The Best Nonfiction Books of 2020, recommended by Sophie Roell

As the world went into lockdown early in 2020, many of us without frontline jobs and lucky enough not to fall sick with Covid-19 found more time to read than usual. The sudden change to a slower gear also left more room to reflect on the state of the world and our place as humans in it. Sophie Roell, editor of Five Books, takes us through her personal choice of the best nonfiction books of 2020.  

The Best History Books of 2020, recommended by Paul Lay

From the great Latin poet Ovid, to the poet of the 17th century English republic, John Milton. From the Jews in Reformation Europe, to the world of the Aztecs across the centuries. From the life of Ludwig van Beethoven to the importance of language, in all its varieties, to studying history. Paul Lay, editor of History Today, recommends his favourite history books of 2020.  

The Best of Biography: the 2020 NBCC Shortlist, recommended by Elizabeth Taylor

How do you find the perfect subject for a biography? “Pick a real bitch, or real bastard, and make sure they’re dead,” a famous biographer once told Elizabeth Taylor. The author, critic and chair of the National Book Critics’ Circle biography committee talks us through the books that made their 2020 shortlist.

The Best Science Fiction of 2020, recommended by Tom Hunter

Sci fi is booming, says Tom Hunter, the director of the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction, as he discusses their 2020 shortlist: six novels that embrace classic sci fi narratives, while subverting or reimagining them for a contemporary audience.

Best Crime Fiction of 2020, recommended by Sophie Roell

If you’re looking for escapism, crime novels can be a good way to go. Which is strange, given that nearly all of them revolve around murder. Sophie Roell, editor of Five Books and an avid consumer of the genre, picks her personal favourites published in 2020.

The Best Politics Books of 2020, recommended by Yascha Mounk

Despite the challenge of authoritarian populism and a new divisiveness in political debate in many countries around the world there are reasons for optimism, argues political scientist Yascha Mounk, author of The People vs. Democracy. He talks us through his selection of the best politics books of 2020.

The Best History Books: the 2020 Wolfson Prize shortlist, recommended by Richard Evans

If you’re looking for the best history books published this past year, the annual Wolfson History Prize is a great place to start. Each year, the judges pick out outstanding books that are both originally researched and readable. Historian and Wolfson judge Richard Evans talks us through the six history books that made the 2020 shortlist.

The Best Economics Books of 2020, recommended by Diane Coyle

The global economy has been hit by another massive and unexpected shock this year in the form of the pandemic, which is already having knock-on effects on how people think about economics.  Here, Professor Diane Coyle of Cambridge University chooses the best economics books published in 2020.

The Best Cookbooks of 2020, recommended by Becky Krystal

If nothing else, 2020 has at least given many of us a lot of time to experiment in the kitchen. Here Becky Krystal, lead writer for the Washington Post’s Voraciously, recommends cookbooks relevant for a year in which grocery shopping has been complicated and the world has become more interconnected than ever.

The Best Self Help Books of 2020, recommended by Oliver Burkeman

We asked Oliver Burkeman, the Guardian writer and author of The Antidote, to select the best self help books published in 2020. His recommended titles include spiritual guidance for the age of doomscrolling, a philosophy of failure, and practical advice for those working from home for the first time.

The Best Art Books of 2020, recommended by Romas Viesulas

Which art, architecture and photography books have we added to our library in 2020? Romas Viesulas, art & architecture editor at Five Books, takes us through his personal choice of beautiful reference books and biographies to add visual and conceptual interest to any well-appointed bookshelf.

The Best Thrillers of 2020, recommended by Anthony Franze

Every year, the International Thriller Writers awards highlight the best new thrillers of the previous year. Anthony Franze, administrator of the awards and an acclaimed thriller author in his own right, talks us through their 2020 shortlist for the best new thriller published in hardback.

Best China Books of 2020, recommended by Jeffrey Wasserstrom

All eyes are on China as it occupies an increasingly important role on the world stage and its economic growth continues to barrel on. But behind the Chinese Communist Party’s apparent competence lies a deep insecurity about its relationship with its own citizens, particularly those who question its right to rule them. American historian and Sinologist Jeffrey Wasserstrom picks the best books of 2020 on China.

The Best Russia Books: the 2020 Pushkin House Prize, recommended by Serhii Plokhy

Every year since 2013 the Russian Book Prize run by Pushkin House, a UK charity, has carried out the important task  of drawing attention to books that “encourage public understanding and intelligent debate about the Russian-speaking world.” Here, Harvard historian Serhii Plokhy, chair of this year’s judging panel, talks us through the books that made the 2020 shortlist.

The Best Audiobooks of 2020, recommended by Robin Whitten

With most people carrying smartphones these days, entering the world of audiobooks has never been easier. Some are straightforward narrations of a book, but when an audiobook is done well, it can be an extraordinary, all-encompassing experience. Here Robin Whitten, editor of AudioFile magazine—the best resource for finding good quality audiobooks on the web, in our view—talks us through her picks for the best audiobooks of 2020, chosen from the hundreds they’ve reviewed over the course of the year.

