John Butler's The Red Dean of Canterbury (Scala, £16.95) is a first-class biography of Hewlett Johnson, dean of Canterbury for several decades, champion of Stalin and thorn in the flesh of successive archbishops. It is hard to know what to make of his unswerving loyalty, even after Hungary in 1956, to the Soviet system: naivety or unwillingness to face facts?
But no one can doubt his courage and obstinate consistency. Butler gives us a finely nuanced picture of a not wholly sympathetic personality, using lots of hitherto unquarried sources. The other outstanding new book for me this year is a completely different matter - Adam Zagajewski's Unseen Hand (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $23), a memorable collection of poems, admirably translated by Clare Cavanagh, and surely among the finest European writing of recent years.