Summer books 2021: the critics’ choice

Roula Khalaf

FT editor

There are several superb books to recommend to readers this summer, including this one by John Preston Grave, the fascinating story of the rise and fall of Robert Maxwell, and The world for sale, in which Javier Blas and Jack Farchy tell the compelling stories of powerful commodities traders and mysterious actors in markets and geopolitics. My top pick is a story everyone should read as we come out of the devastation of the coronavirus. Michael Lewis’ Premonition is the story of a group of dedicated American scientists and medical professionals who have spent years preparing for a Covid-type pandemic, only to be frustrated every moment by politicians and bureaucrats. It’s vintage Lewis, terribly engaging and scary of institutional failure. Right now I’m reading Leila Slimani’s The land of others, the lively and multifaceted start of a post-1945 trilogy by the Franco-Moroccan author which will appear in English in August under the title The land of others.

Frédéric Studemann

literary editor of the FT

With travel still not on the agenda, many of us have to explore closer to home. In Deep Time Notes Helen Gordon invites us to look at the worlds beneath our feet, taking us back through billions of years as the Earth was created, shaped and moved – literally tropical beaches beneath sidewalks. Going back to more recent times, I enjoyed Alaa al-Aswany’s show very much The republic of false truths a compelling account of the Egyptian revolution of 2011, with all its shattered hopes and cynical repression. A powerful reminder of why fiction is often the best way to convey reality. Likewise, Sergei Lebedev Not found Set in a world of poisoned dissidents, conflicting morality, and the politics of Kremlin power, it’s a sinister thriller that lingers on. Like many FT readers, the lockdown prompted me to explore the world of audiobooks, catching up with a few gems including Jonathan Keeble’s reading of Danial Kehlmann’s Brilliant. Tulle. A wonderfully playful mix of fact, fiction and ideas set against the backdrop of the horror and turmoil of the Thirty Years’ War. Great listening.

Alec russell

FT Weekend Editor

I’ve read more enduring books this year than in any year I can remember and yet one stands out easily: The passenger. Its protagonist is a German Jewish businessman who travels through his native country on trains, at first stunned and then terrorized the day after Crystal night. It’s an astonishing reflection on the weakness of humanity, an agonizing picture of how quickly decency can implode, a thriller, a dazzling glimpse into Nazi Germany. The author, Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, a 23-year-old German Jew, wrote it at breakneck speed in exile in 1938. His fate and the account of the discovery of the manuscript two years ago are remarkable stories in themselves. His novel has been cited alongside that of Hans Fallada, and rightly so.

Camille Cavendish

FT Contributing Editor

In Doom: the politics of disaster, Niall Ferguson offers an exciting ride through disasters, from the eruption of Vesuvius to the coming Cold War II. Yet despite the litany of tragedies described, I found it strangely edifying. Ferguson adopts Amartya Sen’s legendary analysis that famines are generally man-made and unnatural – think Stalin’s policy of collectivization – and extends the argument to pandemics. The plagues are natural, but the United States reacted much more effectively to the Asian flu in 1957, according to him, than to Covid-19. He castigates bureaucratic failures and offers thoughts on everything from death to science fiction. Magistral.

Simon schama

FT Contributing Editor

If you don’t have the time or the patience for non-fiction that just works as communication; the mass of platitudes paved with lead; if you rather crave a language that is executed poetically, philosophically, visually, musically, then the writer for you (and certainly for me) is Philip Hoare whose Albert and the whale, is pretty much a masterpiece, but also for your summer enjoyment, a riot, meditation, enlightenment and most certainly for reasons that will appear when you live inside its pages, a day at the beach. Ostensibly about Dürer, the drawings of the hare, the wing of the blue scroll and the superb watercolor of the Great Piece of Grass, Hoare also commune with, among others, Erwin Panofsky, Thomas Mann, Marianne Moore, WH Auden and not of the least itself: swimming, but never drowned, in the tidal wave of its free associations and its learned analogies. Oh yes, you also get cetaceans in all their thrilling, deep, and prophetic vastness.

