2014 was a good year for books. Here’s my top books of the year (the one’s Ive read which are, of course, selective but also reflective of broader trends)
Best Fiction: Undoubtedly, the best novel this past year was Zia Haider Rahman’s dazzling and sweeping In Light of What We Know, story of globalization, war, development, life, love, loss, class that also traverses London, New York, Kabul, and Dhaka. Close second is Akhil Sharma’s Family Life, a story of how an immigrant Indian family copes with their child’s disability after they move to the United States. Heart Wrenching and gutting throughout, the novel considers and unpacks loss and how it is dealt with in everyday situations.
Best Non-Fiction: Atul Gawande’s searing and occasionally moving treatise Being Mortal on the end of life and how we as a society have reduced it to an utterly discomfiting condition, removed from the wishes of the those that suffer the most from it. As always, Gawande’s prose is sparkling. In this book, he adds his family’s painful and emotional ordeal of his father’s death that gives the book and issue a viscerally personal touch. Close second was Peter Baker’s contemporary history of the Bush administration, Days of Fire, that gave readers a birds-eye look at the consequential administration, its times, decisions and blunders, whose effects continue to reverberate in international politics. Another great read was Rian Malan’s My Traiter’s Heart, a spellbinding and moving memoir of the author’s return to his native (Apartheid) South Africa that forces him to deal with his and the country’s greatest demons.
Best Academic Book: I read a lot from University press’s international relations and history sections. The pick of the lot this year was Andrew Kennedy’s The International Ambitions of Mao and Nehru which explores how two larger than life Asian leaders challenged the structures of the international system, albeit in different ways, to forge a new identity for their nation after centuries of oppressive colonial rule. Also a worthy pick this year was Vipin Narang’s Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era that explains the nuclear strategies of regional nuclear powers and why they have picked this strategy over other ones.
Best Long form essays: 2014 was a bumper year for long form essays. I read a lot and but did not get to read even more.
From the New Yorker – George Packer’s incredible and deeply researched profile of Angela Merkel, detailing her origins, rise, role and legacy in Germany; Patrick Redden Keefe’s mindblowing story of how a trader, doctor and a billionaire got entangled in a financial scandal that is riveting to read; finally, Jennifer Gonnerman’s moving story on the disaster that is the American legal system which got a black teenager locked in prison for three years after being accused of stealing a backpack.
From the Caravan – Rahul Bhatia’s great read on the meteoric rise of N Srinivasan atop the Indian and international cricket scene; Hartosh Singh Bal’s intrepid essay on 1984 Sikh riots and its chief progenitors and malefactors; Krish Kaushik’s balanced profile of Shekhar Gupta that situates his rise within a dynamic and increasingly deprave media scene.