Here, in no particular order, are ten books that Prospect writers particularly admired this year.
1. In the summer Lisa Appignanesi singled out Yu Hua’s “riveting memoir, China in Ten Words (Duckworth Overlook, £16.99)” in which, she wrote, “the celebrated novelist and one-time smalltown dentist presents a wealth of darkly comic anecdotes about everyday life in China over the last 50 years. Each chapter is dedicated to a word, such as ‘people,’ ‘leader,’ ‘revolution’ and ‘bamboozle,’ and into each section he compresses personal and political history, as well as the momentous social change that has transformed his country.”
2. “The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt (Allen Lane, £20) is a truly seminal book,” wrote David Goodhart in April, “out of that remarkable Amerian popular-science-meets-political-speculation stable. Like Steven Pinker, Haidt is a liberal who wants his political tribe to understand humans better. His main insight is simple but powerful: liberals understand only two main moral dimensions, whereas conservatives understand all five.”
3. Undoubtedly the biggest critical success of the past few months has been Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-56 by Anne Applebaum (Allen Lane, £25). In our November issue, Oliver Kamm added his voice to this chorus of praise:
“Anne Applebaum describes how the entire region from the Baltic to the Adriatic was subjugated by Stalin within a few years. With a stubborn suspicion of ‘totalitarianism’ as an ideologically tainted term, historians have tended to overlook the extraordinary thoroughness of this phenomenon. Applebaum sets herself to explain it, beginning with Europeans’ sense of ‘radical loneliness’ amid the carnage of the second world war. Her account illuminates the squalid statecraft of the nominally local autocracies of central and eastern Europe. And she describes poignantly the plight of the peoples of these nations, and the psychological compromises needed to live in a system where the communist monopoly on power invaded every aspect of life. This is a magnificent book.”
4. A less garlanded historical masterpiece of 2012 was Opium: Reality’s Dark Dream, (Yale University Press, £25) by Thomas Dormandy. In April, Rebecca Rose declared Dormandy’s book, “that rare thing: both an extraordinary work of scholarship and a rip-roaring read. In this new book, Dormandy persuades us that the…