The Best Books to Look Out for in September 2018
Autumn. The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, of flame-coloured leaves, apple harvests, wellington boots, things inexplicably flavoured with pumpkin and - best of all - a glorious crop of freshly-pressed new reading. September is when the year’s biggest books start to arrive on our shelves, and to celebrate we’ve the first of our bumper autumn round-ups, packed with the season’s finest.
History, Politics & Science
We begin with a book that’s making waves around the world. Since his co-authored Pulitzer-winning All the President’s Men chronicled the Watergate scandal that toppled Nixon’s presidency, Bob Woodward’s name has become synonymous with indisputable integrity and probity. As he unleashes Fear into the world - taking aim at Trump's embattled presidency - interested parties across the political divide will be watching the fallout. Nixon famously said ‘the Press is the enemy’ but, as Alan Rusbridger’s insightful new book Breaking News examines, it’s now a force under fire like never before. Drawing on his twenty years of experience as editor of the Guardian, this is a book that considers journalism’s past, present and its threatened future, arguing that in a post-truth age, good journalism is more necessary than ever. Nixon’s legacy also looms large in Max Hasting’s exhaustive new history of the Vietnam War. As in his Second World War opus All Hell Let Loose, Vietnam brings the real voices of the war to the fore, presenting a bold and revisionist narrative of a costly campaign with valuable lessons for twenty-first century conflict.
From Vietnam we move to the Cold War and Ben Macintyre’s The Spy and the Traitor, a book described by John le Carré as ‘the best true spy story I have ever read’. Like Macintyre’s bestselling books Operation Mincemeat and Agent ZigZag, it has all the compulsive, page-turning quality of the finest spy-fiction, blended with meticulous research. A spymaster, fixer, politician and monarchic agent, Thomas Cromwell remains not only one of history’s most famous figures but also one of its most enigmatic. Providing the most comprehensive biography of Cromwell to date, Diarmaid MacCullough’s immersive Thomas Cromwell: A Life demystifies a man who stood at the very centre of sixteenth-century British power. If history has traditionally been dominated by the lives of great men, Jenni Murray’s latest collection aims to redress the balance with A History of the World in 21 Women. Like last year’s bestselling A History of Britain in 21 Women, this new collection is a personal selection that celebrates famous names like Marie Curie and Frida Kahlo alongside some less well-recognised figures, each of whom played a crucial role in shaping the world.
From the figures who made history, to the icons that changed it. Following on from the celebrated British Museum exhibition and the popular BBC Radio 4 series, Living with the Gods is an unprecedented overview of peoples, objects and beliefs over 40,000 years of world history. Offering fascinating details that lend new perspective on how faith has changed humankind, it’s an unmissable macro-history. The connection between people and objects is also at the heart of Erebus, Michael Palin’s evocative new account of the epic voyages of discovery of the early nineteenth-century, told through the history of one of the greatest sailing vessels of all time. Told with the combined insight of a born storyteller and a keen explorer, it’s a book that brings history to life. It’s also a volume that’s nicely matched with Neil Oliver’s brilliant new title The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places. Oliver is a master of grounding history in its physical space (and this book is no exception), but it is at its finest when it reminds us of how recently our country resolved into relative peace, and how much of our past has left its mark on our present.
In popular science, the two authors behind Radio 4’s popular series The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry offer their own takes on what it means to be human. Packed with weird and wonderful facts and featuring illustrations by Alice Roberts, Adam Rutherford’s The Book of Humans takes an axe to the comforting assumptions of human primacy. By looking at how human behaviours compare with those of other species, he reveals that characteristics we assume to be uniquely human are, in fact, nothing of the kind. Already proving popular with Waterstones readers, Hannah Fry’s Hello World takes a leap forward in human behaviour, looking at how are lives are affected by algorithms. Readable, humorous and full of fascinating examples, it’s a book that brings home the way our everyday lives are reliant on technology and mathematics.
Art, Nature and Travel
In an age increasingly dominated by technology, it’s easy to overlook the impact and importance of art in our everyday lives. In response, writer Neil Gaiman and artist, writer and former Waterstones Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell have teamed up to produce Art Matters. A pocket-sized manifesto for the value of the arts in shaping hearts and minds and changing the world, it makes for defiant, rousing and hopeful reading.
