Cal Flyn, Deputy Editor

Five Books deputy editor Cal Flyn is a writer from the Highlands of Scotland.

Her latest book, Islands of Abandonment—about the ecology and psychology of abandoned places—is out now. It has been shortlisted for the 2021 Baillie Gifford Prize, the Wainwright Prize for writing on global conservation, the British Academy Book Prize, and for the title of Scottish Nonfiction Book of the Year.

At Five Books, she interviews on subjects including literary fiction and nonfiction, psychology, nature, environment, and science fiction.

Interviews by Cal Flyn

The Best Douglas Adams Books, selected by Kevin Jon Davies

Douglas Adams found huge success with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a surreal science fiction satire in which a dressing gown-clad Englishman finds himself roaming the multiverse in an improbability-powered spaceship. Here, Kevin Jon Davies—editor of a new book that puts together material from 60 boxes Adams left behind—talks us through the comedy writer’s life and work.

The Best Counterfactual Novels, recommended by Catherine Lacey

Novelists often make the decision to create alternate realities—worlds that are very like, but not quite identical, to our our own. Catherine Lacey, the acclaimed novelist whose latest book Biography of X is set in a United States in which the Southern states seceded during the 20th century, talks us through the process of plotting counterfactual timelines and recommends five books that explore the slippery relation between truth, reality, and fiction.

The best books on Chronic Illness, recommended by Polly Atkin

Living with a long-term condition or disability is difficult, says Polly Atkin, the author of Some of Us Just Fall. Those affected often feel isolated, misunderstood, or frustrated by their interactions with the medical establishment. But books about chronic illness will remind you that you are not alone; here, she recommends five memoirs that offer insight into the “kingdom of the unwell.”

The Best Science Fiction of 2023: The Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist, recommended by Tom Hunter

Every year, the judges of the Arthur C Clarke Award select the best sci-fi novels of the previous twelve months. We asked prize director Tom Hunter to talk us through the six science fiction books that made the 2023 shortlist—including a space opera romance and a high-concept action thriller that has already won the most prestigious award in Francophone literature.

The best books on Environmental History, recommended by John R McNeill

Environmental history is the study of the relationship between society and the natural world—both in terms of human impacts on the environment, and the constraints placed upon cultures by the landscapes they live in. Here, John R. McNeill, a pioneer of the field, recommends five of the best environmental history books with ambition, engaging prose, and heft.

The Best Biographies of 2023: The National Book Critics Circle Shortlist, recommended by Elizabeth Taylor

Talented biographers examine the interplay between individual qualities and greater social forces, explains Elizabeth Taylor—chair of the judges for the 2023 National Book Critics Circle award for biography. Here, she offers us an overview of their five-book shortlist, including a garlanded account of the life of J. Edgar Hoover and a group biography of post-war female philosophers.

The Best Science Fiction Books About Aliens, recommended by Jaime Green

Science fiction helps us work through not only the possibilities of the cosmos but also the nature of humanity itself, argues Jaime Green—science writer and author of a new book on the search for alien biology, The Possibility of Life. Here she highlights five classic works of sci-fi that explore ideas of consciousness and communication in the setting of outer space.

The Best Nature Memoirs, recommended by Victoria Bennett

Nature is intrinsic to our experience of being alive and reading about it allows us to connect not just with the natural world but with ourselves. Here Victoria Bennett, author of All My Wild Mothers, a memoir of grief and creating an apothecary garden, recommends five other nature memoirs, highlighting personal and reflective prose by writers including Lauret Savoy, Mary Oliver, and Jamaica Kincaid.

The Best Literary Science Writing: The 2023 PEN/E.O. Wilson Book Award, recommended by David Hu

Every year, the judges of the PEN/E.O. Wilson Award highlight the best new literary science writing. The 2023 shortlist consists of five fascinating books on subjects including the science of heartbreak, the sensory worlds of animals, and the development of mathematics. David Hu, a professor of mechanical engineering and a member of this year’s judging panel, talks us through their choices.

The best books on Poetry of the First World War, recommended by Guy Cuthbertson

Poetry written during the First World War has remained prominent in the public consciousness for more than a century; writers like Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Robert Graves are still commonly studied in British schools and universities. Here, Guy Cuthbertson—literary scholar and author of an acclaimed biography of Owen—selects five books to give an overview of the poetry produced during the Great War.

The best books on Family History, recommended by Thea Lenarduzzi

The story of a family never ends, says Thea Lenarduzzi—the literary critic and author of the prize-winning family memoir Dandelions: “It’s always evolving, rewriting itself, long after the protagonists are dead.” Here, she recommends five books on family history that illustrate the shapeshifting nature of this hard-to-pin-down subject, in which memories rarely tally with the written record.

The best books on Clinical Neuroscience, recommended by Frederick Lepore

We still don’t have a complete understanding of the ‘terra incognita’ that is the human brain, says Frederick Lepore—the noted US neurologist and author of Finding Einstein’s Brain—but we’ve made enormous breakthroughs over the past hundred years. Here, he selects five of the best books that detail the development of the strange and delicate study of clinical neuroscience through the eyes of its researchers.

