In a year that’s so far been dominated by block busting trilogies, be it Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games or Fifty Shades of Grey, it’s good to know that there are still other books out there. From journeys into the subconscious, to medical marvels and tales of survival in astonishing circumstances, here are some of 2012’s best sellers so far.
One Thousand Gifts is Ann Voskamp’s ode to embracing every day and living life to the fullest. She details her spiritual journey within and enumerates the all the small things in her life that she is thankful for, including
Replete with metaphors and heavy, meandering descriptions, the book can make for a laborious read at times and would be somewhat alienating for secular readers, due to its biblical underpinning. However the overall message of being grateful for the small things in life is universal and will resonate and with many.
The name will not be familiar to most, but Henrietta Lacks, born in Virginia in 1920, came to be one of the most important and valuable tools in modern medicine, unbeknownst to even her. This is because Henrietta’s cells still live on today, long past her death from cervical cancer in 1951.
What has become known as the ‘HeLa’ cell line began as cancerous tumour cells, removed without permission from Henrietta during radiation therapy, and cultured by a geneticist called George Otto Gey to create an ‘immortal cell line’ for future medical research. “If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings,” says author Rebecca Skloot. Since the 1950s, The HeLa cell line has been used in research for polio vaccinations, cancer and AIDS cures as well as gene mapping.
As well as documenting the ensuing medical breakthroughs enabled by the cell line, we get to know Henrietta and her family as people, and their lives leading up to and following Henrietta’s death. The ethics and politics of race and class in medical research in the 1950s, and the issue of informed consent, are explored in-depth, and make Skloot’s homage to Henrietta, ten years in the making, a fascinating read.
“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
First published in 1923, Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby spans from spring to autumn 1922, when America was entering a period of hedonistic self-indulgence known as the Roaring Twenties.
In this most recent republication the book has enjoyed a brand new audience gripped by the complex narrative surrounding the lives of a group of young, wealthy Long Island residents. Fitzgerald puts a magnifying glass on the shallowness and foibles of the bright young things in the story and no one comes out well in it. This book is as readable today as when it first hit the shelves in the 20s and introduces a new audience to the magnificence that is Fitzgerald.
“There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”
It’s said that Neil Armstrong was selected among fellow astronauts to be the first person to set foot on the moon due to, amongst other things, his introverted nature and quiet dignity. NASA didn’t want a more egoistic individual using the position for personal aggrandising. However, appointments such as this feel increasingly rare in a world that seems to reward personality over character and extraversion over integrity.
Quiet is Susan Cain’s ode to the introverts that are quietly carving their corners in the world without fanfare. The book poses that introverts behave in this way as their brains are especially sensitive to over stimulation and offers advice and guidance to parents, teachers and introverts themselves, as well as detailing the advantages of being an introvert in a world that doesn’t seem built for them.
Unfortunately the sorting of individuals into one of two camps can, at times, feel somewhat reductive, and the ‘ambivert’ Cain references at the start of the book, is need of further discussion, however aside from this, Quiet makes for a fascinating read.
The first of many health centric books on this year’s best-seller’s list is Dr Fuhrman’s Eat to Live. The book was first published in 2003, and this revised edition has been updated to include success stories from those who have followed Dr Fuhrman’s plan, new recipes and more up to date scientific and nutritional data.
The main thrust comes in the form of a six week vegetarian plan, with the central tenet being: the more nutrient-dense food you eat, the less you crave fats, sweets, and high calorific foods. Dr Fuhrman believes that this diet can reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Aside from the overzealous language used, for example how ‘shockingly’ large amounts of weight can be lost and the ‘revolutionary’ nature of the plan, the diet is less faddy and more common sense than a lot of its equivalents on the market.
Starting with the premise that wheat is the single largest contributor to the American obesity epidemic, due to the engineered, hybrid form of wheat that dominates today’s markets, author William Davis sets out to shed light on the perils of wheat consumption and points the way to a wheat free life. The book contains a very comprehensive and well-researched, if a touch over technical history of wheat cultivation, as well as case studies, recipes and a ‘What now?’ section.
