Something like a quarter of all book sales are made in the month before Christmas each year – it’s a popular gift! I thought, therefore, it might useful to take a look at some 2014 book lists.
The Economist released their list in the most recent edition – I’ve included the summaries of some but not all. One in particular stands out to me: Pinker’s The Sense of Style – highly recommended, and you can read my review at the link!
For a focus on non-fiction in particular, you could also look at Tyler Cowen’s recommendations.
Politics and current affairs
The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited. By Louisa Lim. Oxford University Press; 248 pages; $24.95 and £16.99. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
Twenty-five years after the bloodshed in Beijing, new details keep emerging. This reconstruction, by a correspondent for America’s National Public Radio, is as important for Western readers as it is for the new Chinese generation that has grown up since 1989 and knows little of what happened.
The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech. By Flemming Rose. Cato Institute; 240 pages; $24.95. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
The culture editor of the Danish newspaper that published cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad in 2005 offers a personal account of the ensuing controversy and what it means for democracy.
Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy. By Francis Fukuyama. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 658 pages; $35. Profile; £25. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
A superstar academic, who in 1992 tried to persuade people that they had got to the end of history, returns admitting that things are more complicated than he imagined. China has adopted a mixture of state capitalism and authoritarianism, and democratisation has failed in Russia and most of the Middle East. What is needed are high-quality political institutions; not an easy thing to build.
The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall.
Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China.
Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923.
The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia.
Indonesia Etc: Exploring the Improbable Nation.
China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa.
Biography and memoir
Kaiser Wilhelm II: A Concise Life. By John Röhl. Cambridge University Press; 240 pages; $24.99 and £16.99. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
Scholarship and authority shine through this short version of John Röhl’s 4,000-page, multi-volume life of Kaiser Wilhelm, an emotionally needy, bombastic, choleric and hypersensitive man quite ill-suited to run the most powerful country in Europe.
Napoleon: A Life. By Andrew Roberts. Viking; 976 pages; $45. Allen Lane; £30. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
A British historian makes full use of the treasure trove of Napoleon’s 33,000-odd letters and concludes that the French emperor was a tactical military genius who made some serious strategic mistakes and was far from being a brilliant statesman.
H is for Hawk. By Helen Macdonald. Jonathan Cape; 300 pages; £14.99. To be published in America by Grove Atlantic in March 2015. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
A bird’s-eye view of love and loss, this meditation on nature, raptors, grief and the strange life of T.H. White—English author of “The Goshawk”—was the discovery of the season. Winner of the 2014 Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction.
E.E. Cummings: A Life. By Susan Cheever. Pantheon; 213 pages; $26.95. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
Inward-looking and now unfashionable, E.E. Cummings is a tricky poet to understand. With boundless new detail gathered through meticulous research, Susan Cheever succeeds where most other biographers have failed.
Faisal I of Iraq.
Little Failure: A Memoir.
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery.
The English and Their History. By Robert Tombs. Allen Lane; 1,012 pages; £35. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
A British academic shows how being a historian of France helped him recognise that his fellow Englishmen and women have embraced pluralism and immigration for at least 1,300 years, he concludes, and they should not give it up as it is a characteristic strength.
Christendom Destroyed: Europe 1517-1648. By Mark Greengrass. Viking; 752 pages; $45. Allen Lane; £30. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
A magisterial account of the birth of modern Europe, from the Reformation, which broke the dominance of the Roman Catholic church, to the Peace of Westphalia, which entrenched the idea of the nation-state.
The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s “Ulysses”. By Kevin Birmingham. Penguin Press; 417 pages; $29.95. Head of Zeus; £20. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
A gripping account of how a banned masterpiece, James Joyc’s “Ulysses”, was published in instalments in small literary magazines and then in private, limited print runs by dedicated patrons (most of them women) who had to smuggle copies into America and Britain.
Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David.
Why Homer Matters.
The Reckoning: Death and Intrigue in the Promised Land.
Economics and business
Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
The Forgotten Depression, 1921: The Crash that Cured Itself.
Science and technology
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. By Elizabeth Kolbert. Henry Holt; 302 pages; $28. Bloomsbury; £20. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
Five previous extinctions wiped out plant and animal life on a huge scale; now a sixth is upon us. Is life resilient enough to withstand mankind?
The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. By Nina Teicholz. Simon & Schuster; 479 pages; $27.99. Scribe; £14.99. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
A historical study of how fat came to be demonised, especially in America, by a mix of academics, government officials and food companies, and how the few sceptics who dared take on the fat orthodoxy have been much disparaged for their pains. Detailed in its research and eloquent in its argument, this is the year’s most surprising diet book.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. By Atul Gawande. Metropolitan Books; 282 pages; $26. Profile; £15.99. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
A thoughtful American doctor, who gave the 2014 Reith lectures, recounts how many of his patients spend their final hours hooked up to machines, under fluorescent lights, surrounded by strangers. Far better to think through the implications and plan for the end you really want.
Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology.
Culture, society and travel
Marriage Markets: How Inequality is Remaking the American Family. By June Carbone and Naomi Cahn. Oxford University Press; 272 pages; $29.95 and £18.99. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
Asking why fewer people marry, two American legal academics show how, over the decades, economic inequality has undermined the rationality of marriage for many and weakened the family.
The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. By Steven Pinker. Viking; 359 pages; $27.95. Allen Lane; £20. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
With gentle good humour, the Harvard psycholinguist explains that a good piece of writing is like the perfect soufflé appearing in a spotless kitchen at the end of a cooking show: “The messy work has been done beforehand and behind the scenes.” A good read for all ages.
Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools. By Joel Klein. Harper; 320 pages; $27.99. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
The former chancellor of New York’s department of education knows at first hand how much a child’s education is linked to his or her success in life. He has much to say about his nine-year campaign to improve the city’s school system and how it could become a blueprint for reform of America’s education system.
Joyriding in Riyadh: Oil, Urbanism and Road Revolt in Saudi Arabia.
The Reef, A Passionate History: The Great Barrier Reef from Captain Cook to Climate Change.
Germany: Memories of a Nation.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North. By Richard Flanagan. Knopf; 352 pages; $26.95. Chatto & Windus; £16.99. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
A journey of loss and discovery set among the prisoners of war who were sent to build the “Death Railway” between Thailand and Burma during the second world war. Winner of the 2014 Man Booker prize for fiction and replete with scenes that stay with the reader long after the final page, this is the book that Richard Flanagan was born to write.
Lila. By Marilynne Robinson. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 272 pages; $26. Virago; £16.99. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
The third of Marilynne Robinson’s novels to be set in Gilead, Iowa, and featuring John Ames, a Congregationalist preacher, turns to the story of Ames’s late-in-life wife. A former prostitute and cleaner, Lila, in her new incarnation, learns about grace, joy and love, lessons that are imparted with no trace of soppiness. By one of the finest writers in America.
Decoded. By Mai Jia. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 315 pages; $26. Allen Lane; £18.99. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.uk
At last, a fine Chinese novel that holds its own as a work that book-lovers with no special knowledge of China will relish. By a former member of the intelligence services, “Decoded” stands out for its pace and for the sheer novelty of the tale it tells.
No Man’s Land: Fiction from a World at War.
Thirty Girls: A Novel.
Family Life: A Novel.
Fourth of July Creek.