mann’s history Across the Seas: Australia’s Response to Refugees is an important corrective to the many myths, including amnesiac assumptions about Left-Right attitudes to migrant intake, that corrupt urgent political debate today. David Graeber’s The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy is both highly entertaining and eyeopening: a sharp historical survey that contains many political lessons and implicit warnings for the future. And Frank Pasquale’s The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms that Control Money and Information is essential reading for anyone concerned about surveillance and privacy in our brave new digital world. Like everyone else, I have been buried in Elsa Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet: gripped by its fierceness and truth. If you have been put off by the hoopla, get over it: these novels are astonishingly good. Closer to home, Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things is another ferocious exploration of femininity in a technically proficient novel about girls imprisoned and tortured for “promiscuity” in a dystopian Australia, based, sad to say, on grim historical reality.
PETER CRAVEN, critic
Adam Sisman’s life of John le Carre is a scintillating, absorbing biography, as befits the life of a writer who had created legends. Magda Szubanski’s Reckoning is a moving and grave account of how a great comedian plumbed the enigma of her father’s activities as a Polish wartime resistance hero. Gideon Haigh’s Certain Admissions, about the long-ago radio star John Bryan Kerr, accused of murder, is a dark, dazzling recapitulation of the suspense and mystery inherent in its subject. Fay Weldon’s Mischief collects the stories of a great and luminous writer. Anne Carson’s translation of Antigone is a reminder of the greatness of both Sophocles’s dialectical tragedy and the great contemporary poet who’s bringing him to life. The second volume of Charles Moore’s life of Margaret Thatcher is part of a continuing masterpiece. David Kilcullen’s Blood Year, his account of Islamic State as a dangerous, Stalinist state on the rise, is as fine as any Quarterly Essay that has appeared. Robert Crawford’s Young Eliot has fascinating revelations about the great poet. And Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, an engaging first novel, was the must-read scoop of the year that should probably not have been published, given the damage it has caused — though it shouldn’t have — to the Atticus Finch brand.
SOPHIE CUNNINGHAM, author and editor
James Bradley’s Clade is a beautifully composed discontinuous novel that captures, through a series of related stories, fragments of an exploding world. Too optimistic to be called dystopian, too tough to be utopian, Bradley captures an understanding rarely discussed: the apocalypse won’t