The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
The definitive post-apocalyptic novel. An unspecified disaster has befallen America, and a father and son wander unconsoled and afraid through a blasted landscape. Charting the pair's peregrinations through this "cauterised terrain", McCarthy's prose achieves a pitch of poetic intensity and terrible beauty that few,
if any, of his contemporaries could dream of matching.
The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen (2009)
Sen's magisterial critique of the dominant mode of liberal political philosophy, which chases after the chimera of an ideally just society rather than identifying existing injustices, confirmed him as the English-speaking world's pre-eminent public intellectual. By 2009, leading politicians from all sides were falling over themselves to claim Sen as their own.
Austerlitz by W G Sebald (2001)
Austerlitz was Sebald's final book; he died in a car crash shortly after it was published. Like its critically lauded predecessors, it mixes fiction and memoir in order to cast light on the darkest hours of European history in the middle of the 20th century.
The Looming Tower: al-Qaeda's Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright (2006)
The 11 September 2001 attacks may have shaped the world as we now know it, but al-Qaeda remains a mysterious and misunderstood organisation. Wright's meticulously researched account of the events leading up to the attacks shed light on Osama Bin Laden and his network of followers.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)
Didion has been one of America's sharpest essayists for many decades. In The Year of Magical Thinking, an account of the year that followed her husband's sudden death in 2003, she turns her skill as a writer to the most profoundly personal and traumatic events. The result is an unmatched study of grief.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
Anticipating the public's hunger for books that explain the world with a catchy-sounding theory, The Tipping Point told us why certain ideas catch on, and others don't. The Tipping Point, like Gladwell's subsequent books, sold millions of copies and launched an entire new genre.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000)
Written while Smith was still a literature student at Cambridge, White Teeth announced a major new talent. Drawing on her upbringing as a mixed-race child in north London, the novel captured a certain kind of confusion and longing at the heart of post-colonial Britain as it teetered on the edge of the 21st century.
The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2009)
Wilkinson and Pickett's study gave scientific weight to a long-held claim of the left: that people are happier and healthier when they live in societies where wealth is distributed more equally. But the book's influence stretches across party lines and its findings are likely to shape political debate for many years to come.
No Logo by Naomi Klein (2000)
This was the work that turned Klein, a Canadian journalist, into the world's foremost critic of globalisation. An investigation into corporate branding, No Logo was a rallying call for activists across the world. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand radical politics - including its failures - during the past decade.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2003)
In the vein of Art Spiegelman's Holocaust tale Maus or Joe Sacco's Palestine, Satrapi's memoir was a comic book with literary weight. A global bestseller that was then turned into a film, the book struck a chord with western readers in particular, desperate for human stories behind their countries' antagonistic relationship with Iran.