Hope: A Tragedy, by Shalom Auslander, Picador, RRP£16.99, 208 pages
Anne Frank turns up, alive but ancient, hiding in the attic of neurotic salesman Solomon Kugel. She’s a gloriously hateful character and wreaks havoc on Kugel’s life. “While there’s never a good time to find Anne Frank in your attic,” says Kugel, “this was a particularly bad time.” Auslander is fearlessly provocative, his jokes inspired.
Lost Memory of Skin, by Russell Banks, Clerkenwell Press, RRP£12.99, 432 pages
Banks’s troubling and surprisingly funny new novel concerns the modern-day equivalent of a leper colony – a band of convicted sex offenders who huddle beneath a motorway flyover; a consequence of being banned from living near children. When does sensible risk management become an irrational obsession with bogeymen?
The Chemistry of Tears, by Peter Carey, Faber, RRP£17.99, 288 pages
Two interlinked plots drive this novel about grief and automata – the tale of a bereaved clockwork expert who restores an antique automaton, and that of the 19th-century father who has it built as a mystical cure for his sickly son. Carey’s novel combines raw human passion and intricate narrative puzzles.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, by Nathan Englander, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, RRP£12.99, 224 pages
Englander’s glorious collection of darkly comic stories paints a polyphonic picture of Jewish contemporary social mores and entrenched historical psychoses. He is fascinated with how the oppressed can quickly become the oppressors. Like all genuinely comic writers, he is profoundly serious – and moral. Nevertheless, his dialogue-rich stories move with a zing.
Canada, by Richard Ford, Bloomsbury, RRP£18.99, 432 pages
A novel of crime and punishment set in the boundless wilderness of the prairie, Canada tells the story of a ruined family, small personal lives made epic by the landscape they occupy. Ford’s sentences are extraordinarily poised, never exhibiting strain. Confirmation that he remains a major American writer.
The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach, Fourth Estate, RRP£16.99, 450 pages
In this much-hyped yet satisfying novel, the fortunes of a university rise and fall with those of their baseball team’s star player. Harbach crafts an old-fashioned campus novel rich in characterisation and melodrama, drawing a universal story of dreams and disappointment from that most American of sports.
The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson, Doubleday, RRP£26, 464 pages
The surreal peculiarities of North Korea are conjured in this brilliant, multivoiced novel, which tells the tale of regime agent and would-be kidnapper Jun Do. The book is laced with a mixture of parody and horror, which is all the more hilarious and terrifying for being so hard to tell apart. The tale of a country driven insane.
Bring up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel, Fourth Estate, RRP£20, 411 pages
This brilliant sequel to the astonishing Wolf Hall charts the decline and enforced disgrace of Anne Boleyn and her family as Henry VIII seeks to marry Jane Seymour. Mantel depicts the relentless juggling of fortunes through the character of Thomas Cromwell, whose eye can flash into the darkest corners of the king’s court. A truly great story rolls on.
The Flame Alphabet, by Ben Marcus, Granta, RRP£16.99, 304 pages
In Marcus’s book the language of children causes their parents to sicken and die, and the sensation of old words taking on new and terrifying forms fills this experimental yet also accessible tale. Marcus has created a disorientating masterpiece. You’ll never look at words in quite the same way again.
This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You, by Jon McGregor, Bloomsbury, RRP£14.99, 272 pages
Short, sparse stories in which nothing much happens to nameless people in a landscape that is denuded of features might not sound enticing. But McGregor writes beautiful lyrical prose, and his stories hop genres delightfully, creating out of vacancy and silence a wistful and comic romanticism.
Dirt, by David Vann, William Heinemann, RRP£12.99, 272 pages
Set in 1985, in a small patch of wild America, Vann’s novel follows the character of Galen, a skinny, adolescent shaman, who lives with his much-loved, and despised, mother. This is a Beckettian family saga, a vision of the great American drive west ending with a boy and his mum fighting over whatever wealth remains.
The Deadman’s Pedal, by Alan Warner, Jonathan Cape, RRP£12.99, 384 pages
Simon Crimmons drops out of school aged 15 to become an apprentice train driver. A rich kid in a blue-collar environment, Simon is an insightful and eloquent hero. Warner’s exceptional ability is to capture the giddiness of the teenage mind at a time when everything is new, pliant and promising.
