2020 visions: the year ahead in books
Economics & Business
Thomas Piketty, the French economist whose 2013 book Capital in the Twenty-First Century fuelled the debate about growing inequality, returns with another weighty tome. Capital and Ideology (Harvard RRP£31.95/Belknap RRP$39.95, March) challenges us to think in new ways about politics, ideology and history. The future of capitalism is also the subject of Anne Case and Angus Deaton’s book Deaths of Despair (Princeton RRP$27.95/£20, March), a chilling portrayal by two leading US economists of the decline of the American dream.
While the college-educated are becoming healthier and wealthier, those without higher education lead lives of greater pain and are dying earlier. The notion that the financial system is rigged is explored by Anastasia Nesvetailova and Ronen Palan in Sabotage (Allen Lane RRP£20/Public Affairs RRP$27, January). The political scientists argue that financial malpractice is not an occasional aberration but is part of the system and a source of its profitability. Meanwhile, Philip Coggan, the journalist behind The Economist’s Bartleby column, takes the longer view of the world economy with More (Economist Books RRP£25/$30, February), a history of human civilisation seen through trade.
Silicon Valley continues to be fertile ground for writers and publishers looking to explore the heart of the tech revolution. Anna Wiener’s memoir Uncanny Valley (Fourth Estate £16.99/MCD $27, January) promises a coming-of-age story played out in the Klondike of the modern age or, as reviewer Rebecca Solnit claims, “Joan Didion at a start-up”. Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings is another West Coast entrepreneur who can take credit for disrupting an entire industry. How he did that is examined in Matthew Burgess’s Reed Hastings: Building Netflix (Weidenfeld & Nicolson RRP£12.99, March).
Disruption on a different scale is promised by David Enrich’s book Dark Towers (HarperCollins RRP£20/$29.99, February), which is heralded as an engaging account of US president Donald Trump and his past dealings with Deutsche Bank. Expect Twitter fireworks. Augustine Sedgewick explores the lasting impact of an older business in Coffeeland (Allen Lane RRP£25/Penguin Press RRP$30, April), which tells the story of our favourite drug, from volcanic highlands to high-street baristas, generating both wealth and poverty along the way.
Understanding the underlying power lines of geoeconomics is the theme of Thane Gustafson’s The Bridge (Harvard RRP£31.95/$39.95, January), an authoritative analysis of the hardknuckle dynamics and politics generated by gas trading and distribution in Europe.
While Britain is set to leave the EU at the end of January, Brexit will be with us through the new year — and no doubt beyond. A number of books pick up the theme, notably Fintan O’Toole’s Three Years in Hell (Head of Zeus RRP£20, March), in which the Irish Times columnist takes a funny — at times scathing — look at events since the referendum and how they have affected Britain and Ireland. John Lloyd, an FT contributing editor, considers the implications for Scotland in Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot (Polity RRP£20/$25, April), arguing that independence for his native country would be a mistake and laying out the case for how this can be averted.
Steven Hassan has an interesting back-story, having been rescued from the Moonies in the 1970s, since when he has become an expert on cults and mind control. Can he save us from The Cult of Trump (Simon & Schuster RRP£20, January; published in the US in October 2019)?
Samir Puri investigates The Great Imperial Hangover (Atlantic RRP£20, April), arguing that even as empires dissolve, their legacies inescapably continue to shape our lives. The unravelling of the American global order is explored in Exit from Hegemony (OUP RRP$29.95, February/RRP£22.99, May) by Alexander Cooley and Daniel Nexon, who lay out how US global power is changing and which aspects of it will endure. Another perspective on how our world is being reshaped comes via Thomas Rid and Active Measures (Profile RRP£22/Farrar, Straus & Giroux RRP$30, April), in which the expert on technology and security traces the history of disinformation and its impact on politics and democracy.
The wave of political populism sweeping the globe is provocatively handled in The New Class War by Michael Lind (Atlantic RRP£14.99, February/Portfolio RRP$25, January), which focuses on “saving democracy from the metropolitan elite”. Someone who’s made the journey from outsider to elite is barrister Hashi Mohamed, formerly a child refugee from Somalia. He uses his experiences to analyse social mobility in Britain in People Like Us (Profile RRP£16.99, January).
