The Spectator

Books of the Year I — chosen by our regular reviewers

A.N. Wilson, Frances Wilson, Clare Mulley, Andrew Lycett and many more describe the books they have most enjoyed in 2021

Anna Aslanyan

A decade after Londoners, we have another wonderful work of oral history from Craig Taylor. New Yorkers: A City and its People in Our Time (John Murray, £16.99) is a collection of monologues that makes you feel as if you are there, listening to these people. A nurse, an activist, a nanny, a car thief, a personal injury lawyer, a lice consultant, a philanthropic foundation officer, a meditation teacher and dozens of others tell their stories of a place that ‘meant more of everything’ to them and to their interlocutor. Even before finishing the book, I began imagining what Taylor’s next destination might be. I also kept wondering how he infallibly manages to draw so much from his urban encounters. ‘More life,’ to quote his introduction again, ‘and more of life.’

A.N. Wilson

The French Enlightenment began with bookish, brilliant ideas that led to a revolutionary bloodbath. The English Enlightenment began with clever technocrats converting scientific discoveries into machinery, transport systems and industry — a modern world, with all its horrors and all its joys, where businessmen could become as rich as dukes. At the centre of the story was that hyperactive wooden-legged genius, aesthete, entrepreneur and scientist Josiah Wedgwood, who produced some of the most beautiful objects ever made in the British Isles. Who better to write his life than the former MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central and current director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, which houses many of these wonderful ceramics? Tristram Hunt, one of our finest historians, has done a magnificent job in The Radical Potter (Allen Lane, £25). Every chapter made me cheer and halloo.

Mark Mason

‘He will pry the lid off a coffin to try another treatment.’ That’s how one American doctor is described in Katie Engelhart’s brilliant The Inevitable: Dispatches on the Right to Die (Atlantic, £14.99)

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