There’s certainly artistic inspiration to be found in Robin A. Crawford’s beautifully written new book Into the Peatlands: A Journey through the Moorland Year. Told with a keen eye for what makes this landscape so unique - and its continuing importance in sustaining a community - it’s a book that rings with the author’s love for the Outer Hebrides; its wildlife, its folklore and its people. Meanwhile, we defy any reader not to fall a little bit in love with Sally Coulthard’s The Hedgehog Handbook. Packed with facts, quotes and trivia and woven through with stories, verse and folk tales inspired by this shy little prickler, it’s a love-letter to one of Britain’s best-loved creatures.
An award-winning historian and travel writer, with more than 40 books under her belt, Jan Morris had never written a diary until - at the age of 91 - she decided to start. In My Mind’s Eye is the superlative result. Like Diana Athill’s Somewhere Towards the End, there are meditations on the close of life here, but Morris is mercurial. Her ability to dart between subjects and themes in this book provides ample food for thought on subjects as diverse as nationalism and her hatred of zoos. As the Evening Standard comments it is ‘a thing of wonder: a diary of daily musings with zero pretension. It is light yet profound, ecstatic yet melancholy, ethereal yet droll.’ It is a must.
Elsewhere there’s fresh light cast upon the much-mythologised life of the poet Sylvia Plath, as the anticipated second volume of her letters finally appears in print. Covering the years from 1956 to her death in 1963, Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume II illuminates some of the most creatively fertile and privately harrowing years of Plath’s life, including the composition and publication of The Bell Jar and her separation from her husband, the poet Ted Hughes.
Following 2017’s Adventures of a Young Naturalist, David Attenborough’s latest volume of autobiography, Journeys to the Other Side of the World, chronicles his journeys from Madagascar and New Guinea to the Pacific Islands and the Northern Territory of Australia in the 1950’s. Told with warmth, wit and tremendous insight, it’s a chance to see the world through Attenborough’s eyes.
Lifestyle and Culture
Thankfully for anyone feeling blue as the nights draw in, September has plenty of books to make readers crack a smile. Peter Crouch has earned a reputation as the undisputed funnyman of football and it’s a reputation borne out by How to Be a Footballer, a laugh-aloud, irreverent and unmissable guide to life in the beautiful game. Meanwhile, hit podcast presenter Deborah Frances-White brings all the panache and snort-inducing humour of The Guilty Feminist to print with her trademark deadpan views on the trials and tribulations of being a twenty-first century woman.
Ease is the name of the game in cookery, as we present two different takes on simple suppers. First-up, the man behind the Lean in 15 fitness sensation, Joe Wicks, returns with Joe’s 30-Minute Meals, serving 100 quick, nutritious dishes for every day. Then celebrated chef Yotam Ottolenghi gives his take on what makes cooking SIMPLE. There’s no compromise on flavour or invention here, but each of these 140 new recipes have been designed to make cooking at home stress-free and time-effective, and the result is his most accessible cookbook to date.
Crime & Thrillers
Readers left on tenterhooks by the finale of Career of Evil will welcome the arrival of the fourth instalment of Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series, Lethal White. Moving from a secret cabal at the heart of Westminster to the depths of the countryside, it’s a mystery that pushes Strike and Ellacott’s working and private relationship to its limit. And there are more welcome series returns too. Ann Cleeves delivers a blistering parting short in her Shetland series finale, Wild Fire, whilst Andrea Camilleri’s short story collection, Death at Sea, brings together previously unpublished tales that have inspired the hit television series, Inspector Montalbano.
Meanwhile, an old hand gets a new case as Lawrence Osborne wheels Raymond Chandler’s wise-cracking gumshoe Philip Marlowe out of retirement for one last twilight adventure in Only to Sleep. The Times’ Andrew Holgate is persuaded. ‘A convincing Marlowe and a seedily satisfying thriller’, he concludes. ‘I wouldn’t say no to a return.’ It’s a far cry from the table-turning plot of Frederick Forsyth’s new book, The Fox. Imagining what might happen if the power to unseat governments and unleash power lay in the hands of a seventeen-year old boy; it’s a book that proves why Forsyth is still one of the best thriller writers in the game. From a fox to The Piranhas, the latest novel from Gomorrah’s author Roberto Saviano. Delving into the heart of Naples’ gangland culture, The Piranhas is a novel that offers both light and heat, as one gang leader watches as the power he wields spirals dangerously out of control.
