19 December 2022

CapX authors choose their Books of 2022


If ever a year needed some literary distractions, it was 2022. Our contributors have served up a feast of recommendations, from dense histories and serious political analyses to more whimsical offerings, there’s something for everyone in CapX’s Books of 2022.

Robert Colvile

Since he agreed to fly over for our annual conference, it seems rude not to recommend Tyler Cowen’s Stubborn Attachments, his first-principles argument for the value – and morality! – of growth. For a more depressing take on the same terrain, there’s also Dietrich Vollrath’s Fully Grown, which tries to explain why said growth has been so hard to come by. Meanwhile, the death of Hilary Mantel sent me back to the Wolf Hall trilogy. I’m still only midway through, but her command of language is utterly extraordinary – even if it’s still impossible to reconcile the character in her books with the man in Holbein’s portrait. Once I finish, it will finally be time to tackle A Place of Greater Safety, Mantel’s take on the French revolution, which has been sitting in my to-read pile for years.

Alys Denby

William MacAskill is a leading thinker in the effective altruism movement that has now become tainted by association with crypto-charlatan Sam Bankman-Fried. It’s perhaps unfair to read MacAskill’s book What We Owe The Future as a kind of manifesto for the warped moral thinking that led to the collapse of FTX, but it’s an interesting exercise nonetheless. The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark, Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald and Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor all share a Dickensian fascination with London and complex, compelling female characters. And they’re all under 200 pages long, so perfect for people like me who’ve addled their brains with toddlers and Twitter.

John Ashmore

I’ll take this chance to give a shout out to some of our 2022 CapX Podcast guests. Will Storr’s The Status Game is one of those rare books that makes you look again at how pretty much every aspect of our lives really works – the sections on Nazism and communism in particular are proper ‘must-reads’. John McWhorter’s Woke Racism makes a compelling, eloquent argument that the hyper-political correctness that has gripped much of the US is not a political movement but, literally, a religion. Richard Reeves’ Of Boys and Men is required reading for anyone interested in why boys are doing badly in a whole lot of important ways – and how we might put that right.

Christopher Snowdon

Without a doubt, my book of the year was The Price of Time by Edward Chancellor. It is a phenomenally well researched history of interest rates which makes the case that central banks have been digging an economic hole for the last 20 years from which we are now struggling to get out. On one of the other key problems of our time, I found Andrew Doyle’s The New Puritans to be an incisive analysis of the warped ideas that have infected higher education and produced a generation of intolerant, narcissistic brats. On a lighter note, I recommend Adrian Chiles’ The Good Drinker. Chiles has spent most of his life drinking a lot of alcohol. He now drinks considerably less – still more than the Chief Medical Officer advises but not enough to be life-threatening – and he has a few tips for people who want to cut down. Although there is an element of the self-help book about it, it is mainly a memoir told through the prism of booze and is a lot of fun.

Ian Acheson

This year I enjoyed Malachi O’Doherty’s Can Ireland be One?, written by a journalist and writer from a nationalist background who understands unionists perhaps better than we do ourselves. A clear-eyed and immensely readable analysis of the case for unity. Another book released this year, Jacob Micamgana’s Free Speech is an accessible and challenging thesis on the nobility of free expression from Socrates to the Internet age and why we undermine it at our peril. I also took in Evan Davies’ 2018 book Post Truth, an exploration of the power of bullshit, and a valuable handbook for understanding modern government.

Henry Oliver

This year I discovered Organising Genius by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman, a series of case studies about remarkable collections of talent who transformed their industries, from Disney to the Manhattan Project to Bill Clinton. It’s a short, entertaining study of the sort of energy we need in government. It pairs well with Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne, by Katharine Rundell. We are unlikely to find many poets seeking preferment at court these days, but this splendid book is an object lesson in the way to survive and thrive in your career during times of political instability.

Henry Hill

The book I most enjoyed this year was Michael Foot’s Loyalists and Loners, a collection of book reviews which doubles as a set of sharply-drawn and very enjoyable portraits of his political contemporaries. A useful corrective to his modern image as a humorous footnote in the Thatcher story, and a sad reminder of a time when even Labour’s radical wing were steeped in respect for Britain and her constitutional tradition.

William Atkinson

All my life I have longed for a political philosophy. In Peter Wilkin’s The Strange Case of Tory Anarchism, I finally found it. Ranging from George Orwell, to the Waughs, to Chris Morris, it provides a suitable introduction to the only ideology available for those who are both radicals and traditionalists at once. And who want to have something pretentious to say at parties, obviously.

