The best reads of 2012, as recommended by our panel of top Scots

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty
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Whether you’re looking for the perfect gift or the perfect escape from the festive chaos, let our illustrious panel guide you with their recommended books of 2012


The best novel of the year by far was Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies (Fourth Estate, £20), a brilliant evocation of the downfall of Anne Boleyn. Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman’s End This Depression Now! (WW Norton, £14.99) explains in clear, accessible language why the US and UK need a fiscal stimulus and how an austerity policy is repeating the mistakes of the 1930s. And if you worry about the encroachment of markets into more and more areas of life, What Money Can’t Buy by Michael Sandel (Allen Lane, £20) is the book for you.

MARTIN BOYCE, Turner Prize-winning sculptor

I picked up Alison Moore’s debut novel The Lighthouse (Salt Publishing, £8.99) not because it made the Man Booker shortlist but because of its title: along with musician Raymond MacDonald and film-maker David Mackenzie I’m working on a project called “Scarecrows and Lighthouses”, so naturally I was intrigued. It turned out to be exactly what I want from a novel, beautifully and economically written and taking the reader on a journey full of longing and memories. Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri left behind a fascinating collection of work when he died in 1992, and even though it still isn’t as well known as it ought to be, the republication this month of Kodachrome (Mack, £25), which is full of his modernist landscapes, might help.

GORDON BREWER, Broadcaster

I thought the most haunting novel of the year was The Garden Of Evening Mists (Myrmidon, £12.99) by Tan Twan Eng, which explores the dark relations between Japan and the countries it occupied in the Second World War. The way the novel integrates its exploration of the aesthetics of Japanese gardening with the plot line was particularly impressive. Empty Space by M John Harrison (Gollancz, £12.99) was irresistible, although it might be better to start with its predecessors, Light and Nova Swing, both of which were reissued this year. In non-fiction I enjoyed The Beginning Of Infinity by David Deutsch, (Penguin, £10.99) although I am not sure I understood a word of it.

KEITH BROCKIE, Wildlife Artist

Much of my life revolves around the natural world and I was enthralled to read Eagle Days by Stuart Rae (Langford Press, £18), an account based on his research work throughout many years on the golden eagle in the Scottish Highlands. The beautifully descriptive text weaves a rich tapestry of encounters with eagles in the atmospheric landscape and other wildlife experienced along the way. His talent as a creative photographer shines through with many evocative portrayals of mountain vistas, eagles and much more besides. Also Wildlife Crime by Dave Dick (Whittles Publishing, £18.99), a fascinating if disconcerting account of raptor persecution.

JOHN BROWN, Astronomer Royal for ­Scotland

If you enjoyed Dava Sobel’s bestseller ­Longitude, portraying the scientific facts and personal intrigues of the race to perfect clocks, you will enjoy Andrew Sean Greer’s debut novel The Path Of Minor Planets (Faber, £7.99). It is a slower paced, but more privately penetrating, fictional insight into the lifestyles and ­inner feelings of a group of comet-watching scientists skilfully woven around successive returns of Comet Swift. Roger Penrose’s Cycles Of Time (Vintage, £9.99) ­addresses ideas at the forefront of cosmic ­physics without losing the average ­persistent reader on page 1, swinging freely through the roles of relativistic, quantum and thermodynamic physics in cosmology and guiding its readers through it all as securely as Rebus scours Edinburgh.

RUTH DAVIDSON, Leader of the Scottish Conservatives

My book of the year has been, without question, Bringing Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel. I have always enjoyed historical fiction (note to C J Sansom – please bring back Matthew Shardlake) and this period is ­particularly heavy with strong ­characters, palace intrigue and a narrative arc that takes in both historic events and personal drama. Having enjoyed its predecessor, Wolf Hall, very much, I was keen to get hold of a copy of Bringing Up The Bodies soon after its release. Mantel’s writing suits the period, and as her present-day novel, Beyond Black, seemed a bit out of kilter, I might see what’s next in the ­Thomas Cromwell story before ­returning to her as an author.

HAROLD DAVIS, Rangers legend

I have long been a fan of Michael Connelly, the Harry Bosch detective series in particular. Bosch is a real character, and I instantly took to him. There’s terrific humour in him, and a bit of fun too. I was delighted to hear that a new Bosch book is out – The Black Box (Orion, £18.99, published last week) so I’ll be able to pick up his adventures again.