Enuma Okoro

Columnist FT Life & Arts

In Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest novel, Or, written in her adopted Italian language and self-translated into English, she remains the storyteller in whose hands one can always expect to find the sacredness of the ordinary and the grace of the banal constantly unveiled. We follow the meditative meanders of a nameless woman attentive to her life. As we observe the people there, reflect on his thoughts, walk through the doors, up the stairs, down the halls and on the streets of his corner of the world, we remember how our own lives are written. with little stories that span the gamut of the human condition.

i am okri

Novelist and poet

In At night all the blood is black David Diop deploy the griot storytelling tradition to tell the horrific story of Africans during the First World War. Diop reverses a narrative imperative giving rise to emotions and realities that would have been stifled in any other narrative, revealing that the mode of speaking is the mode of experience. A vital decolonization of the narrative tyranny of the Great War.

Nilanjana Roy

columnist FT

I was too often burned by the “book everyone is talking about”, so I approached that of Zakiya Dalila Harris The other black girl skeptically – The devil wears Prada meets Get out, really? The novel begins as office drama – Nella, 26, is thrilled when Hazel joins Wagner Books, hoping to befriend “the other black girl” at a liberal white Manhattan publishing house. – but plunges into bolder and darker terrain. Harris, who worked at Penguin Random House, delivers a sizzling, sizzlingly funny thriller in its sending racism into publishing and the city halls conscientious void of diversity, and brings it closer to horror in this uplifting tale of a naive woman who wanders too confident in the woods of friendship. The other black girl will make you laugh until you cry; my perfect summer reading.

Tim harford

columnist FT

Whether we support our own arguments or cut down those of our enemies, our metaphors betray the way we defend our beliefs as soldiers, says Julia Galef in The scout mentality: Why some people see things clearly and others not. In a sharp and original book, she argues for a better metaphor: we should be like scouts, trying to map and clarify an uncertain world. And she explains why the Scout mindset helps us not only to be right, but also to be happy.

Tell us what you think

What are your favorites from this list – and which books have we missed? Tell us in the comments below

Foroohar Frog

Columnist FT Global Business

In Whatever she wore: The journey of Ashley’s Sack, a memory of the black family, professor at Harvard Tiya miles brings a kind of remarkable scholarship to a heart-wrenching story of a simple cotton sack that tells the story of a people. The words embroidered on it are their own kind of art:

My great grandmother Rose
Ashley’s mother gave her this bag when
She was sold at age 9 in South Carolina
He was holding a tattered robe 3 handfuls of
Pecan Roses Hair Braid. Tell him
May it always be filled with my love
She never saw her again
Ashley is my grandmother
Ruth middleton

If you want a window into what it has meant to be black in America for two centuries, read this.

Gillian tett


If you want a book that not only gives you a powerful insight into the why’s and the how’s racism is such a bane in America today, but also offers a way to think about it in a more positive – even optimistic – sense for the future, Heather McGhee‘s The sum of us should be required reading. While she focuses on the African American community and Black Lives Matter messages, McGhee’s ideas can be transplanted anywhere. Better yet, read this with Isabel Wilkinson’s Magistracy Caste, to have a powerful vision of a problem that (almost) everyone faces today in the world of business and finance.

Susie boyt

Novelist and FT contributor

I loved the companionship of Helen Garner Yellow Notebook, volume one of her diaries, which contains occasional observations of the highest caliber, alongside the recurring threads of a painfully dissolving marriage, fierce mother-daughter love, auditions of new suitors, triumphs and professional disasters:. . . It’s you at your best. Acute readings of literary works intertwine with acute readings of life, all supported by a mark of creative zeal, rigorous and stimulating, often fiery, sometimes resentful. She knows how to live, admiring dying pajamas or making calico cushion covers after having drunk three glasses of Chablis, just to prove that she is not drunk.

Jemima kelly

FT Alphaville reporter

My summer reading routine usually involves lugging around large volumes whose pages are bleached and wrinkled by the sun over the weeks it takes me to flip through them. When the good weather finally arrived this year, I felt inclined to look for something a little lighter. Melissa Broder Milk fed was just the thing – a touching, poignant, but also hilarious, erotic and deliciously eccentric tale of a young, non-practicing Jewish woman obsessed with food with a shameful mother who falls in love with a much taller Orthodox woman she meets in a frozen yogurt parlor. A book that I devoured as quickly and with as much enthusiasm as the protagonist devours rainbow nuggets.

Summer books 2021

All week FT writers and critics are sharing their favorites. Some highlights are:

Monday: Business by Andrew Hill
Tuesday: Economy by Martin Wolf
Wednesday: History by Tony Barber
Thursday: Politics by Gideon Rachman
Friday: fiction by Laura Bataille
Saturday: Critics’ Choice

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