What were the best books of 2018? Spear’s asked our contributors, friends and staffers to nominate their standout books of the year – with some unexpected choices
Factfulness by Hans Rosling
Nominated by Jim O’Neill:
‘For anyone that wants to truly – and quickly- understand how the world has changed, a fantastic read.’
Bean Counters by Richard Brooks
Nominated by Rupert Phelps, partner, Smith & Williamson:
‘As a (non accountancy trained) partner in a firm with an accountancy partnership (as well as investment management and strategic advice for business owning families) I was keen to read what I heard was an incisive and challenging book on the world of audit and consultancy. It is searchingly written and pulls no punches in analysing the taxonomy of the Big 4’s business models. It is quite simply a riveting book about accountancy.’
A Certain idea of France: Charles de Gaulle by Julian Jackson
Nominated by Lucia van der Post, Spear’s luxury editor
‘Julian Jackson is a serious historian whose 900-odd page biography gives us a remarkable portrait of the Frenchman who dominated 20th century France. With extraordinary attention to detail he portrays the man in all his complexity – arrogant, proud, prone to outbursts of fury, sentimental at times, often charmless he was a supreme politician, sensing when idealism had to give way to pragmatism. It requires stamina to stay the 900 page course but it is worth it – it is a powerful portrait of one of the towering figures of the last century, the man a recent opinion poll tells the French most admire, and through the telling of his life story we learn much about the making of modern France.’
Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson
Nominated by James Quarmby, partner at Stephenson Harwood
‘An intriguing and exciting book set in the near future, just after the end of Hong Kong’s ‘special administrative’ period, a resurgent China is the dominant global power, making its influence felt across the globe and onto the moon, which is has partly colonised. The murder or a Party official on the lunar colony leads to a power play in Beijing, a popular uprising and a dangerous confrontation with the USA. This is gripping stuff and all too credible.
First, Catch, Study of a Spring Meal by Thom Eagle
Nominated by William Sitwell, food and wine editor of Spear’s
‘To me this was just a wonderful taste of fresh air. It is food writing that is allowed to breath, liberally. In an age where grammatically incorrect tweets and the posting of images is considered the worthy act of a sentient being First, Catch is almost revolutionary. So I applaud Thom’s wise and noble publisher. Of course not everyone should be allowed to let their stream of consciousness run riot across 226 pages, but Thom has a wonderful mind. This books contains his meandering thoughts as he cooks a single spring meal. There are recipes within the writing but this is the perfect antidote to a five minute meal cookbook. Thom doesn’t just say ‘boil a pan of water’, he spends a few thousand words exploring this magical element, a deeper musing on water itself and how you can actually burn the stuff. His words are delicious, musical heaven.
Adam Smith: What He Thought and Why It Matters by Jesse Norman
Nominated by Alec Marsh, editor of Spear’s
‘Jesse Norman’s thoroughly absorbing journey into of the works and life of Adam Smith should be on the compulsory reading list of every Member of Parliament and peer of the realm – and journalists too. It’s an important book about an important topic: and helps to explain what’s going wrong with our market economy.’
Unsheltered By Barbara Kingsolver
Nominated by Emelia Hamilton-Russell, Spear’s writer
‘Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered is a rangy home-epic that fans of Donna Tart – or George Eliot for that matter – will love. It’s plotted around two New Jersey families, one living in 2016 one in 1971, linked by the same collapsing house. With Trump-era politics, Darwinian science verses religion, botany, poverty, grief, history and power woven into the dialogue; Kingsolver’s latest novel asks what is means to be ‘at home’ in a world that feels unsafe.’
William Simmonds by Jessica Douglas-Home
Nominated by Clive Aslet, editor at large of Country Life and Spear’s contributor
‘At this moment I am immensely enjoying Jessica Douglas-Home’s biography of William Simmonds. I am embarrassed to admit that I’d never heard of Simmonds before, and yet he was something of a star of the Arts and Crafts movement — making puppets. Although a shy and modest man, he had many contacts and kept a detailed diary; so, for example, the account of his time as an assistant in the Cotswolds studio of Edwin Abbey,
the American painter who was responsible for the epic cycle of murals in the Pennsylvania State Capitol and went mad under the pressure of his numerous unfinished commissions, is intensely fascinating.’
Ultimate Questions by Bryan Magee
Nominated by Jason Cowley, editor of New Statesman and Spear’s contributor
‘Unsurpassed in the post-war period in Britain as a populariser of philosophy, Bryan Magee is now 88 and lives in one room in a nursing hospital in Oxford. Ultimate Questions (Princeton) is his final statement on philosophy. It grapples with the most fundamental questions of all: what does it mean to be human? What are the limits of our knowledge? Magee, an agnostic, is tormented by the “terminable inexplicability” of existence. “What I feel about this is a double sense of wonder that the inexplicable is actual,” he writes in this short, haunting and rather beautiful book.’