ANDREW DIXON, CEO, Creative Scotland

Simon Stephenson’s Let Not The Waves Of The Sea (John Murray, £8.99), shortlisted for the Creative Scotland Book Awards, was a remarkably moving and compelling read. The travelogue and biography is a celebration of his brother’s life and deals courageously with the journey to understand his death in the Asian Tsunami on Ko Phi Phi. I also treasure An Eye On The Street: Glasgow 1968 (Renaissance Press £9.99), which documents the photographs of the late David Peat with few words and great impact.

GAVIN FRANCIS, Antarctic base doctor, writer

2012 began with the paperback release of Colin Thubron’s To A Mountain In Tibet (Vintage, £8.99). A new Travel Thubron is always to be ­savoured, but there was something valedictory and elegiac about this. Like many others I joined the queue for Kathleen Jamie’s Sightlines, and was enthralled again by that poet-philosopher’s gaze of hers which turns potentially leaden subjects into gold. Sven Lindqvists’s The Myth Of Wu Tao-Tzu (Granta, £12.99) was the greatest surprise: flinty, direct and utterly original, it smoulders with fury at man’s inhumanity and unflinchingly asks “What is literature for?”

CHRIS FUJIWARA, Director, Edinburgh ­International Film Festival

Bernard Eisenschitz’s Fritz Lang Au Travail (Cahiers du cinéma, ¤59.95) is an astonishing journey through the work of one of the greatest filmmakers. Admirers of Lang masterworks such as M and Fury have long marvelled at their visual designs and complexity of movement, gesture and ­decor. As Eisenschitz’s book documents, these qualities reached the screen only because of Lang’s determination to put his stamp on all his films, in spite of unimaginative producers or egotistical stars. Beautifully illustrated, this monumental book is expensive but worth every euro.


I love reading Ian Rankin novels to unwind. I found the latest offering, The Impossible Dead (Orion, £7.99), a real page-turner. I know some dyed-in-the-wool Rebus fans were underwhelmed with Inspector Malcolm Fox but I liked him: he’s very different to Rebus, but complex and compelling none the less. I am already looking forward to his new book Standing In Another Man’s Grave (Orion, £18.99), where Fox and Rebus go head to head. There are many books on the financial crisis, all retrospective and clever in hindsight. In How Do We Fix This Mess? (Hodder & Stoughton, £20), Robert Peston is very lucid on some of the biggest issues of the day. I thoroughly ­recommend it.

SIR CHRIS HOY, Scotland’s most successful Olympian

My book of the year is Andy Coogan’s Tomorrow You Die (Mainstream, £18.99). Obviously I’m a bit biased as he’s my great-uncle, but I would say that anybody who reads his book couldn’t fail to be amazed and inspired at the life he’s lead. The cover and title of the book focus on Andy’s Japanese prisoner-of-war experiences, but the story is as much about his childhood in the Gorbals and his love of sport. The book is full of his mischievous and humorous character, and he has no bitterness about the horrors he experienced during the Second World War. Andy was a promising athlete himself and when he returned from the war, he devoted the rest of his life to sport and helping others to get the best from themselves.

Chris Hoy’s autobiography is published by HarperSport at £8.99

JOHANN LAMONT, Scottish Labour Leader

It seems I have come to this a bit later than most but by my book of the year was The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Penguin, £7.99). Even though it is set in Mississippi in the 60s and explores the racial tensions of the time, it is really a book about wider oppression and inequality that people from all backgrounds face and I was absolutely floored by it. The one new book I read and enjoyed this year was How I Won The Yellow Jumper by Ned Boulting (Yellow Jersey, £8.99). As a Tour de France fan, I found his behind-the-scenes look at the famous race both highly amusing and telling in equal measure.

ALLAN LITTLE, BBC News Special correspondent

Richard Ford’s Canada (Bloomsbury, £12.99) grabs you with the best opening line in years and the quality never lets up. Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies was as evocative and compelling as Wolf Hall. I can’t wait for part 3. Allan Massie has come back to the 20th century in his engaging and nuanced Dark Summer In Bordeaux (Quartet, £12). Charles Cumming is an astonishing (and to me) new talent: his spy thriller A Foreign Country (Harper Collins, £12.99) is surely a film waiting to be made. The brilliant Anne Applebaum has shone a light into one of the darkest periods of Europe’s 20th century history in Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern ­Europe 1944-56 (Allen Lane, £25).

LADY CLAIRE MACDONALD, Award-winning cook, food writer and hotelier

Two books containing letters have impressed and intrigued me this year as I fear emails will be the end of such books in the future. In William Shawcross’s Counting One’s Blessings (Macmillan, £25), the warm personality and humour of the late, much-loved Queen Mother shines through in her letters, as does her affection for all whether below or above stairs. Dear Lupin (Constable, £12.99) a selection of the correspondence between Roger Mortimer, racing correspondent of the Times, to his wayward son Charlie, is a glowing testament to paternal devotion over four decades. A winner.

