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 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 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 Near-Future Dystopias, recommended by Rosa Rankin-Gee

Books featuring dystopian or post-apocalyptic themes offer us an opportunity to study human nature outside of the normal structure of society, says Rosa Rankin-Gee, author of the acclaimed novel Dreamland. Here, she recommends five other books featuring a near-future dystopia, all of which explore a societal or cultural unraveling through beautiful prose.

Literary Horror Books, recommended by Sue Rainsford

The most unnerving and disturbing novels are often those books that leave room for interpretation and uncertainty. Here, the acclaimed Irish novelist Sue Rainsford selects five frightening works of literary horror, by authors who are masters of the unsettling implication—because nothing is quite so scary as what you dream up to fill the voids.

The best books on NATO, recommended by Mark Webber

With all eyes on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it’s a good time to educate yourself on the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in post-war Europe. Here, University of Birmingham political scientist Mark Webber offers five book recommendations on the history, aims and ideals of NATO.

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.

The Best Tudor Historical Fiction, recommended by Alison Weir

The Tudor dynasty, which ruled England from 1485 to 1603, has been the focus of extraordinary public attention in recent years, thanks to the success of books like Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and the lavish television drama The Tudors, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers. We asked Alison Weir, the author of many bestselling factual and novelistic books on the period, to recommend her favourite works of Tudor historical fiction.

The Best Literary Thrillers, recommended by Chris Power

For those with a taste for fine literature, but who also enjoy their fiction with a bit of suspense and momentum, the acclaimed novelist Chris Power—author of A Lonely Man—has put together a recommended reading list of five ‘literary thrillers’, including work by Fernanda Melchor, Roberto Bolaño and the Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano.

Five of the Best Works of Belarusian Literature, recommended by Hanna Komar

Writers have been subject to persecution and repression in Belarus, and increasingly so in the aftermath of the protests that swept the nation in 2020 and 2021. Owning or distributing books deemed ‘extremist’ by the Lukashenko government can be enough to land you in jail. Here, the poet and activist Hanna Komar selects five of the best works of Belarusian literature that offer a glimpse of the culture and mindset of this post-Soviet nation, and the bravery of those who continue to fight for political freedom.

The best books on Gender Inequality, recommended by Linda Scott

Women produce about 40% of global GDP and more than half of the world’s food. But their economic and social contribution has too often gone unrecorded—subsumed into ‘household earnings’ or otherwise disregarded. Here, the Oxford academic and author of The Double X Economy Linda Scott selects five of the best books on gender inequality, and reveals how the empowerment of women might just be the route to world peace.

The Best Shirley Jackson Books, recommended by Joan Passey

Shirley Jackson, the 20th-century horror author, has had a remarkable resurgence in popularity in recent years, with a series of screen adaptations bringing her writing to a new audience. Joan Passey, an academic at Bristol University and co-editor of an upcoming collection of essays on the ‘mother of horror’, selects five books that offer the best introduction to Shirley Jackson’s work.

The Best Memoirs: The 2022 NBCC Autobiography Shortlist, recommended by Marion Winik

Autobiography is evolving; increasingly we find the field dominated by ‘genre-fluid’ books that plait memoir together with strands of cultural criticism, history, journalism or even poetry. Here, Marion Winik, the memoirist and critic, talks us through the five books that have been shortlisted in the National Book Critic’s Circle autobiography category—and describes the face of memoir in 2022.

The best books on Scottish Nationalism, recommended by Murray Leith

There has been a sharp rise in nationalist and pro-independence sentiment in Scotland since the resumption of the Scottish parliament in 1999. Here, the University of West Scotland political scientist Murray Leith reflects on the changing nature of Scottish identity and separatist visions, as he recommends five key books on Scottish nationalism.

The Best Self Help Books of 2021, recommended by Emma Gannon

Lockdowns have forced many of us to pause and consider the way we are living our lives, says the podcaster and bestselling author Emma Gannon. Here she highlights five of the best self help books published in 2021, with a special focus on creativity and setting better boundaries to safeguard our time and energy.

The Best Philosophy Books of 2021, recommended by Nigel Warburton

Nigel Warburton—the philosopher, broadcaster and creator of the popular Philosophy Bites podcast—selects five of the best public philosophy books published in 2021, including a defence of righteous rage, an examination of the concept of ‘time management,’ and an intellectual biography of the political philosopher and Holocaust survivor Hannah Arendt.

