Memoir, by Nick Kent, Faber RRP£12.99
As a boy Nick Kent meets the Rolling Stones at a show. Destiny calls: he will be the Keith Richards of rock journalism, blazing a drug-addled trail in the NME. His entertaining memoir depicts rock as an eternal battle between “spivs” and “dandies” – with Kent as arch dandy, a peacock in drab 1970s London.
Compiled by Andrew Clark
Richard Wagner and the Centrality of Love, by Barry Emslie, The Boydell Press RRP£50
This opinionated study brings fresh air to the Wagner debate. Emslie discusses the operas in the context of the composer’s often contradictory writings, arguing that his creative and personal life thrived on tension between the sensual and spiritual. The operas are revealed as a tangle of moral and philosophical issues.
Chopin: Prince of the Romantics, by Adam Zamoyski, HarperPress RRP£12.99
This readable biography, marking the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth, shows how the music – sylph-like, otherworldly – reflects the soul of its creator. The Polish composer cuts a pathetic figure in the “aristocratic swamp” of Parisian salon life, but his romance with George Sand brings the story to life.