Marie Le Conte

Lea Ypi’s Free is an autobiographical look at the fall of communism in Albania through the eyes of a child and teenager. Ypi weaves in the personal and the political beautifully, and is surprisingly easy to read given the dour subject matter. I inhaled it in days.

Sam Ashworth-Hayes

Early Riser, by Jasper Fforde takes us to a world where the last ice age didn’t end. Britain carries on under the tender ministrations of ‘HiberTech’, a pharmaceutical company producing hibernation drugs which only occasionally turn their users into zombies. When an outbreak of viral dreams begins, Charlie Worthing – a trainee guardian of the winter months – finds himself drawn into a conspiracy. Funny, creative, enjoyable. On the non-fiction front Adrienne’ Mayor’s Gods and Robots is a terrific brief history of artificial life as imagined (primarily) in Greco-Roman mythology.– a fun parallel with modern developments.

Andrew Hunt

Roger Scruton’s Beauty: A Very Short Introduction  makes the case for classical ideas of beauty in architecture, planning, nature and the arts. As we try to repair the atomisation of society, a loss of purpose and the mental health crisis, the healing power of classical beauty is underappreciated. Written in 1942, John Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down tells the story of a fictional mining town invaded by an unnamed country. It’s a reminder that there ‘there are no peaceful people’ amongst those whose freedom has been taken away by force. Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by Dennis S. Charney and Steven M. Southwick profiles people who have suffered disability, disease, family bereavement and even prolonged torture, yet emerged as happy and contributing members of society. The common lesson, the authors conclude, is that ‘resilience is about understanding the difference between fate and freedom, and learning to take responsibility for one’s own life’.

Matthew Lesh

Desmond Shum’s Red Roulette: An Insider’s Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption, and Vengeance in Today’s China provides an extraordinary account of how the senior leadership of the CCP intermingles with the world of business for their own betterment. It explores how China’s entrepreneurial class have been kept on a tight leash and raises questions as to whether Xi’s new era of control could end up backfiring for economic development. Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West, from Catherine Belton, traces an almost equivalent story for Russia, exploring how Putin manipulated Yeltsin and coopted the oligarchs. On economics, Arriving Today: From Factory to Front Door, by Christopher Mims of the Wall Street Journal, is a fascinating account of modern supply chains – a modern-day I, Pencil following a USB charger from manufacturer to your door. Meanwhile, Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington, by James Kirchick, explores the oft-explosive role of homosexuality in modern American politics since FDR. It introduces some great terminology like the gay Reaganite social milieu split between the ‘laissez-ferries’, ‘rich and power queens’ and the ‘GATT (Gays Who Assembled to Talk Trade)’

Stephen Pollard

The book I’ve most enjoyed this year has been David Robson’s typically beautifully written memoir of his life as a journalist, The Owner’s Mother Loves My Stuff. I had the privilege of sitting next to David when we were on the Express, and it was a masterclass in how a journalistic craftsman goes about his work (as well as a never ending supply of fabulous anecdotes).

Helen Dale

I don’t agree with all of it by any means, but given I review scores of books every year, the most striking thing I’ve read in 2022 is Louise Perry’s The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, which I reviewed for Law & Liberty.

Phil Craig

My favourite book this year was The Maturing Sun by Angela Bolton – a beautiful account of life, death, love and change in late Imperial India, written down every evening in the diary she carries in her uniform pocket. A gorgeously evocative journey into the end days of Empire, in the company of someone whose sensibility feels more 1960s than 1940s.

Len Shackleton

This year I enjoyed Orderly Britain: How Britain has resolved everyday problems, from dog fouling to double parking by Tim Newburn and Andrew Ward. It traces the way in which regulation alters preferences which in turn leads to more regulation in a peaceful but inexorable process. The authors approve, but you may find this process more worrying.

Harry Phibbs

Robert Hardman’s biography Queen of Our Times: The Life of Elizabeth II combines erudition with fascinating and entertaining anecdotes. My other selection is Land of Milk and Honey: Digressions of a Rural Dissident by Jamie Blackett, a trenchant account of the challenges facing the countryside, especially in Scotland – so often due to counterproductive meddling from officialdom. But Blackett is also positive and good-humoured. There is a plucky determination to overcome all the adversity and prejudice he has to cope with.

Gavin Mortimer

This year I enjoyed Russia: A 1000-year chronicle of the Wild East by Martin Sixsmith. A gripping and piercing insight into the psyche of the country and its people. Sixsmith’s sweeping history brings understanding to how the West’s strategy in dealing with Russia post-communism was destined to end in confrontation. Alistair Horne’s superb The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune 1870-71 underlines that if the 1789 revolution was a bourgeois uprising, the Commune of 1871 was led by the proletariat. It goes a long way to explaining why Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon won so many seats in this year’s parliamentary elections.

