Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Books of the Year; from Magisterial Biographies to Captivating Memoirs and Fiction -- Our Reviewers and Writers Choose Their Favourites from the Past 12 Months

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Books of the Year; from Magisterial Biographies to Captivating Memoirs and Fiction -- Our Reviewers and Writers Choose Their Favourites from the Past 12 Months

Article excerpt

SARAH SANDS My recommendation for this year's war novel is The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (Chatto, PS16.99), an account of a Japanese PoW camp on the Burma Death Railway; breathtakingly good writing. My New Year's resolution is to read Flanagan's previous novels. I also enjoyed A.N. Wilson's mischievous and assured biography Victoria: A Life (Atlantic, PS25). Apart from Philae landing on the comet, the British royal family turns out to be the best advertisement for the European project.

Finally, I am keeping by my bedside Hillary Clinton's political autobiography Hard Choices (Simon & Schuster, PS20), a handy reference book for 2015 in case it turns out to be an easy choice for her.

SIMON SEBAG MONTEFIORE Andrew Roberts's Napoleon the Great (Allen Lane, PS30) is truly a Napoleonic triumph of a book, elegantly written, epic in scale, novelistic in detail, irresistibly galloping with the momentum of a cavalry charge, as comfortable on the battlefield as in the bedroom. Here, at last, is the full biography.

Adrian Goldsworthy's Augustus (Weidenfeld, PS25) is superb, unputdownable and scholarly and Helen Castor's Joan of Arc (Faber, PS20) is a masterful, thrilling portrait of sinister power, magical charisma and gruesome death.

Ramita Navai's City of Lies (Weidenfeld, PS18.99) is gripping, a dark delicious unveiling of the secret decadent life of Islamic Tehran, deeply researched yet exciting as a novel, while Charles King's Midnight at the Pera Palace (Norton, PS11.99)-- brilliant, entertaining authoritative -- recounts the twilight of late Ottoman Istanbul. Ali Allawi's Faisal I of Iraq (Yale, PS30) is excellent and indispensable, effectively a history of the making of today's Middle East.

JULIET NICOLSON Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (Virago, PS20) is an uninterruptable joy of a novel. Set in a genteel London guest house during emotionally and financially precarious post-First World War Britain, the story is about money, class, men, women, tenderness, passion, brutality, loyalty, brilliantly integral historical detail and masses of unabashed sex: it's Sarah Waters at her tip-top best.

I was truly moved by Margaret Forster's ingeniously structured and beautifully written memoir. My Life in Houses (Chatto, PS14.99) covers a sequence of buildings that have been both houses and homes to her, each one of them different, most of them special, not all of them loved, and through them she writes with amazing honesty and quiet profundity about everything that matters most: love, death and all the rest. A really wonderful book.

ROBERT FOX The best reporting of Afghanistan for many a year is Carlotta Gall's The Wrong Enemy (Houghton Mifflin, $28). Fearless investigation leads to the big question about how much Pakistan and its intelligence service is behind the Taliban and who was babysitting Osama Bin Laden in his hideaway in the military garrison of Abbottabad.

Jonathan Shaw's Britain in a Dangerous World (Haus Curiosities, PS7.99) is a firecracker on what is wrong in government and management across the public sector today. A common sense of urgency, culture and objectives has led to unexpected success in counterterrorism, says the former SAS chief. But tribal rivalries between ministries and the short-term quotidian ambitions of politics and politicians have brought inertia to Britain's government. A mustread for anyone interested in the failings of Whitehall villages.

A.N. WILSON Two perfectly balanced works of history. Charles Spencer's Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles 1 (Bloomsbury, PS20) tells the story of the regicides and what happened to them when the monarchy was restored in 1660. Some were crackpots, some were very intelligent, all were brave. One of the best books on the 17th century I have read since C V Wedgwood's book, The Trial of Charles I. More recent history, but in its way no less bizarre, is found in John Campbell's Roy Jenkins: A Well Rounded Life (Cape, PS30), which made me rather love old Woy. …

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