Reading lists

Books that shaped 2019

From stirring novels to thought-provoking journalism, inspiring memoirs to data-crunching eye-openers, these are the most influential books of the year. 

Penguin.co.uk

If one word summed up 2019, it might be uncertainty: in politics, in the future of our environment, in our ability to predict just what will happen next. But throughout the chaos, one thing has stood firm, and that's our love of a good read: in January it was reported that 190.9 million books were sold in the UK, a figure which has risen for the fourth year in a row.

Providing some much needed escapism is only part of the story. Throughout 2019, books were at the centre of the most important debates taking place in society, from climate change to gender equality to the mental health crisis. Sometimes they have enriched our understanding of difficult topics in a way endlessly scrolling social media simply can not. Sometimes they have started conversations we didn't even know we needed to have. 

Here, then, are the books we think have helped shape 2019, from transformative novels to agenda-setting journalism, inspiring memoirs to data-crunching eye-openers.

Becoming by Michelle Obama (November 2018)

Becoming
Becoming
An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir; 17 million copies sold worldwide

THE NO. 1 BESTSELLER


BRITISH BOOK AWARDS, NON-FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR


THE SUNDAY TIMES, MEMOIR OF THE YEAR


BOOKS OF THE YEAR: THE TIMES, OBSERVER, GUARDIAN, EVENING STANDARD


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In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era.

As First Lady of the United States of America - the first African-American to serve in that role - she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world. She dramatically changed the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and stood with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her - from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world's most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it - in her own words and on her own terms.

Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations - and whose story inspires us to do the same.
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'A rich, entertaining and candid memoir. And overall Obama's a fun person to sit alongside as she tells you the story of her life . . . it is as beautifully written as any piece of fiction' i

'A genuine page-turner, full of intimacies and reflections' Evening Standard

'Offers new insights into her upbringing on the south side of Chicago and the highs and lows of life with Barack Obama . . . a refreshing level of honesty about what politics really did to her' Guardian

'An inspirational memoir that also rings true' Daily Telegraph


MICHELLE OBAMA'S NEXT BOOK, THE LIGHT WE CARRY, IS AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER NOW

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez (March 7)

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (March 19)

Writing for the Guardian, author Diana Evans called Queenie an 'important political tome of black womanhood and black British life, a rare perspective from the margins.' It follows a 26-year-old Jamaican-British woman living in London and working at a national newspaper staffed primarily by white people who, following a messy break up, reaches her wit’s end and descends into full blown self-destruct mode. 

As well as being exceptionally funny, Queenie was important evidence of the huge appetite for fiction dealing with black identity in Britain, becoming one of the most celebrated and talked about novels of the year.

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan (April 18)

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (May 2)

This is Not a Drill by Extinction Rebellion (June 13)

This Is Not A Drill
This Is Not A Drill
Extinction Rebellion are inspiring a whole generation to take action on climate breakdown.
Now you can become part of the movement - and together, we can make history.


It's time. This is our last chance to do anything about the global climate and ecological emergency. Our last chance to save the world as we know it.

Now or never, we need to be radical. We need to rise up. And we need to rebel.

Extinction Rebellion is a global activist movement of ordinary people, demanding action from Governments. This is a book of truth and action. It has facts to arm you, stories to empower you, pages to fill in and pages to rip out, alongside instructions on how to rebel - from organising a roadblock to facing arrest.

By the time you finish this book you will have become an Extinction Rebellion activist. Act now before it's too late.

Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (June 18)

There was much hype surrounding New York Times writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s debut novel, and for good reason. Check the book review aggregator Bookmarks and you won't find a single negative review of the satire which turned the marriage novel inside out and became a talking point at dinner parties on both sides of the Atlantic.