Skagboys, by Irvine Welsh, Jonathan Cape, RRP£12.99, 560 pages
Welsh goes back to the characters of Trainspotting in a return to form. This prequel paints heroin addiction as a sort of paradigm: a morally inverted Thatcherism with the addict as the ultimate individualist. Welsh’s concerns are with sin and salvation, the exercise of free will and the individual soul.
Editor of the Financial Times
The Unquiet American, edited by Derek Chollet and Samantha Power, is a riveting portrait of the late Richard Holbrooke, one of America’s top diplomatic troubleshooters, through his own writings and contributions from those who knew him. A must-read for anyone interested in US foreign policy and public service. The best novel I read this year by far was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. Set during the Nigerian civil war, it was a great preparation for my first trip to west Africa.
Novelist, author of ‘The Submission’
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum, by Katherine Boo, who spent years reporting in Annawadi, a slum near Mumbai airport. She manages to foreground both her subjects’ stories and the nature of poverty itself: the precariousness that attends it, the viciousness that arises from it, and that fragile moment when children born into it still have hope. Her prose is so beautiful, witty and economical, her narrative so powerful, that it’s easy to forget this is an unprecedented piece of investigative journalism as well: she tracks the deaths of the poor as tenaciously as their lives.
FICTION IN TRANSLATION
Me and You, by Niccolò Ammaniti, translated by Kylee Doust, Canongate, RRP£10, 160 pages
A tender coming-of-age novella that tells the story of 14-year-old Lorenzo, who escapes into his family’s cellar for a week, only to find his planned solitude disturbed by the arrival of his estranged sister. The Italian author’s restrained meditation on isolation and empathy is both poignant and uplifting.
Shi Cheng: Short Stories from Urban China, edited by Liu Deng, Carol Yinghua Lu and Ra Page, translated by Eric Abrahamsen, Nicky Harman, Julia Lovell, et al, Comma Press, RRP£9.99, 224 pages
An anthology of short stories that engage obliquely with themes such as migration, prosperity and sexual politics. They offer refreshing glimpses into modern Chinese city life. With settings ranging from Beijing and Hong Kong to the icy Harbin, it includes works by newcomers and longer-established authors.
The Islands, by Carlos Gamerro, translated by Ian Barnett, And Other Stories, RRP£10, 548 pages
Gamerro’s debut novel, first published in 1998, is a fierce exploration of the Falklands war’s brutal legacies. Part detective novel, part picaresque romp, part war reporting, it illustrates the ways in which the conflict has continued to shape the Argentine psyche.
The Hunger Angel: A Novel, by Herta Müller, translated by Philip Boehm, Metropolitan Books, RRP$26, 304 pages
In this haunting and lyrical novel by the winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in literature, a 17-year-old Romanian is sent to a Soviet concentration camp after the second world war. Müller, a German-speaking Romanian, distils the hopelessness of captivity into poetic prose, and examines the challenges faced by those who survived.
Traveller of the Century, by Andrés Neuman, translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza García, Pushkin Press, RRP£12.99, 584 pages
This Argentine writer was listed among Granta’s pick of the best young Spanish-language novelists in 2010. Neuman’s first novel to be translated into English is a bold and thought-provoking historical romance, in which sex and philosophy mingle to delightful effect when a young 19th-century traveller arrives at the fictional German town of Wandernburg.
Jubilee Lines: 60 Poets for 60 Years, edited by Carol Ann Duffy, Faber, RRP£12.99, 160 pages
A poetic curtsy to Her Majesty, this collection curated by (who else?) the Poet Laureate recollects the Queen’s reign with a poem for every year. From Dannie Abse’s tough opening salvo, “Winged Back” for 1953, this is not syrupy stuff but rather a close reading of social change, sometimes funny, always engaging.
Nefertiti in the Flak Tower, by Clive James, Picador, RRP£14.99, 96 pages
In fine, tender voice, James plays movingly with the twin themes of age advancing and future receding, solicitous for life’s fragile things, from soldiers to orchids and fellow poets. There are some tinder-dry comedic moments, too, in this insightful, poignant collection.
