Books of the year Premium

08 December 2016
Our reviewers have selected a rich mix of favourites from the books published in 2016. Here, some choose their highlights, ranging from politics to gardening, poetry to theology, a gripping thriller set in the Vatican to literary fiction set inside Hamlet’s mother’s womb…

Lost in the post Premium

01 December 2016 | by Clifford Longley
For some time I have been wanting to know what “post-liberalism” is, in case it is important. John Milbank is certainly important. He is the founder of an influential school of Anglican theology called Radical Orthodoxy, also known as post-liberal theology.

Cowboys and Indians and windpumps Premium

01 December 2016 | by Shelby Tucker
This is a gripping account of a long love affair. The BBC first sent Tim Slessor to make a film in the American West in 1961 and 1963. Then he took time out and worked for a year on the High Plains, where he was “completely hooked” by the “people, history, skies, scale, everything about it”.

Playing for time Premium

01 December 2016 | by Suzi Feay
Shakespeare plays don’t tend to be in need of an update or contemporary twist; they’re good for all time. Hag-Seed is the latest in the Shakespeare Retold series, which has seen Jeanette Winterson take on The Winter’s Tale and Howard Jacobson The Merchant of Venice.

Learning from history Premium

24 November 2016 | by Chris Patten
Ian Davidson, a former Financial Times Paris correspondent, has written a ­readable account of the French Revolution which, though brief, is pretty comprehensive. It tells the dramatic story from the summoning of the Etats généraux to the fall of Robespierre.

Dancing partners Premium

24 November 2016 | by Emma Hughes
Years ago, I lived with a trainee psycho­analyst. When he showed me the reading list for his first term’s­ seminars, I was surprised to see that topping it wasn’t The Interpretation of Dreams or Totem and Taboo, but L.P. Hartley’s The Go- Between.

Third way Premium

24 November 2016 | by Rupert Shortt
A senior Anglican cleric, New Testament scholar, musician and social activist: Anthony Harvey has great gifts. Now in his mid eighties, he can take justified pride in the many achievements recorded in this memoir.

Over the top Premium

24 November 2016 | by Noonie Minogue
Born in 1903 and reading Latin and Greek by the age of five, the “pleasantly feline” Sir Steven Runciman, pioneering historian of the Crusades, lived his gilded youth and charmed life through nearly a century of disasters.

On the road to Lund Premium

17 November 2016 | by Anne Dillon
The 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s alleged posting of his 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg has been marked already by an abundance of books, lectures, conferences and events – Pope Francis, to the consternation of some, travelled to Lund, Sweden, to join Lutheran leaders in an ecumenical service – and many more are scheduled for the coming year.

Yours briefly Premium

17 November 2016 | by James Moran
Here is the fourth and final instalment in the monumental Letters of Samuel Beckett, consisting of a treasure trove of the playwright’s writing to a wide range of correspondents.

Last rites Premium

17 November 2016 | by Eamon Maher
Richard Power’s masterpiece is available again in a handsome new paperback edition. Power was born in Dublin in 1928 and joined the Civil Service after completing a degree in English literature at Trinity College.

Writer’s tale Premium

17 November 2016 | by Sue Gaisford
In 1913, aged 47, Beatrix Potter married William Heelis, a solicitor from Hawkshead. She had just published her nineteenth book, The Tale of Pigling Bland. The marriage lasted for 30 years until her death: the little story, while still in print, remains extremely odd.

Special K Premium

10 November 2016 | by Robert Carver
“May I bring my motor car and chauffeur?” the young Kenneth Clark asked. He had been invited by Bernard Berenson to become his assistant. It was 1925; Clark was still an Oxford undergraduate and Berenson was the foremost art connoisseur of the day.

The long struggle Premium

10 November 2016 | by André Van Loon
How much simpler it would be if we could think of the Soviet Union as a monolithic state, crushing everything and everyone opposed to it: if we could arraign Communism as implacably merciless, and Stalin as an omnipotent tyrant, preceded and followed by dictators different in degree but not kind.

Bare necessities - The Jungle Book: the Mowgli stories Premium

10 November 2016 | by Julian Margaret Gibbs
Perhaps the greatest achievement of a well-read audiobook is that it can rescue a classic. It is especially true of this award-winning dramatisation of the Mowgli stories where Kipling’s whimsical, archaic style is pared back and skilled editing heightens the excitement of the tales.

For King and Countryside Premium

10 November 2016 | by Jonathan Tulloch
Using eyewitness accounts recorded in diaries, letters, published articles and medical records, John Lewis-Stempel sets himself the task of telling the “unique story of the British soldiers of the Great War and their relationship with the animals and plants around them”. By animals, he means birds, insects, amphibians and mammals, both wild and domesticated.

