We had some great responses from bibliophile FT readers across the globe. Here are your best suggestions — from the story behind Putin’s ascent to power in the KGB, and a novel following Shakespeare’s family during the 1596 plague, to Anne Applebaum’s lucid analysis of the decay of democracy, via Frank Snowden’s comprehensive history of pandemics.
Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West by Catherine Belton, William Collins, £25
A meticulously researched account of the rise of the Putin, considering not just his terms as President and PM, but tracing his career in the KGB in the last years of the USSR. Prescient (given the publication of the "Russia Report" this summer), fascinating, and a must-read.
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell, Tinder Press, £20
Although Hamnet had a fair amount of gratuitous violence in it and took me a while to get into, it was well worth the read. The theme of grief was thoroughly and cathartically explored, whilst the imagery of Shakespearean England offered a lavish backdrop.
The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations by Daniel Yergin, Allen Lane, £25
Undoubtedly one of the best books of the year. Its relevance to the contemporary world of geopolitics and the global economy along with the energy markets and climate change is exceptional. Yergin explains how the process of energy transition and changing geopolitical realities are shaping new maps around the world, figuratively and literally.
—Syed Muhammad Osama Rizvi, via FT Books Cafe Facebook group
The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, Europa Editions, £20
How a single overheard throwaway comment can impact a life. I loved the depiction of Aunt Vittoria, the character just lit up every scene, or blew up every scene she appears in.
Twilight of Democracy by Anne Applebaum, Penguin, £16.99
Rich with personal anecdotes from the UK, Poland, Hungary, Spain and the US, this is a searing analysis about the growth of the ‘Alt Right’’. Just 180 pages, it’s an essay which I wanted to tell my friends to read at once! Deeply depressing, but a tinge of optimism at the close.
Epidemics and Society by Frank Snowden, Yale University Press, £16.99
Frank Snowden’s book presents a comprehensive historical perspective on societies' vulnerabilities to pandemics. The author presents these not as random events but rather endogenous: "Every society produces its own specific vulnerabilities". Pandemics help us understand societies' structures and their political priorities. A well-written, highly entertaining and relevant book.
Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism by Anne Case and Angus Deaton, Princeton, £20
Already listed among the best business books of the year by the Financial Times, this book should serve as a guide to both the new Biden administration in Washington and the Democratic Party. Why does [the US] population feel so abandoned and hopeless?
The Saddest Words—William Faulkner’s Civil War by Michael Gorra, Liveright, $29.95
Michael Gorra quietly but deftly locates the sources and rapid resurgence of white nationalism and racism in the slave-holding American South, still a ruling force in American politics, in the minute prose of William Faulkner and his “searing articulations of [whiteness], brutality and shame” (NY Times). Witness to the enduring chasms in American life wrought by the slave-based caste society of the South, where the poor whites underpinned the posturing of the plantation owners and their descendants and ensured the “place” of the Blacks beneath them.
The Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain by Ian Mortimer, Penguin, £20
A riveting account of this mysterious gap in the understanding that many of us have in our country's past (sandwiched between the Tudors and the Victorians, never really covered in so many schools' courseworks...). Fascinating, fast-paced and fun, this author has a capacity to shine light into our past as few others can. Terrific stuff!
—James at Rebellion
Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration by Dr Nicole Fleetwood, Harvard University Press, £31.95
This book explores art made by incarcerated artists under often brutal conditions but almost always as a way to asset their humanity in a system that is designed to strip it away. Fleetwood presents an argument for a closer examination of the system that incarcerates 2.2m people in the United States, and the people who force open their horizons with their art. It’s a seminal work that examines what makes us human.
—Woot von Mallestrom
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