Juggernaut, by Adam Baker, Hodder & Stoughton, RRP£12.99, 403 pages
The zombies in Baker’s blood-curdling thriller are ghastly hybrids of rotting flesh and alien nanotech. The mercenaries who run into them in the Iraqi desert have no chance; neither, it seems, does the rest of the world. The beginning of the end of civilisation has rarely been so electrifying.
Empire State, by Adam Christopher, Angry Robot, RRP£7.99, 416 pages
A barnstorming debut, uncommonly assured and unflinchingly ambitious. Blending noir fiction, golden age comic books, alternate realities, robots and a sincere love for the grandiosity and mythology of New York, Christopher creates an adventure that’s like a lot of things you may have read and at the same time unique.
2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson, Orbit, RRP£18.99, 561 pages
The solar system three centuries from now is, as envisaged by Robinson, everything we might wish for: a fully-inhabited interplanetary playground, colonised by genetically enhanced humans. The novel’s plot is sketchy but this is, above all else, a paean to our collective ingenuity and will to achieve.
A Private Business, by Barbara Nadel, Quercus, RRP£18.99, 320 pages
A female stand-up comic known for her edgy routines turns to PIs Hakim and Arnold to find out if someone is stalking her but she’s about to discover death isn’t funny, especially in Olympic year, when nobody wants nasty secrets surfacing in London’s East End. Bleak, brutal and timely.
Driven, by James Sallis, No Exit Press, RRP£7.99, 160 pages
What happened to the former movie stunt driver in Sallis’s Drive after he faced off against henchmen chasing stolen drug money? It’s seven years later, and our nameless anti-hero has a new life but discovers old troubles. A one-sitting read that’s a mean, lean drive into darkness.
Weirdo, by Cathi Unsworth, Serpent’s Tail, RRP£11.99, 288 pages
In a seaside town, a schoolgirl is convicted of killing a classmate. New evidence suggests the matter was more complicated than it appeared but PI Sean Ward has doors slammed in his face by townspeople with long memories. Unsworth’s best yet, as sharp as vinegar on chips.
J Smith, by Fougasse, Walker Books, RRP£10, 152 pages
A reproduction of a miniature book made in 1922 by the cartoonist Fougasse for inclusion in the library of Queen Mary’s Lutyens-designed dolls’ house. A storm blows a fairy out of fairyland to earth, where he is disheartened by human prejudice and snobbery. A delightful fable and a beautiful artefact.
A Little, Aloud For Children, edited by Angela Macmillan, David Fickling Books, RRP£9.99, 448 pages
Absolutely impeccable anthology of short poems and prose excerpts designed for self-contained readings at bedtime. It’s intended not only to entertain but to encourage children to seek out literature for themselves.
Harry and The Dinosaurs Go On Holiday!, by Ian Whybrow and Adrian Reynolds, Puffin, RRP£6.99, 32 pages
The real charm of the Harry and His Bucketful Of Dinosaurs series is the way the stories address daunting situations – in this case a long-haul trip to visit relatives in Australia – and help defuse potential fears. Harry’s anxieties are expressed through his toy dinosaurs. What they can deal with, he can too.
Itch, by Simon Mayo, Doubleday, RRP£10.99, 432 pages
Itchingham, a science-mad boy, is trying to collect examples of all the elements. He gets hold of a peculiar rock from a shadowy contact but some sinister heavies are also keen to get hold of it (and him) and he goes on the run in this gripping read.
Wonder, by RJ Palacio, Doubleday, RRP£12.99, 313 pages
When the kids have finished with this, the adults will want to read it. Everybody should. Auggie Pullman has led a sheltered life in his Manhattan neighbourhood, where his severe facial disfigurement provokes only kindness. When his parents decide he must go to school, the full force of childish fear, curiosity and bullying descends on his 10-year-old shoulders. But he also finds true friendship. Careful – you may cry.
Black Arts, by Andrew Prentice and Jonathan Weil, David Fickling Books, RRP£12.99, 496 pages
The first in a series about magic in Elizabethan London, Black Arts pits young pickpocket Jack against sinister forces. A tale that includes ritual murders, curses, demons and Dr John Dee was never going to be dull. This is a fast-paced historical tale that’s almost in the league of the great Leon Garfield.
BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS
How Will You Measure Your Life? Finding Fulfilment Using Lessons from Some of the World’s Greatest Businesses, by Clayton M Christensen, James Allworth and Karen Dillon, HarperCollins, RRP£9.99, 250 pages
Christensen has turned a legendary 2010 address to Harvard Business School students – and decades of experience as one of the world’s best-known management professors – into an engaging book that applies his customary rigour to career and life dilemmas. It is self-help (despite the authors’ protestations to the contrary) but with a strong pedigree, a big heart and a lofty goal: to give businesspeople the tools to stay happy, fulfilled – and out of jail.
Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, by Steve Coll, Allen Lane, RRP£25, 704 pages
This keenly awaited “biography” of one of the largest and most successful US companies lives up to expectations. Reviewing it for the FT, Ed Crooks called it meticulously researched, elegantly written and scrupulously even-handed.
What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and China’s Modern Consumer, by Tom Doctoroff, Palgrave Macmillan, RRP£18.99, 272 pages
The chief executive of advertising agency JWT in Shanghai tries to answer the critical question asked by anyone wishing to sell goods to one of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing markets. In the process, he demolishes many myths. China, he argues, is “rediscovering values that have always set it apart”.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change, by Charles Duhigg, William Heinemann, RRP£12.99, 400 pages
Duhigg has digested the copious research on the habits of people, societies and companies and produced a book that won over the FT’s Lucy Kellaway, who called it “a walloping good read”. He shows not only how habits take hold but, also, more usefully, how they can be kicked.
End This Depression Now!, by Paul Krugman, WW Norton, RRP£14.99, 192 pages
This book by the Nobel prize-winner is brilliantly timed and the FT’s Robin Harding called it a “thoroughly persuasive polemic against premature fiscal austerity”. Krugman’s solutions, though, are surprisingly cautious.
The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalisation and the End of Mass Production, by Peter Marsh, Yale University Press, RRP£25, 320 pages.
Marsh, an FT correspondent, examines manufacturing history with an emphasis on the modern era, from clusters to computerisation. The world, he writes, is experiencing a revolution as profound and potentially as disruptive as the industrial upheaval of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Standing on the Sun: How the Explosion of Capitalism Abroad Will Change Business Everywhere, by Christopher Meyer with Julia Kirby, Harvard Business Review Press, RRP$27.95, 256 pages
Many business books start from a western perspective but Meyer and Kirby urge readers to change their point of view. They show how capitalism is being transformed by social enterprises, collaborative business networks and fast-growing Asian companies, and outline some refreshing and optimistic alternatives to the competition-obsessed norm.
What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, by Michael Sandel, Allen Lane, RRP£20, 256 pages
The Harvard political philosopher argues that we have “drifted from being a market economy to being a market society”, in which everything from baseball commentaries to papal mass tickets can be bought and sold. In the process, he says we have forgotten how to value things. FT economics leader writer Martin Sandbu wrote in his review that Sandel “has a genius for showing why such changes are deeply important”.
Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Profile, RRP£25, 464 pages
A much-discussed and influential new study takes on one of the biggest and oldest questions in economics and politics. The authors start in Tahrir Square and reach conclusions that should be comforting to a crisis-hit Europe and an anxious America: sustained prosperity is much harder without strong institutions, nurtured by a democratic society.
Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World, by Ian Bremmer, Portfolio, RRP£14.99, 240 pages
Bremmer, a leading geopolitical analyst, tackles the issue of American global leadership. He argues that changing economics means the US and its key allies are less able to direct and control world affairs, but new powers are not ready to step up. As a result, we are facing a “leadership vacuum” – catchily defined as a “G-Zero world”.
Tiger Head, Snake Tails: China Today, How It Got There and Where It Is Heading, by Jonathan Fenby, Simon & Schuster, RRP£20, 432 pages
A bestselling examination of modern China by an experienced and fluent commentator. Fenby takes a middle course between those who believe China will “rule the world” and those predicting its imminent collapse.
The Crisis of the European Union: A Response, by Jürgen Habermas, translated by Ciaran Cronin, Polity, RRP£16.99, 120 pages
Habermas, one of Europe’s leading political philosophers and a passionate proponent of European unification, identifies the key weakness in the European construction: the fact that it has been an elite project, built over the heads of ordinary citizens.
Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, by Blaine Harden, Mantle, RRP£16.99, 224 pages
Harden sheds light on the horrors of North Korea, with a gripping account of the story of Shin In Geun, the only man known to have escaped from the North Korean gulag – where an estimated 200,000 people are thought to be held in captivity.
Bending History: Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy, by Martyn Indyk, Ken Lieberthal and Michael O’Hanlon, Brookings Institution, RRP£18.99, 342 pages
Barack Obama came into office having excited enormous expectations about a new global role for the US. This careful, scholarly analysis measures the gap between hope and reality, while giving the president a cautious thumbs-up as a “progressive pragmatist”.
The World America Made, by Robert Kagan, Knopf, RRP$21, 160 pages
A short book that attracted Obama’s attention. Kagan’s work is simultaneously an impassioned defence of America’s global role, an attack on the very idea that America is in decline and a warning about the consequences should declinism become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Deception: Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes The West, by Edward Lucas, Bloomsbury, RRP£20, 384 pages
Lucas, a veteran Economist journalist, believes Russia has in effect been taken over by “ex-spooks and their friends … hugely enriching themselves and duping the west”. Timely reading as Vladimir Putin settles back into the Kremlin.
Time to Start Thinking: America and the Spectre of Decline, by Edward Luce, Little, Brown, RRP£20, 320 pages
Vivid reportage and iconoclastic analysis by the FT’s chief US commentator. This gloomy take on the question of American decline grounds its analysis with on-the-ground reporting, mixed with deep knowledge of the relevant academic debates.
The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk-Taking, Gut Feelings and the Biology of Boom and Bust, by John Coates, Fourth Estate, RRP£20, 310 pages
Coates, a Wall Street trader turned Cambridge University neuroscientist, shows how human biology contributes to the alternating cycles of irrational exuberance and pessimism that destabilise banks and the global economy, and how the system could be calmed down by applying biological principles.
How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival, by David Kaiser, Norton, RRP£17.99, 400 pages
A fascinating exploration of recent physics history. Kaiser shows how a freewheeling group of young physicists, steeped in the counterculture of 1970s California, came up with the concepts that lie at the heart of quantum information today.
A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing, by Lawrence M Krauss, Free Press, RRP£17.99, 224 pages
The pick of this year’s cosmology books so far. Krauss explains how our universe could have popped into existence out of nothing 13.7bn years ago, without any need to invoke a divine creator.
The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality, by Chris Mooney, Wiley, RRP£17.99, 310 pages
Mooney follows up his hard-hitting 2005 book The Republican War on Science with a more nuanced analysis of the reasons why the American right has come to take up positions opposed to the scientific mainstream on issues such as climate change and stem cell research.
Wired for Culture: The Natural History of Human Cooperation, by Mark Pagel, Allen Lane, RRP£25, 416 pages
A fine book about human evolution. Pagel describes how genes and culture evolved hand in hand to create collaborative human society. Particularly interesting are the chapters on linguistic evolution.
The Social Conquest of Earth, by Edward O Wilson, Norton, RRP£18.99, 352 pages
Wilson, who defined the discipline of sociobiology, sums up 60 distinguished years of research into evolution and social behaviour in human beings and insects. A clear analysis of the factors that give rise to altruism: behaviour that benefits the group but goes against the selfish interests of an individual and his or her genes.
FT management columnist
Chad Harbach’s first novel, The Art of Fielding, is ostensibly about baseball, a subject in which I have no interest. Yet it is also the most remarkable study in confidence: about being born with and without it, about getting it and having it, and about what happens when you lose it. The warmth of the characters made me want to climb inside the covers to meet them; it even made me (almost) interested in shortstops and bunts.