IAIN McMILLAN, Director, CBI Scotland

This year, no new book really inspired me. So I re-read Innovation And Entrepreneurship? (Butterworth-Heinemann, £15.99) by the late, great management guru Peter Drucker. He describes innovation as the specific tool of entrepreneurs and the means by which they exploit change as an opportunity for a different business or service. In Scotland, many think that entrepreneurship is just about starting a business, having a go and being lucky. It isn’t, and Drucker explains how innovation and entrepreneurship are sophisticated, systematic and can be learned. In Scotland, where the large size of the state is unsustainable, this is essential reading.

KATH MAINLAND, CEO, Edinburgh Fringe

This year I have enjoyed some wonderful new novels from some of my favourite authors, as well as discovering some new, but equally great storytellers. William Boyd’s Waiting For Sunrise (Bloomsbury, £12.99), an atmospheric tale of espionage, family and the First World War; The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler (Chatto & Windus £14.99); and In One Person by John Irving (Black Swan, £7.99) were all wonderful treats. So too were The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood (Simon & Schuster, £12.99), a story of class and mystery with undertones of incest, and Jane Harris’s Gillespie And I (Faber, £7.99), a disturbing exploration of obsession set against the backdrop of the Glasgow exhibition in 1888.

ANDREW MILLIGAN, Head of Global Strategy, Standard Life Investments

I have just finished Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic Treasure Island as preparation for reading the sequel Silver, where Andrew Motion has nicely caught the atmosphere of the original. The other 19th-century classic I recommend is A Tale Of Two Cities. Yes, Dickens writes a story of love and resurrection, but the underlying theme – a downtrodden population becoming ever angrier at the antics of a small wealthy elite – is one which should give governments pause for thought in America, China, Greece – and perhaps closer to home.

PAUL PENDER, Glasgow-born Hollywood ­producer

My favourite book of the year is The Fear ­Index by Robert Harris (Arrow, £7.99). Harris is the master of the intelligent thriller, from Fatherland (what if Hitler had won the war?) to Archangel (what if Stalin had a secret son?) In The Fear Index he asks what if our already vulnerable financial markets were destabilised by a machine driven by artificial intelligence? Out of this apparently abstract material, Harris fashions a gripping human drama steeped in paranoia and violence. As Europe totters on the verge of economic collapse, the book is a timely reminder of the consequences of putting our faith in markets and machines rather than in each other.

Paul Pender is the author of The Butler Did It and the forthcoming Stephen Wolfe Mystery, Jekyll In Hiding.

POLLY PULLAR, Wildlife photo-journalist

I don’t usually read crime novels but Peter May’s Lewis trilogy blew me away. Having recently lost myself in the Isle of Lewis’s natural world and its wonderful people during a visit to the men of Ness to chat about their guga hunt, the book, loosely based on this extraordinary culture, was movingly poignant. Following on from his excellent The Black House, (Quercus, £7.99) The Lewis Man (Quercus, £12.99) was therefore under pressure. Dark, exciting and atmospheric, its social history and culture was again well researched; it even surpasses the first tale. I eagerly await the finale, The Chess Men. (Quercus, £14.99 January 2013)

WILLIE RENNIE, Leader, Scottish Liberal ­Democrats

Ultramarathon Man – Confessions Of An All-night Runner by Dean Karnazes (Jeremy P Tarcher, £12.99) is about his tales of extreme endurance. From the Antarctica marathon to the Sierra Nevada, nothing is too extreme for this runner. Nietzsche once said: “That which does not kill usmakes us stronger.” To test this, Karnazes would think little of running until he dropped – into a hospital bed. Shy but unscrupulous German coroner Dr Martin Gansewein enjoys the peace and quiet of his job until one of his clients starts talking to him. Morgue Drawer Four (AmazonCrossing, £8.99) by Jutta Profijt is an unusual detective story where the deceased and his coroner attempt to solve his murder. Forever Is Over by Calvin Wade (AuthorHouse, £16.99) is the life story of terminally ill Richie Billingham from Ormskirk in Lancashire. It stirs the emotions with laughter and sorrow as his life is told from the perspective of different characters. If you were brought up in the 1970s and 1980s as I was, you will relate to this excellent book.

