Un’altra lista dei libri migliori del 2010. Dopo quella del Guardian (degli scrittori che collaborano con il quotidiano) della scorsa settimana, questa volta tocca all’Economist.
Come sempre è soprattutto dedicata alla saggistica. Molti titoli stimolanti con il solito clamoroso difetto di quasi tutte le testate anglofone: è (quasi) tutta dedicata ad autori che scrivono in inglese. Poco male, la lista è davvero interessante. Sotto la trovate tutta intera, con le tre righe inserite dai redattori dell’Economist per introdurre i volumi scelti.
Intanto mi limito a segnalarne quattro:
Rachel Polonsky, Molotov’s Magic Lantern: A journey in Russian History (Faber and Faber)
L’autrice un giorno si trasferì a Mosca e le capitò di scoprire l’appartamento dove visse Molotov, uno degli uomini più fidati di Stalin: in quell’apartamento c’erano la libreria di Molotov e una lanterna magica…
Basharat Peer, Curfew Night: One Kashmiri Journalist’s Frontline Account of Life, Love and War in his Homeland.
Un reportage dell’autore è stato recentemente pubblicato sul numero di Granta dedicato al Pakistan e tradotto sull’ultimo numero di Internazionale.
Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, del quale ho già scritto fin troppo.
Frank Dikötter, Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962. Un professore di Storia dell’Università di Hong Kong approfitta dell’apertura degli archivi cinesi per ricostruire una delle follie più disastrose del XX secolo: quella che portò 50 milioni di cinesi a morire di fame a causa della politica di Mao.
Ecco comunque la lista completa (che ovviamente potete anche leggere direttamente sul sito dell’Economist):
Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime. By John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. Harper; 464 pages; $27.99. Viking; £25
Sleazy, personal, intrusive, shocking and horribly compulsive, particularly about Hillary Clinton and John McCain. By two American journalists, one of whom, John Heilemann, worked for The Economist until 1995. The 2008 presidential race as high-quality political porn.
The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama. By David Remnick. Knopf; 672 pages; $29.95. Picador; £20
Beautifully written, artfully constructed and full of new detail about the president—from his Hawaiian childhood to the Indonesian interlude and his years in Chicago, by the editor of the New Yorker.
The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers. By Richard McGregor.Harper; 302 pages; $27.99. Allen Lane; £25
The main threat to the Chinese Communist Party’s power is corruption. Yet its power rests on a system that makes corruption almost inevitable. An elegant and entertaining portrait of China’s secretive rulers by a former Beijing bureau chief of the Financial Times.
Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory. By Peter Hessler.HarperCollins; 432 pages; $27.99. Canongate; £14.99
Peter Hessler, an American journalist and author of a 2006 bestseller, “Oracle Bones”, gets behind the wheel to explore how roads, and with them cars, are changing China more quickly than any diktat from the Politburo.
Molotov’s Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History. By Rachel Polonsky. Faber and Faber; 388 pages; £20
A modern classic, inspired by Stalin’s violent henchman and the library he built, by a Russian scholar.
Curfewed Night: One Kashmiri Journalist’s Frontline Account of Life, Love and War in his Homeland. By Basharat Peer. Scribner; 223 pages; $25. HarperPress; £16.99
An Indian Kashmiri journalist’s account of growing up during the insurgency, which helps explain the anger and frustration of the young Kashmiris who have taken to the streets this year.
The Fear: The Last Days of Robert Mugabe. By Peter Godwin. Picador; 353 pages; £18.99. To be published in America by Little, Brown in March
This sharp observer of modern Africa is aghast at the horror, yet still hopeful that Zimbabwe’s resilient, long-suffering people will somehow win through against Robert Mugabe’s gangsters, who refuse to give up power.
The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State. By Shane Harris. Penguin Press; 432 pages; $27.95
A vivid, well-reported and intellectually sophisticated account of the surveillance state in the wake of the attacks on September 11th 2001.
The Rule of Law. By Tom Bingham. Allen Lane; 213 pages; £20
A cool but deadly dissection of the assault on the rule of law that was launched by the “war on terror”. The author held all three of Britain’s great judicial offices and died just after this book came out.
The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future—and Why They Should Give it Back By David Willetts. Atlantic; 314 pages; £18.99
How Britain will be rent, not by class warfare, but by a generational divide. By David Cameron’s minister for universities and science, who is one of the Tories’ few acknowledged Deep Thinkers.
The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance. By Edmund de Waal. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 354 pages; $25. Chatto & Windus; £16.99
A magical study of how objects get handled, used and handed on, by a British ceramicist who inherited a vitrine of 264 Japanese netsuke, all that was left of the Ephrussi banking dynasty from whom he is descended.
Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds. By Lyndall Gordon. Viking; 512 pages; $32.95. Virago; £20
The secrets and quarrels that made a great American poet. Emily Dickinson’s life was certainly stranger than fiction. Compulsive reading.
Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) With Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes. By Stephen Sondheim. Knopf; 480 pages; $39.95. Virgin; £30
A superior assessment of the art of the musical theatre, avade mecum of the genre, with piercing dismissals of Gilbert and Sullivan and Noel Coward, by the 80-year-old composer and lyricist.
The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece.By Eric Siblin. Atlantic; 336 pages; $24. Harvill Secker; £14.99
After 12 years of daily practising, Pablo Casals was ready to play Bach’s cello suites in public. His superb rendition ensured that they attracted a mass following and became the hallmark of his career.
Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin. By Timothy Snyder. Basic Books; 524 pages; $29.95. Bodley Head; £20
How Stalin and Hitler enabled each other’s crimes and killed 14m people between the Baltic and the Black Sea. A lifetime’s work by a Yale University historian who deserves to be read and reread.
Why the West Rules—For Now: The Patterns of History and What They Reveal About the Future. By Ian Morris. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 750 pages; $35. Profile; £25
An entertaining and plausible book by a British historian at Stanford University that shows how debates about the rise of China or the fall of the West are ultimately a sideshow, as nature will bite back savagely at human society.
Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962. By Frank Dikötter. Walker & Co; 384 pages; $30. Bloomsbury; £25
A heroic piece of research, by a professor at the University of Hong Kong who has been using the newly available Chinese archives. He focuses on how 55m died because of one man’s folly. Devastating in every sense of the word.
Red Plenty: Industry! Progress! Abundance! Inside the Fifties’ Soviet Dream. By Francis Spufford. Faber and Faber; 434 pages; £16.99
A surprisingly sympathetic account of how central planning in the Soviet Union was a failure and yet the system was so humanly believable. Part economics, part detective story.
A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided. By Amanda Foreman. Allen Lane; 988 pages; £30. To be published in America by Random House in June; $35
A passionate and trenchant analysis of the complex and much misunderstood British involvement in the American civil war, by an Anglo-American historian.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. By Isabel Wilkerson. Random House; 622 pages; $30
From hominy grits to cold shoulder, an account of the 20th-century exodus of millions of African-Americans out of the states of the old Confederacy.
Pearl Buck in China: Journey to the Good Earth. By Hilary Spurling. Simon & Schuster; 340 pages; $27. Profile; £15
How the writings of the first American woman to win the Nobel prize for literature helped ease the tortured relationship between the West and China in the early part of the 20th century, by the author of an acclaimed life of Henri Matisse.
A History of the World in 100 Objects. By Neil MacGregor. Allen Lane; 707 pages, £30
Far better than the usual radio tie-in; the British Museum director’s book of the popular and inspiring 2010 series is graced by insight, detail and elegant writing. Who wouldn’t want a copy of it under their Christmas tree?
Economics and business
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. By Michael Lewis. Norton; 266 pages; $27.95. Allen Lane; £25
The author of a 1989 bestseller, “Liar’s Poker”, exposes the greed and double-dealing that helped ignite the financial meltdown. One of the best books on the recent crisis.
More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of the New Elite. By Sebastian Mallaby. Penguin Press; 482 pages; $29.95. Bloomsbury; £25
A superbly researched history of hedge-fund heroes stretching back to the 1950s and a fascinating tale of the contrarian and cerebral misfits who created successful, flexible businesses in an otherwise conventional financial world, by a Washington-based British journalist who is married to our economics editor.
High Financier: The Lives and Time of Siegmund Warburg. By Niall Ferguson. Penguin Press; 548 pages; $35. Allen Lane; £30
The story of the scrappy refugee from Hitler’s Germany who changed the City and did more than most to boost London’s standing, although his own firm lost its way and fell to a foreign rival after his death. The author is a British economic historian who teaches at Harvard and the London School of Economics.
A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming. By Paul Edwards. MIT Press; 528 pages; $32.95 and £24.95
Not enough intelligent, scholarly and critically minded history of contemporary science gets published, but this work, by a professor at the University of Michigan, is a nice exception on an important area.
Biology is Technology: The Promise, Peril, and New Business of Engineering Life.By Rob Carlson. Harvard University Press; 288 pages; $39.95 and £29.95
A thoughtful attempt to put what we think we know about biotechnology into a larger context, by a physicist-turned-bio-entrepreneur.
The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. By Matt Ridley. Harper; 448 pages; $26.99. Fourth Estate; £20
A well-known British science writer (and former Economist journalist) challenges the nabobs of negativity who argue that the world cannot possibly feed 9 billion mouths, that Africa is destined to fail and that the planet is surely heading for a climate disaster.
Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. By Steven Johnson. Riverhead; 326 pages; $26.95. Allen Lane; £20
In a crowded field, Steven Johnson, an American popular-science writer, finds new and original things to say about the nature of innovation, and the different forms it can take.