Economist, author of ‘Winner Take All: The Race for the World’s Resources’
Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography is a business book interwoven with a gripping biography, and a must-read for anyone in business or for those thinking of starting a company. Isaacson introduces us to Jobs’s personal sacrifices, successes and failures – as well as the perennial challenge of juggling work-life balance. It offers new perspectives on a man we had previously known only as one of the most iconic entrepreneurs of our generation. Three lessons stand out: stick to what you’re good at, learn to cut your losses quickly, and enjoy yourself. Business principles to live by.
Historian, author of ‘India after Gandhi’
We live in a time of political pygmies, but even in an age of giants Aung San Suu Kyi would stand out. Peter Popham’s The Lady and the Peacock provides a compelling account of her life and career. Her intellectual evolution is deftly sketched, her marriage portrayed without sentimentality and her struggle against authoritarianism carefully outlined. Reading the book, one desperately hopes that by shaking the hand of the “world” leaders who now line up to meet her, Suu Kyi transfers some of her exceptional courage on to them.
The second world war, by Antony Beevor, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, RRP£25, 880 pages
A humane and intelligently written account of the most devastating war in mankind’s history. As one would expect from the author of the prize-winning 1998 book Stalingrad, Beevor, a former British army officer, is especially strong on the battles pitting Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union.
Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Very British Coup, by Christopher de Bellaigue, Bodley Head, RRP£20, 320 pages
The story of the Iranian prime minister who nationalised the oil industry and was subsequently overthrown in an Anglo-American coup. De Bellaigue is a British scholar and journalist well acquainted with Iran. His book is a timely reminder of how deeply the events of 1953 shaped modern Iranian political life.
The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 4, by Robert Caro, Bodley Head, RRP£35, 736 pages
Caro’s magnum opus, begun in 1976 and still to encompass most of Johnson’s five years in the White House, is a monument to an era as well as to an extraordinary politician. Caro captures superbly Johnson’s bullying ruthlessness as well as the deep understanding of racial injustice that made him lead the fight for desegregation.
Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold, by John Guy, Viking, RRP£25, 448 pages
The tale has been told many times down the centuries but rarely so well as in Guy’s expert reconstruction of the conflict between Henry II, the 12th-century English monarch, and Thomas Becket, his Archbishop of Canterbury. The clash of church and state at the heart of the story reverberates to this day.
In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World, by Tom Holland, Little, Brown, RRP£25, 544 pages
Having written Rubicon and Persian Fire, gripping accounts of ancient Rome, Greece and Persia, Holland here displays the same ability to bring antiquity to life as he recounts the evolution of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Thinking The Twentieth Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, William Heinemann, RRP£25, 432 pages
This volume puts into print a set of engaging conversations on 20th-century history that Judt, the late British historian and essayist, conducted in New York in 2009 with Snyder, a US historian of eastern Europe. Judt died in 2010 at the age of 62. His intellectual gifts and wry humour shine through this impressive book.
Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, by Keith Lowe, Viking, RRP£25, 480 pages
The savagery and lawlessness that engulfed Europe in the years immediately after the second world war represent a little known episode of history. Lowe’s work, thoroughly researched and written with scrupulous objectivity, promises to be the year’s best book on European history.
The Death of Mao: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Birth of the New China, by James Palmer, Faber, RRP£18.99, 256 pages
Palmer explains how the 1976 earthquake that killed 250,000 people in the northern Chinese city of Tangshan coincided with the final days of Mao Zedong and the end of the violent Cultural Revolution. A lively account of the tumultuous events that marked a turning point in modern Chinese history.
The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain, by Paul Preston, HarperPress, RRP£30, 720 pages
The book’s title is controversial but no one can doubt the scholarship that underpins Preston’s account of the extrajudicial murders, executions and torture that General Franco and his forces carried out during and after the 1936-1939 Spanish civil war. A formidable book by Britain’s pre-eminent historian of Spain.
Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain, 1974-1979, by Dominic Sandbrook, Allen Lane, RRP£30, 992 pages
The fourth volume in Sandbrook’s entertaining history of postwar Britain takes us through the five years of Labour party rule that preceded Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 election victory. Sandbrook brilliantly recreates the atmosphere of the period: politically rather depressing, but culturally more vibrant than is often understood.