It tells the story of a post-split couple struggling to come to terms with their past. He’s a newly dating app-obsessed doctor and she’s a workaholic booking agent. One night, she drops the kids off at 4 am and, with a casual text, vanishes from their lives. What follows is a shrewd poke about in the darkest corners of matrimony and untold truths about female rage, male inadequacy and the delicate power-balance marriage involves.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo (July 9)

Another 'have you read it yet?' moment of 2019 - this time, non-fiction - Three Women is a painstakingly researched study of the sex and love lives of three women that, as one reviewer put it, confirmed 'the hypocrisies of the heterosexual marriage, the psychological scars that sexual coercion and violence can leave on a person, and the persistence of gender inequality.'

Taddeo immersed herself in the lives of her subjects who were from quite different regions and backgrounds – an intimacy-starved housewife trapped in a passionless marriage; a student whose life is destroyed by an affair with a married teacher; and a reluctant swinger whose husband forces her to have threesomes that leave her feeling empty and unmoored.

A beautifully compassionate and complex feat of modern storytelling, it was a book that, in some ways, captured the #metoo movement in a way no book had done before.

Crossfire by Malorie Blackman (August 8)

Crossfire
Crossfire
Nominated for the Costa Children's Book Award

'The Noughts & Crosses series are still my favourite books of all time and showed me just how amazing story-telling could be'
STORMZY

'Malorie's Noughts & Crosses series is the first time I saw myself in a book . . . they were pacey, exciting, rich. What Malorie Blackman has always done so brilliantly is put the minority front and centre, both in society and politics.' CANDICE CARTY-WILLIAMS

'The most original book I've ever read' BENJAMIN ZEPHANIAH

'Malorie Blackman is absolutely amazing ... [Noughts & Crosses] really spoke to me, especially as a woman of dual heritage.' ZAWE ASHTON

'Crossfire is searing, political and furious. Malorie's world building is sublime and the way the Noughts & Crosses series holds a mirror up to society is unrivalled' JUNO DAWSON
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Years have passed since the love between Sephy - a Cross - and Callum - a Nought - destroyed their world and changed their families and society forever.

Society appears to be very different now. For the first time ever, a Nought Prime Minister - Tobey Durbridge - is in power. Race and class don't divide people anymore. But things are never really that easy.

Because Tobey's just been framed for murder, and the only way to free himself is to turn to his oldest friend - Callie-Rose.

Their families divisions run deep, and when two young people are kidnapped, their lives and everything they've fought for are put in the firing line.

And when you're playing a game as dangerous as this one, it won't be long before someone gets caught in the crossfire...

Crossfire is the long-awaited new novel in legendary author Malorie Blackman's ground-breaking Noughts & Crosses series.

'Rich in moral and social issues, it is devastating about racial attitudes' THE SUNDAY TIMES, CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK

'It chillingly echoes the tempestuous taste of the world today while offering the intensity of a thriller' I NEWSPAPER

How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (August 15)

How To Be an Antiracist
How To Be an Antiracist
**THE GLOBAL MILLION-COPY BESTSELLER**

NOT BEING RACIST IS NOT ENOUGH. WE HAVE TO BE ANTIRACIST.

'Transformative and revolutionary' ROBIN DIANGELO, author of White Fragility

'So vital' IJEOMA OLUO, author of So You Want to Talk About Race

In this rousing and deeply empathetic book, Ibram X. Kendi, one of the world's most influential scholars of racism, shows that neutrality is not an option: until we become part of the solution, we can only be part of the problem.

Using his extraordinary gifts as a teacher and story-teller, Kendi helps us recognise that everyone is, at times, complicit in racism whether they realise it or not, and by describing with moving humility his own journey from racism to antiracism, he shows us how instead to be a force for good. Along the way, Kendi punctures all the myths and taboos that so often cloud our understanding, from arguments about what race is and whether racial differences exist to the complications that arise when race intersects with ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality.

In the process he demolishes the myth of the post-racial society and builds from the ground up a vital new understanding of racism - what it is, where it is hidden, how to identify it and what to do about it.