While the book delivers a well-structured argument for cutting wheat from your diet, it disappoints towards the end, where Davis recommends cutting out almost all carbohydrates. This is disappointing as it belies the book’s title and purported premise, and falls back on the well-peddled ‘no carb diet’ which has been doing the rounds for years now, though often derided by nutritionists.
In his latest instalment of Democrat critique, Edward Klein sets out to dismantle ‘one of the most secretive White Houses in history’, the Obama Administration in a book is based on almost 200 interviews with White House ‘insiders’.
The ‘amateur’ in the title refers to what Klein perceives as Obama’s lack of experience prior to his appointment to office. As well as scrutinising the administration’s policies and political agenda, Klein also tackles the less political and apparently thorny issue of Michelle Obama’s rivalry with Oprah Winfrey.
What could have made a valid contribution to the serious debate of which party is in the best position to serve the American people during the economic crisis, instead manifests as a thinly veiled and poorly researched exercise in political mud-slinging.
“A weapon, I told Horus. I need a weapon. I reached into the Duat and pulled out an ostrich feather.”Really?” I yelled. Horus didn’t answer”
Rooted in Egyptian Mythology, The Serpent’s Shadow, the final installation of the Kane Chronicles series whisks the reader along with the adventures of teenage siblings, and magicians, Carter and Sadie Kane.
Hampered by a ‘chaos snake’, (I hate it when that happens) that wants to plunge the world into eternal darkness, the siblings must destroy him with the acquisition of an ancient spell in order to save the planet.
Concluding a trilogy must be a daunting affair, but author Rick Riordan manages to do so neatly and with some intrigue intact. The Serpent’s Shadow is less preachy and overly moralistic than many books aimed at teenagers, and manages to combine the mysteries of ancient Egypt with humour and spirit.
Mandatory reading for many US businesses people, but aimed at both personal and career based problems, Covey’s reissued Seven Habits has gathered quite a dedicated following since its first publication in 1990.
Covey details the ‘paradigm shift’ in habit formation necessary for a successful life and career, and discusses the concept of ‘centres’ at length, these being the ways in which individuals rate themselves.
This special anniversary edition contains updated fore and after words, and addresses the most popular questions Covey has received from readers since the book’s first publication.
As with a lot of motivational books, Seven Habits suffers slightly from repetition and the unnecessary fleshing out of Covey’s core idea, but it has stood the test of time and is as popular now amongst business people and would be entrepreneurs as it ever was.
In this manual Leocini seeks to identify the reasons behind why certain teams fail, then provides the steps that are required to overcome these hurdles, the desired outcome being a more healthy and effective team.
A good portion of Leocini’s text is dedicated to a central ‘fable’, that of a failing Silicone Valley firm, and the reader is left to draw analogies with their own circumstances. The difficulty may be that the solutions offered are somewhat simplistic and characters therein stereotypical, which leads to a ‘one size fits all’ conclusion.
The book also includes a questionnaire to assist in identification of malcontents in the team and, despite character oversimplification, is written in a clear and uncomplicated style, and appears to offer practical solutions to allow teams to develop.
In this book or ‘fable’, Rabbi Jonathan Khan reveals that it is the godless state of American society that has brought the apocalypse that was 9/11 down on the American people.
The writer refers to an ancient mystery embedded in Isaiah 9:10-11 and seeks to connect the history of 8th century B.C. Israel with current events of the last decade in America, including the collapse of the world economy.
The purpose of the book is to urge the American people to repent of their ways and remember the foundations upon which America was built. The author makes tenuous connections between the biblical past and the present day and requires a leap of faith both for believers and non-believers alike to ascribe credibility to the prophesies and dire warnings contained within.