La Roja: A Journey Through Spanish Football, by Jimmy Burns, Simon & Schuster, RRP£18.99, 416 pages
Former FT journalist Burns’s history of Spanish football reveals a battle between two contrasting styles: “La Furia”, the aggressive game brought to southern Spain by British engineers in the 19th century, versus “La Roja”, embodying the skill and precision brought to a fine art by recent Barcelona sides and the current national team.
We’ll Get ’Em in Sequins: Manliness, Yorkshire Cricket and the Century that Changed Everything, by Max Davidson, Wisden Sports Writing, RRP£18.99, 226 pages
Was Fred Trueman one of the 1950s “angry young men”? Was Geoff Boycott really the embodiment of 1960s libertarianism? Davidson ingeniously makes the case in this sporting study/social history of Yorkshire cricket.
Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike, by William Fotheringham, Yellow Jersey, RRP£16.99, 320 pages
“Second to Merckx is a victory to me,” said one rival of the fearsome Belgian who dominated cycling in the early 1970s and won the Tour de France five times. This is a portrait of the obsession, and fear, that drove “the Cannibal”.
Pastry, by Richard Bertinet, Ebury, RRP£20, 224 pages
A no-nonsense collection of pastry recipes from a career baker, enhanced by terrific step-by-step photography. Bertinet continues to garner international awards for his work, and rightly so. He has an amazing ability to get complex ideas across, clearly and simply.
The Food of Spain, by Claudia Roden, Michael Joseph, RRP£35, 512 pages
Roden is becoming a national treasure. One of our best and most intelligent food writers, she doesn’t bang out a book every year so when she does bless us with one we sit up and take notice. Even more gorgeous to read than to cook from.
Momofuku Milk Bar, by Christina Tosi, Absolute Press, RRP£25, 256 pages
As the shelves stack up with baking books, each more soft-focus and dreamy than the last, Tosi’s is an antidote. Using ingredients such as crushed crisps and breakfast cereal milk, her style combines the nuttier extremes of modern cooking technique with a wonderfully rebellious, almost childlike, focus on the fun of food.
You Are Awful (But I Like You): Travels Through Unloved Britain, by Tim Moore, Jonathan Cape, RRP£11.99, 288 pages
The “comedy quest” has become a wearyingly overused format for travel books. Moore’s book fits the genre but rises above it thanks to the wit of his writing as he takes us on a tour of post-industrial decay and cheap motels.
Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria, by Noo Saro-Wiwa, Granta, RRP£14.99, 320 pages
Some travel books make you yearn to follow in the author’s footsteps, others make you glad to learn about a place without actually having to go there. Saro-Wiwa’s exploration of Nigeria has moments of the former but significantly more of the latter, creating a fascinating portrait of the country.
The Green Road into the Trees: An Exploration of England, by Hugh Thomson, Preface, RRP£18.99, 310 pages
On a trek along the ancient Icknield Way, from Dorset to Norfolk, Thomson stops to visit the historical sites and to chat to the people he passes. He is an ideal companion – knowledgeable but refreshingly unpretentious.
Lucian Freud Drawings, by William Feaver and Mark Rosenthal, BlainSouthern, RRP£40, 228 pages
Lucian Freud, Portraits, edited by Sarah Howgate, National Portrait Gallery, RRP£30, 256 pages
The catalogues to the two landmark Freud shows in London are beautifully produced, exhibit a fabulous range of works, and contain texts that are compelling additions to Freud scholarship. An essential episode, not only in art history but in postwar social history, is represented in these pages.
Van Gogh Up Close, edited by Cornelia Homburg, Yale University Press, RRP£60, 306 pages
We know some but not all of the many paintings where Van Gogh zooms in at a close-up, cropping, flattening, experimenting with unusual angles and decorative uses of colour. A sumptuous, enlightening, erudite volume.
Interviews with Artists 1966-2012, by Michael Peppiatt, Yale University Press, RRP£40, 434 pages
The 40 interviews here are by turns chatty, revealing, formal, informal; all retain a vivid sense of a social encounter. Although this book is perfect for dipping into at leisure and at random, taken together, Peppiatt’s accounts provide a gripping overview of an epoch.