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The threads of love and time run through the autumn’s fiction line-up. Fast becoming the most talked-about novel of 2018 - and this year’s Man Booker Prize hottest tip - Sally Rooney’s very modern, will-they-won’t-they coming-of-age romance Normal People delivers everything her debut Conversations with Friends surely promised. The Express is unequivocal: ‘Rooney… has undoubtedly delivered one of the best novels of the year’.
Paris proves an irresistible draw for both Sebastian Faulks and William Boyd as they find stories in the city’s tumultuous past. Echoing the masterpiece wartime sequence he began with Birdsong, Paris Echo returns Faulks returns to his heartland, offering a very different view of Paris from the picture-postcard idyll. Playfully interjecting snippets of the past and strains of Victor Hugo’s epic Les Misérables, it’s a moving, subtle novel about how - as individuals and societies - we learn to make sense of our history.
In Boyd’s Love is Blind, Paris of La Belle Époque provides the starting point for a story of passion and revenge that’s on a par with his tour-de-force novel Any Human Heart. As the Guardian says, it’s ‘hugely readable, entirely engaging and frequently funny… Boyd is back on a form few of his contemporaries can match.’ The Guardian also comes out in favour of Kate Atkinson’s inventive and thought-provoking new novel Transcription; a spy novel that gives way to a slippery story about the nature of truth and lies. ‘An unapologetic novel of ideas, which is also wise, funny and paced like a spy thriller’, writes the paper’s Stephanie Merritt. ‘It asks us to consider again our recent history and the price of our individual and collective choices. It could hardly be more timely.’
From the past’s echoes, to its lingering ghosts; in particular the presence of an Iron Age bog-girl whose discovery haunts the pages of Sarah Moss’s impressive - and impressively concise - novel Ghost Wall. Following a teenage girl, her mother and her abusive and controlling father on an experimental archaeology trip in the wilds of Northumberland, it’s a novel laced with tension and simmering violence that remains long in the imagination. As the Scotsman says, it’s a novel that delivers ‘a subtle and highly effective mixture of precision and ambiguity’.
Next we’ve two eagerly-anticipated series novels that blend historical fiction with something more supernatural. Carlos Ruiz Zafón first introduced the twisting mystery of his Cemetery of Lost Books series in his global bestseller The Shadow of the Wind. Now, eighteen years on, he returns to bring the final chapter to a close in The Labyrinth of the Spirits. A Chinese-box narrative of stories within stories, it’s a fittingly extraordinary end to an enviously ambitious project. Meanwhile Deborah Harkness returns readers to the much-loved world of her bestselling All Souls series for a brand new story of vampires, witches and daemons, Time's Convert. Coinciding with the debut of the new Sky adaptation of her first novel, A Discovery of Witches, it deserves to earn her a new raft of addicted readers.
There’s more time-slip mystery to discover too in Kate Morton’s sixth novel, The Clockmaker’s Daughter, set in the beguiling riverside manor of Birchwood. Intertwining two stories, separated by 150 years and connected by art, love and loss, it’s a novel to lose yourself in. If Birchwood is a place to give yourself over to dreams, then Oakgate Prison - the stage for Laura Purcell’s latest novel The Corset - is the home of those lost to nightmares. Like her addictively brilliant debut, The Silent Companions, The Corset is a deliciously chill-inducing slice of gothic that asks a reader to tread a line between delirium and devilry.
We end our September selection with a story that’s unlike any other. Four years into the Syrian conflict, a photograph of a 3-year-old boy lying dead on a Turkish beach brought the world to a standstill. It became the defining image of the conflict. The boy’s name was Alan Kurdi. Now Alan Kurdi’s life is celebrated and remembered in Sea Prayer, a new book by the celebrated Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini, with superb illustrations by Dan Williams. Written as a letter from a father to his sleeping son, on the eve of a perilous sea journey into the unknown, Sea Prayer is a hymn to a destroyed country and a life left behind. All the author’s proceeds from Sea Prayer will go to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Khaled Hosseini Foundation to help fund life-saving relief efforts to help refugees around the world.
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