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The 15 best books for summer

The New Statesman’s selection of essential recent releases.

By New Statesman

The Death of Consensus
by Phil Tinline
C Hurst & Co, 472pp, £20

The radio producer Phil Tinline describes the past 100 years as a series of crises – unemployment, strikes, inflation and Brexit – in which consensus, “the limits that shape the politically possible”, breaks. Tinline’s narrative of competing nightmares is timely and original.

Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne
by Katherine Rundell
Faber & Faber, 352pp, £16.99

In this spirited and empathetic biography, Katherine Rundell warns us against imagining that John Donne’s poems are any more autobiographical than Shakespeare’s sonnets. What she does offer is a sense of wonder and delight in the physicality and complexity of Donne’s poetry.

Companion Piece
by Ali Smith
Hamish Hamilton, 240pp, £16.99

A coda to Smith’s Seasonal Quartet, this is a discursive lockdown story with a historic subplot. What is real and what is dreamed is not totally clear. But the characters’ sparring and Smith’s immense facility for wordplay provide both humour and hope.

Rule, Nostalgia
by Hannah Rose Woods
WH Allen, 394pp, £20

Today’s culture wars are the starting point for Hannah Rose Woods’ intelligent first book. She sets them in context, from the 16th century to the present day, to prove that while the object and expression of nostalgia may have changed, the British have always lamented that things aren’t what they used to be.

Back in the Day: A Memoir
by Melvyn Bragg
Sceptre, 416pp, £25

This affecting memoir shows just how far Melvyn Bragg has come. It recounts, through a series of vivid snapshots, his boyhood and youth in Wigton in Cumbria, where the future lord and arts grandee grew up in material poverty but emotional richness. There is nothing rose-tinted about Bragg’s reminiscences, and while in other hands this story would be cliché, Bragg fills every memory with both meaning and feeling.

An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us
by Ed Yong
Bodley Head, 464pp, £20

In his second book, the Atlantic writer Ed Yong excoriates the idea that nature exists to meet human needs. By exploring the advanced sensory abilities and interior worlds of animals including jewel wasps, bats, octopuses and great whales, he shows that there is a world of unfathomable beauty all around us.

by Keiran Goddard
Little, Brown, 208pp, £12.99

The first novel by the poet Keiran Goddard reads like free verse or a series of proverbs. Our unnamed protagonist is particular, obsessive and shrewd. Peppered with funny and profound observations, his is a universal story about two people falling in love, one falling out of it, and the other coming to terms with the loss.

The Starmer Project: A Journey to the Right
by Oliver Eagleton
Verso, 240pp, £12.99

Spared by Durham police, Keir Starmer remains in position to face the next Tory PM. But, Oliver Eagleton argues, so far he has been little more than a helpmeet of the ideological status quo. This forensic and damning book charts the Labour leader’s career as a tale of both tragedy and farce.

My Name is Yip
by Paddy Crewe
Doubleday, 384pp, £14.99

Paddy Crewe is from Stockton-on-Tees and My Name is Yip is his first novel – but you wouldn’t guess either of those things from this immersive coming-of-age adventure set in the Gold Rush-era American South. Its narrator, Yip Tolroy – mute, of diminutive stature, with “inexplicably not a single hair” on his body – may lack speech, but Crewe has given him an unforgettable voice.

Let’s Do It: The Birth of Pop
by Bob Stanley
Faber & Faber, 656pp, £25

Ragtime set the template for every successive pop boom, argues the writer and musician Bob Stanley in his lively history of the popular music of the first half of the 20th century. Featuring the stories of Frank Sinatra, Ma Rainey and Glenn Miller, as well as lesser known figures such as the black, gay, British composer Reginald Foresythe, this book shows how pop has always moved forward by looking back.

[See also: Our 12 favourite children’s books]

Constructing a Nervous System
by Margo Jefferson
Granta, 208pp, £16.99

The American critic Margo Jefferson is a lithe and always surprising writer. Here, blending memoir and arts criticism, she turns to the artists whom, as a child, she imagined to be her alter egos – Ella Fitzgerald and Ike Turner – and in doing so paints a remarkable portrait of herself as a singular kind of performer.

Acts of Service
by Lillian Fishman
Europa Editions, 224pp, £12.99

Part erotic Bildungsroman, part melancholy comedy of manners, Lillian Fishman’s debut novel follows Eve, whose nude photos, posted online, lead to a threesome. This is a searching book that arrives with quiet confidence and a fully formed bank of ideas about intimacy, sexual ethics and contemporary mores.

The Real and the Romantic: English Art Between Two World Wars
by Frances Spalding
Thames & Hudson, 384pp, £35

Here is a revealing survey of how British artists reacted to the shock of the First World War and answered the question: what should art look like in the wake of mechanised mass killing? Frances Spalding meticulously and stylishly uncovers a range of vibrant responses, from the modern pastorals of Eric Ravilious to Henry Moore’s radical experiments.

Cornerstones: Wild Forces That Can Change Our World
by Benedict Macdonald
Bloomsbury, 256pp, £17.99

Could restoring Britain’s native species, from wild boar to beavers, help preserve our islands? At a time of political stasis, economic downturn and climate dread, this celebration of the species that anchor healthy, life-giving ecosystems is a timely reminder to recognise – and urgently protect – our common roots. Benedict Macdonald has written a primordially fortifying book.

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head: Poems
by Warsan Shire
Chatto & Windus, 96pp, £12.99

“No one would leave home unless home chased you,” writes Warsan Shire in her debut collection. In her verse, the Somali British poet tells stories of war, the plight of refugees and female genital mutilation, with a very contemporary mix of deep tenderness and caustic humour.

[See also: The 14 best books to help you understand Putin’s Russia]

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This article appears in the 20 Jul 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Broken Party