It’s that time of year again when people generally go crazy compiling “Best of” lists. I’m way too lazy to do anything of the kind so I decided to share my personal favorite, The Economist‘s Best Books of the Year, with you.
There are, of course, other book lists but I tend to go for The Economist primarily because I enjoy their reviews (and I can’t say the same for a lot of other people’s). It also scores by casting a wider publication net (both sides of the pond, yet!) and keeping it mercifully brief. If you had some sort of psychological hang up that requires you to hunt down and read every book that makes it to a “Best of” list, for example, then you can’t go wrong with The Economist, which presents you with about 50 books every year.
I usually don’t score higher than 10 – it’s a rare financial or medical book that catches my eye, I’m afraid – but this year I was shocked to find that I recorded a measly three out of 50. I think I can plead extenuating circumstances (this year was all about the literature of the first half of the 20th century for me), especially considering that I read at least a couple of other books reviewed by The Economist, which never made it to their year end list (chief amongst them, Yasmin Khan’s The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan, which does what other books rarely do: concentrate on the human costs of Partition through a prism of politics rather than the reverse).
Here then, is their list, complete with reviews in most cases. With stockings to stuff, it’s well worth a dekko. I’ve underlined those (pitiful few) that I’ve read and bolded those which I plan to read.
The Wagner Clan: The Saga of Germany’s Most Illustrious and Infamous Family By Jonathan Carr : Music, a screwed up family, power and Hitler. What’s not to like?
God’s Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain By Rosemary Hill : It took me a while to figure out that those magnificent buildings I’d admired for so long were actually from the 19th century. Obviously, something this cool had to be born in tragedy. And this little excerpt sealed it for me – Brighton Pavilion where “the Prince and his guests sat down, in a building that looked like a giant pudding, to enjoy puddings that looked like little buildings”.
Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature By Linda Lear : Did you see the movie? Did it leave you less than impressed? Well, this book will set everything to rights again. One downside: no Ewan McGregor. Awww.
Edith Wharton By Hermione Lee
Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice By Janet Malcolm
Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer By Tim Jeal
The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America By Allan M. Brandt
God and Gold: Britain, America and the Making of the Modern World By Walter Russell Mead
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA By Tim Weiner : The bad news biography. Send to your least favorite CIA agent.
1967: Israel, the War and the Year that Transformed the Middle East By Tom Segev
Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire By Judith Herrin : I’m a sucker for books like these. Plus, my info on Byzantium is a bit more sketchy than I wish.
Napoleon’s Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 By Charles Esdaile
The Noble Revolt: The Overthrow of Charles I By John Adamson : Ah, Charles I. Like most people, I tend to be a Charles II girl but I can’t help but feel Charles I is altogether more interesting and relevant.
The Making of Victorian Values: Decency and Dissent in Britain, 1789-1837 By Ben Wilson
The Verneys: A True Story of Love, War and Madness in Seventeenth-Century England By Adrian Tinniswood : “Cheesemaking, sword buying and scandal mongering”? My kind of family!
Scotland: The Autobiography—2,000 Years of Scottish History by Those Who Saw it Happen By Rosemary Goring
Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race By Richard Rhodes
The Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor By William Langewiesche : Both this one and the above sound really interesting. Unfortunately, my quota for bad news and supremely bad news is currently overflowing. So I’m going to stick my head in the sand and pretend I never heard of these until after the apocalypse.
The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court By Jeffrey Toobin
How Capitalism Was Built: The Transformation of Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia By Anders Aslund
India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy By Ramachandra Guha : Lucid prose with a lot of humor and tolerance thrown in. If you’re a firebreather or a Nehru hater, this is not the book for you. As a bonus, I’ll link today to his latest article in which he makes me laugh and laugh, while making a ton of sense.
The Eight O’Clock Ferry to the Windward Side: Seeking Justice in Guantánamo Bay By Clive Stafford Smith
The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? By Francisco Goldman
Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples’ Organized Crime System By Roberto Saviano
Through the Darkness: A Life in Zimbabwe By Judith Garfield Todd
The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co—A Tale of Unrestrained Ambition, Billion-Dollar Fortunes, Byzantine Power Struggles, and Hidden Scandal By William D. Cohan
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable By Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It By Paul Collier
The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World By Alan Greenspan : I’ve heard good things but it’s going to be a while before I pick this one up.
Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything By Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams
From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession By Rakesh Khurana
The Billionaire Who Wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune By Conor O’Clery : I have no idea why I want to read this but something tells me it’s going to be fun.
Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits By Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant
Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart By Ian Ayres
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union By Michael Chabon : What would the world be like if there was no Israel? For one thing, Alaska would be more interesting. What I want to know is – do they get the oil this time?
Carpentaria By Alexis Wright
On Chesil Beach By Ian McEwan
The Scandal of the Season By Sophie Gee
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows By J.K. Rowling : I’d tell you what I thought of it but there might still be people out there who’re saving up the experience and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for them. Oh, who am I kidding? I just don’t want a letter like this one.
The Septembers of Shiraz By Dalia Sofer
Mr Pip By Lloyd Jones
Other Country By Stephen Scourfield
The Ghost By Robert Harris
The Uncommon Reader By Alan Bennett – I’m equal parts intrigued and put off. Witty little book that imagines Queen Elizabeth’s reading habit.
Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey By James Attlee
The Tiger that Isn’t: Seeing Through a World of Numbers By Michael Blastland & Andrew Dilnot : Stats made funny! You snicker disbelievingly but I say to you – Freakonomics. Because all things are possible.
The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century By Alex Ross : You know, people my age get a bad rap for not knowing their music pre-Elvis (if that). Okay, so I want to see exactly what I’ve missed.
Letters of Ted Hughes Edited by Christopher Reid : Just so he can get his version in.
The Domesday Book of Giant Salmon: A Record of the Largest Atlantic Salmon Ever Caught By Fred Buller : No offense, but Doomsday is when I’ll read this.