The Telegraph Great Reads Autumn 2016

The Telegraph Great Reads Autumn 2016

Keeping On Keeping On – Alan Bennet

Alan Bennett’s third collection of prose Keeping On Keeping On follows in the footsteps of the phenomenally successful Writing Home and Untold Stories, each published ten years apart. This latest collection contains Bennett’s peerless diaries 2005 to 2015, reflecting on a decade that saw four premieres at the National Theatre (The Habit of Art, People, Hymn and Cocktail Sticks), a West End double-bill transfer, and the films of The History Boys and The Lady in the Van. There’s a provocative sermon on private education given before the University at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, and ‘Baffled at a Bookcase’ offers a passionate defence of the public library. The book includes Denmark Hill, a darkly comic radio play set in suburban south London, as well as Bennett’s reflections on a quarter of a century’s collaboration with Nicholas Hytner. This is an engaging, humane, sharp, funny and unforgettable record of life according to the inimitable Alan Bennett.

Read if you loved: Lady in the Van – Alan Bennett  /   The Long and Winding Road – Alan Johnson  /   Writing Home – Alan Bennett

A Life in Questions – Jeremy Paxman

The no-nonsense star of BBC Newsnight, Jeremy Paxman is a supreme inquisitor, a master at skewering mammoth egos with his relentless grilling. Few figures in public life have escaped. From John Major to Theresa May, from Tony Blair to Ed Miliband, Paxman had them quaking in their boots. But it wasn’t just politicians. Paxman’s interviews with Dizzee Rascal, David Bowie, Russell Brand, Vivienne Westwood are legendary. He discussed belief with religious leaders and philosophers, economics with CEOs and bankers, books with writers and art and theatre with artists. Now, in these long-awaited memoirs, he spills the beans behind four decades in front of the camera. Filled with candid stories about the great, the good and the rotters that have crossed his path, his memoirs are as magnetic to read as Paxman is to watch. Candid, uncompromising, compassionate, reflective and astute, he writes of the principles that have governed his professional life, the inner workings of the BBC, the role of journalists in political debate, the scandals and rows he’s been part of, the books he has written and the series he has made. In a book that tells some terrific stories and laughs at much of the silliness in the world, A Life in Questions charts the life of the greatest political interviewer of our time.

Read if you loved: Empire – Jeremy Paxman  /   Life on Air – David Attenborough  /   Speaking Out – Ed Balls

Game of Spies: The Secret Agent, the Traitor and the Nazi – Paddy Ashdown

A riveting three-way spy story set in occupied France. In the tradition of Ben MacIntyre, ‘Game of Spies’ tells the story of a lethal spy triangle in Bordeaux between 1942 and 1944 in Bordeaux – and of France’s greatest betrayal by aristocratic and right-wing Resistance leader Andre Grandclement. The story centres on three men: one British, one French and one German and the duel they fought out in an atmosphere of collaboration, betrayal and assassination, in which comrades sold fellow comrades, Allied agents and downed pilots to the Germans, as casually as they would a bottle of wine. It is a story of SOE, treachery, bed-hopping and executions in the city labelled ‘la plus collaboratrice’ in the whole of France.

Read if you loved: The Cruel Victory – Paddy Ashdown  /   The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare – Giles Milton  /   The Secret War – Max Hastings

Fear: The Ultimate Challenge – Rannulph Fiennes

Sir Ranulph Fiennes has climbed the Eiger and Mount Everest. He’s crossed both Poles on foot. He’s been a member of the SAS and fought a bloody guerrilla war in Oman. And yet he confesses that his fear of heights is so great that he’d rather send his wife up a ladder to clean the gutters than do it himself. In Fear, the world’s greatest explorer delves into his own experiences to try and explain what fear is, how it happens and how he’s overcome it so successfully. He examines key moments from history where fear played an important part in the outcome of a great event. He shows us how the brain perceives fear, how that manifests itself in us, and how we can transform our perceptions. With an enthralling combination of story-telling, research and personal accounts of his own struggles to overcome fear, Sir Ranulph Fiennes sheds new light on one of humanity’s strongest emotions.

Read if you loved: Fear – Ranulph Fiennes  /   Walking the Nile – Levison Wood Harari  /   Mud, Sweat and Tears – Bear Grylls

Revolution – Peter Ackroyd

The fourth volume of Peter Ackroyd’s enthralling History of England begins in 1688 with a revolution and ends in 1815 with a famous victory. In it, Ackroyd takes readers from William of Orange’s accession following the Glorious Revolution to the Regency, when the flamboyant Prince of Wales ruled in the stead of his mad father, George III, and England was – again – at war with France, a war that would end with the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. Late Stuart and Georgian England marked the creation of the great pillars of the English state. The Bank of England was founded, as was the stock exchange, the Church of England was fully established as the guardian of the spiritual life of the nation and parliament became the sovereign body of the nation with responsibilities and duties far beyond those of the monarch. It was a revolutionary era in English letters, too, a time in which newspapers first flourished and the English novel was born. It was an era in which coffee houses and playhouses boomed, gin flowed freely and in which shops, as we know them today, began to proliferate in our towns and villages. But it was also a time of extraordinary and unprecedented technological innovation, which saw England utterly and irrevocably transformed from a country of blue skies and farmland to one of soot and steel and coal.

