In Memory Of: Designing Contemporary Memorials, by Spencer Bailey, Phaidon, RRP£49.95, 240 pages

Just as the memorials of one age are being picked apart, protested and torn down, we seem ourselves to be living in a golden age of memorial construction. From the Holocaust to slavery and terrorism dozens of designers are working with ways to render memory on to the landscape. This is a survey of the most striking among them and one set apart by its author, Spencer Bailey, who is himself a survivor of the 1989 crash of United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa. His image, as the three-year-old child he was at the time, is rendered in a memorial to the tragedy.

Cabinet of Curiosities, by Massimo Listri, Antonio Paolucci and Giulia Carciotto, Taschen, RRP£100, 356 pages

This is the kind of book you see in photos of new and expensive interiors or come across in boutique hotel lobbies. It is massive and full of some compellingly repulsive things (portraits made of seashells, fighting stuffed animals, hideously ornate silverware) but it is also absolutely fascinating. The cabinet of curiosities is the precursor to the modern museum and in this selection spanning the bizarre, the outrageous and the overwrought you see the emergence of curating with all its attendant problems of selection, editing and meaning.

Chernobyl: A Stalkers’ Guide, by Darmon Richter, Fuel, RRP£24.95, 240 pages

Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker became a terrifying portent. Introducing the notion of “The Zone”, a semi-mythical — magical but toxic — panorama of abandoned industry, it foreshadowed the disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. This small book treats the abandoned, poisoned landscapes and structures as a realised version of Tarkovsky’s cursed nightmare, an eerie record of disaster, absence, the power of nature and frozen time.

Best Books of the Year 2020

All this week, FT writers and critics share their favourites. Some highlights are:

Monday: Business by Andrew Hill
Tuesday: Economics by Martin Wolf
Wednesday: Politics by Gideon Rachman
Thursday: History by Tony Barber
Friday: Critics’ choice
Saturday: Crime by Barry Forshaw

The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design, by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt, Hodder & Stoughton, RRP£20, 400 pages

This is a guide to the elements of the city that are so ubiquitous we barely notice them. Full of surprises and quirky information, it illuminates the practical workings of urban infrastructure by exploring the excrescences that make it visible in the city’s streets. This book can be ingratiatingly informal and self-consciously chatty but the sheer amount of information rescues it and makes it into a fascinating journey through the over-familiar.

The Walker: On Finding and Losing Yourself in the Modern City, by Matthew Beaumont, Verso, RRP£18.99, 336 pages

The theory of walking has become a growth industry. There is a plethora of literature on modern pedestrianism and the city, from Iain Sinclair and Will Self to Frédéric Gros and Matthew Beaumont, whose Nightwalking (2015) was a terrific addition to the canon. His style is a treat — elegant, intelligent and entertaining as he describes the ways we read a city with our feet and mind, and guides us through a history of walking writing from Dickens and Poe to Marx and Žižek.

Tell us what you think

What are your favourites from this list — and what books have we missed? Tell us in the comments below

Edwin Heathcote is the FT’s architecture and design critic

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