Edmund de Waal’s moving exhibition The Library of Exile at the British Museum has reminded me of his magnificent book The Hare With the Amber Eyes which has stayed with me ever since I read it in 2011. If you haven’t read it yet, now would be a perfect time. It’s a memoir of de Waal’s family, the Ephrussis, Jewish bankers, grain traders and intellectuals. Pillars of early 20th century Viennese society and possessors of unimaginable wealth; grand palaces in Vienna, pink chateaus on the Cote d’Azure and priceless art collections. Then came Hitler. The Hare With the Amber Eyes is an absorbing book, not only in learning about the tragic destiny of the Ephrussis but also to understand central Europe in the run up to the Second World War. An absolute must-read.
The Five – The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold won the Baille-Gifford prize for non-fiction in November. And what an incredible book this is, despite its miserable subject matter. Thankfully, there’s no revelling in the gruesome murders at all, in fact, this book is all about humanising the victims who’ve been so despicably treated by history. I was glued to the page from the start, impressed by the incredible research Rubenhold has undertaken and moved by the terrible plight of poor women in Victorian times. Highly recommended.
Yes, it is as bad as it sounds. And yet, despite the depressing title, The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells lifted me out of my climate apathy and into hopefulness. After years of trying my best to escape the anxiety of looming climate change and focus on solving the worries inherent in career and personal development, I could not put this book down, so convinced was I by its insistence on action and the hope that awaits if we do act. David Wallace-Wells, the deputy editor at New York Magazine, delivers an incredibly well-researched and well-written analysis of the effects of climate change.
A collection of twenty-six essays like nothing you’ve ever seen before, Things that Are by Amy Leach manages to bring together seemingly opposed ways of approaching the natural world in a brilliant, moving, and hilarious victory. For the scientific and literary alike, for the philosopher and the poet in your life—or in your soul—this collection is a must-read.
Few things could hold me off from starting Margaret Atwood’s latest book, but The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig actually has. Zweig, an Austrian Jew whose wonderful novellas (The Royal Game, Amok, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Twenty-four Hours in the Life of a Woman) many of you will know, was the world’s most popular author in the 1920s and 30s, until Hitler banned his books. The World of Yesterday is his autobiography, finished two days before his and his second wife’s joint suicide. It’s a lament for a lost world, a love letter to creativity and artists and an eloquent analysis of events that led up to both the first and the second world wars. The parallels with aspects of our own turbulent times are hard to ignore. Highly recommended.
Then, reading Client Earth by James Thornton and Martin Goodman might bring back a spring in your step. ClientEarth is a charitable law firm representing the interest of Earth and is made up by a group of clever lawyers who find creative ways of using the law to force governments and companies to abide by environmental legislation. Legislation is one thing, ClientEarth’s founder James Thornton reminds us, enforcement something else entirely. And you thought you didn’t like lawyers? Think again.
It feels timely for Norwegian historian and biographer Ivo de Figueiredo’s postcolonial family chronicle to be published in English on the eve of Brexit. A Stranger at My Table by Ivo de Figueiredo is the author’s autobiographical account of a family history that spans two centuries and four continents, and the result is an ambitious amalgam; an exploration of a family ‘caught in the half-life of empires’, as well as a personal memoir detailing de Figueiredo’s turbulent relationship with his father Xavier.
Devouring Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, this summer’s most talked about book, has left a bad taste in my mouth. For eight years Taddeo followed the relationships of three American women – Maggie, Lina and Sloane – with the goal of uncovering ‘vital truths about women and desire’. Taddeo’s initial plan was to study a larger group of women but finding volunteers (the level of intimate details in this book would make the bravest of women shy away) proved tricky. That’s a shame as these three stories, captivating as they are (Taddeo is a superb storyteller), surely represent only a small sub-section of female sexual experience. So that begs the question: what is the point of this book?
At the age of 54, author Dani Shapiro discovers that her father is not the man who raised her. The Ancestry.com genealogy test results show that not only is she fathered by someone else, but she also has a lot less Jewish DNA than she thought. Having been raised in an orthodox Jewish family, this raises all kinds of questions about identity and belonging. I was enthralled by Shapiro’s detective work as I joined her emotional rollercoaster to find out why, how and who. Inheritance by Dani Shapiro is a human story which raises some compelling ethical dilemmas and is well worth your time.
I was in awe of Let It Go by Dame Stephanie Shirley, the memoirs of one of Britain’s most successful (and possibly most unknown?) female software company entrepreneurs. I certainly hadn’t heard of this amazing woman before and I’m willing to bet that many of you haven’t either. This inspiring book is the story of her journey from 5-year-old Kindertransport child in 1939 to one of Britain’s wealthiest women and most generous philanthropists.