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Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Politics on the Edge: A Memoir from Within by Rory Stewart (Jonathan Cape)
A brilliant insider account of the Cameron-May-Johnson years. Stewart served in several ministerial positions and even, briefly, the cabinet. The book is full of sharp observations and often funny. But the wider picture is depressing: a portrait of a country where power is wielded by empty careerists, working in a broken system.
Johnson at 10: The Inside Story by Anthony Seldon and Raymond Newell (Atlantic Books)
A detailed and damning account of Boris Johnson’s rise to power and period as prime minister. Johnson’s colleagues and confidants have clearly spoken at length to the authors. They portray a man who was profoundly unsuited to the job of prime minister.
This Is Europe: The Way We Live Now by Ben Judah (Picador)
The story of contemporary Europe told from the bottom up. Ben Judah illuminates some of the great trends of our time — in particular migration and the build-up to the Ukraine war — by telling the stories of individuals trying to make their way in the continent, from a Syrian refugee who makes it as a porn star to a shelf-stacker in Lidl. The FT called it “thrilling”.
The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time by Yascha Mounk (Penguin Press/Allen Lane)
A fascinating account of the intellectual origins of identity politics. Mounk is a firm defender of free speech. He is also a historian of ideas, who gives a careful account of the work of thinkers such as Derrick Bell, Michel Foucault and Kimberlé Crenshaw, revealing the theory that underpins influential ideas such as critical race theory and intersectionality.
And Then What? Despatches from the Heart of 21st century Diplomacy, from Kosovo to Kyiv by Catherine Ashton (Elliott and Thompson)
Crises such as the war in Gaza propel top diplomats into a whirlwind of international negotiation. Ashton’s memoir of her time as the EU high representative for foreign policy provides a vivid sense of what it feels like to be at the centre of events — including the aftermath of the Arab spring and Russia’s first moves on Ukraine.
A Day in the Life of Abed Salama by Nathan Thrall (Allen Lane/Metropolitan Books)
A compelling and detailed account of a small tragedy in the West Bank that illuminates the larger tragedy of Palestinians living under occupation. Thrall tells the story of a bus accident that killed six children and a teacher — and how their lives were shaped and constrained by Israeli policy, leading indirectly to their deaths.
Les Aveugles: Comment Berlin et Paris ont laissé la voie libre à la Russie by Sylvie Kauffmann (Stock)
A closely reported history by a senior editor at Le Monde of decades of failed French and German diplomacy towards Putin’s Russia in the run-up to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The title (“the blind”, in English) captures the thesis — that Berlin and Paris failed to realise what they were dealing with, as they pursued an illusory detente with Moscow.
The Russo-Ukrainian War by Serhii Plokhy (WW Norton/Allen Lane)
The foremost historian of Ukraine turns his attention to contemporary events. Plokhy shows that Russia’s invasion is an act of old-fashioned imperialism, with deep roots in history.
Homelands: A Personal History of Europe by Timothy Garton Ash (Bodley Head)
A panoramic contemporary history of Europe, in which sharp political analysis is enlivened with personal memoir — drawn from decades of distinguished work as a journalist and academic.
Tell us what you think
What are your favourites from this list — and what books have we missed? Tell us in the comments below
A Stranger in Your Own City: Travels in the Middle East’s Long War by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad (Hutchinson Heinemann/Knopf)
An award-winning journalist tells the story of Iraq’s descent into chaos after the invasion of 2003. He traces many problems to deluded ideas formed thousands of miles away in Washington — which encouraged a descent into sectarianism. The FT described the book as “excellent and haunting”.
The Dean of Shandong: Confessions of a Minor Bureaucrat at a Chinese University by Daniel A Bell (Princeton University Press)
The author is a noted political philosopher, specialising in Confucianism, who attempts to have a sympathetic understanding of the Chinese political system. His new book is a perceptive and often funny account of operating inside that system. As dean of a public administration school at Shandong university, Bell struggles with pervasive censorship and baffling bureaucracy.
Sparks: China’s Underground Historians and Their Battle for the Future by Ian Johnson (Allen Lane)
“Who controls the past, controls the future,” wrote George Orwell. This is a fascinating and important story of dissident historians in China, who are challenging the Communist party’s authorised version of history.
A Death in Malta: An Assassination and a Family’s Quest for Justice by Paul Caruana Galizia (Hutchinson Heinemann)
Daphne Caruana Galizia, a brilliant and fearless investigative journalist, was murdered in Malta in 2017. Her son Paul has also become a renowned investigative journalist. In a work of rare vividness and authority, he reconstructs the events around his mother’s murder — as well as the aftermath. In doing so, he shines a harsh light on Malta, an EU member state.
Books of the Year 2023
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