Radicalisation remains an urgent topic. Mark Townsend’s No Return (Faber RRP£12.99, April) is the instructive story of five jihadis whose dark trajectory towards Syria could have been prevented. In Black Wave, veteran FT and BBC Middle East reporter Kim Ghattas explains how the region began unravelling in 1979, when Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran became bitter enemies (Wildfire RRP£20/Henry Holt RRP$30, January). Rashid Khalidi details a century of conflict in The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine (Profile RRP£25, February/Henry Holt RRP$30, January).
Laura Bates tackles men’s movements and incels (“involuntary celibates”) in Men Who Hate Women (Simon & Schuster RRP£16.99, May) and Mark Gevisser takes a global look at LGBT rights in The Pink Line: The World’s Queer Frontiers (Profile RRP£25/Farrar, Straus & Giroux RRP$30, May). Some good news? Migration is changing our world vastly for the better, argues Felix Marquardt in The New Nomad (Simon & Schuster RRP£20, August).
A new year always brings diet books, but this year, more than ever, it is the planet that needs rejuvenating. What We Need to Do Now (Profile RRP£9.99, February) is a punchy call to action. Author Chris Goodall is an advocate for electric vehicles and an angel investor in the green economy. Further inspiration comes in April with How To Save Your Planet One Object at a Time by Tara Shine (Simon & Schuster RRP£16.99), with suggestions for 100 items to swap for sustainable alternatives. Is one answer to live more naturally? Natural by Alan Levinovitz (Profile RRP£20/Beacon RRP$28.95, April) upends that idea and calls the unthinking worship of nature “our oldest superstition”.
Those who require a personal tune-up should consult This Book Could Save Your Life by New Scientist writer Graham Lawton (John Murray RRP£14.99, January/Nicholas Brealey RRP$19.99, May). Lawton promises to cut through the stats and explain the science behind living longer.
More and more, however, the focus is not just on the health of the body but of the mind. Neuropsychiatrist Anthony David draws on a lifetime of practice at London’s Maudsley psychiatric hospital for his penetrating study of mental illness, Into The Abyss (Oneworld RRP£14.99/$24.95, February). Also questioning whether mental illnesses always reside in the mind is Harvard professor of surgery Allan Ropper in How the Brain Lost its Mind (Atlantic RRP£17.99, January; published in the US in August 2019). Zoology professor Matthew Cobb looks at The Idea of the Brain throughout history (Profile RRP£30/Basic Books RRP$32, March) pointing out with the benefit of the latest research how the best scientists in history got crucial things wrong. Former political spin-doctor Alastair Campbell, who has written movingly about suffering from depression, affirms it is Better to Live (John Murray RRP£16.99, May).
Turning to the world of numbers, cosmologist Marcus Chown introduces us to The Magicians in February (Faber RRP£14.99), showing how visionaries were able to prove the truths of astronomy by mathematical means.
Are civil wars ever really over? Heather Cox Richardson’s provocatively titled How the South Won the Civil War (OUP RRP$27.95/£18.99, April) upends common assumptions about the outcome of the conflict as the US enters election year. The story of the English civil war is oft told; what came afterwards, less so. Paul Lay seeks to address that deficit with Providence Lost (Head of Zeus RRP£30, January), the history of Oliver Cromwell’s protectorate. He explains how England’s experiment with republican government, forged in military victory, foundered on the rocks of imperial adventure. Grand rise and decline is also the subject of Martyn Rady’s The Habsburgs (Basic Books RRP$32/Allen Lane RRP£30, May), which tells the story of the dynasty that dominated Europe for centuries.
In an atmosphere of closed doors and tightened borders, Migrant City by Panikos Panayi (Yale RRP£20, February/RRP$35, April) is timely, focusing on the immigrants who have brought cultural richness to London over the centuries. Not to mention international cuisines. Food writer William Sitwell’s The Restaurant is a history of eating out spanning two millennia (Simon & Schuster RRP£20, April).
