Best summer books of 2022: Critics’ picks

Roula Khalaf

FT editor

Fiona Hill’s There Is Nothing For You Here is a fascinating study in overcoming class and gender bias as well as a thoughtful reflection on our troubled times. Best known for her testimony in the 2019 Trump impeachment hearings, the British-American Hill is a coal miner’s daughter who became a leading expert on Russia and made it all the way to special adviser at the White House. Weaving the personal and the professional, she delivers an engrossing book on populism, from Brexit to Donald Trump, and how Putin has exploited it. Some readers may find Hill’s central argument – a warning that Russia is a harbinger of what a divided, polarized America could become – alarmist, but it will not diminish from the value of the book or the pleasure of the read. One work of fiction that I greatly enjoyed was Vladimir Sorokin’s dystopian novel Day of the Oprichnik, which came out a few years ago in English but remains very relevant.

Jo Ellison

Editor, HTSI

I very much enjoyed The Palace Papers by Tina Brown, a just-about-juicy-enough account of life on Planet Windsor since the death of Diana in 1997, and ending with “Megxit”, the death of the Duke of Edinburgh and the disgrace of the Duke of York. Come for a compassionate account of Camilla’s slow but steady journey into the bosom of our affections. Stay for stories about the Queen’s fabled tight-fistedness, some ace cod psychology about “what’s going on with Harry” and notes on Prince Charles’ “rider” when staying with friends.

Tim Harford

FT columnist

Authenticity by Alice Sherwood – from the mysterious appearance of turkeys on “medieval” church frescoes to the deceptions of cuckoos, Sherwood’s meditation on authenticity is wide-ranging, witty and fresh. From what makes Snapple feel like an authentic brand to vexed debates about what makes an Andy Warhol painting an Andy Warhol painting it’s a stimulating read. Authentic fun.

Henry Mance

FT CHIEF FEATURES WRITER

Through a Vet’s Eyes, by award-winning British vet Sean Wensley, is an enlightening guide to how scientists get inside the minds of other animals, with insights from farms, racehorses and, of course, pets. One insight: do not get close to your pet parrot, or they might decide you are their exclusive life partner.

Stephen Bush

FT columnist

Ned Beauman’s Venomous Lumpsucker is an endlessly inventive, witty and bleak literary thriller set in the not-so-distant future, when environmental collapse has wrecked much of our ecosystem. Running the gamut from strange culinary practices to shady corporate dealing, it’ll make you laugh and make you think.

Janan Ganesh

For a gay kid with a speech impediment in small-town New England, cities promised a liberating anonymity. In Imagine the City, Mark Vanhoenacker, a commercial pilot now, combines the god’s eye view of them with street-by-street detail. The book will enchant and even move anyone who feared in recent years for the future of both travel and urbanism.

Summer Books 2022

All this week, FT writers and critics shared their favorites. Some highlights are:

Monday: Economics by Martin Wolf
Tuesday: Environment by Pilita Clark
Wednesday: Fiction by Laura Battle
Thursday: History by Tony Barber
Friday: Politics by Gideon Rachman
Saturday: Critics’ choice

Enuma Okoro

FT LIFE & ARTS COLUMNIST

In writer and academic Margo Jefferson’s memoir Constructing a Nervous System, she considers her life by reconstructing her encounters with people, the cultural characters of music, art, film and literature, and the things that have impressed themselves upon her throughout the decades. Part autobiography, part cultural criticism, her book reminds us that the rules for how we structure memory, and how we tell our stories, are not immutable.

Nilanjana Roy

FT columnist

It’s blazing in Delhi and in the Himalayas – I’ve found refuge from this heatwave in swimming pools and in summer fiction. Blood Sugar, Sascha Rothchild’s first novel, features a cheerfully amoral 30-year-old protagonist who has committed three guilt-free murders but has to convince a police detective that she did not kill her own husband. Yet, strange as it sounds, Ruby is an extremely likeable – and smart – serial murderer.

Frederick Studemann

FT Literary Editor

As someone who cut their journalistic teeth in the rubble of the Berlin Wall, Vesna Goldsworthy’s Iron Curtain: A Love Story was always going to make it on to my reading pile. A poignant, bittersweet love story played out across the east-west divide, it challenges set ideas about loyalty, freedom and ideology. I read it as Russia unleashed its war on Ukraine, which made it all the more chilling.

Similarly well-timed is Oliver Bullough’s Butler to the World, in which he draws a sharp line from the end of Britain’s empire to the complex web of financial, legal, property and financial services that enable, butler-like, a global gallery of oligarchs, kleptocrats and chancers to go about their dodgy business. Bullough, who also brings his research to life through tours of plutocratic London, offers lots of quirky facts about a world that is now rightly coming under closer inspection.

FT readers are also avid listeners of audiobooks – one of the fastest growing segments in the books business. To mark the centenary of Ulysses I’ve taken a renewed run at Joyce’s masterpiece via Jim Norton’s entertaining reading in which he brings the book’s baffling, polyphonic charm to life.

Rana Foroohar

FT global business columnist

Americans do not know how to talk about death, let alone how to manage it with dignity. But in In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss, her memoir about her husband, who decided to end his life via assisted suicide in Switzerland after discovering he has Alzheimer’s disease, Amy Bloom shows us another way. In deceptively readable prose that flows like a summer beach read, she sheds a warm light on what it means to live a good life and to have a good death.

Anjli Raval

FT SENIOR ENERGY CORRESPONDENT

In All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami, Fuyuko is a freelance proofreader in her early thirties living a solitary and miserable existence, until she decides to liberate herself and develop “an ability to let go”. She takes up drinking, meets physics teacher Mitsutsuka who takes her out of her comfort zone and helps confront her past. Kawakami’s novel, translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd, acutely explores the nature of workplace relationships and intimate connections while challenging society’s expectations of what it means to be a woman in public and private.

Gillian Tett

Chair of the FT editorial board and editor-at-large, US

There are many different New York cities. There is a world of the wealthy, who enjoy the services, shops, culture – and endless choices. Then there is that of the desperate poor often living in cramped housing, amid stress and uncertainty. Few outsiders penetrate this second world. But Andrea Elliott has spent years tracking one family in this seamy underbelly to produce Invisible Child. It’s shocking, inspiring, moving, funny – and mesmerizing if you want to understand America today.

Robert Shrimsley

FT UK CHIEF POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND UK EDITOR AT LARGE

In A Duty of Care, Peter Hennessy draws a link between the history of the post war welfare state and the post-pandemic case for a new settlement. The pandemic highlighted modern injustices to compete with the original Five Giants highlighted in The Beveridge Report of 1942 and briefly created a consensus for a more just society. Normal politics may have resumed, but Hennessy sets out some thoughts on the shape of a new settlement. Admirably concise, it is proof that a strong political case does not require hundreds of pages to make its point.

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