Books of the Year 2014

Reviewers and Writers choose their favourite books from the past 12 months, London Evening Standard, 20th November 2014

Sarah Sands (journalist with Evening, Daily Telegraph and 2005 editor of Sunday Telegraph)

‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ by Richard Flanagan (Chatto, £16.99)  an account of Japanese PoW camp on the Burma Death Railway; breathtakingly  good writing.

Simon Sebag Montefiore (author of bestselling book Jerusalem, Young Stalin, and Catherine the Great)

Andrew Robert’s Napleon the great (Allen Lane, £30) is truly a Napoleonic triumph of a book, elegantly written, epic in scale, novelistic in detail, irresistibly galloping with the momentum of a cavalry charge, as comfortable on the battlefield as in the bedroom.   Here, at last is a full biography.

Ramita Navai’s  City of Lies (Weidenfield, £18.99) is gripping, a dark delicious unveiling of the secret decadent life of Islamic Tehran, deeply researched yet exciting as a novel.

Charles King’s ‘Midnight of the Pera Palace’ (Notrton, £11,99) – brilliant, entertaining authoritative – recounts the twilight of late Ottoman Istanbul.

Ali Allawi’s Faisal 1 of Iraq (Yale, £30) is excellent and indisputable, effectively a history of the making of today’s Middle East.

Juliet Nicolson (author of Perfect Summer, England 1911)

Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (Virago, £20) is an uninterruptable joy of a novel,  Set in a genteel London guest house during emotionally and financially precarious post-First World War Britain, the story is about money, class, men, women, tenderness, passion, brutality, loyalty, brilliantly integral historical detail and masses of unabashed sex: it’s Sarah Waters at her tip top best.

Robert Fox (defence correspondence of the Evening Standar)

The best reporting of Afghanistan for many a year is Carlotta  Gall’s The Wrong Enemy (Houghton Miffllink, $28) fearless investigation leads to the big question about how much Pakistan and its intelligence service is behind the Taliban and who was babysitting Osama Bin Laden in his hideaway in the military garrison of Abbottabad.

Jonathan Shaw’s Britain in a Dangerous World (Haus Curiosities, £7,99) is a firecracker on what is wrong in government and management across the public sector today.  A common sense of urgency, culture and objectives has led to unexpected success in counter-terrorism, says the former SAS chief.  But tribal rivalries between ministries and the short-term quotidian ambitions of politics and politicians have brought inertia to Britain’s government.  A must read for anyone interested in the failings of Whitehall villages.

Emily Maitlis (BBC TV presenter, and BBC News night political editor)

Deliciously dark, transgressive and surprising, Sedition by Katherine Grant (Virago, £14.99) is a novel about potency and power, class and money, music and sex and the delicate relationship between fathers and daughters.  It tells the story of six 18th-century heroines, a music master and what goes on.

Claire Harman (is a writer and critic, author of three major literary biographies.)

William Atkins’s The Moore: Lives, Landscapes, Literature (Faber, £18,99) for its facts, its fancies and its booty peats.  It’s a quirky and appropriately rambling pilgrimage through the history and biography of England’s wilderness – a fabulous read.

Melaine McDonagh (leader writer for Evening Standard and Spectator)

Terry Eagleton’s Culture and the Death of God (Yale, £18.99) is a cracker; he is probably the only academic who could rattle through 300 years of intellectual history to show how one movement after another has tried to discard God and failed, and make it funny.  The book concludes with the two modern takes on the God question: Islamic fundamentalism and the secular vacuities of postmodernism. Poor God

Richard Godwin (novelist, play-write and black satirist)

Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs to Someone Else (Verso, £12.99) James Meek’s dispatch from the great British fire sale, is an admirable and alarming piece of reporting that leaves you feeling like a vulnerable national asset yourself.

Michael Rodger (Australian cyclist, road bicycle racer)

In The Smile Revolution in 18th century Paris (OUP, £22.99) Colin Jones takes something recondite – changing perceptions of the smile in a time of profound change – and fashions from it a fascinating history that weaves together art and dentistry, literature and the guillotine.