In the Blood Sugar Solution, author and doctor, Mark Hyman focuses on ‘secret killer’ insulin imbalance, and points readers to ways in which they can rebalance their levels, which in turn helps to prevent diabetes, heart disease, strokes, dementia and cancer.
The six-week healthy living guide details the ‘seven keys’ to achieving ‘wellness nutrition’ from cutting out heavily processed foods through to embracing a largely organic, vegetarian diet in addition to buying supplements from Hyman’s website and affiliate connections. Reviews by consumers are mixed with some extolling and others deriding both the steep cost and the harsh dieting regime required to bring about cures.
Mark Twain once said ‘Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s bad habits.’ Charles Duhigg, award-winning New York Times business reporter, has gone one step further and written a book on them.
Duhig claims that we must first diagnose our undesirable habits, identify the rewards we gain from these habits and then aim to seek these rewards from alternative sources. The example Duhig uses is that for years, at 3.30-4pm, he would rise from his work desk and buy a cookie from the cafeteria, then eat it while socialising with his colleagues. After some introspection, he soon realised that it was the socialisation that he was actually craving during this 3.30-4pm slump, not the sugar. Extending this logic, Duhig believes that he can turn alcoholics sober and school drop-outs into managers.
The concept is essentially that of cognitive behavioural therapy and classical conditioning, however it does make for an interesting read and is filled with amusing anecdotes and real world examples.
A book that starts with ‘Congratulations, today is you day, you’re off to great places, you’re off and away!” cannot fail to entice readers of all ages, and, like all Dr Seuss books, to limit readership to children would be a crime.
This beautifully illustrated homage to overcoming life’s challenges through positivity and strong-headedness catapults the reader through the highs, lows, swings and roundabouts of existence until they reach ‘the waiting place’, where they simply wait for things to happen.
“Will you succeed? Yes, you will indeed. (98¾% guaranteed.)”
Nobel Prize winner for Economic Sciences, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow is the latest work to tackle the question of how our minds work. Though technical, this offering is essentially for the layman, much in the way Steve Pinker’s How the Mind Works aimed to aid a wider understanding of the mind in evolutionary terms.
Praised by Pinker as ‘The most important psychologist alive today’, Kahneman dissects what he believes be the two systems that navigate our decision-making with methodical precision. He believes that our minds work on a dual-process model: system 1 being the intuitive side, responsible for our instinctive and rapid judgments and decisions, not entirely unlike Freud’s ‘id’, and system 2 the slow deliberator, the dissector of more complex situations.
Tackling questions such as why are judges more likely to deny parole before lunch time and, why is there more chance a reader will believe something if it is in bold type, Kahneman’s insights into what influences decision-making make for a surprising and captivating, if at times challenging, read.
“I want to put a ding in the universe.”
Steve Jobs approached biographer Walter Isaacson in 2004 saying “Why don’t you do a biography on me?” which says a lot about the innovator’s sense of self, especially considering Isaacson’s previous subjects were Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklyn. Jobs’ achievements and legacy, however, merited such an audacious request. As CEO and head creative visionary of Apple, Jobs’ creations have inspired unprecedented devotion among their users.
The biography, structured around forty interviews with Jobs, provides an objective insight into the man’s fluctuating career and unconventional personal life. To his credit, Jobs insisted on remaining totally impartial, and even vowed to not read the book until it appeared on the shelves. For a man who enjoyed control of every aspect of his company this comes as a surprise.
The book is peppered with many more surprises, detailing along the way Jobs’ early career at Apple, subsequent dismissal, co-founding of Pixar, followed by a reappointment and resounding success at Apple. Authorised biographies are often gushingly sycophantic affairs, however Isaacson’s effort goes the other way, and is highly objective and at times ruthless in its descriptions of Jobs’ manner towards his employees.
The Five Love Languages has sold over five million copies and has been translated into 38 languages since its first publication 16 years ago. The manual sets out to help couples to ‘discover their unique love languages’, and includes the steps needed to refocus your relationship.