The Best Poetry Books of 2020, recommended by Alexandra Harris

Each year, the judges for the Forward Prize select a shortlist of the best new poetry books. In 2020, they chose five collections ranging in tone from epic love songs to domestic surrealism. Alexandra Harris, chair of the judges, tells us what they admired about each book.

The Best Nature Books of 2020, recommended by Charles Foster

Charles Foster—the barrister, ethicist and bestselling author of Being a Beast—selects five brilliant nature books that reflect a new boom in nature writing in 2020, many of which ask us to examine more closely the interconnectedness of all things.

The Best of Memoir: the 2020 NBCC Autobiography Shortlist, recommended by Mark Athitakis

From a brave account by the Stanford rape case survivor Chanel Miller to New Yorker reporter Ronan Farrow’s gripping tale of investigating the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it’s been a golden year for autobiography. Veteran critic Mark Athitakis talks us through the memoirs that made this year’s National Book Critics Circle autobiography shortlist.

The Best Audiobooks for Kids of 2020, recommended by Emily Connelly

Whether you’re on a car journey or sitting on the sofa together at home, listening to audiobooks with kids can be an incredible experience. Some will make you laugh, some will make you weep. Many will help us develop empathy for other human beings in the world around us. Here Emily Connelly, Assistant Editor at AudioFile, talks us through the magazine’s choices of the best audiobooks for kids of 2020.

The Best Business Books of 2020: the Financial Times & McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, recommended by Andrew Hill

Whether you’re looking for ideas on how to run a successful business or books that look at the various challenges facing capitalist society, the Financial Times & McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award is a great place to start. Andrew Hill, who with colleagues at the Financial Times sifted through hundreds of entries to compile the award’s longlist, talks us through the books that made the 2020 shortlist—as well as offering some predictions for the year ahead.

Favourite Novels of 2020, recommended by Cal Flyn

Five Books deputy editor Cal Flyn selects her favourite novels from among those published in 2020: the year of the lockdown, a time when many of us found escapism and solace between the covers of a book. Her own book, Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape, a work of literary nonfiction, is out in January.

The Best Romance Books of 2020, recommended by Frannie Cassano

The best romance books of 2020 (so far) as recommended by Frannie Cassano, winner of the 2018 RWA Cathie Linz Librarian of the Year award. After nearly two decades as a librarian, she remains an avid reader of romance and picks out her favourite ‘comfort reads’ from across the genre.

The Best Science Books for Kids: the 2020 Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize, recommended by Mike Kendall

To find the best science books for kids, the judges of the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize look for books that are not only accurate but also entertaining. Mike Kendall, Professor of Geophysics at Oxford University and chair of this year’s judging panel, talks us through the six fabulous books that made the 2020 shortlist (the final winner will be chosen by the real experts: more than 13,000 kids).

Editors’ Picks: Notable Novels of Fall 2020, recommended by Cal Flyn

After coronavirus-induced chaos threw publishing schedules out of whack earlier this year, fall 2020 is shaping up to be a bumper book season. But with hundreds of new titles flooding onto the shelves, it can be hard to identify those that are most deserving of your time. Here, Five Books deputy editor Cal Flyn highlights some of the most anticipated new novels of the coming weeks.

The Funniest Books of 2020, recommended by Pippa Evans

Comedy offers escapism and a way of processing our emotions during stressful times, says the comedian Pippa Evans—who this year served as a judge for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. Here she talks us through the books shortlisted for the title of the funniest book of 2020, and explains how she found herself researching pig deliveries.

Summer Reading 2020: Philosophy Books, recommended by Nigel Warburton

From reflections on travel and searching for a personal philosophy to live by, to books on important aspects of democracy and contagious diseases, here’s British philosopher Nigel Warburton’s 2020 summer reading list. All the books you need to keep you thinking over the summer, whatever it may hold and wherever you may be.

Editors’ Picks: Notable Novels of Summer 2020, recommended by Cal Flyn

No writer could resent you losing track of the new novels being published into the chaos of summer 2020 – with the world on lockdown and protestors taking to the streets. But fiction can offer respite from a relentless news cycle, writes Five Books deputy editor Cal Flyn – and an opportunity to consider our own lives and choices through the prism of others’.

The Best Children’s Books: The 2020 Newbery Medal and Honor Winners, recommended by Krishna Grady

After reading hundreds of newly published books and asking children and adults alike for their input, the winners of the 2020 Newbery Medal and Honors have been chosen. Librarian and chair of the selection committee Krishna Grady introduces us to the best new children’s books that will surprise, delight and hold your kid’s attention—including the first graphic novel to ever win the award.