Books of the Decade – Andrew Kelly

Andrew KellyAndrew Kelly is the Director of the Bristol Festival of Ideas and other projects. He is the author and editor of 12 books including Filming All Quiet on the Western Front, Cinema and the Great War, Queen Square: biography of a place, Brunel: in love with the impossible.

Of the many hundreds of books I have read in the past decade, three stand out. But could I mention too the series of letters by T E Lawrence that Jeremy and Nicole Wilson at Castle Hill Press are producing. They are defenders of the Lawrence flame, and have already published the definitive and most elegant edition of Lawrence’s classic work, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. But the letters are something different and new. A painfully slow process – given the high standards of research and editorial work demanded – this is turning into one of the finest series ever published, bringing to life a complex and brave man. And can I thank the (mostly small) publishers of the works of Joseph Roth, Stefan Zweig and Hans Fallada for bringing these authors to me over the past ten years.

To see Andrew’s book choices, click below.

My three books are:

Robert MacFarlane – Mountains of the Mind

Mountains of the MindOne of the remarkable stories of the last decade has been the growth of natural history writing in the UK. Choosing one book was difficult, as I have read and read again the work of Kathleen Jamie, Roger Deakin, Richard Mabey, Mark Cocker and others over the past few years. But it is Robert Macfarlane’s Mountains of the Mind that stands out. We don’t have an Edward Abbey or Edward Hoagland here, but these writers come close to catching the essence of writing about the natural world, and Mountains of the Mind is remarkable for the poetry of its writing and the sheer bravura of a young man writing as if he has centuries of experience. I look forward to every book he writes and hope for many more to come.

The Klemperer Diaries

Klemperer DiariesThree volumes, the final one published in the last decade, providing the day to day life of the First World war veteran and German academic Victor Klemperer under Nazi rule. Klemperer’s diaries are as important as Anne Frank’s. As a Jew he was lucky to survive the Holocaust but thankfully he did, providing this account of inhumanity and hope. The publication of the dairies – the three volumes are abridged; there is much more – is a tribute too to his publisher George Weidenfeld – one of the finest of the last decades whose books grace my bookshelves.

Cormac McCarthy – The Road

McCarthy The RoadThis is the outstanding novel of the decade and will last as long as books are read. It doesn’t take long to read, but stays in the mind a long time.
Whether he is talking about nuclear destruction or climate change – or some other disaster — is not clear, but it’s as accurate a prediction of what is to come unless things change radically, which I doubt they will. There’s lately been much talk about the value of public apology, and in Bristol we’ve been involved in endless debates about whether we should apologise for the slave trade. I find it hard to apologise for past atrocities when I was not even born; but we should apologise for the future, because I fear that collectively we will fail to do enough about it to make a difference.

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