Consistent with the growing trend in self-help books, the book contains a promotional code to gain exclusive online access to the ‘new comprehensive love languages assessment’, to help subscribers to further ‘understand and strengthen’ their relationships.
It is split into five chapters, one for each language, these being Words of affirmation, Act of Service, Affection, Quality time and Gifts, and may be of solace to some but feels a lot like the repackaging of common sense.
However this does not diminish the apparent sincerity of the author in wishing to guide people experiencing difficulties in their relationships with loved ones.
On Nick and Amy Dune’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears from their Mississippi River mansion. Nick, formerly the town’s golden boy quickly becomes the case’s prime suspect.
To reveal any more details would disservice potential readers and risk spoiling the book’s intricate and meticulously formulated plot. The novel employs the device of the unreliable narrator, as it is told from both the perspectives of Nick and Amy, through her diary, and the ever-changing chain of events are Hitchcock like in their twists and turns.
Gone Girl creeps beyond the usual confines of ‘who-done-its’ and calls into question the nature of intimate relationships, making you question if you can every really know those closest to us.
“We just sat there and watched the plane pass the island, and it never came back,” he said. “I could see it on the radar. It makes you feel terrible. Life was cheap in war.”
Unbroken, an unparalleled tale of human resilience, tells the story of WWII lieutenant Louis Zamperini, who spent 47 days drifting in the Pacific on a small raft, after his B-24 engine failed. During this time, the stranded American bombardier and his two comrades battled typhoons, sharks and starvation for survival, only to be captured by the Japanese and detained in a series of prisoner of war camps.
Zamperini, now 93, is a fascinating character, even prior to his years at war. A former Olympian, he took part in the 1936 Games in Berlin, where he was tipped to be the first to run the four-minute mile.
This well researched and vivid labour of love, which Laura Hillenbrand researched for seven years, documents the soldier’s story gathered from telegrams, newspaper clippings, interviews and witness accounts. An extreme tale of survival and grit, Unbroken beguiles at every turn, with Zamperini’s charisma and charm leaving you wishing for a sequel.
Set on the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire transports readers to a fantastical War of the Roses. Technically fantasy, but leaning more towards historical fiction in a medieval setting with all of the Dark Ages’ brutality, the novels portray the power struggles and dynastic wars for control of the throne of Westeros. The themes of medieval class structures, of good and evil, redemption and loss are explored, with morally grey areas in every twist of the plot.
In addition to the battle for the throne, there are the ominously named ‘Others’ believed to be mythical creatures living behind an immense wall of ice on Westeros’ border. The third volume is set on a continent of Essos and follows the adventures of Daenerys Targaryen. Born a pauper, but with a claim to the House Targaryen the story centres around her battle to regain the Iron Throne.
The numerous characters are well defined and believable, and their identities and inherent flaws develop ingeniously as the stories proceed. Martin seems quite happy and willing to kill off the main protagonists, lending a sense of urgency to the meticulously layered plot.
The advent of academic study guides of all shapes and guises has been a boon to the solitary student as well as being a “learn quick” manual for parents eager to support their child in their exam preparation.
This book, The Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd edition, receives endorsements in a wide range of reviews with one or two cautionary health warnings to ensure that corrections to wrong answers in previous editions are addressed. Most advice comes in the form of closely following the testing schedule contained in the manual to ensure success in subsequent exams.
This sixth edition of the APA’s publication manual has been condensed and reorganized for easier and quicker referral. There is also more emphasis on grammar and citations, which are always helpful as any psychology student will tell you that bibliographies often take up more time than experimental work. Further, the option of digital citations has also been added, for online sources such as YouTube.
There was some initial panic amongst students and academics as the first printing of the manual contained more than an acceptable number of errors, but this has since been rectified.
