Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Best books of the year – according to our reviewers

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Books are great aren't they. Full of words, and sentences  Some even have punctuation. We love them. If you share our love you may enjoy this list of the top five books of the year, as decided by our totally scientific star system. We present them in the order in which they were reviewed.

1. The Dead Hand: The Untold story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy by David Hoffman

What: A comprehensive look at the global arms race, the ending of the Cold War - and the crucial roles played by Reagan and Gorbachev – and a warning about the continuing threat posed by stockpiles of nuclear and chemical weapons.

Reviewer's verdict: "Hoffman's superb account of the twists and turns in the struggle to end the arms race is detailed  gripping and monumental, a worthy winner of the Pulitzer Prize."

Michael Binyon in the Jan/Feb issue.

2. The Train in the Night: A Story of Music and Loss by Nick Coleman

What: The haunting memoir of a music journalist who suddenly lost his hearing

Reviewer's verdict: "His essential question is whether he created the vast – and now possibly useless – record collection that dominates his lounge, or whether it created him. His attempt to answer it will cause you to appreciate your favourite music as if you're hearing it for the first time."

Andrew Mueller in the March/April issue.

3. Breaking Their Will  by Janet Heimlich

What: A harrowing account of religiously motivated child abuse and neglect in the US and beyond.

Reviewer's verdict: "A timely reminder of the harm that can be done when the power of religious institutions goes unchallenged and under-scrutinised."

Richard Wilson in the May/June issue. 

4. On The Modern Cult of Factish Gods by Bruno Latour

What: Superstar French intellectual turns his ironic gaze onto the relationship between science and religion – and upsets many an atheist scientist in the process.

Reviewer's verdict: "Readers with a limited appetite for paradox may quickly tire of Latour; but they should not close the book without looking at the final pages. He concludes with a brief and brilliant essay... Abjuring facetiousness for a while, Latour offers a moving comparison between religious words and words of love; their truth he says is a truth of transformation rather than a truth of information."

Jonathan Rée in the July/August issue

5. Where Have You Been by Joseph O'Connor

What: A new set of short stories, in a contemporary Joycean mode, from one of Ireland's most celebrated writers

Reviewer's verdict: "Though in tune with the buzzing sense of the modern – mobile phones, Aerlingus, the Internet all play their part – O'Connor never forgets the backdrop of Irish Literature against which he paints. This collection is beautiful; full of pure, simple truths that linger long in the mind."

Philip Womack in the November/December issue

and finally...

A Christmas turkey:

A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgård

What: Much lauded "faction" memoir from what the press release insisted is "Europe's New Literary Star".

Reviewer's Verdict: "It is entirely possible that this novel is a masterpiece, and has just been badly served by a translation which would have us believe that teenage boys call each other "lying sod" and "lying toad" in the same breath; which prizes obscurity: "In art that which was beyond was synonymous with society, by which is meant the human masses which fully encompassed its concept and ideas of validity"; and which describes a car seat as "inviolable". But I don’t think so. I pity the poor translator. After all, it must have been hard to translate something so soporific. This is a monstrous exercise in egotism, a gigantic literary joke whose only redeeming feature is that it isn't any longer than it is."

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