A seemingly never-ending pandemic, escalating tensions in eastern Europe and Asia, the threat to the climate and the disruptive challenges posed by technology. Anyone worried about the state of the world as we head into a new year will not be short of reading matter. Thankfully, the publishers’ lists of books due in 2022 also contain many inspiring, delightful distractions from a heavy-set global agenda — among them, stories of forbidden love to revealing biographies and tales of skulduggery.
The new year kicks off on a suitably contemplative note with Leonard Mlodinow’s Emotional (Allen Lane, January), in which the celebrated theoretical physicist turns his attention to the science of how we feel and why. January is also an obvious time for Bill Hayes’ Sweat (Bloomsbury), one of a number of titles that promise to take a serious look at exercise.
On a more cerebral note, Reality+ (Allen Lane, January) by the philosopher David Chalmers looks ahead to a world of virtual and augmented reality and asks whether we will still be able to draw a distinction between that and the “real” world. Answer: no.
Returning to the rough and tumble of business, January also brings The Power Law (Allen Lane), in which author Sebastian Mallaby sets off into the world of venture capital and the strange bunch of financiers behind some of the most successful companies. It’s a tale of triumphs but also major failures, hubris and jaw-dropping eccentricity.
Covid-19, in all it manifestations, continues to leave an impression on publishers’ schedules. In Preventable (Viking, May), Devi Sridha, professor of global public health at Edinburgh university, examines how the pandemic changed the world and how we might stop the next one happening.
In A Duty of Care (Allen Lane, March), constitutional authority Peter Hennessy argues that Covid-19 will prove to be a defining historical moment for Britain and will redraw the relationship between the state and its citizens. The pandemic has changed the way we work. Julia Hobsbawm’s The Nowhere Office (Hachette, February) makes the case for embracing the opportunities this brings.
For Helen Thompson, the pandemic added fuel to the flames of a crisis that had been engulfing western democracies and the established global order for years. In Disorder (OUP, February), the professor of political economy at Cambridge university examines intersecting geopolitical, economic and political crises — and argues that much of this turbulence originated in problems generated by fossil fuel energies.
Meanwhile, political philosopher Francis Fukuyama returns to familiar areas of inquiry in Liberalism and its Discontents (Profile, March), a short, sharp defence of a world view under threat. How to bridge the bitter divides within democracies is the subject of Yascha Mounk’s The Great Experiment (Bloomsbury, April) in which the author argues there is a way to get different groups to work together. In Leadership (Allen Lane, April), Henry Kissinger offers a statesmanlike study of six leaders who found a way to navigate wrenching change to forge a new international order.
Given all that there is to be gloomy about, Thomas Piketty strikes a surprisingly optimistic note in A Brief History of Equality (Belknap, April) in which the celebrated French economist delivers a “sweeping” history of human progress towards equality. Margaret Atwood is also on hand to provide a broader, literary perspective with Burning Questions (Chatto & Windus, March) a collection of essays that looks back over this century — from debt to tech, the climate crisis to Trump — with insight and humour.
At a time of sabre-rattling from Moscow, Not One Inch (Yale, February), Mary Sarotte’s examination of the making of the post-cold war world, is very timely. Russia today is also the subject of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s book The Russia Conundrum (WH Allen, September), in which the dissident oligarch whose challenge to Vladimir Putin saw him investigated on tax charges and later imprisoned looks at how the west “fell” for the Russian leader.
Strong leaders overshadow the 2022 publishing schedules. In The Revenge of Power (St Martin’s Press, February) Moisés Naím argues that autocrats are reinventing politics, while in The Age of the Strongman (Bodley Head, April), Gideon Rachman, the FT’s chief foreign affairs commentator, uncovers the complex and often surprising interaction between these leaders.
Different perspectives can be found in a number of titles looking at masculinity, including Nina Power’s What Do Men Want? (Allen Lane, February), while in The Last Days of Roger Federer (Canongate, May), Geoff Dyer examines the daunting subject of late middle age, looking at the “late and last” achievements of artists, athletes and tennis players.
China-US relations are set to continue to be high on the agenda — and reading lists — of policymakers. In The Avoidable War? (PublicAffairs, April), Kevin Rudd, former Australian prime minister, considers the dangers of a “catastrophic conflict” between Beijing and Washington, while in The United States vs China (Polity, February) Fred Bergsten, founding director of the Peterson Institute, focuses on the economic tensions between the two powers. Earlier frictions are likely to feature in Chris Patten’s book The Hong Kong Diaries (Allen Lane, June), in which the last British governor of the former colony chronicles the run-up to the 1997 handover — and the opposition he faced from business and officials.
Those seeking to understand the evolution of modern China might find an original perspective in Jing Tsu’s Kingdom of Characters (Allen Lane, January), in which the Yale professor looks at how the adaptation of the Chinese language to the modern world enabled transformation. A more modern expression of Sino-western cultural engagement is addressed in Red Carpet (Penguin Press, February), Erich Schwartzel’s story of growing Chinese involvement in Hollywood, which he sees as part of a bigger battle of soft power supremacy.