No Easy Day is an enthralling first-hand account of the circumstances that surrounded the killing of Osama Bin Laden by a group of US Navy Seals. What makes the book even more ‘forbidden reading’, and intriguing, is the controversy surrounding its publication, as author Mark Owen (a pseudonym) received no authorisation from US officials in writing it, and it is purported to contain classified information. The first part of the book is an autobiographical account of Owen’s young life and ambitions to be a Navy Seal and details some of his earlier skirmishes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Apart from the gripping account that details the events of the capture and death of Bin Laden, Owen’s book is a homage and salute to the courage and professionalism of his fellow Seals.
A follow on from 2001’s online assessment tool ‘StrengthsFinder’, this latest offering also aims to help readers to make the most of their natural talents by developing their strengths, with a new and revamped assessment.
The test claims to uncover reader’s top five strengths, among the 34 that are said to exist. Those curious as to how they rank with regards to the remaining 29 strengths are asked for an additional $550.
The quick to read 31 pages of text are user friendly but many readers have expressed grievances relating to the online test, which you are allowed to take only once. If your circumstances change and you wish to re-take the test, you will need to purchase the book again.
“Technically, I am unarmed. But no one should ever underestimate the harm that fingernails can do. Especially if the target is unprepared.”
Mockingjay is the third and final chapter in the Hunger Games trilogy. Following devastating events Katniss is now homeless and Peeta is a prisoner of the Capitol. The plot follows Katniss and fellow refugees inciting rebellion across the districts against the sinister figures of `The Capitol.’ This is a world where children fight and kill each other for the entertainment of the masses.
Katniss is not an easy loveable one-dimensional character. She is at times, rash, judgemental and lethal. However she reluctantly agrees to become `The Mockingjay,’ a shadowy leader of the rebellion and is a fighter to the very end. Difficult decisions are made and allegiances broken. Themes of violence and destruction are traumatic and the ending as in all wars is a compromise of ideals. There is no doubt that this trilogy makes for powerful and disturbing reading drawing many parallels with modern life.
Catching Fire is the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy and the plot continues with twists and turns from where the previous book finished. A supposed romance has developed between key characters Katniss and Peeta who are now living in the victor’s house having won in the last battle of the Hunger Games. But quiet rebellion is in the air while arch villain President Snow is determined that Katniss re-enter to fight once again in the barbaric 75th Quarter Quell.
The deaths and darkness continue unabated in this sequel but are deftly handled by the author who, whilst not dismissing them, somehow manages to imbue a sense of growing optimism in Katniss and her fellow travellers that the Peacekeepers are not invincible. New characters are introduced and the storyline is certainly darker than in book one with familiar themes of love, friendship, loss and pain and but ultimately hope.
This is the first in the best selling trilogy set in a post apocalyptic America. The book is aimed at young adults but has gained a wide following and has been a fixture on the best sellers list for a considerable time. The Hunger Games’ plot is written partly in the style of a myth but is also an allegory of the effects of war and poverty in a conquered people.
The young heroine Katniss Everdeen narrates the story and quickly gathers the reader into her world of anger, pain and hope. She and other chosen young people must take part in battles where – kill or be killed – is the only rule. The fights are televised live, a sort of bread and circuses for the masses. Although the content is often violent and very dark there are interludes of humour, comradeship and altruism allowing the reader a breathing space in the gloom.
In the final part of the trilogy, the newly married Ana and Christian are in the wake of their European honeymoon. But happy ever after is not on the cards just yet.
This third book sees more development of Christian’s character than the first two as he continues to confront his demons, and the couple at first settle down to married life, but a threat to Grey Enterprises looms. The character of Anna grows in stature during the course of the book but ultimately the plot grows increasingly outlandish. However this, along with poor grammar and syntax, and stultifying repetition of sex scenes do not appear to discourage the determined readership.
In book two, Anastasia breaks off her relationship with Christian to make way for her new career in a publishing house. However, unable to forget her former obsession, she relapses, and, after brief five day interlude, we return to more of the same.
