It’s that time of year again: sun, sand, sea… and softcovers! Here are the top seven books I read this year, and a list of what I hope to read this summer.
Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan
A beautiful and brilliant book about Wash, an early nineteenth-century Caribbean boy who escapes the brutal life of a slave (by building an air balloon), and then journeys the world from the Arctic to London to Morocco on a (surprising) scientific quest.
Silence of the Grave, by Arnaldur Indriðason
Whenever I visit a new country, I try to read at least one local crime novel. On a 12 day visit to Iceland in August, I read through four of Indriðason’s superb crime novels. Silence of the Grave is his most celebrated, and my favourite.
The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu, by Charlie English
The past and the present of West Africa are interwoven in the stories of twenty-first century book smugglers and eighteenth-century European discoverers.
Fishing: How the Sea Fed Civilization, by Brian Fagan
It was not only the domestication of grains that allowed us to conquer the globe. Fishing fed human settlement, rising social complexity, the development of cities, and ultimately the modern world. To be enjoyed with fish and chips…
Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage, by Stephanie Coontz
Already published in 2006, this accessible history of marriage is both remarkable in its breadth and invaluable as a conversation starter. You may have married for love, but it is highly likely that your grandparents (and certainly their grandparents) did not.
Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society, by Eric Posner and Glen Weyl
An engaging and provocative view on how markets can reshape society. Particularly relevant for South Africa.
The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century, by Walter Scheidel
Inequality is deepening, and people everywhere are demanding policies that purport to reduce it. Don’t be overly optimistic about these attempts, says Scheidel. A sober view on a topic that will be with us for a long time to come.
On my (non-fiction) reading list this summer:
Sol Plaatje, by Brian Willan
Europe in Flames: The Crisis of the Thirty Years War, by John Matusiak
Go Tell the Crocodiles: Chasing Prosperity in Mozambique, by Rowan Moore Gerety
Capitalism in America: A History, by Alan Greenspan, Adrian Wooldridge
Nabokov’s Favourite Word Is Mauve: The literary quirks and oddities of our most-loved authors, by Ben Blatt
Identity: Contemporary Identity Politics and the Struggle for Recognition, by Francis Fukuyama
Unai Emery: El Maestro: The Authorised Biography, by Romain Molina