Economist, author of ‘The Price of Inequality’
In his cogently but passionately argued book End This Depression Now!, Paul Krugman explains that we are, in fact, in a depression, and that there are policies at hand that could end it now. But the austerity policies to which the US, and even more, Europe are committed will almost surely make matters worse. Krugman ends on an optimistic note, saying: “The fact is that we had almost two generations of more or less adequate employment and tolerable levels of inequality after World War II, and we can do it again.”
The Temporary City, by Peter Bishop and Lesley Williams, Routledge, RRP£29.99, 256 pages
In the absence of new ideas in big architecture and urbanism it can seem that the only real innovation comes from the now ubiquitous “pop-up”. This is an intriguing study of the phenomenon around the world and, though it appeared too early to cover the Occupy movement, is well-timed and full of bright ideas.
The Future of Architecture Since 1889, by Jean-Louis Cohen, Phaidon, RRP£45, 528 pages
An outstanding primer to modernism, which has the insights and detours to make it interesting to the knowledgeable as well as the beginner. Wonderfully illustrated, wide-ranging, and with a beautiful dust jacket too.
Architectural and Cultural Guide: Pyongyang, edited by Philipp Meuser, Dom, RRP£32, 368 pages
One of the weirdest yet most engaging architecture guides I’ve seen, this is an extraordinary book about an extraordinary city. A mesmerically hideous documentation of a modernist monument that melds utopia and dystopia.
The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael, edited by Sanford Schwartz, Library of America, RRP£25, 828 pages
Prepare to be dazzled. No one ever wrote film criticism like The New Yorker magazine’s late priestess of picturegoing. Kael was intelligent and readable, wise and funny, lowbrow and erudite, all at once. She was also good at demolishing, wittily, the pretentious or platitudinous
Luck and Circumstance: A Coming of Age in Hollywood, New York and Points Beyond, by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Knopf, RRP£17.99, 288 pages
Imagine you are the illegitimate son of Orson Welles. Lindsay-Hogg didn’t need to imagine: he was. The British film and TV director’s memoir is touching, funny and richly anecdotal, with Welles himself in a memorable extended cameo.
Setting the Scene: The Art and Evolution of Animation Layout, by Fraser MacLean, Chronicle Books, RRP£40, 272 pages
Spoil yourself. MacLean’s introduction to animation techniques is lavishly laid out. It’s a pity there is not more on Japanese animation, but Disney, Pixar and company – and, further back, the likes of Chuck “Bugs Bunny” Jones – are wonderfully well served.
Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock N Roll, by Marc Dolan, Norton, RRP£17.99, 592 pages
A New York University professor’s academically rigorous rather than salaciously rock and roll account of America’s bard. Handily doubles as a “slantwise way of telling the history of our times”, says Dolan.
Here Comes Everybody: The Story of the Pogues, by James Fearnley, Faber, RRP£14.99, 400 pages
Pogues accordionist James Fearnley’s memoir recreates the magic of the London Irish punk poets and the eventual misery visited on the band by frontman Shane MacGowan’s sustained debauchery.
The Stone Roses: War and Peace, by Simon Spence, Viking, RRP£20, 352 pages
Intended as a history of a British band who professed they’d never get back together, but arriving just ahead of the Stone Roses’ surprise reunion gigs, this book uses 400 hours of interviews to shed light on the Manchester four-piece’s enduring mystique and influence.
Faber Pocket Guide to Britten, by John Bridcut, Faber, RRP£8.99, 352 pages
Bridcut’s deft, entertaining guide appears ahead of Britten’s centenary year in 2013. Alongside introductions to Britten’s works and life, there are irresistible lists of the cars he drove, dogs he walked, ailments he suffered, and favoured friends, along with an obligatory Round Britten Quiz.
Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and his Fifteen Quartets, by Wendy Lesser, Yale University Press, RRP£20, 368 pages
For years the tortured discourse on Shostakovich has centred on his symphonies, when all the time he’d left the most intimate record of his life, loves and friendships in 15 string quartets. An enriching read.
Music as Alchemy: Journeys with the Great Conductors and their Orchestras, by Tom Service, Faber, RRP£18.99, 288 pages
Service eavesdrops on the rehearsals of a handful of greats and discovers a striking variety of approaches to cultural leadership, from Gergiev’s psychokinetic powers to Abbado’s shaman-like listening.