The best books on Islands, recommended by Gavin Francis

Generations of writers, explorers and armchair travellers have found a focal point of fascination in the idea of the remote island. Why so? Gavin Francis, the award-winning writer, explains the everlasting appeal of the lonely isle – and why the fantasy is at least as powerful as the salt-sprayed reality – as he selects five of the best books on islands.

The Best Wartime Mystery Books, recommended by Caroline Crampton

The ‘golden age’ of detective fiction is usually considered to end suddenly with the outbreak of the Second World War. But many of the era’s leading novelists continued to write prolifically throughout, says Caroline Crampton, creator of the popular Shedunnit podcast. Here she selects five of the best wartime mysteries.

The Best Fiction of 2021: The Booker Prize Shortlist, recommended by Maya Jasanoff

This year the Booker Prize finalists include new work from previous shortlistees Richard Powers and Damon Galgut, a sweeping historical novel by Maggie Shipstead, and a fragmentary account of a life lived ‘extremely online.’ Maya Jasanoff, Harvard historian and chair of the 2021 judging panel, talks us through the best fiction of the past year.

The Best Thrillers of 2021, recommended by Tosca Lee

Looking for a fantastic new thriller to read? We asked Tosca Lee, the bestselling author, to talk us through the International Thriller Writers 2021 shortlist. With their amazing characters, palpable tension, unique voices and incredible plot twists these thrillers achieve what every reader is looking for: a book they can’t put down.

The best books on Time Management, recommended by Oliver Burkeman

Feeling stressed and overwhelmed? You are not alone. Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks, selects some of the best books on time management—including two classic how-to guides, plus several texts focused on helping you decide how you really want to spend your finite time on this planet.

Landmarks of Scottish Literature, recommended by James Robertson

Scottish culture is best understood as related to, but distinct from, that of Britain or England, says the acclaimed novelist James Robertson. Here, he selects five landmark works of Scottish literature, from Sir Walter Scott’s sweeping, panoramic social novels of the 18th century, through Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, to Nan Shepherd’s beloved nature writing.

The best books on Summer, recommended by Melissa Harrison

Temperatures ratcheting, tinderbox conditions, a pressure cooker atmosphere… summer is a handy literary shorthand for rising tensions. But in the natural world, summer is a quiet time when the flowers die back and the fruits and seeds are ripening. Here, Melissa Harrison—the novelist, nature writer and podcaster—recommends five of the best summer books, for those who like to read in step with the seasons.

The Best Science Fiction of 2021: The Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist, recommended by Tom Hunter

Every year, the director of the Arthur C Clarke Award talks us through their six book shortlist. The 2021 crop of the best science fiction books features a “deliciously pulpy” space opera, a time travel story for young adults, and a cacophonous tale of talking animals. What they all have in common is that they are by debut authors, says Tom Hunter: they represent a new generation of sci fi writing.

Landmark LGBTQI books, recommended by Rosie Wilby

Queer readers have had to transpose themselves into heteronormative stories for most of their lives, says the comedian and writer Rosie Wilby. That’s one of the reasons why straight, cis- readers should make time to read books from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex community. Here she highlights five landmark books by LGBTQI writers that everyone should read.  

Erotic Writing by Arab Women, recommended by Selma Dabbagh

Arab women have been writing erotic literature for millennia and have become more creative and daring in recent years in the wake of the Arab Spring and the spread of social media, says novelist Selma Dabbagh, editor of a new anthology, We Wrote in Symbols: Love and Lust by Arab Women Writers. Here, she picks five key examples of erotic writing by women of the region.

Five of the Best European Classics, recommended by David Campbell

Europe may be made up of many cultures but its component parts share an artistic and literary sensibility, says Everyman’s Library publisher David Campbell. Here, he recommends five European classics that everyone should read at least once in their life, including “the greatest novel ever written” and some lesser-known masterpieces.

Forgotten Classics: The Best B-Side Books, recommended by John Plotz

New books are constantly being published. Sometimes they slip by unremarked; sometimes their impact is so enormous as to divert the flow of literature altogether. But what of those books that made a splash on arrival, but have long since disappeared from view? John Plotz, the literary scholar, has spent five years resurfacing these forgotten classics: the ‘B-side books’ that have fallen from the public consciousness.

The Best Ursula Le Guin Books, recommended by Sherryl Vint

Ursula Le Guin’s most groundbreaking books are considered landmark texts in speculative fiction, exploring themes of colonisation, gender, nationalism and environmentalism through allegorical means. Here, the science fiction scholar Sherryl Vint selects five of the best books by Ursula Le Guin and examines her legacy as one of the great American writers.

