We asked our writers what was the best book they had read this year. This was what the said:
It is not a new book but the best thing I have read in ages was – Team of Rivals, the political genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. A brilliant read, if only all history was written this way, but also a wonderful insight into the greatest leader America has ever produced, a man of moral courage and vast intellect, a real leader of men and an incorruptible example to the ages. It also shows just how far we have fallen since.
I’ll go for two books. Rory Stewart’s Politics on the Edge has the insights of the outsider who made it to the inside and didn’t like what he found. He was too honest and idealistic to survive as a minister let alone make it to his (briefly held) aim of being party leader. As an antidote to Stewart’s depressing reflections, Kate Atkinson’s Shrines of Gaiety cannot fail to entertain. The brilliant novelist’s evocation of Soho in the 1920s has great characters and twists and turns aplenty.
Life in the Balance by Jim Down. Jim is an intensive care doctor in one of London’s biggest and busiest hospitals and his book is a brilliant account of that life. Focused not just on the high profile cases he has dealt with – he was Alexander Litvinenko’s doctor for example – but also the emotional turmoil he endures. It is a personal and profoundly moving account. If he is good a doctor as he is a writer his patients are in very safe hands.
Two different books could have been designed for The New European readers. Johnson at 10, by Anthony Seldon and Raymond Newell is outstanding. It’s careful, judicious account of Johnson’s shocking rise, deplorable behaviour and glorious fall as Prime Minister makes its devastating verdict all the more effective. Secondly, And Then What? By Catherine Ashton, tells the story of the EU’s first “foreign minister”, including negotiating the nuclear deal with Iran and peace between Serbia and Kosovo. Full disclosure: Cathy is my wife. But her book has also been strongly recommended by the Observer, Guardian and Financial Times, which have no such links.
I finally got round to reading the novel Stoner by John Williams this summer and loved it. A beautiful quiet and sometimes painful book that raises many questions about what we value in life without forcing them on the reader.
Fatima Manji is my kind of broadcaster – always perceptive, calm and professional on Channel 4 News and with no huge ego to obscure her view of what’s going on around her. These qualities make her book Hidden Heritage far and away the most compelling and powerful book I have read over the past year. Fatima travels the length and breadth of Britain – visiting museums, civic buildings and stately homes – where she sees in so many of the objects around her from distant lands stories of how our country came to be what it is today. The recent row over the Elgin Marbles underlines why this is such essential reading.
Patricia Lockwood’s Priestdaddy. Is it possible for a memoir to be simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny, compellingly profound and poignantly sad, especially when the writer is still in her thirties? Apparently so. Priestdaddy tells the story of an upbringing in a weird, all-American religious family, and of what the world does to weird women. It’s pretty much a perfect book.
Marie Le Conte
A.N. Wilson’s Prince Albert: The Man Who Saved the Monarchy. A beautifully written account of the life of a man who most of us have heard of but who many of us know rather little about. I was particularly fascinated by the details of the bilingual nature of his marriage to Queen Victoria, who also spoke German natively – or at least sort of…
Some say the Renaissance is a fantasy of aesthetic gluttony dreamt up in the 19th century. But The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones is having none of it, and in Earthly Delights: A History of the Renaissance, his joyous, reflective, and beautifully illustrated account, he explores in panoramic detail an age of discovery fuelled by curiosity and delight.
Es Delin’s An Atlas of Es Devlin is a curiosity in itself, its contrasting textures, cutouts, and coloured overlays as brim-full of words, images and ideas as one of the artist’s sketchbooks. A stage designer for the likes of Adele, Kanye West, The Met Opera, and the Royal Opera House, Devlin is an artist without bounds, whose multi-media sculptures expand and refine the relationships between art forms as much as between audience and spectacle. Now here it all is, condensed into this gorgeous book.