The books to look out for in 2011

Jonathan Derbyshire looks forward to the new year in books.

Two subgenres did more than most to keep the market in serious non-fiction buoyant during 2010: politicians' memoirs (especially those by erstwhile Labour premiers and cabinet ministers) and books about the financial crisis of autumn 2008 and its aftermath (John Lanchester and Joseph Stiglitz produced two of the most notable fruits of a particularly abundant crop). Like Gordon Brown, his predecessor in No 11 Downing Street, Alistair Darling has chosen to fuse personal testimony with economic analysis in his forthcoming book Back from the Brink, due from Atlantic in September. According to Darling's publisher, Toby Mundy, Back from the Brink will "put the reader inside the room during the most seismic economic crisis of modern times".

The former chancellor's magnum opus will probably be the most eagerly awaited political book of the year - especially as none of his former cabinet colleagues shows any sign of following New Labour's founding troika into print (though unexpurgated editions of the second and third volumes of Alastair Campbell's diaries will be published by Hutchinson in January and June, respectively, and the serially rebellious Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews will offer a view from the back benches in Off Message, due from Profile in February).

It is probably too early to expect a proper assessment of the entente cordiale between David Cameron and Nick Clegg, though the New Statesman's Mehdi Hasan and his former colleague James Macintyre have wasted no time in taking the measure of Cameron's opposite number - their Ed: Ed Miliband and the Remaking of the Labour Party (Biteback) will be published in the summer.

Darling's attempt to account for the Great Correction of 2008 notwithstanding, the torrent of "crash lit" that dominated non-fiction lists over the past two years will slow to a trickle in 2011. Rather than trying to explain the failure of the model of financial capitalism that predominated in the west for so long, some thinkers are turning to scrutinise the very idea of "the west". In The Origins of Political Order (Profile, May), Francis Fukuyama examines the difficult birth of western political institutions, while in Civilisation (Allen Lane, March), Niall Ferguson asks if the era of western ascendancy is over. Dambisa Moyo addresses the same question in How the West Was Lost: 50 Years of Economic Folly - and the Stark Choices Ahead (Allen Lane, January) and concludes that there is still time for the west to save itself.

Western, and especially anglophone, hegemony has been cultural as well as economic. Next year, we celebrate the 400th anniversary of one of the cornerstones of English-language culture, the King James Bible. In The Book of Books: the Radical Impact of the King James Bible, 1611-2011 (Hodder & Stoughton, April) Melvyn Bragg shows how the cadences and coinages of the Authorised Version saturate our native tongue.
Among the other literary anniversaries that will fall in 2011, the novelist William Golding was born a hundred years ago in September, and to mark the occasion his publisher Faber & Faber will issue centenary editions of Lord of the Flies and The Inheritors (both August). In May, the same house will publish Judy Golding's The Children of Lovers: a Memoir of William Golding By His Daughter, described as a "frank and engaging family memoir" in which she "recalls growing up with a brilliant, loving, sometimes difficult parent".

There are a number of other major literary biographies to look out for, the most intriguing of which is Richard Bradford's Martin Amis: the Biography (Constable, March). Although the biography is not "authorised" (and the author's earlier description of it as such led to a tussle with his subject), Amis did grant Bradford a series of long interviews, on the basis of which Bradford claims to have built a picture of the "real Martin Amis, a cabinet of contrasts". Other lives of writers due are Arthur Miller: 1962-2005 by Christopher Bigsby (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, February) and Edith Sitwell: Avant-Garde Poet, English Genius by Richard Greene (Virago, March).

Although Amis won't be publishing a novel in 2011, we can expect new fiction from several of his peers - principal among them Graham Swift, whose first novel in four years, Wish You Were Here, is published by Picador in June. Among other notable novels to be published in the first half of 2011 are Djibouti (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, February) by the éminence grise of American crime fiction, Elmore Leonard, Jay Parini's fictionalised life of his celebrated compatriot The Passages of Herman Melville (Canongate, January), There but for the by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton, June) and, in July, also from Hamish Hamilton, The Pinnacles by Hari Kunzru, set in the desert south-west of the United States.

Novelists of Kunzru's generation writing in English still labour in the shadow of the late, great David Foster Wallace, who died in 2008. In April, Wallace's last, unfinished novel, The Pale King, portions of which have already appeared in the New Yorker, will be published by Hamish Hamilton. The book is set in an American tax office and is an attempt, according to Wallace's editor, "to weave a novel out of life's dark matter: boredom, banality, the 'irrelevant complexity' of everyday life, all the maddening stuff that stands between us and the rest of the world and through which we have to travel to arrive at joy".

Wallace read philosophy at college, where one of his obsessions was the metaphysics of mind. In January, two new books, both by scientists, grapple with what philosophers call the "hard problem" of consciousness. In The Tell-Tale Brain: Unlocking the Mystery of Human Nature (Heinemann), the neurologist V S Ramachandran sets about unravelling the "mysterious connections between brain, mind and body". What we call the self, he argues, is a complex skein of many strands, each of which is susceptible to study by experiment. Nicholas Humphrey, in Soul Dust (Quercus), takes a similar line: consciousness might seem mysterious to us, but there is a perfectly "straightforward physical explanation" for it.

The Best of the Rest

The Gordian Knot by Bernhard Schlink (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, January); Great House by Nicole Krauss (Viking, February); Other People's Money by Justin Cartwright (Bloomsbury, March); The Lovers by Vendela Vida (Atlantic, April); Lucky Break by Esther Freud (Bloomsbury, April);
At Last by Edward St Aubyn (Picador, May)

How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism by Eric Hobsbawm (Little, Brown, January); Fruitlands: the Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia by Richard Francis (Yale University Press, January); The Taste of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food by Lizzie Collingham (Allen Lane, January); A History of the World Since 9/11 by Dominic Streatfeild (Atlantic, February)

The Stranger in the Mirror: a Memoir of Middle Age by Jane Shilling (Chatto & Windus, January); Treblinka: a Survivor's Memory by Chil Rajchman (MacLehose Press, January); Paradoxical Undressing by Kristin Hersh (Atlantic, January); The Professor and Other Writings by Terry Castle (Tuskar Rock, March)

Jonathan Derbyshire is culture editor of the New Statesman

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 January 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The siege of Gaza