The Best Mythopoeic Fantasy, recommended by Samantha Shannon

Fantasy writers often create vivid, intricately detailed worlds in which their stories unfold. Rich mythmaking of this kind often features alternative religions, languages and cultures, and is known among fans and scholars as ‘mythopoeia’. Here, Samantha Shannon—author of the internationally bestselling The Bone Season sequence—recommends five of the best mythopoeic fantasy books.

The Best Postcolonial Literature, recommended by Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb

Postcolonial literature brings together writings from formerly colonised territories, allowing commonalities across disparate cultures to be identified and examined. Here, the University of Toronto academic Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb recommends five key works that explore philosophical and political questions through allegory, personal reflection and powerful polemic.

The Best Black British Writers, recommended by Jacqueline Roy

Black British writers have been storming the bestseller charts in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. Here, Jacqueline Roy—the novelist and lecturer in Black literature—selects five of the best books by Black British writers that deserve more attention.

The Best Experimental Fiction, recommended by Rebecca Watson

Experimental fiction often uses unusual forms of syntax, style, or form—perhaps taking the form of fragments, footnotes or parallel narratives. Here Rebecca Watson, author of the critically acclaimed experimental novel little scratch, recommends five of the best experimental novels and explains why a writer might choose to bend the rules—and to what effect.

The Best Novellas, recommended by Claire Fuller

The acclaimed novelist Claire Fuller, author of Unsettled Ground, recommends five of the best novellas: short works of fiction that offer the power and intensity of a novel in little more than 100 pages. From an epic-in-miniature set in the American West to an infamous story of bestial love, these books offer short, sharp shocks of fiction that can be enjoyed over a single evening.

The Best Biographies: the 2021 NBCC Shortlist, recommended by Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor, the author, critic and chair of the National Book Critics’ Circle biography committee, discusses their 2021 shortlist for the title of the best biography—including a revelatory new book about the life of Malcolm X, a group biography of artists in the 1960s, and a book built from a cache of letters written in Japan’s shogun era.

The best books on Evolutionary Psychology, recommended by Chris Paley

Human traits are a product of natural selection—and the story of how we have evolved explains many of our psychological quirks today. Chris Paley, author of Unthink and Beyond Bad, recommends five of the best evolutionary psychology books—and explains how experimental data might finally get to the bottom of the question of free will.

The Best Narrative Nonfiction Books, recommended by Samira Shackle

Narrative nonfiction is a style of writing that takes the facts and dramatises them to create novelistic retellings of real life events. Samira Shackle, author of Karachi Vice, a book that offers vivid insight into the lives of five of the city’s residents, recommends five books that have inspired her—and explains how a writer might begin to carve ‘plot’ and ‘characters’ from reams of research material.

The Best Fyodor Dostoevsky Books, recommended by Alex Christofi

His father had clawed his way up into the minor aristocracy, but Fyodor Dostoevsky chose to live the life of an impecunious author. He was sentenced to death, but his execution was stayed and he spent years in a Siberian labour camp instead. His books are about human compassion, but he was a difficult man who had trouble with his own personal relationships. Alex Christofi, author of a brilliant new biography of Dostoevsky, one of Russia’s greatest novelists, recommends five books to learn more about the man and his work—including the novel of which Tolstoy said he ‘didn’t know a better book in all our literature’.

The Best of Contemporary Irish Fiction, recommended by Liz Nugent

Bestselling author Liz Nugent, whose latest novel Our Little Cruelties is out now, talks to Five Books about the Irish writers that have been taking the world by storm in recent years—as she selects five unmissable recent works of Irish contemporary fiction, including books by Anne Enright and Sebastian Barry.

Favourite Theatre Books, recommended by Gyles Brandreth

The author and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth selects five of his favourite books about the theatre from the thousands that grace his bookshelves, taking in nonfiction, histories of music hall and amateur dramatics, plus a 16th century ‘romp’ starring one William Shakespeare.

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 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 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 books on Critical Thinking, recommended by Nigel Warburton

Do you know your straw man arguments from your weasel words? Nigel Warburton, Five Books philosophy editor and author of Thinking from A to Z, selects some of the best books on critical thinking—and explains how they will help us make better informed decisions and construct more valid arguments.

The best books on Dating, recommended by Mia Levitin

“Love,” wrote Ovid, “is no assignment for cowards.” Cultural critic Mia Levitin talks us through the history of seduction from the Classical era, through ballroom dancing, calling cards and into the present age of swiping on our mobile phones. Here she recommends five of the best books for those braving the modern dating scene.