ALEX SALMOND, First Minister

Being a proud Jambo, 2012 has seen incredible highs and lows. I prefer to remember the on-the-field achievements and Gary Mackay’s Hearts Dream Team (Black and White Publishing, £11.99) brought back plenty of great memories. The late Stephen Maxwell was a good friend and well-known for his commitment to independence. His polemic Arguing for Independence (Luath Press, £9.99) was published posthumously and I think stands as a fine contribution by a fine man. Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth (Vintage, £7.99) is another gem from the man I think is the finest novelist of his generation. A young Cambridge graduate becomes embroiled in the worlds of literature and espionage. The concluding twist will leave you questioning everything you’ve just read.

ANDY SCOTT, Sculptor

I wish I’d been in Chicago the night Obama won, but I’ve been there on three trips this year in connection with my work and I love the place. Gary Krist’s City Of Scoundrels (Crown, £17.99) gives an amazing insight into the birth of the modern city, when within 12 days in July 1919, it was hit by a succession of disasters. First, an airship crashed in flames on a bank, then there was an appalling race riot, which was followed by a transport strike and the search for an abandoned six-year-old girl. It’s a gripping, easy-to-read, but well-researched story of a pivotal moment in the city’s history.

MARION SINCLAIR, CEO, Publishing Scotland

James Meek’s The Heart Broke In (Can­ongate, £17.99) tackles big themes – science, family, religion, money – and wraps them lightly in an engaging and compelling story of sibling rivalry. This Is Not The End Of The Book (Harvill Secker £14.99) is an eavesdropping into a relaxed, rambling conversation between Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carrière about the role of the book in the digital age: wry and witty, it gallivants through an appreciation of the most portable of reading devices. A word-of-mouth recommendation sparked a Wilkie Collins reading jag this year. The guilty pleasure of getting through The Woman In White (Harper Press £2.50), The Moonstone (Arcturus Publishing £3.99) and No Name (Vintage £6.99) led to the discovery of Collins’ surprisingly modern voice and sharp observations of human nature.

SAM TORRANCE, Golf legend

The book that made the biggest impression on me this year is Open by Andre Agassi (HarperCollins, £8.99). Moving, shocking and eye-opening, it is a “tell all” autobiography in the true sense – a book in which one of sport’s great icons lays his soul bare and exposes the demons that have haunted him since childhood. Open is beautifully written and honest in a way that so many books of this sort are not.

Sam Torrance is the author of An Enduring Passion: My Ryder Cup Years, Mainstream, £16.99.

JEREMY WARES, Michelin-starred chef, ­Macdonald Houston House

I don’t think I’m the only chef who has been waiting eagerly for the publication of Philip Howard’s book The Square: Savoury (£40, Absolute Press). He is such a big name in the industry and someone I have so much professional admiration and respect for. This is a fantastically detailed book with so many inspiring recipes. What I love most is that it demonstrates precisely how to create a gourmet meal of Michelin standard, highlighting the technical expertise that will transform the dish. This book is a definite must-read, even for a professional chef. I cannot wait for volume two, which is out in the spring.


I was on holiday in Grenada a few weeks ago, and couldn’t take my head out of Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 (Simon & Schuster, £7.99), which is one of the best thrillers I have ever read. I don’t normally like non-fiction so maybe it was because this book felt like it wasn’t – either way, it would make a superb film. Jeremy Clarkson’s How Hard Can It Be (Penguin, £7.99) has all of his trademark outlandish judgments and immature sense of humour: I rather surprised myself by liking it.

GARETH WILLIAMS, Co-founder and CEO, Skyscanner

We all tend to think advertising doesn’t ­influence us, but that’s untenable. Seducing The Subconscious: The Psychology Of ­Emotional Influence In Advertising by Robert Heath (Wiley-Blackwell, £19.99) uses psychology and brain science to ­explain why it does – in a way advertisers don’t understand themselves. It’s that 
we pay only partial attention that makes us so suggestible and I suppose political parties are forced to acquire votes in ­similar ways. A very accessible and entertaining read was Christian Beginnings 
by Geza Vermez (Allen Lane, £25), an ­authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, 
who examines how “Jesus” became “Christ”. For light relief read The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek. ­Comedic genius.

DAN WILLSON, aka singer-songwriter Withered Hand

I’m just starting to decipher the fantastic and cryptic graphic novel Cartoon Utopia (Fantagraphics, £17.99) by one of my favourite living artists, Ron Regé Jr. This, his magnum opus, is quite a head-trip. Thousands of very dense little drawings and words resemble a psychedelic illuminated manuscript peppered with themes of spiritual redemption and good versus evil. It’s a very unusual and beautiful work. Discovery of the year for me was Out Of The Woods: Short Stories by Chris Offutt (Simon & Schuster, £10.99), which a kind fan mysteriously handed to me after a gig in Bristol. «