I realised that this post was sitting in my drafts folder and thought it would be better to publish it late than never…
These are the best books I’ve read in 2014, not necessarily published this year.
Another astonishing piece of page turning brilliance from Donna Tartt. Wonderful characters and beautiful writing, and a compelling plot.
Granta Books (2010)
Ghost Wars is an indispensible book for anybody who wants to understand the rise of Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the complex threads that came together on September 11 2001.
John Charles McQuaid
Although flawed, John Charles McQuaid offers a look at the political, cultural, and religious power of the Irish Catholic Church under its dominant and charismatic leader. This book is an insight not just into one man but also into a pivotal era in modern Irish history.
Fourth Estate (2010)
An epic look at the journey made by one family as they struggle to cope with the freedoms offered by modern America and the consequnces of their actions for themselves, their family, and society as a whole.
1493: How Europe’s Discovery of the Americas Revolutionized Trade, Ecology, and Life on Earth
Charles C. Mann
Granta Books (2011)
A great look at the results of the Columbian Exchange, when the Western world came in contact with the Americas, Asia, and Africa for the first time. Written with Brysonesque flair this book is full of fasacinating facts and insights.
The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I Am
Kjersti A. Skomsvold
Dalkey Archive Press (2011)
Shortlisted for the 2013 Impac Dublin Literary Award this book explores the life of an eldery woman with a wry sense of humour. A high quality debut that captures loneliness perfectly. Few novels deal with aging so sympathetically.
Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Life in Joyce’s Masterpiece
Faber and Faber (2010)
This book is vital for anyone who has read Ulysses, is reading Ulysses, or will read Ulysses! Kiberd shows that Joyce’s book really is for everyone as well as offering countless insights and original readings of the book.
Franz Kafka (translated by J.A. Underwood)
Penguin Classics (1926, first published as Das Schloß)
I think I preferred the Willa and Edwin Muir translation but this is still an astonishing work. Kafka’s vision of a senseless all pervasive bureaucracy is filled with black humour and is still as relevant in this century as the last one.
Paris 1961: Algerians, State Terror, and Memory
Jim House & Neil McMaster
Oxford Universtiy Press (2006)
An astonshing book detailing the still little known massacre of Algerians in modern Paris. This book documents how parts of the French authorities lost their souls making Algeria and life for Algerians in France a living hell.
Berlin: The Downfall 1945
This is the first Antony Beevor book I’ve read and he is a master at combining historical research with fastpaced narrative. Berlin has been criticised for being anti-Soviet but Beevor’s arguments are convincing.
Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will
Particular Books (2010, first published as Atlas der abgelegenen Insein in 2009)
This book brings out the inner child explorer in every reader. Beautiful maps of islands which have fallen between the cracks of history are brought to life with fascinating, and sometimes disturbing, tales.
100 Famous Views of Edo
Hiroshige 広重 (editors Melanie Trede & Lorenz Bichler)
This is a beautiful book, from its wonderful binding to the beauty of its contents. The editors have done an excellent job in providing context and descriptions of each of Hiroshige’s fantastic woodblock prints.
The Diary of Edward the Hamster 1990-1990
Miriam Elia & Ezra Elia
A hilarious look at the brief, yet sporadically productive, life of a rodent trying to search for a meaning to his life. Be warned! You’ll never look at a pet hamster the same way ever again.
Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China
Jung Chang 張戎
Jonathan Cape (2013)
Chang is a powerful storyteller and her historical subjects come to life on the page. It’s fascinating to see Cixi’s modernisation of China in a male dominated society in light of the current regime’s attempts to hold onto power through gradual reforms.
The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939
A comprehensive and balanced study of the Spanish Civil War. Beevor manages to make the key events comprehensible without resorting to simplifcation. The Spanish Civil War’s shadow still looms large over Spanish society and this book is vital to anyone wanting to shed light on the subject.