The Best Hiking Memoirs, recommended by Gail Simmons

Accounts of journeys on foot capture the imagination; partly this is a function of the satisfaction of following a linear journey from start to finish, and partly it is a quality inherent to walking itself—a freeing of the mind. Gail Simmons, who follows an old English pilgrimage route in her book Between the Chalk and the Sea, selects five hiking memoirs that celebrate the liberation that comes from putting one foot after another.

Five of the Best Self-Help Books of 2022, recommended by Avram Alpert

At the turn of the year, many of us take the opportunity to think about our lives—how they are going, and how we hope to live them in future. We asked Avram Alpert, author of The Good-Enough Life, to recommend five of the best self-help books of 2022 that might help our bids for self-improvement; his choices remind us that self-help is not only about life-hacks and diets, but about bringing the world more in line with our ideals.

The best books on The Sublime, recommended by Robert Clewis

Whenever we go in search of rugged landscapes, thundering waterfalls or awesome vistas, we are in search of ‘the sublime’—an aesthetic quality that has been the subject of significant philosophical, artistic and psychological study. Here, philosopher Robert Clewis talks us through the landmark studies of the sublime, and makes some recommendations for those seeking introductory books on the subject.

The Best Popular Science Books of 2022: The Royal Society Book Prize, recommended by Maria Fitzgerald

The renowned UCL neuroscientist Professor Maria Fitzgerald, chair of the 2022 Royal Society Book Prize, talks us through the judges’ selection of the best popular science books of the year—including a whistle-stop tour of the history of the Earth, a self-help book offering evidence-based advice on how to live a longer life, and a primatologist’s study of gender among apes.

The Best Thrillers of 2022, recommended by Tosca Lee

Every year, the International Thriller Writers—an honorary organisation of authors—showcases the best new books in the genre at their annual awards. Here, bestselling author and the organisation’s vice-president Tosca Lee talks us through the six-strong shortlist of books, and explains why ‘Southern noir’ writer S.A. Cosby won the title for the best thriller of 2022—only a year on from his last triumph.

The best books on Animal Consciousness, recommended by David Peña-Guzmán

The more we learn about the minds of other species, the more we are forced to question any assumptions that might previously have been made about their inner lives. Here, the philosopher David Peña-Guzmán talks us through the profound questions thrown up by research into animal cognition, perception and emotion, as he recommends five of the best books on animal consciousness.

The Best Fiction of 2022: The Booker Prize Shortlist, recommended by Neil MacGregor

The Booker Prize is awarded each year to the best original novel written in the English language. We asked the art historian Neil MacGregor, chair of this year’s judging panel, to talk us through the six novels that made the 2022 shortlist—and why fiction can be a most effective means of engaging us emotionally in social and political crisis elsewhere.

The Best Science Fiction of 2022: The Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist, recommended by Andrew M. Butler

Every year, the judges for the Arthur C. Clarke Award select the best of the latest batch of new scifi books. In 2022, the science fiction award’s shortlist includes new work from Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro, a novel-in-verse from the Scottish writer Harry Josephine Giles, and a new title in Arkady Martine’s beloved Teixcalaan series. Andrew M. Butler, academic and chair of the judges, talks us through the finalists.

The Best South Asian Novels in Translation, recommended by Jenny Bhatt

The writer and translator Jenny Bhatt selects five key works of South Asian literature, all historical novels available in English translation, that showcase the richness and diversity of the region’s lesser known languages: from a modernist classic decrying the depradations of the coal mining industry to a ‘loose, baggy monster’ of a Victorian novel exploring utopian ideals.

The Best of World Literature: The 2022 International Booker Prize Shortlist, recommended by Frank Wynne

The International Booker Prize celebrates the best fiction in translation published over the previous year. Frank Wynne, acclaimed translator and chair of the 2022 judging panel, tells Five Books about the six novels that made the shortlist, and reminds readers that world literature need not be tough, consumed only in the interests of self-improvement—but is often joyful, surprising and full of feeling.

The Best Historical Fiction: The 2022 Walter Scott Prize Shortlist, recommended by Elizabeth Laird

Every year, the Walter Scott Prize highlights the best new historical novels. In 2022, the shortlist comprises four fantastic works of historical fiction that immerse the reader in the past—from 16th-century Scotland to 1920s Trinidad—while confronting universal human dramas we still struggle with today. Elizabeth Laird, one of the judges, talks us through their choices this year.

The best books on Natural History, recommended by David George Haskell

Natural history can offer a “portal into wonder and astonishment,” says David George Haskell, the biologist and award-winning author of nonfiction works including Sounds Wild and Broken and The Forest Unseen. But natural history books, in the past, have also been guilty of reinforcing prejudices. Here he recommends five natural history books that celebrate the diversity of life.

The Best William Golding Books, recommended by Judy Golding

The Nobel laureate William Golding is best known for his novel Lord of the Flies, in which a group of schoolboys marooned on a desert island revert to savagery. But he was a prolific writer who produced eleven further novels, including the Booker Prize-winning Rites of Passage. Here, his daughter and manager of his literary estate Judy Golding selects five of William Golding’s key texts, including The Inheritors—the book he felt to be his best work.