Liver bird Premium

03 November 2016 | by Melanie McDonagh
A bit long … 485 pages, before the notes start. That was my first reaction to this authoritative biography of Beryl Bainbridge. And when I found the book began with an exhaustive exploration of her family tree, my misgivings deepened.

Just a pussycat Premium

03 November 2016 | by Fiona Fox
This is a riveting romp through an honourable career in journalism and broadcasting by the Grand Inquisitor himself, who is, we discover, a charming and delightful reporter who thinks the best of most of the people he interviews, with an admirably humble view of the role of present­ers (considerably less important, he reckons, than sewage workers).

Fading light Premium

03 November 2016 | by Caroline Jackson
Ali Smith’s previous novel, How to be both, won many prizes and deserved all of them. Inadvertently, its readers fell into two camps. Some encountered the spirited recollections of a charismatic, albeit disembodied, fifteenth-century Italian painter followed by the distinctly grounded story of a contemporary teenager mourning the loss of her mother.

Celtic fringe Premium

03 November 2016 | by Mary Blanche Ridge
Madeleine Bunting has long felt the magnetic pull of the Hebrides, part of a childhood fascination with “the North”. Her family had always holidayed in the same remote Scottish village, which she loved so much it felt like home, though home was really Yorkshire.

Being Sartre Premium

26 October 2016 | by Christopher Bray
It looked like a Hollywood funeral. Twenty-thousand mourners in the Montparnasse Cemetery, another 30,000 lining the streets thereabouts. The president himself paid his respects, staying with the body for more than an hour to make sure everyone understood the grandeur of the star who’d gone.

Larger steps Premium

26 October 2016 | by Ian Bradley
John Buchan’s Greenmantle , first published 100 years ago this month and never out of print since, is the most popular of what the prolific author rather dismissively dubbed his “shockers”, outselling the better- known The Thirty-Nine Steps.

Tidy minds Premium

26 October 2016 | by Houman Barekat
Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog, scholars at the European University Institute and the LSE respectively, have spotted a pattern: people with degrees in engineering are significantly over-­represented in jihadist circles, whether in the Muslim world or in the West.

Still on the team Premium

26 October 2016 | by Sarah Morton
The young Bruce Springsteen stopped being a Catholic on his eighth-grade graduation day and for a time believed that he’d walked away for good. Later, though, “I came to ruefully and bemusedly understand that once you’re a Catholic, you’re always a Catholic … deep inside … I’m still on the team.”

The Thomas revival Premium

20 October 2016 | by Bernard McGinn
The weeping and wailing that accompanied the demise of neo-Thomism in the wake of Vatican II has been succeeded by what might have seemed an unlikely development 50 years ago—the unprecedented flourishing in recent decades of the study of Thomas Aquinas and his great work, the Summa Theologiae.

Hitting boundaries Premium

20 October 2016 | by Lucy Popescu
This impressive collection of short pieces is part travelogue and part medi­tation on other, metaphysical borders the biographer and poet Nicholas Murray has experienced.

Latin grammar Premium

20 October 2016 | by Maurice Walsh
In an extract from his memoir, Interesting Times, reproduced in this wide-ranging collection of political reportage and historical essays, Eric Hobsbawm acknowledged that it was easy to become a Latin America expert in the 1960s.

The centre of the storm Premium

12 October 2016 | by SHIRLEY WILLIAMS
Not long after Leon Brittan, Home Secretary in the Thatcher Cabinet, resigned over the Westland crisis which also led to Michael Heseltine’s departure, I began to hear gossip about his brilliant young assistant, Nick Clegg. Clegg had taken up a job in Brussels as Brittan’s chief assistant in negotiating trade deals, from China to Central Asia. Brittan, vice president of the European Commission, told friends that, such were his abilities, Clegg could one day be a Conservative prime minister.

Found in translation Premium

12 October 2016 | by Ian Thomson
Charles Baudelaire, an egregious bad boy of nineteenth-century French letters, was the son of an ex-Catholic priest and accordingly enriched by a symbolism of ritual and penitence.

Lost at sea Premium

12 October 2016 | by Clarissa Burden
Captain Cook’s voyages to the Southern Ocean on the sloop HMS Resolution have been written about many times, but never quite like this. A. N. Wilson’s new novel brings together history, memoir and philosophy, a Bildungsroman of the main protagonist, and introduces ­historical characters as varied as Cook himself: Alexander Humboldt and Goethe, and Marat and Charlotte Corday.

Well connected Premium

12 October 2016 | by Richard Owen
“Italian radio inventor, 7 letters” runs a classic crossword clue. Easy enough – except that Guglielmo Marconi was in fact only half Italian. His father Giuseppe was from the spa town of Porretta Terme, near Bologna, but his mother was Annie Jameson, of the celebrated Irish whiskey dynasty, who met Giuseppe while studying bel canto at the Bologna conservatory.

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