Christmas is the book buying season with shelves full of celebrity cookbooks, autobiographies, star novelists and so on. They’re all sold at premium prices. Meanwhile there are millions of books which are superb and can be bought for a fraction of the price. The downside is that if you offer them as a present you look mean and despicable. Who am I to comment?
The following are not in order of genius but they are carefully curated just for you. And you can rest assured that they are readable, fun and you’ll enjoy them.
Tony Adams and Ian Ridley ~ Addicted (1998)
Tony was captain of Arsenal and England but this is much more than a sporting autobiography. He was an outstanding footballer and a hopeless alcoholic. He went on long binges and eventually was jailed for drink driving. His story is unflinching.
Mario Puzo ~ The Godfather (1969) (also a film)
In my view this is the finest crime novel I’ve ever read. It has a beautiful narrative arc and remains plausible throughout. The reason some novels become classics is because they are superb. This is one of them and deserves to be read.
Misha Glenny ~ McMafia: Seriously organised crime (2008) (also a TV series)
This book began an entirely new genre. For the first time investigative journalism impacted the consciousness of the whole world. Misha exposed systematic corruption at every level of society. So much so that entire countries can be regarded as criminal: including Britain. A terrific read.
Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner ~ Freakonomics (2005)
Levitt is an economist at Chicago University and Dubner is a journalist. Together they’ve an exceptional chemistry. Like Glenny they created a genre in economics. Economics became FUN! They produced insights revealing the workings of society and personal choice.
Ian Kershaw ~ Fateful Choices: Ten decisions that changed the world, 1940-41 (2008)
Many people still believe that there are inevitable events in history but Kershaw chooses ten very contentious decisions that literally shaped the modern world to show this isn’t so. He starts with May 1940 when Britain fought alone after Europe’s stunning collapse. The book ends with two decisions in December 1941. The first saw Germany declare war on the USA and secondly, commit to genocide as policy. Ten long chapters and top class historical writing.
P G Wodehouse ~ Life at Blandings (trilogy: Something Fresh, Summer Lightning, Heavy Weather) (1981) (numerous TV series)
Apart from unpleasantness occurring when he didn’t notice that Nazis weren’t jolly good chaps, Wodehouse is a comic genius. His career ended in the USA as he feared arrest in Britain. His stories are stupid but they’re written so brilliantly it doesn’t matter. Park your brains in a locker and enjoy.
Carl Hiaasen ~ Omnibus (trilogy: Tourist Season, Double Whammy, Skin Tight) (1994)
Hiaasen lives in Florida. He writes crime and environmental stories which are brilliant. There’s a galaxy of grotesquely plausible characters. Everything in Florida is exaggerated and, by our standards, exotic. Total joy.
Aldous Huxley ~ Brave New World (1932)
The grandfather of dystopia. This book still informs and resonates in our opiate fuelled world today. Viciously organised social hierarchies defended by drugs and genetic programmes are laid bare. Brilliantly written and thought provoking.
Patricia Highsmith ~ The Talented Mr Ripley (1955) (also film)
The psychological thriller was turbo-charged by Highsmith with her Ripley series. Utterly chilling, without gratuitous violence but the violence that is there is all the worse for that: it’s controlled and calculated. Great writing depends on characters which are plausible and Ripley is very much so.
Laurent Binet (translator: Sam Taylor) ~ HHhH (2013)
HHhH = ‘Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich’ in German. Heydrich was the hangman of Prague and an evil genius. He was assassinated in 1942. This was planned by Czech resistance fighters and facilitated by the British. A fact based novel which is tremendous.