The addition of two new characters, Anastasia’s new boss and one of Christian’s former subs, whose aim it is to break the couple up, do little to refresh the storyline, and this second instalment feels even more economical on plot than the first. Despite this, the book continues to enthral its growing readership with its seemingly insatiable appetite for the painful and exotic.
It’s been difficult to escape the Fifty Shades of Grey whirlwind that has been the past year, but for those who have managed it, the books started life as Twilight fan fiction, until author E.L. James changed the character names and the trilogy was born.
The story centres around naïve literature student Anastasia Steele and her relationship with 26 year old billionaire Christian Grey. Immediately attracted to him, the otherwise quiet and reserved Anastasia desperately tries to find ways to get close to him, and in the end succeeds.
Bursting with lengthy sex scenes, it’s safe to say not many people made the purchase for the quality of storyline and prose, but those who did would have been greatly disappointed. There is a whole lot of repetition of ‘scowls’, ‘smirks’, ‘whispers’ ‘blushes’ and ‘gasps’ (amongst others) to the point where the trilogy could be turned into a very successful drinking game.
However the series has enjoyed enormous success, spawned countless rip-offs each with their own sultry monochrome book sleeves, and there is of course a film in the works. So it seems E.L. James has discovered the recipe for covertly appealing to the Kindle shielded masses.
So there we have it
There is certainly no shortage of self-help titles out there, from how to make informed decisions, through to becoming a vegetarian and starting your own Silicon Valley firm, there is advice aplenty.
There were also classics that have stood the test of time, weighty tomes for lovers of the fantastic, a smattering of politics and intrigue and then right out of the left field the unlikely star of 2012’s best sellers – Christian Grey
Other excellent titles that were close to the top 30 and are worth a mention:
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel, The Help, was rejected by sixty publishing houses before it was eventually taken up. Set in 1960s Mississippi, it is a tale of three women; Aibleen and Minny, both African-American maids living, working and tolerating with a mixture of stoicism, cynicism and often passive resistance, their arrogant and spoilt southern belle employers; and then there is Skeeter an aspiring twenty-two year old writer, and troubled soul whose goal it is to strive via her writing to right the wrongs she clearly sees around her. To do this she has to put her head above the parapet amongst her own social set and in doing so risks ostracization.
The novel has become very popular, and has been adapted into a film, however praise has not been unanimous. An open statement by Ida E Jones, national director of the Association of Black Woman Historians criticized the book, arguing “despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers.”
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
“It was one of the best days of my life, a day during which I lived my life and didn’t think about my life at all.”
Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2nd novel centres around nine-year-old Oskar Schell, who finds a key in his house, in an envelope marked ‘Black’. Believing it to be a clue left by his late father, who was killed in the World Trade Centre terrorist attacks, Oskar embarks on a city-wide search for the key’s lock, making friends and foes along the way, and becoming entwined in their own stories.
Unfortunately last year’s Hollywood adaptation managed to extract every ounce of intrigue and sincerity the book had to offer. The novel itself however grapples with trauma, tragedy and ultimately self-preservation, whilst remaining charming, funny and original throughout, and is only held back by a slightly more laboured side plot involving Oskar’s grandparents.
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
“I’m neither ‘pro-women’ nor ‘anti-men’. I’m just ‘Thumbs up for the six billion”
Caitlin Moran’s first book has been a long time coming for her legions of dedicated followers garnered from her years as a Times columnist. The book combines Moran’s tales of growing up with seven siblings in Wolverhampton with her musings on the current state of feminism and misogyny and their influences on equilibrium in the workplace, family and wider world. This description however does not do Moran adequate justice as she is extremely witty, and the stories from her childhood through to navigating her way through adolescence will resonate widely. She so accurately captures the awkwardness and confusion experienced by teenage girls who are caught between the media’s portrayals of how they should behave, and their actual desires and aspirations.