Ingestion of a different kind features in The Most Dangerous Man in America by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L Davis (John Murray RRP£14.99, April; already available in the US), which relates an episode in the life of LSD advocate and Nixon bête noire Timothy Leary. Heaven and Hell of a less chemical nature are surveyed by Bart D Ehrman in his history of notions of the afterlife (Oneworld RRP£20/Simon & Schuster RRP$28, April).
Five women with links to Mecklenburgh Square on the fringes of London’s Bloomsbury are examined in Square Haunting by Francesca Wade (Faber RRP£20, January/Tim Duggan Books, RRP$28.99, April): poet HD, crime writer Dorothy L Sayers, classicist Jane Harrison, historian Eileen Power and — who could avoid her? — Virginia Woolf.
Peter Burke’s The Polymath (Yale RRP£20, May) is subtitled “A Cultural History from Leonardo da Vinci to Susan Sontag”. Does anyone else find that a strange pairing of names?
The many significant novels for spring include Graham Swift’s Here We Are (Scribner RRP£14.99, February), Sebastian Barry’s A Thousand Moons (Faber RRP£18.99 /Viking RRP$27, March), Anne Enright’s Actress (Jonathan Cape RRP£16.99/Norton RRP$26.95, February) and Aravind Adiga’s Amnesty (Picador RRP£16.99/Scribner RRP$26, February). Most exciting of all, Hilary Mantel completes her Tudor trilogy with The Mirror & the Light (Fourth Estate RRP£25/Henry Holt RRP$30, March).
In February Eimear McBride, whose 2013 debut A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing was a multiple award-winner, returns with Strange Hotel (Faber, RRP£12.99; published in the US in May by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, RRP$25). And in sci-fi, January brings William Gibson’s Agency (Viking RRP£18.99/Berkley RRP$28). How will this year’s Booker panel cope? Perhaps they’ll give the prize to all of them.
Dominican writer Rita Indiana made a splash in 2018 with the unclassifiable Tentacle. Made in Saturn, translated by Sydney Hutchinson (And Other Stories RRP£10/$15.95, January), the tale of a drug-addicted artist going clean, promises to be less baffling but equally hip. Gill Hornby (Miss Austen, Century RRP£12.99, January/Flat Iron RRP$26.99, April) and Helen Moffett (Charlotte, Manilla Press RRP£12.99, May) field Austen-themed novels, the first concerning Cassandra Austen’s destruction of her dead sister’s letters, the second reworking the story of Charlotte Lucas, best friend of Lizzie Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. In Neil Blackmore’s The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle (Hutchinson RRP£12.99, April), set earlier in the Georgian era, brothers on the Grand Tour are wickedly beguiled by the proto-Wildean adventurer of the title.
Best books of 2019
From rethinking capitalism to returning to Gilead, the crises of modern politics to the hottest spy thrillers, FT commentators, critics and guests select the titles of the past year
For readers enthralled by last year’s winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, An American Marriage, Oneworld has picked up Tayari Jones’s 2011 novel Silver Sparrow for its first UK release (RRP£14.99, March). It concerns two friends who are also half-sisters; one knows, the other doesn’t. Caoilinn Hughes, one of the brilliant crop of new Irish writers, follows her debut Orchid & the Wasp with The Wild Laughter (Oneworld RRP£14.99/$25.95, May). Also publishing a second novel is Luke Brown with Theft (And Other Stories RRP£11.99, February/RRP$17.95, April), a return to the decadent literary London of his hilarious debut My Biggest Lie.
Colum McCann seems to shape-shift with each new book; Apeirogon examines the friendship between Israeli and Palestinian fathers who have each lost children to the conflict (Bloomsbury RRP£18.99/Random House RRP$28, February). The latest book from Elena Ferrante, The Lying Life of Adults, comes out in Ann Goldstein’s English translation in June (Europa Editions RRP£20/$26), while in the same month shrewd contemporary satirist Amanda Craig reworks Strangers on a Train with a millennial protagonist in The Golden Rule (Little, Brown RRP£16.99). Andrew Wilson continues his ingenious series with Agatha Christie as sleuth with I Saw Him Die (Simon & Schuster RRP£18.99, May).
