Thursday, December 12, 2013

Five good books from 2013

A cheerful report (Nuclear war would 'end civilization' with famine, study says) puts me in mind of the first book in a “top five” I was asked to contribute to The Big Issue recently (in the end, The Big Issue published three):

Big Issue Top Five

Never mind vampires and zombies; for true horror read Command and Control, Eric Schlosser's rip-roaring account about the many, near catastrophic accidents with nuclear weapons in the US arsenal throughout the Cold War. In this terrifying picture of a world locked into a dance with total death, a worthy companion to The Dead Hand by David E. Hoffman, Schlosser reminds us that unless we change the system, the potential for unmitigated disaster remains very real.

Five Billion Years of Solitude by Lee Billings is a superb account of the search of extraterrestrial life and the people on the front line of that search. It is also one of my top environmental books of the year as, having looked to the heavens, Billings turns his gaze onto the most extraordinary and wonderful life we know – the stuff right here on Earth.

For a book on another burning issue of our times – finance – I am hard pressed to choose between The Bankers' New Clothes by Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig and The Heretic's Guide to Global Finance by Brett Scott, an “urban deep ecologist” who went undercover inside the system. Very different in approach and style, both books are excellent on what's wrong and what to do about it.

Jim Crace's Harvest, which narrowly missed out on the Booker prize, was among the best novels of 2103. The dispossession of ordinary people by the enclosure of common land in late Medieval England was no picnic. Crace paints an utterly compelling picture, with resonances for Boris Johnson's world, in which greed is good and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.

Before you write me off as a total Eyore, let me recommend Falling Upwards by Richard Holmes. This history of ballooning from its inception in pre-revolutionary France to an improbable escape from East Germany and beyond is an entrancing, light-weight desert to follow Holmes's magnificent The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science.

And finally, if I'm allowed to sneak in a sixth book – and one that was new to me but not to the world – read The Ongoing Moment, Geoff Dyer's meditation on photography (first published in 2005 and reprinted in paperback in 2012). All you need to know is that it is brilliant.

Caspar Henderson is the author of The Book of Barely Imagined Beings (Granta)
Looking at the list now, I can think of another five that are at least as worthy of attention.

No comments: