The 15 best books of summer 2022

The death of consensus
by Phil Tinlin
C Hurst & Co, 472 pages, £20

Radio producer Phil Tinline describes the past 100 years as a series of crises – unemployment, strikes, inflation and Brexit – in which consensus, “the limits that shape the politically possible”, are shattered. Tinline’s account of competing nightmares is timely and original.

Super-Infinity: John Donne’s Transformations
by Katherine Rundell
Faber & Faber, 352 pages, £16.99

In this fiery and empathetic biography, Katherine Rundell warns us against the idea that John Donne’s poems are more autobiographical than Shakespeare’s sonnets. What she offers is a sense of wonder and delight in the physicality and complexity of Donne’s poetry.

side piece
by Ali Smith
Hamish Hamilton, 240 pages, £16.99

A coda to Smith’s Seasonal Quartet, this is a discursive interlocking story with a historical subplot. What is real and what is dreamed is not entirely clear. But the character combat and Smith’s immense facility with wordplay provide both humor and hope.

Rule, Nostalgia
by Hannah Rose Woods
WH Allen, 394 pages, £20

Today’s culture wars are the starting point for Hannah Rose Woods’ clever first book. She places them in context, from the 16th century to the present day, to prove that while the object and expression of nostalgia has changed, the British have always lamented that things are no longer what they used to be.

Back in the day: a memoir
by Melvyn Bragg
Sceptre, 416pp, £25

These moving memoirs show just how far Melvyn Bragg has come. It chronicles, through a series of gripping snapshots, his childhood and youth in Wigton in Cumbria, where the future lord and arts great grew up in material poverty but emotional wealth. There is nothing rosy about Bragg’s reminiscences, and while in other hands this story would be cliché, Bragg fills every memory with meaning and feeling.

A Huge World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us
by Ed Yong
Bodley Head, 464 pages, £20

In his second book, the Atlantic Writer Ed Yong criticizes the idea that nature exists to meet human needs. By exploring the advanced sensory abilities and inner worlds of animals, including wasps, bats, octopuses and great whales, he shows that there is a world of unfathomable beauty all around us.

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by Keiran Goddard
Small, Brown, 208pp, £12.99

Poet Keiran Goddard’s debut novel reads like free verse or a series of proverbs. Our anonymous protagonist is peculiar, obsessive and shrewd. Peppered with funny and profound observations, it’s a universal story about two people who fall in love, one who falls out of it and the other who comes to terms with the loss.

The Starmer Project: A Journey to the Right
by Oliver Eagleton
Back, 240 pages, £12.99

Spared by Durham Police, Keir Starmer remains in position to take on the next Tory PM. But, Oliver Eagleton argues, so far he has only been an accomplice of the ideological status quo. This forensic and damning book traces the career of the Labor leader as a story that is both tragic and farcical.

My name is Yip
by Paddy Crewe
Double day, 384pp, £14.99

Paddy Crewe is from Stockton-on-Tees and My name is Yip is her debut novel – but you wouldn’t guess a word about this immersive coming-of-age adventure set in the American South during the Gold Rush era. Its narrator, Yip Tolroy – mute, short in stature, with “inexplicably not a single hair” on his body – may lack speech, but Crewe gave him an unforgettable voice.

Let’s Do It: The Birth of Pop
by Bob Stanley
Faber & Faber, 656 pages, £25

Ragtime has served as a model for each successive pop boom, says writer and musician Bob Stanley in his lively history of popular music of the first half of the 20th century. Featuring the stories of Frank Sinatra, Ma Rainey, and Glenn Miller, as well as lesser-known figures such as black, gay, and British songwriter Reginald Foresythe, this book shows how pop has always progressed by looking back.

Building a nervous system
by Margo Jefferson
Granta, 208 pages, £16.99

American critic Margo Jefferson is an agile and always surprising writer. Here, mixing memoirs and art criticism, she turns to the artists she imagined as her alter egos as a child – Ella Fitzgerald and Ike Turner – and thus paints a remarkable portrait of herself as a singular performer.

Acts of service
by Lillian Fishman
Europa Editions, 224pp, £12.99

Erotic part Bildungsroman, part melancholic comedy of manners, Lillian Fishman’s debut novel follows Eve, whose nude photos, posted online, lead to a threesome. It’s a research book that arrives with quiet confidence and a well-formed bank of ideas on intimacy, sexual ethics, and contemporary mores.

The real and the romantic: English art between the two world wars
by Frances Spalding
Thames and Hudson, 384pp, £35

Here is a revealing survey of how British artists responded to the shock of the First World War and answered the question: what should art look like in the aftermath of mechanized slaughter? Frances Spalding meticulously and stylishly uncovers a range of dynamic responses, from the modern pastorals of Eric Ravilious to the radical experiments of Henry Moore.

Cornerstones: Wild Forces That Can Change Our World
by Benoit Macdonald
Bloomsbury, 256 pages, £17.99

Could restoring Britain’s native species, from wild boar to beaver, help preserve our islands? At a time of political stagnation, economic downturn and climate terror, this celebration of the species that anchor healthy, life-giving ecosystems is a timely reminder to recognize – and urgently protect – our common roots. Benedict Macdonald wrote an essentially fortifying book.

Bless the Girl Raised by a Voice in Her Head: Poems
by Warsan Shire
Chatto & Windus, 96 pages, £12.99

“No one would leave the house unless the house drove you out,” Warsan Shire wrote in his first collection. In her verses, the Somali-British poet tells stories of war, the plight of refugees and female genital mutilation, with a very contemporary blend of deep tenderness and caustic humour.

[See also: The best children’s books for summer 2022]

This article originally appeared in the July 20, 2022, issue of The New Statesman, The broken party

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