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29 December 2015

Best of the NS in 2015: Books and Fiction

Our best pieces from the past year. In this selection, our favourite writing about books and some original fiction.

By New Statesman

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The hurt locker: Rowan Williams on the anguish of T S Eliot

By Rowan Williams

Young Eliot, the first volume of Robert Crawford’s new T S Eliot biography, shows how a bruising home life led to poetic breakthrough.

The only way to approach the Bible is with intellectual humility

By Frank Cottrell Boyce

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The Bible is, as Wilson’s title has it, the book of the people. We build our meanings together.

Antonia Fraser and David Lodge: A tale of two writers, posh and prole

By John Mullan

New memoirs from Antonia Fraser and David Lodge show very different British upbringings.

Goodbye to Terry Pratchett, the only writer who ever truly conquered my inner cynic

By Helen Lewis

Finishing The Shepherd’s Crown was a double sadness: not just goodbye to Terry Pratchett, but goodbye to a younger, less cynical version of myself.

There is no us and them: remembering the lost Armenians

By Elif Shafak

Perhaps the most difficult word to pronounce aloud in the Turkish language is “soykirim” – genocide.

Lewis Carroll and his “child-friends”: revelations about Alice and her wonderland

By Lyndall Gordon

New studies by Edward Wakeling and Robert Douglas-Fairhurst uncover the story of one of literature’s most debated men.

How the ghost of Reagan still haunts the Republicans

By K Biswas

Mission statements from the GOP candidates point to a political movement haunted by the ghost of Ronald Reagan.

This is your brain on unread emails: does the information age stop us thinking straight?

By Sophie McBain

Three new books explore the modern information assault – and how to survive it.

Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath: partners in martyrdom

By Erica Wagner

Jonathan Bate’s unauthorised biography confirms that, no matter how energetic his love life, Hughes’s obsession with Plath never faded.

Shock of the new: the books that were ahead of their time

By Ali Smith, Blake Morrison et al

Experimental writing is not always immediately appreciated. As the Goldsmiths Prize for innovative fiction announces its 2015 shortlist, we asked some of our favourite writers which past British or Irish novel deserves a retrospective award.

Death of the naturalist: why is the “new nature writing” so tame?

By Mark Cocker

The so-called new nature writing has become a publishing phenomenon, but how much do its authors truly care about our wild places?

Why we need nature writing

By Robert Macfarlane

A new “culture of nature” is changing the way we live – and could change our politics, too.

What lies beneath: how Europe succumbed to toxic ideology and violence

By Margaret MacMillan

A review of Ian Kershaw and Heinrich August Winkler’s accounts of Europe’s “age of catastrophe”, 1914-49.

Pope of the masses: is Francis really the people’s champion?

By Rowan Williams

The former Archbishop of Canterbury reflects on the politics of Pope Francis.

Why John le Carré is more than a spy novelist

By William Boyd

What Joseph Conrad started, John le Carré enshrined and made modern.

The Nazi everyman: John Gray on Hitler’s propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels

By John Gray

Joseph Goebbels embraced barbarism to escape the chaos of his time.

Margaret Drabble: what kind of a feminist is Elena Ferrante?

By Margaret Drabble

The Story of the Lost Child is the final instalment in a literary phenomenon. But what does its elusive author really believe?

How nostalgic literature became an agent in American racism

By Sarah Churchwell

From To Kill a Mockingbird to Gone With The Wind, literary mythmaking has long veiled the ugly truth of the American South.

The gangsters of Rome: the brutal side of the ancient city

By William Dalrymple

The Roman emperors created a world that seems modern but contains unspeakable horrors, as new books by Mary Beard and Tom Holland reveal.

Genghis and Saladin: the men who invented global terror

By Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Saladin decapitated prisoners as ruthlessly as Isis does now – and Genghis Khan was brutal from childhood. But what can we learn from these men?

White whale in the big smoke: How the geography of London inspired Moby-Dick

By Philip Hoare

Late at night, Herman Melville “turned flukes” down Oxford Street as if he were being followed by a great whale, and thought he saw “blubber rooms” in the butcheries of the Fleet Market.

The fat man walks alone: how Hitchcock the ham became film’s greatest artist

By Leo Robson

Today, Hitchcock is revered for his contribution to cinema. But his reputation as a “serious” director came late, as new biographies from Michael Wood and Peter Ackroyd reveal.

Our favourite writers on the books every 16-year-old should read

By Michael Rosen, Eimear McBride et al

Tony Little’s guide to education lists books that “every bright 16-year-old should read”. We asked some of our favourite authors to share their suggestions, from Myles na gCopaleen to Bill Bryson.

“And so on”

By Ali Smith

“Every time I sit down to try to write this story about death, life intervenes . . .” Original fiction from the author of How to be Both.

“Autumn crocus”

By David Vann

A retelling of the gruesome story of Medea’s revenge.

“Gnomon”

By Jeanette Winterson

A tale of lived versus mechanical time.