What Technology Wants. By Kevin Kelly. Viking; 416 pages; $27.95
A book that provides a new understanding of innovation, proving it to be more gradual, serendipitous, inevitable and evolutionary than we have hitherto given it credit for.
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. By Siddhartha Mukherjee.Scribner; 541 pages; $30. Fourth Estate; £25
A young American oncologist analyses cancer’s endless mutability, its ruthless adaptability and the resources being thrown into overpowering it.
Culture, society and travel
Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages. By Guy Deutscher.Metropolitan; 320 pages; $28. To be published in Britain by Arrow in February; £7.99
A sceptical reappraisal of the popular, and often misunderstood, notion that language influences thought, by an Israeli-born linguist who now teaches at the University of Manchester.
Sweetness and Blood: How Surfing Spread from Hawaii and California to the Rest of the World, With Some Unexpected Results. By Michael Scott Moore. Rodale; 336 pages; $25.99
With its risk-taking, expanses of taut flesh and sun-bleached hair, surfing has been the coolest sport for more than half a century. But to be really good at it, you have to be a bit of a nerd. By a Berlin-based journalist and travel writer.
Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theatre. By Larry Stempel. Norton; 826 pages; $39.95. To be published in Britain by Norton in March; £14.99
Cogent and captivating, packed with lore and anecdotes, Larry Stempel’s volume charts the evolution of Broadway’s unique blend of glitz, art and entertainment.
McGilchrist’s Greek Islands. By Nigel McGilchrist. Genius Loci; 20 volumes; £120 for the set or approximately £9.95 per volume
Seven years in the writing, these are delightful, well-observed and literary pocket accompaniments to the Greek islands, by a British scholar. A welcome successor to theBlue Guides, now struggling, but for 92 years the pre-eminent handbooks for the independent traveller.
Freedom. By Jonathan Franzen. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 576 pages; $28. Fourth Estate; £20
Walter and Patty, descendants of the early creators of America, head a nuclear family in turmoil. Tested by miserable in-laws, half-hearted sex, temptation, alcoholism, noisy neighbours and teenage children who are both all-knowing and wilfully blind. They represent all of contemporary middle America—and more. A modern “Paradise Lost”.
To the End of the Land. By David Grossman. Knopf; 592 pages; $26.95. Jonathan Cape; £18.99
Secular, worldly, self-questioning and ironic, Israel’s most contentious writer may have written his most important novel yet, a searing account of a marriage, two sons and a doomed love affair from the six-day war in 1967 to an army operation in the occupied territories in 2003.
Parrot and Olivier in America. By Peter Carey. Knopf; 452 pages; $26.95. Faber and Faber; £18.99
A vivid narrative about Alexis de Tocqueville’s visit to America which brings together a mass of vivid historical detail and some very lively writing, by an Australian-born two-time Man Booker prize-winner.
The Unnamed. By Joshua Ferris. Reagan Arthur; 210 pages; $24.99. Viking; £12.99
An invented incurable disease kills off a marriage, a career, a hero’s self-esteem. An unusual and elegant meditation on the struggle with uncertainty.
Mr Peanut. By Adam Ross. Knopf; 352 pages; $25.95. Jonathan Cape; £16.99
Nutty love. A deliciously clever first novel about marriage and how love’s honey glow dims with time, full of dark insight and even a touch of hope.
The Imperfectionists. By Tom Rachman. Dial Press; 288 pages; $25. Quercus; £16.99
A first novel set in Rome, on a once-mighty American-owned international newspaper, not a million miles from the (Paris-based) International Herald Tribune, where Tom Rachman used to work. An inky-fingered drama about a dying industry that makes for an unusually successful work of fiction.
Selected Stories. By William Trevor. Viking; 576 pages; $35
Far and away the finest living short-story writer working in English. His fascination with, and sympathy for, so-called ordinary people and their small, poignant plights still seems inexhaustible. This is the second volume of William Trevor’s short stories; anyone who has the first will covet the whole set.
Human chain. By Seamus Heaney. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 85 pages; $24. Faber and Faber; £12.99
Now in his eighth decade and recovering from a serious illness, the Nobel laureate focuses, in his new book, on the heightened ritual of everyday things—an old suit, the filling of a pen, the hug that didn’t happen. All of this makes these poems more personal and more precious.
White Egrets: Poems. By Derek Walcott. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 96 pages; $24. Faber and Faber; £12.99
As in “Omeros”, which won Derek Walcott the 1992 Nobel prize for literature and in which local fishermen assumed the identities of heroes from Homer, Mr Walcott raises up the local—the sights and the sounds of his native St Lucia—until they become the stuff of epic. “White Egrets” luxuriates in description and the use of extended metaphor, as Homer did himself. A magnificent late achievement.