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Mark Stephens, partner at Howard Kennedy
‘I rang Alexandra Pringle CEO at Bloomsbury Publishing for a recommendation for a book to take on holiday. She said, without hesitating, Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire which is a wonderful contemporary novel and very accessible, reimagining Sophocles’s Antigone. I was captivated emotionally and literally from the first to the last tearful pages. Quite rightly it won the Women’s Prize for Fiction and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017. It’s a brilliant gift for yourself or someone else. Transport yourself from partition India to the present day.’
Exactly by Simon Winchester Nominated by Nick Hornby, partner and co-founder of Cerno Capital
’A terrific compendium of stories of investors and inventions spanning 300 years. Technology is everywhere and its roots go back a long way.’
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Nominated by Nataša Williams, partner at LGT Vestra
‘A deep dive into human nature through evolution. In a turbulent year, the book provided numerous intriguing insights into why our species is thriving.’
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Nominated by David Dawkins, Spear’s senior researcher
‘Typically I hate stuff about emotions. Especially love. But this simple journey through a complex relationship got hold of me. My edge, am I losing it? Very likely.’
At the Dark Hour by John Wilson
Nominated by Lucy Stone Q.C., barrister at QEB
‘Beautifully observed and written – echoes of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair but in a voice which John Wilson has made all his own. Set in legal London, in the Temple, during the Blitz of 1941. This book transported me from a part of London which I know so well to an earlier era drawn in intricate and loving detail. A book about love and loss, and the complexity of the human heart; characters and legal dramas so real that they leapt off the page. A must read.’
‘Peake’s collection of poetry – his third – is a magnificent meditation on grief and its aftermath, all taking place within a climate change-conscious world where, as one poem says, ‘a threat to our way of life, is a threat to our life. Meanwhile Sabbagh is a short story writer with unique resources of philosophical reflection and linguistic verve: he’s also a widely academic and poet. These stories are all mediated by a unique sense of place: Beirut is to Sabbagh what Istanbul is to Pamuk – a place which lies so deep in the soul, it is impossible to divorce from the tribulations of the self.’
On the Future: Prospects for Humanity by Martin Rees
Nominated by Rasika Sittamparam, Spear’s senior researcher
In this succinct book Astronomer Royal Martin Rees illustrates a sci-fi style future for humans, constructed using facts, philosophy and the economics of Earth’s growing population. His assessment of current technologies is largely optimistic, predicting that post-human evolution may occur not on Earth, but Mars: a wealthy few might download their brains into machines and turn into cyborg entities exploring the cosmos.
But what’s most arresting is the way he outlines his worries for the rest of mankind on earth, using the words of a concerned, aging citizen of the planet instead of an all-knowing scientific genius. Despite its seriousness, Rees effortlessly injects humour into the pages, making this an all-round entertaining read. A must for those curious about the future and concerned about the present.
The Country House, Past, Present and Future by Jeremy Musson and David Cannadine, Skymeadow by Charlie Hart, Awful Beauty: Confessions of a Coward by Andrei Navrozov Nominated by William Cash, Spear’s founder and editor-at-large
‘My favourite coffee table book is The Country House, Past, Present and Future by Jeremy Musson and David Cannadine which is both scholarly and beautiful. Best memoir is Skymeadow by Charlie Hart, about how he creates a seven acre garden in Essex to deal with the grief of losing his father. My holiday reading novel is Awful Beauty: Confessions of a Coward by Andrei Navrozov, a former Spears columnist.’
Iran Modern: Empress of Art by Viola Raikhel-Bolot and Miranda Darling
Nominated by Isabelle de la Bruyere, Head of Client Advisory and Senior Director, Chairman’s Office, Europe, Middle East, Russia & India at Christie’s
‘The book I was most impressed with this year is undoubtedly Iran Modern: The Empress of Art, which pays tribute to HIH Empress Farah Pahlavi’s cultural vision for her country and the making of one of the greatest museum collections of 19th and 20th Art.
‘Little known to the public, the art collection housed in today’s Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art has been enigmatic since the Revolution of 1979, and this luxurious coffee table book illustrates many hidden works by Van Gogh, Picasso, Van Dongen, Max Ernst, Rothko, Pollock, Dali, Warhol, Judd amongst so many other great artists.
‘With a foreword by Farah Pahlavi herself, it recounts her story, and that of these incredible artworks, until the 1979 Revolution forced the imperial family to exile and left the collection hidden away in vaults for decades to come.
‘It is an incredibly lavish book, which might take half of your coffee table space, and build up your muscles with its 9kgs weight, but an absolutely fascinating read for anyone interested in art, culture, and history. We hosted the Launch of the book at Christie’s Paris recently, and Empress Farah made a sentimental and beautiful speech that left everyone in the room moved with emotion. This book will do the same to its reader.’