Read if you loved: Tudors – Peter Ackroyd  /   The Romanovs – Siomn Sebag Montefiore  /   The Private Lives of the Tudors – Tracy Borman

Kind of Blue: A Political Memoir – Ken Clarke

Ken Clarke needs no introduction. One of the genuine ‘Big Beasts’ of the political scene, during his forty-six years as the Member of Parliament for Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire he has been at the very heart of government under three prime ministers. He is a political obsessive with a personal hinterland, as well known as a Tory Wet with Europhile views as for his love of cricket, Nottingham Forest Football Club and jazz. In Kind of Blue, Clarke charts his remarkable progress from working-class scholarship boy in Nottinghamshire to high political office and the upper echelons of both his party and of government. But Clarke is not a straightforward Conservative politician. His position on the left of the party often led Margaret Thatcher to question his true blue credentials and his passionate commitment to the European project has led many fellow Conservatives to regard him with suspicion – and cost him the leadership on no less than three occasions. Clarke has had a ringside seat in British politics for four decades and his trenchant observations and candid account of life both in and out of government will enthral readers of all political persuasions. Vivid, witty and forthright, and taking its title not only from his politics but from his beloved Miles Davis, Kind of Blue is political memoir at its very best.

Read if you loved: Politics – Nick Clegg  /   Cameron at 10 – Anthony Seldon and Peter Snowdon  /   The Long and Winding Road – Alan Johnson

The Pidgeon Tunnel – John le Carré

From his years serving in British Intelligence during the Cold War, to a career as a writer that took him from war-torn Cambodia to Beirut on the cusp of the 1982 Israeli invasion, to Russia before and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, John le Carre has always written from the heart of modern times. In this, his first memoir, le Carre is as funny as he is incisive – reading into the events he witnesses the same moral ambiguity with which he imbues his novels. Whether he’s writing about the parrot at a Beirut hotel that could perfectly mimic machine gun fire, or visiting Rwanda’s museums of the unburied dead in the aftermath of the genocide, or celebrating New Year’s Eve with Yasser Arafat, or interviewing a German terrorist in her desert prison in the Negev, or watching Alec Guinness preparing for his role as George Smiley, or describing the female aid worker who inspired the main character in his The Constant Gardener, le Carre endows each happening with vividness and humour, now making us laugh out loud, now inviting us to think anew about events and people we believed we understood. Best of all, le Carre gives us a glimpse of a writer’s journey over more than six decades, and his own hunt for the human spark that has given so much life and heart to his fictional characters.

Read if you loved: John le Carre: The Biography – Adam Sisman  /   The Outsider – Frederick Forsyth  /   The Night Manager – John Le Carre

Soldier Spy – Tom Marcus

Tom Marcus astounds with his insider’s account of what it takes to keep us safe. Marcus tells of his recruitment after the tragic 7/7 attacks in London, his intense training and being dropped in to the deep end to protect our country. We are shocked by the threats that Marcus has fought, from terrorist atrocities to foreign spies; and the life and death decisions he has been forced to make. Extraordinarily visceral, nail-biting and hard hitting SOLDIER SPY is his ground-level account of what is what it takes to protect us, and the terrible toll it can exact on those who do.

Read if you loved: The Outsider -Frederick Forsyth  /   Zero Six Bravo – Damien Lewis  /   The Longest Kill – Craig Harrison

SAS: Rogue Heroes – The Authorized Wartime History – Ben Macintyre

The first ever authorised history of the SAS, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Regiment In the summer of 1941, at the height of the war in the Western Desert, a bored and eccentric young officer, David Stirling, came up with a plan that was imaginative, radical and entirely against the rules: a small, undercover unit that would wreak havoc behind enemy lines. Despite intense opposition, Winston Churchill personally gave Stirling permission to recruit the toughest, brightest and most ruthless soldiers he could find. So began the most celebrated and mysterious military organisation in the world: the SAS. The history of the SAS is an exhilarating tale of fearlessness and heroism, recklessness and tragedy; of extraordinary men who were willing to take monumental risks. It is a story of the meaning of courage.

Read if you loved: Double Cross – Ben McIntyre  /   The Secret War – Max Hastings  /   Ardennes 1944 – Antony Beevor

The Long and Winding Road: A Memoir – Alan Johnson

From the condemned slums of Southam Street in West London to the corridors of power in Westminster, Alan Johnson’s multi-award-winning autobiography charts an extraordinary journey, almost unimaginable in today’s Britain. This third volume tells of Alan’s early political skirmishes as a trades union leader, where his negotiating skills and charismatic style soon came to the notice of Tony Blair and other senior members of the Labour Party. As a result, Alan was chosen to stand in the constituency of Hull West and Hessle, and entered Parliament as an MP after the landslide election victory for Labour in May 1997. But this is no self-aggrandizing memoir of Westminster politicking and skulduggery. Supporting the struggle of his constituents, the Hull trawlermen and their families, for justice comes more naturally to Alan than do the byzantine complexities of Parliamentary procedure. But of course he does succeed there, and rises through various ministerial positions to the office of Home Secretary in 2009. In The Long and Winding Road, Alan’s characteristic honesty and authenticity shine through every word. His book takes you into a world which is at once familiar and strange: this is politics as you’ve never seen it before…

Read if you loved: Please, Mister Postman – Alan Johnson  /   The Co-Op’s Got Bananas – Hunter Davies  /   This Boy – Alan Johnson