As events unfolded this year, it was reassuring to read superb non-fiction that celebrated expertise. Two stand out. Trials: On Death Row in Pakistan (Penguin, £16.99) tells how Isabel Buchanan, fresh from a law degree, applied her feeling and intelligence to apprentice in a jurisdiction which, by 2014, saw a person executed every day. Ed Yong’s magnificent revaluation of bacteriology, I Contain Multitudes (Penguin, £20), counsels humility for student doctors like me: modern medicine’s pathogens may be the future’s therapeutics.
And then there is Mark Greif’s Against Everything (Verso, £16.99), which — as its title suggests — matches brilliant critique with improbable optimism. His essays risk embarrassment to analyse the irritations of urban life — hipsters, foodies, gym-goers — so that we might see these characters in ourselves, and treat them with, if not more kindness, more interest.