Oliver Kamm

Of books published this year, I particularly enjoyed (in an appalled sense) Pyramid of Lies by Duncan Mavin, an account of the rise and fall of Greensill Capital. It’s a riveting tale of hubris and cupidity, as well as laying bare the extraordinary naïveté of David Cameron, who plainly hoped for easy riches from this connection. Richard Dawkins is a scientist of distinction and a science writer of immense gifts. Flights of Fancy is a fascinating and illuminating account of the mechanisms of flight, both by the descendants of dinosaurs (namely, birds) and through the sophisticated designs of aeronautical engineers.

David James 

Elizabeth Lowry’s haunting and poetic The Chosen brought Thomas Hardy, and the many problems he had with women, vividly to life. Imperfect and overlong though it was, Ian McEwan’s Lessons had some wonderful passages and explored the darker side of female behaviour. Tom Chivers’ London Clay was an excellent and slightly obsessive exploration of London’s forgotten rivers: as he dug down into the capital’s foundations he uncovered ancient myths and histories and, often poetically, intertwined them with the London of today. But my favourite read of all was JL Carr’s A Month in the Country, first published in 1980, but describing an already fast-fading rural England. I know things are so much better now than in those interwar years, but what elegance we have lost, both in terms of behaviour and thought.

Mark Lehain

My favourite book this year was Paul McCartney’s The Lyrics. Even though I’ve been a pretty big Beatles geek since my teens, it was chock-a-block full of stuff I had no idea about regarding songs and their origins and development. Absolutely fascinating stuff.

Kristian Niemietz

The Economics and Politics of Brexit: The Realignment of British Public Life by my IEA colleague Steve Davies offers an intriguing explanation for why British politics has been so weird lately. And if Dr Davies is right, this is far from over yet. Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World by Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell is the book I wish I had written, because it combines two of my hobby horses – socialism and beer – in a highly entertaining way. Why You Should Be A Socialist by Nathan J Robinson, on the other hand, inadvertently shows why you should be no such thing. Robinson may be articulate, but for all his highfalutin rhetoric, he can’t offer even the most basic outline of how his version of “real” socialism is supposed to work. Hitler’s National Socialism by Rainer Zitelmann is a thorough analysis, based almost entirely on primary sources, of the central role that various anti-capitalist ideologies played in the National Socialist worldview.
Eamonn Ives
For the last couple of years I’ve loosely subscribed to the idea – (un?)popularised by Sam Bankman-Fried – that books aren’t really worth reading. Blogs, Substacks and Tweet threads (and, of course, CapX articles) are usually much more efficient vehicles to convey information. But a holiday to Tuscany had me reaching for my copy of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince. At the time I was thumbing through the pages, Liz Truss’ premiership was beginning to show the first signs of its ultimate breakdown. ‘He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command’, wrote Machiavelli in 1513. Events of 2022 suggest this holds true to this day.
Owen Polley

The Greeks: A Global History by Roderic Beaton is an entertaining introduction to Greek history that I took to Athens and Thessaloniki. The Idea of the Union: Great Britain and Northern Ireland – Realities and Challenges collects some of the latest thinking on the constitutional difficulties facing the United Kingdom, particularly in relation to Northern Ireland. As for fiction, I enjoyed reading Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov, which tells a moving and humorous tale of a bee-keeper in eastern Ukraine, who navigates the difficulties created by war and competing political allegiances as best he can.

Andy Mayer

A consumer of knowledge more by ear than eye, this year my right-wing listening has been the Jordan B. Peterson Podcast, which has taken a turn towards free markets and energy. Petersons’ is particularly interesting if like many liberal libertarians you’ve come from the left and have started questioning whether you really understand the conservatives you reflexively demonised in your youth. Or if you’re an atheist who doesn’t understand why rational people still believe in this secular age. You don’t have to agree with him, but Peterson makes you think.

Ex-Buzzfeed journalist Sarah Marshall and her rainbow-flag branded modern history podcast You’re Wrong About is quite a contrast. Originally co-hosted with Michael Hobbes of Huffpost, it’s a semi-regular deep dive into American pop-culture and the misremembered stories of her youth, from the OJ Simpson trial to the Amityville Horror and the Challenger Disaster. Neither, to put it mildly, are fans of conservatives – and Marshall reserves particular disdain for Reagan. For them woke is kindness and Biden tolerable. But their politics rarely detract from the sometimes insanely forensic but funny analysis of things we think we know but don’t.

Click here to subscribe to our daily briefing – the best pieces from CapX and across the web.

CapX depends on the generosity of its readers. If you value what we do, please consider making a donation.

John Ashmore is Editor of CapX.