Thursday 18 December 2014

Books: The top 20 titles of 2014 listed for you

With the holiday season in full flight, Justine Carbery has trawled through the shelves to bring you the five best titles in crime, history, politics and memoir

Published 04/08/2014 | 02:30

And The Living Is Easy: Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie in the big screen adaptation of John Belfort’s rollicking autobiography ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
And The Living Is Easy: Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie in the big screen adaptation of John Belfort’s rollicking autobiography ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

With popular fiction tackled in previous columns and literary fiction in next week's issue, dip into this year's best memoir, politics, history and crime reads. Be it hard-back, paperback, fiction or non-fiction, audio or eBook, there is something here to suit all tastes. If you are looking for a riveting account of the explosive beginnings of World War I or an insightful political memoir, a tantalising thriller or a critically acclaimed historical tale, this list does the trick.

'Eleanor Marx changed the world,' declares Rachel Holmes in the opening line of her illuminating biography of this unconventional daughter of the father of communism. In Eleanor Marx; A Life (Bloomsbury) Holmes dazzles the reader with intimate yet gripping details of the life and times of this extraordinary woman, the first modern feminist, a brilliant literary scholar, whose untimely death is shrouded in mystery and intrigue. In contrast, Joan Rivers' autobiography Diary of a Mad Diva (Berkley) is a riotous, bilious, totally politically incorrect reflection on life, pop-culture and celebrities. But buyer beware. Do not read if you are overly sensitive or easily offended. Not one for the faint-hearted.

Likewise, Jordan Belfort's rollicking account of his meteoric rise and spectacular fall reads more like make-believe than autobiography, though he lives to tell the tale in The Wolf Of Wall Street (Bantham). No surprise that the story of this high flying, money laundering, sex-crazed, drug addicted genius/ degenerate has been made into a movie of the same title. Another biography to have made it to the silver screen this year is Martin Sixsmith's The Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son and a Fifty Year Search (Macmillan), the heart-breaking story of an Irishwoman's separation from her son, his forced adoption and their later quest to find each other. For literary buffs comes Roth Unbound (Vintage Digital) by Claudia Roth Pierpont a thought-provoking study of Philip Roth, his works and the cultural climate in which he lived and wrote.

The political memoir of the year must be Hillary Clinton's fascinating, intelligent, richly detailed inside account of the crises, choices, and challenges she faced during her four years as America's 67th Secretary of State. In Hard Choices (Simon & Schuster), she ushers us into the corridors of power, offering a glimpse of the complex world of international diplomacy. Another woman at the top of her field to write about her experiences is Arianna Huffington, cofounder of the Huffington Post media Group. In Thrive (Virgin Digital) she suggests that our relentless pursuit of money and power has led to an increase in burnout and stress-related illnesses. She draws on the latest research in psychology, sports, sleep, and physiology to show how meditation, mindfulness, and giving can have a profound, transformative effect on our lives.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Belknap Press) by the French economist Thomas Piketty is a sweeping analysis of the rising inequality in society, worthy of all the accolades it is accumulating. Back home, in Mr Parnell's Rottweiller (Irish Academic Press), Myles Dungan assesses the role of The United Irishman newspaper during Parnell's ascendancy, always of interest to history buffs. An insight into our more recent history, the collapse of the banks and the subsequent implosion of the Irish economy, Citizen Quinn (Penguin Ireland) by Gavin Daly and Ian Kehoe tells the extraordinary story of an individual, Sean Quinn, who rose from rags to riches, only to lose it all in a dodgy, multi-billion-euro gamble on shares of the world's most toxic bank.

Bookshops are swamped with World War I commemorative books, with some outstanding contenders worthy of mention. The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War (Chatto & Windus) by Tim Butcher is a fascinating investigation into the man who changed the course of history. An absorbing read. Max Hastings' Catastrophe: Europe goes to War (William Collins), voted book of the year by many national and international newspapers, is a superbly crafted, blow-by-blow account of Europe's descent into darkness.

A fascinating book you will find hard to forget is Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Story of Huguette Clark and the Loss of one of the World's Greatest Fortunes (Atlantic Books) by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr. It tells the story of the reclusive millionaire Huguette Clark, a member of the wealthy Clark family copper mining dynasty, a woman who was born, lived and died in mysterious circumstances. Mesmerising.

How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair (Da Capo Press) by Jonathan Beckman is about Marie Antoinette and how her signature was forged to steal the world's most expensive piece of jewellery, the famous 2,800 carat diamond necklace. A tale of greed, lust, kidnapping and assassination, a real historical treat.

Unbroken (Fourth Estate) a novel and now a major film directed by Angelina Jolie, is the true story of one incredibly resilient WW II flier from the author of Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand. In it she recounts the story of Louis Zamperini, who rose from a juvenile offender to an Olympic racer, to an Air Force pilot in WW II.

For fans of Crime/Thrillers there is plenty of choice with the latest novels from Jo Nesbo, David Baldacci, Fred Vargas, Harlan Coban and Tom Rob Smith populating the shelves. Private investigator Cormoran Strike returns in a new mystery from Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling). Her latest novel, The Silkworm (Sphere), is another compulsive read and enthusiasts will be delighted to know there is more on the way.

Emma Donohue's Frog Music (Picador) is a sophisticated, sexy historical whodunit, based on a murder that happened near San Francisco, in the steamy heatwave of 1896, during a raging epidemic of smallpox.

I Am Pilgrim (Transworld Digital) by Terry Hayes is a thriller for the 21st century, involving espionage and global terrorism; a tense, gritty murder mystery that will have you enthralled. Mr Mercedes (Hodder & Stoughton) is Stephen King's latest offering about three unlikely and winning heroes trying to stop a lone killer from blowing up thousands.

Hermann Koch who served us up The Dinner, returns with Summer House with Swimming Pool (Hogarth), a horribly chilling and utterly entertaining beach read about a family physician, Dr Marc Schlosser, who becomes embroiled in a holiday tragedy. A sinister, unsettling tale.

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