'The most courageous book to date on the problem of race' New York Times

'It feels like a light switch being flicked on'
OWEN JONES

The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells (September 5)

The Uninhabitable Earth
The Uninhabitable Earth
**SUNDAY TIMES AND THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER**

'An epoch-defining book' Matt Haig
'If you read just one work of non-fiction this year, it should probably be this' David Sexton, Evening Standard

Selected as a Book of the Year 2019 by the Sunday Times, Spectator and New Statesman
A Waterstones Paperback of the Year and shortlisted for the Foyles Book of the Year 2019
Longlisted for the PEN / E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award


It is worse, much worse, than you think.

The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says it isn't happening at all, and if your anxiety about it is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today.

Over the past decades, the term "Anthropocene" has climbed into the popular imagination - a name given to the geologic era we live in now, one defined by human intervention in the life of the planet. But however sanguine you might be about the proposition that we have ravaged the natural world, which we surely have, it is another thing entirely to consider the possibility that we have only provoked it, engineering first in ignorance and then in denial a climate system that will now go to war with us for many centuries, perhaps until it destroys us. In the meantime, it will remake us, transforming every aspect of the way we live-the planet no longer nurturing a dream of abundance, but a living nightmare.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (September 10)

The Testaments
The Testaments
** WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE 2019 **

** SUNDAY TIMES NO. 1 BESTSELLER **


BOOK OF THE YEAR: Daily Telegraph, Evening Standard, Stylist, Sunday Times, Financial Times, Guardian, The Times, Observer, Red

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian masterpiece, The Handmaid’s Tale, is a modern classic. Now she brings the iconic story to a dramatic conclusion in this riveting sequel.


More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.

Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.

As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

‘Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.' Margaret Atwood





The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman (October 3)

The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust Volume Two
The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust Volume Two
It is twenty years since the events of La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One unfolded and saw the baby Lyra Belacqua begin her life-changing journey.

It is almost ten years since readers left Lyra and the love of her young life, Will Parry, on a park bench in Oxford's Botanic Gardens at the end of the ground-breaking, bestselling His Dark Materials sequence.

Now, in The Secret Commonwealth, we meet Lyra Silvertongue. And she is no longer a child . . .


The second volume of Philip Pullman's The Book of Dust sees Lyra, now twenty years old, and her daemon Pantalaimon, forced to navigate their relationship in a way they could never have imagined, and drawn into the complex and dangerous factions of a world that they had no idea existed. Pulled along on his own journey too is Malcolm; once a boy with a boat and a mission to save a baby from the flood, now a man with a strong sense of duty and a desire to do what is right.

Theirs is a world at once familiar and extraordinary, and they must travel far beyond the edges of Oxford, across Europe and into Asia, in search for what is lost - a city haunted by daemons, a secret at the heart of a desert, and the mystery of the elusive Dust.

The Secret Commonwealth is truly a book for our times; a powerful adventure and a thought-provoking look at what it is to understand yourself, to grow up and make sense of the world around you. This is storytelling at its very best from one of our greatest writers.

*The first book in The Book of Dust trilogy, La Belle Sauvage, is coming to the stage in the summer of this year. Performed at The Bridge Theatre from July 2020, it will be a theatrical spectacle not to be missed*
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Reviews for The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust Volume Two:

"[Pullman] has created a fantasy world, made yet more satisfying in rigour and stylistic elegance. This is a book for getting older with" Guardian, Book of the Week

"The Secret Commonwealth is ablaze with light and life. The writing is exquisite; every sentence sings ... To read Pullman is to experience the world refreshed, aglow, in Technicolour" i

"Pullman's story is still thought-provoking ... This book elegantly weaves in live issues, from Europe's refugee crisis to facts in the post-truth era. And Pullman's prose is rewarding as ever" The Times

"A long, taxing, complex journey, laced with beauty, terror and philosophy" Metro

"As ever, Pullman's story is complex and vast but home to some of the finest storytelling in the 21st century. Revel in whole new worlds and enjoy one of literature's most wonderful heroines before she comes to HBO and the BBC" Stylist

"Pullman is confronting readers with the horrors of our own world reflected back at us. In The Secret Commonwealth he creates a fearful symmetry" The Herald

No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg (November 28)

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