The importance of Hollywood as a power centre was underscored when North Korean hackers attacked Sony Pictures, an event covered by journalist Geoff White in The Lazarus Heist (Penguin Life, June). Meanwhile, in The Sister (Macmillan, June), Sung-Yoon Lee promises to shine a light on another great North Korean mystery, Kim Yo Jong, sibling of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un.
Back in the world of economics and public policy, the spectre of inflation and how to respond is already high on the agenda. A good moment then for The Price of Time (Allen Lane, July), Edward Chancellor’s history of interest rates and the “curse” of easy money. The nature of money itself has captured the minds of a number of authors, including FT leader writer Gavin Jackson, whose book Money in One Lesson (Macmillan, January) seeks to explain how and why money works. Brett Scott, a former broker turned “financial anthropologist”, looks ahead to a world of only cashless transactions in Cloudmoney (Bodley Head, May) and asks who wins — and who loses.
Once again the natural world and the perils it faces also features strongly, with notable titles including Oliver Milman’s The Insect Crisis (Atlantic, January), a focus on the “tiny empires” that underpin our world, to Ben Rawlence’s sweeping account of the Arctic forest that circles the world in an almost unbroken ring in The Treeline (Jonathan Cape, January). The political scientist Chris Armstrong makes the case for a new policy approach to the world’s oceans in A Blue New Deal (Yale, February). In The Meat Paradox (Little Brown, March), Rob Percival explores our relationship with meat and asks whether we will still be eating it in future.
January sees publication of Ramachandra Guha’s Rebels Against the Raj (William Collins, January), the story of the foreign fighters who joined the struggle against the Raj. The place of empire and emperors in world history is the subject of Dominic Lieven’s In the Shadow of the Gods (Allen Lane, May).
One of the distorting legacies of empire is how we still look at the world through a particular lens. In Africa is Not a Country (Harvill Secker, April) Dipo Faloyin challenges us to recognise the vast diversity of a continent. It’s a theme that is picked up by Chinna Ukata and Astrid Madimba in It’s a Continent (Coronet, July). The subject of race is addressed by Esi Edugyan in her collection of essays Out of the Sun (Serpents Tail, February), in which the Canadian novelist goes in search of the black stories that have gone untold.
The themes of race and empire are also addressed in Accidental Gods (Granta, January), in which Anna Della Subin looks as men who have ended up being worshipped as divine. Other notable history titles include Penelope Corfield’s The Georgians (Yale, January), a study of the “long” 18th century and its legacies. In The Lion House (Bodley Head, March), Christopher de Bellaigue offers a novelistic reconstruction of the rise to power of the Ottoman sultan Suleyman the Magnificent.
One consequence of Brexit is a re-emergence of the question of English identity in a devolving and shape-shifting UK. In Who Are We Now? (Picador, March), Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman magazine, looks at the state of England today through a number of key moments to ask how a nation came to be so fragmented. For Simon Kuper, the cause of any present distress can be found among the dreaming spires. In Chums (Profile, June), the FT columnist returns to Oxford to tell the story of how a small group of student Tories “took over Britain” — with mixed results. Nigel Farage may have passed on a Bullingdon membership, but the former leader of the UK Independence party leader has arguably been one of the most influential political figures of recent times, whose “unruly life” Michael Crick chronicles in One Party After Another (Simon & Schuster, February).
One transcending constant amid all the turmoil and rancour is Queen Elizabeth. The coming year will see her platinum jubilee, which will edge her one step closer to eclipsing all her regal peers in the reigning longevity stakes. Tina Brown promises to reveal the true story of the House of Windsor in The Palace Papers (Century, April).
The BBC, another august and harried UK institution, marks its centenary in 2022. In The BBC: A People’s History (Profile, January), David Hendy tells the story from “maverick beginnings” to global brand and argues that “Auntie” is as much a national treasure as the NHS. A darker chapter in recent UK history is addressed by Julieann Campbell in On Bloody Sunday (Monoray, January), which, 50 years on, revisits one of the critical moments of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Britain today gets a critical reception from Oliver Bullough in Butler to the World (Profile, March), in which the investigative journalist details how London has become a global centre for all manner of unscrupulous and shady activities. In a similar vein, Caroline Knowles explores “plutocratic London” in Serious Money (Allen Lane, May), in which she examines the secret lives of the capital’s wealthiest and how they shape the city.
Operation Carwash (Bloomsbury, April), by Jorge Pontes and Marcio Anselmo, illuminates another tale of our times: institutional crime, as told through the story of the corruption scandal that engulfed Brazil and its elites. Patrick Radden Keefe offers a broader account of “skulduggery and intrigue” in Rogues (Doubleday, June), in which the prizewinning New Yorker writer explores the thin lines between the legal and illegal through stories such as the intricacies of forging vintage wine and the black market for arms.
Notable business books include The Founders by Jimmy Soni (Simon & Schuster, February). One of a number of titles that have been pushed back from 2021, it looks at the origin of PayPal and its legendary founding quartet: Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman and Max Levchin. In Tencent (Hodder, March), Lulu Chen promises to tell the story of one the Chinese tech companies challenging the supremacy of Silicon Valley.
