Our annual list of holiday gift suggestions from distinguished readers and writers.
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Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life. The narration is excellent (including a section read by Richards himself), but the book’s the thing. Not a ghost-written confection, Life conveys a three-dimensional portrait of what it’s like to be the archetypal rock star.
Charles Murray is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute whose latest book is Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 (Crown Forum).
When promoting a book, we authors used to say that our work was ‘available in all good bookshops.’ But soon the bookshops became crummy and now most of them have closed. Nevertheless, those bookshops—largely private—that remain are often excellent and should be cherished. They remain among the only places left that truly serve literature, offer new discoveries, and provide author and publisher with a fair profit-margin.
A good bookshop helps you to reach backward and not just chase some wretched zeitgeist. Countless people sweat through the latest heavy-yet-thin ‘must-read’ without ever having read Dickens. When I am given a new book I usually read an old one, so perhaps I am a poor person to suggest new books of the year. My favourite read this last year was the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. I much recommend it. A sustaining shot of stoicism is exactly what we need in these silly times.
There have been some good books about politics, but I must have missed any particularly good examples of that most flatulent genre, the political memoir, this year. Daniel Hannan’s admirable, and admirably short, A Doomed Marriage: Britain and Europe was bracing but perhaps only of local interest. Other books, including Nick Cohen’s You Can’t Read This Book, Geert Wilders’ Marked for Death and Tom Holland’s In the Shadow of the Sword should certainly satisfy anyone’s epochal concerns, even when you find cause for disagreement.
Salman Rushdie’s memoir, Joseph Anton was—not unusually for the author—on the long side. But it was also more rewarding than any other long book I read this year. Since we appear fated to replay this freedom of expression vs. groundhog jihad for years to come, it could prove vital. Before the YouTube film, the cartoons, the teddy-bear, and much else, the Rushdie affair was the test of how much our societies actually believed in freedom of expression. It is well to recall those who passed that test as well as those who failed it. Rushdie explains, and settles, his accounts with admirable, and enjoyable, thoroughness.
Among pleasanter books, Roger Scruton’s Our Church is not only as superbly knowledgeable and beautifully written as readers would expect, but also deeply moving. If an upsurge in conversions to Common Prayer Anglicanism is ever possible it would be on account of this book.
The monumental work on Benjamin Britten’s Letters has reached its sixth and final volume in time for the composer’s 2013 centenary. What politics Britten held may not be up this magazine’s—nor my—street. But this, and the often absurdly extensive footnotes, aside, it is worth reading for better acquaintance with an artistic genius of the first rank.
The year 2012 saw the death of one of our best historians. If readers have encountered nothing by Gitta Sereny, it would be the finest tribute to her, and to history, to take the opportunity to read Into That Darkness. It is the best book I know on history’s darkest moment.
Among humorous books, no book I read this year—including James Thurber for the first time—made me laugh as much as Poetry of the Taliban. I understand the editors of this volume hoped that these poems would reveal the real and surprising souls behind the Taliban. Personally I found the volume to contain exactly the poetry I would expect from a bunch of homicidal, homo-erotically confused, not-quite-medieval-yet maniacs.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a Christmas book selection without selecting something completely un-Christmassy and self-regarding. Happily, my latest book, Bloody Sunday, has been praised across the political spectrum for being not only truthful and devastating, but a page-turner to boot. Of course it should be bought by everybody, but even I would not recommend starting it until Boxing Day.
Douglas Murray is an author, contributing editor at the Spectator UK and associate director of the Henry Jackson Society
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?