From the first historical assessment of the Trump presidency to the latest essay collection from the humorist David Sedaris, a revelatory investigation into HSBC’s link with Mexican drug cartels, a novel about a 16th-century witch trial in Cambridgeshire and an eye-opening memoir about growing up in a Chinese takeaway, these are the best fiction and non-fiction books to immerse yourself in this summer.
Make sure to keep an eye on our books section where we will be reviewing some of the books mentioned below and much more every weekend.
The Presidency of Donald J. Trump: A First Historical Assessment edited by Julian E. Zelizer (Princeton University Press, £18.49)
The Presidency of Donald J. Trump presents the first historical assessment of one of the world’s most divisive presidencies. Acclaimed political historian Julian Zelizer brings together many of today’s top scholars — from Kathleen Belew to Gregory Downs — to provide balanced and original perspectives on the major issues that defined and shaped the Trump presidency, from his war on feminism to his response to Covid-19 and tensions with China.
Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris (Little Brown, £16.05)
The American humorist and “champion storyteller” David Sedaris has written another wryly perceptive collection of personal essays to entertain and enlighten. As Happy-Go-Lucky opens, Sedaris is learning to shoot guns with his sister, visiting muddy flea markets in Serbia, buying gummy worms to feed to ants, and telling his nonagenarian father wheelchair jokes. Then, the pandemic hits. As the world settles into a new reality, Sedaris also finds himself changed. Sedaris once more captures the unexpected, hilarious and poignant about these recent upheavals — personal and public — and expresses the misanthropy and desire for connection that drives us all.
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Too Big to Jail: Inside HSBC, the Mexican drug cartels and the greatest banking scandal of the century by Chris Blackhurst (Pan Macmillan, £16.59)
Too Big to Jail is a remarkable story told by former editor of The Independent and Reaction columnist Chris Blackhurst. It is a story that starts in Hong Kong and travels across London, Washington, The Cayman Islands and Mexico, where HSBC saw the chance to become the largest bank in the world and El Chapo seized the moment to fuel his murderous empire by laundering his drug proceeds through the bank. The book brings together an extraordinary cast of politicians, bankers, drug dealers, FBI officers, and whistle-blowers, and asks what price does greed have? Whose job is it to police global finance? And why did not a single person go to prison for facilitating the murderous expansion of a global drug empire?
Unlawful Killings: Life, Love and Murder: Trials at the Old Bailey by Her Honour Wendy Joseph QC (Transworld Publishers, £15.95)
High-profile murder cases all too often make for clickbait media headlines that grip public attention. Unlike most of us, however, a judge doesn’t get to turn the page and move on. Nor does the defendant, the family of the victim or the many people who populate the courtroom. While most only have a rough idea of the mechanics of a Crown Court, anyone could end up in the witness box or even the dock. In Unlawful Killings, Her Honour Wendy Joseph QC describes how cases unfold and illustrates exactly what it is like to be a murder trial judge and a witness to the extremes of humanity’s good and evil.
The Bewitching by Jill Dawson (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.59)
Set in the 16th century, The Bewitching by Jill Dawson is a chilling tale of the notorious witch trial in the village of Warboys in Cambridgeshire. Based on a true story, the book begins with a local woman and herbalist Alice Samuels being invited to visit her new neighbours the Throckmorton family. Elizabeth Throckmorton is the new mistress of Warboys manor house, her husband Robert has been appointed Squire and they have five daughters. When Jane, one of the younger children, starts to behave strangely and appears to suffer from fits, she points the finger at Alice Samuels as the behaviour spreads to her sisters. The Bewitching is a vivid recreation of 16th-century life in The Fens and a powerfully moving tale about cruelty, persecution and power.
The Digital Republic: On Freedom and Democracy in the 21st century by Jamie Susskind (Bloomsbury Publishing, £19.45)
Only a short while ago, the technology industry was widely admired, and the internet was seen as a tonic for freedom and democracy. Not anymore. Every day, the headlines are ablaze with reports of racist algorithms, data leaks, and social media platforms festering with falsehood and hate. In The Digital Republic, the acclaimed author Jamie Susskind argues that these problems are not the fault of a few bad apples at the top of the industry but they are the result of our failure to govern technology properly. The Digital Republic charts a new course, with new legal standards, new public bodies and institutions, new duties on platforms, new rights and regulators and new codes of conduct for people in the tech industry. The book envisions a different type of society: a digital republic in which human and technological flourishing go hand in hand.
Takeaway: Stories from a childhood behind the counter by Angela Hui (Orion Publishing, £13.75)
Takeaway is an eye-opening memoir charting the stories behind living in and running a Chinese takeaway in rural Wales by Angela Hui. Growing up in a takeaway, Hui was made aware from a young age just how different she and her East Asian family were regarded by her local community. From attacks on the shopfront to verbal abuse from customers and confrontations that ended with her dad wielding the meat cleaver, life growing up in a takeaway was far from peaceful. But alongside the strife, there was also beauty and joy to be found in the rhythm of life in the takeaway and being surrounded by the cuisine of her home culture. This beguiling memoir by the award-winning writer, who now works as a food and drink writer at Time Out, brings readers along on the journey from Hui’s earliest memories to her family closing the shop after 30 years in the business, complete with recipes at the end of each chapter.
The Lighthouse of Stalingrad: The Epic Siege at the Heart of WWII’s Greatest Battle by Iain MacGregor (Little Brown, £19.45)
In time for the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the battle of Stalingrad, The Lighthouse of Stalingrad depicts the historic battle through the prism of the men who fought one another over five months and the officers who commanded them. This riveting account will also draw on unseen documents from German and Russian archives, digging out unpublished memoirs and eyewitness testimonies from veterans and civilians alike. Painting a truer picture of the battle, and focusing on a frontline building codenamed The Lighthouse, MacGregor shows how the Great Patriotic War troops surrounding the battle perpetuate in Putin’s Russia and even reveals that it was a Ukrainian who took the final German surrender.
Trust by Hernan Diaz (Pan Macmillan, £13.75)
In 1937 a novel was published that soon became essential reading for the entirety of New York. Bonds told the story of Benjamin and Helen Rask, the legendary Wall Street tycoon and the daughter of eccentric aristocrats. Together, they rose to the top of a world of seemingly endless wealth — all as a decade of excess drew to an end. But at what cost did they acquire their immense fortune? Hernan Diaz’s Trust builds on the famous novel, collating these competing narratives into conversation with one another — creating a story within a story. At once an immersive story and literacy puzzle, Trust engages the reader in a quest for the truth while confronting the deceptions that often live at the heart of personal relationships, the reality-warping force of capital, and the ease with which power can manipulate facts.
The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell (Headline Publishing, £19.45)
Set during the Italian Renaissance in Florence, The Marriage Portrait tells the story of Lucrezia, the third daughter of Cosimo de Medici. When her older sister dies on the eve of her marriage to Alfonso d’Este, ruler of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio, Lucrezia is thrust unwittingly into the limelight. Having hardly left girlhood behind, Lucrezia now must navigate her way in a troubled court and fulfil her duty of providing an heir who will shore up the future of the Ferrarese dynasty. Until then, for all her rank and nobility, the new duchess’s future hangs entirely in the balance. With the same drama and verve used in the award-winning Hamnet, O’Farrell now brings the world of Renaissance Italy to life and offers a distinct portrait of a resilient young woman’s battle for survival.