What to do with Big Tech is one of the enduring questions of today. In The Digital Republic (Bloomsbury, June), Jamie Susskind argues that it is time to deal with “the unaccountable power of digital technology” and offers a primer of how law and governance could be harnessed to reshape Big Tech.
Our relationship with tech also features strongly in Amy Liptrot’s compelling memoir The Instant (Canongate, March), a story of love, lust, break-up, life in the city and our digital existences and legacies. Jarvis Cocker sticks very much to the analogue world in Good Pop, Bad Pop (Jonathan Cape, May), in which the Pulp front man rummages around his attic to produce a memoir of a life in music.
Among biographies to watch for are John Richardson’s A Life of Picasso Volume IV (Jonathan Cape, March), which takes us to the “minotaur years” of the 1930s, the Spanish civil war and surrealist poetry. A more theatrical note is promised by Truly Madly (Sphere, March), Stephen Galloway’s account of the passionate, turbulent, captivating romance between actors Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. Later in the year, The Diaries of Alan Rickman (Canongate, October) promise to be a “spiky, gossipy and incredibly funny” account of the actor’s life.
The place of women in 20th century philosophy is the subject of Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachael Wiseman’s book Metaphysical Animals (Chatto & Windus, February), which tells the story of four remarkable women who formed a new philosophical tradition while Oxford’s men were away at war. How big ideas actually take hold is explored by Gal Beckerman in The Quiet Before (Bantam Press, February). History shows that world-changing ideas often grow in small, quiet spaces before fanning out. How possible is that now in an endlessly networked world of monolithic social media platforms?
The joys of reading — and writing — are explored by Elena Ferrante in her book In the Margins (Europa, March). Mark Hodgkinson places our encounters and relationships with books in a socio-economic context in No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy (Canongate, February), a memoir of growing up in a house with just one book.
The first month of 2022 kicks off with Free Love (Jonathan Cape), a new novel from the much-loved Tessa Hadley, as well as a stack of big-name novels from the US, from Hanya Yanagihara’s To Paradise (Picador), which follows her huge success with 2015’s A Little Life, to Louise Erdich’s new novel — billed as a modern ghost story — The Sentence (Corsair).
A little closer to home, January also marks the start of the FT’s exciting new round-up of debut fiction — a regular column that won’t aspire to cover every author’s first novel (nor will it preclude the occasional full-length debut review) but will offer a judicious selection of titles to look out for.
Other highlights from the first quarter include Love Marriage (Virago, February), a new novel from Monica Ali, and Anne Tyler’s French Braid (Chatto & Windus, March). Sheila Heti earned legions of followers with her previous novel Motherhood, so there will be considerable interest in her new book Pure Colour (Vintage, February). Marlon James is another writer who inspires superfans, and they will be eagerly awaiting Moon Witch, Spider King (Hamish Hamilton, March), the second volume in his Dark Star trilogy. Expect James’s customary mix of African mythology and sci-fi.
Highlights of the poetry year include Pilgrim Bell by Kaveh Akbar (Vintage, January), Lurex by the wonderful Denise Riley (Picador, March) and Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong (Jonathan Cape, April), the poet’s first collection since 2016’s astounding Night Sky with Exit Wounds.
The literary world’s attention is sure to home in on Young Mungo (Picador, April), a tale of forbidden love set in working-class Glasgow, and the much-anticipated second novel from the 2020 Booker Prize winner Douglas Stuart. But there are plenty of other heavyweights out in April. Julian Barnes publishes his 14th novel, Elizabeth Finch (Jonathan Cape), a story infused with philosophical insight, and Ali Smith unveils Companion Piece (Hamish Hamilton) a “coda” to her Seasonal Quartet.
Meanwhile, two writers known for their imaginative flair return with time-travelling novels: Jennifer Egan with The Candy House (Corsair, April) and Emily St John Mandel with Sea of Tranquility (Picador, April).
Talking of unsettling stories, the trickle of pandemic fiction that began back in the autumn looks set to become a fast-flowing stream in 2022. Among the most intriguing of these books is Fourteen Days: An Unauthorized Gathering (Vintage, September), a Decameron-inspired narrative told by a whole cast of writers — including Celeste Ng and Dave Eggers — and edited by Margaret Atwood.
Top titles of the summer include Akwaeke Emezi’s You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty (Faber, May) and Elif Batuman’s Either/Or (Jonathan Cape, May). And while autumn and winter schedules remain sparse for the moment, Kamila Shamsie’s new novel Best of Friends (Bloomsbury, October) — a story that begins in Karachi in 1988 — looks set to be one of the highlights.
Best books of 2021
From politics, economics and history to art, food and, of course, fiction — FT writers and critics pick their favourite reads in our annual round-up of publishing highlights
The Art of Conversation
In this original piece of graphic non-fiction, Kristen Radtke looks look back at how humans learnt to communicate — and how we might do it better in the pandemic age
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