Classics: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Heirloom Collection)Prompted by my appreciation of the excellent trio of Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Andrew Scott in Sherlock, I began to search for a one-stop gathering of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories about the detective. Several years ago, Easton Press released an elegant three-volume, leather-bound set, but my budget wouldn't stretch to that. So it was with glee that I discovered this new box set from Thomas & Mercer. The binding is solid, the illustrations whimsical and the box itself, with two Sherlock quotes ("The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes" and "It is a capital offense to theorise before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.") an attractive edition to any bibliophile's shelves.
Contemporary Fiction: Alan Furst, Mission to Paris
This year I went a little nuts with World War II, Cold War and Putin-era Russia novels, devouring David Downing's entire back catalogue (not literally - that'd lead to horrible indigestion), Alex Dryden's Finn series and much of John Le Carre's work. Yet the writing of Alan Furst stands alone in the genre, and Mission to Paris is his best book for at least five years. In it, actor Frederic Stahl is sent to the French capital to make a film, and is unwittingly swept up in espionage involving the Nazis, the US and his host country. Furst shows off his intimate knowledge of Paris - he lived there for several years - with evocative descriptions, and his ability to raise and lower tension at just the right time to keep you hooked until the end.
Politics - Douglas Carswell, The End of Politics
Carswell is a small-government Conservative, but it would be unwise for a prospective reader to dismiss The End of Politics as a right-leaning missive, because it isn't. In addition to his political work, Carswell is a proven writer, contributing to The Spectator, The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times, amongst others, and composing insightful daily blog posts. In this book, he explains the chronic ailments of today's Western governments - their bloated size, their unrestrained spending and their increasing distance from the will of the electorate - and then explores how technology can help right the ship. The End of Politics is bold, witty and practical - and let's hope to goodness its author is right to be optimistic, as the political wafflers Stateside keep filling our newspapers and heads with endless talk of the "fiscal cliff."
Sports - Chris Dixon, Ghost Wave
OK, this is cheating, as Ghost Wave was published in 2011. But I only came across it this year, and enjoyed this crisply written, informative book immensely - surprising, considering it's about giant waves and I fear sharks and drowning in equal measure. Part of the appeal, as with Felix Baumgartner's leap from the stratosphere, is that Dixon provides a window into a world of big wave surfing that is far removed from the predictable and safe realm that most people inhabit. He portrays a passionate group who take on the heavy, fast-moving slabs of water at California's Cortes Bank not because they seek attention or commercial reward but because they are compelled to push themselves to do what they love to the limits of their ability.
History - Aida Donald, Citizen Soldier
It takes rare gifts to condense the life of a President into 240 pages without stooping to mere summary, and Aida Donald has them. Her central contention is that Truman's military service in World War I, time spent working on the family farm in Missouri, and experience as a local administrator forged the determination, hard work ethic and resilience needed to not only ascend to the Presidency, but to also make the fateful decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan, contend with the spread of Communism, and survive two splits in his party to win the 1948 election. Donald describes the making of the man in vivid detail, blending original research and secondary sources in a quick read that's a great first stop for anyone wanting to learn more about the Man from Missouri.