Whitbread prizewinner Matthew Kneale’s Pilgrims (Atlantic RRP£16.99, June) follows a set of 13th-century penitents on their way to Rome, while Michael Arditti, one of the subtlest novelists on the subject of faith, brings to life the biblical world of King David, focusing on three women in his life hitherto denied a point of view (The Anointed, Arcadia RRP£16.99, April).
Debuts to look out for include historian Lara Feigel’s The Group (John Murray RRP£16.99, June), a critical exploration of female friendship. Rainbow Milk (Dialogue Books RRP£14.99, April) by Paul Mendez charts three generations of a Jamaican family from their arrival in Britain in the 1950s to present-day Jesse, a conflicted gay sex worker roaming London. It’s eye-poppingly frank, urgent and fresh.
Dear Life by Rachel Clarke (Little, Brown RRP£16.99, January) joins a distinguished list of memoirs by healthcare professionals. Clarke is a palliative care doctor whose warm and empathetic account affirms that a hospice is all about life, not death.
Kapka Kassabova, a Bulgarian living in Scotland, returns to southeastern Europe with To the Lake (Granta RRP£14.99, February), a travelogue and memoir on how geography and politics interact and affect families. In the Dream House is short-story writer Carmen Maria Machado’s fragmented and elliptical account of domestic abuse in a lesbian relationship (Serpent’s Tail RRP£14.99, January; already available in the US, Graywolf RRP$26). Emily Brand looks beyond the poet to his doomed family in The Fall of the House of Byron (John Murray RRP£25, April), while Ann Pasternak Slater combines a biography with the writings of Vivien Eliot, unfortunate first wife of TS, in The Fall of a Sparrow (Faber RRP£35, May).
Danez Smith releases Homie — the follow-up to 2018’s astonishing Forward Prize-winner Don’t Call Us Dead — in January in the US, a few weeks later in the UK (Graywolf RRP$16/Chatto & Windus RRP£10.99). Acclaimed poet and literary commentator Fiona Sampson publishes Come Down in February (Corsair RRP£10.99, February); Scotland’s Don Paterson is back with Zonal (Faber RRP£14.99, March) and Northern Ireland’s Colette Bryce addresses unexpected bereavement in The M Pages (Picador RRP£10.99, April).
Standout among debuts is Rendang by Will Harris (Granta RRP£10.99, February), winner of the Arts Foundation award for Poetry. A longer-established, amiable guide to the world of verse, John Carey, emeritus professor at Oxford, gives us A Little History of Poetry in March (Yale UP RRP£14.99/$25).
The making of 1970s classic Chinatown is anatomised in The Big Goodbye by Sam Wasson (Faber RRP£14.99/Flatiron Books RRP$28.99, February). It’s a tale of movie giants, from stars Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway to writer Robert Towne and director Roman Polanski.
Having examined Shakespeare in key years 1599 and 1606, literary scholar James Shapiro brings the Bard up to date with Shakespeare in a Divided America (Faber RRP£20/Penguin Press RRP$27, March).
Agnès Poirier explains the impact of Paris’s devastating fire in Notre-Dame: The Soul of France (Oneworld RRP£16.99/$26.95, April). Philosopher Ollivier Pourriol brings more Francophilia in The French Art of Not Trying Too Hard (Profile RRP£12.99, June), while Deirdre Bair reflects on the lives of Beauvoir and Beckett in Parisian Lives (Atlantic RRP£18.99, February; already available in the US, Nan A Talese RRP$29.95).
The Medal Factory by Kenny Pryde (Pursuit Books RRP£16.99, February) is a study of the dominance of British cycling from the 2008 Beijing Olympics onwards, and the ethical questions it raises. Cycling also features ahead of the Tokyo Olympics as one of Japan’s obsessive sporting subcultures is illuminated in Justin McCurry’s Keirin: War on Wheels (Pursuit Books RRP£16.99, July/ Pegasus RRP$27.95, June).
Olympic Pride, American Prejudice by Deborah Riley Draper and Travis Thrasher (Simon & Schuster RRP£20/Atria RRP$28, February) tells the story of the 18 black American athletes at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Muay Thai champ Ruqsana Begum, the world’s first female Muslim boxing champion, recounts her life and victories in Born Fighter (Simon & Schuster RRP£12.99, May).