We are pleased to announce the 2021 Octavian Book List, our annual selections for the best books we read this year. As you enjoy the holidays, the Octavian Report list makes great year-end reading wherever you may be — and great gifts, if you are still looking.
Here is our list of essential reads for 2022 and beyond.
A SWIM IN A POND IN THE RAIN, by George Saunders
One of America’s most acclaimed short-story writers turns his hands to criticism in this best-selling collection. Saunders has taught a class on the Russian short story for decades; here he collects his thoughts on short works by Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gogol, and Turgenev — also included in full — and what makes them literary masterpieces.
PARTING WORDS, by Benjamin Ferencz
Benjamin Ferencz, who turned 100 in 2020, led an amazing life: a poor immigrant turned legal expert who is the last-surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg Trials where he successfully oversaw the largest murder case in history at age 27. Here he shares his trenchant reflections on how to live a life less ordinary.
THE WILL TO SEE, by Bernard-Henri Lévy
Our board member’s latest book takes an unflinching look at the humanitarian crises currently plaguing the world that have gone largely unnoticed by international media and the global citizenry. From Nigeria to Greece, from Bangladesh to Iraqi Kurdistan, Levy’s dispatches reveal cause for both devastating concern and small hope for the future. Click here to read more.
TEN LESSONS FOR A POST-PANDEMIC WORLD, by Fareed Zakaria
CNN host and best-selling author Zakaria takes on a fearsome challenge in his latest, examining the macro risks — be they social, political, or biological — that will define the post-COVID world and asking hard questions about our readiness and ability to confront them.
PEOPLE LOVE DEAD JEWS, by Dara Horn
Horn, a prize-winning novelist and commentator, came to a disturbing realization in the aftermath of rising anti-Semitism over the previous years: people seem to be far more interested in dead Jews than living ones. Her newest collection of critical essays asserts the value of Jewish lives and asks difficult questions about classic tropes on the subject.
THREE DAYS AT CAMP DAVID, by Jeffrey Garten
In 1971, President Richard Nixon took a momentous step for the U.S. and the world economy: he unilaterally ended the direct international convertibility of the dollar into gold. Garten, a former dean of the Yale School of Management and the Undersecretary of Commerce in the Clinton administration, tracks in this remarkable book how that decision came about and the huge ramifications it would have for the world to this day.
HARSH TIMES, by Mario Vargas Llosa
The Nobel laureate’s latest novel takes up the questions that have preoccupied him for much of his career, questions lying at the intersections of history and politics with the lives of individuals. This book uses the coup against Guatemala’s Jacobo Arbenz as a lens to study human existence and the global forces that shape it. Click here to read more.
MISS DIOR, by Justine Picardie
The story of Christian Dior is known around the world. That of his sister, Catherine — the first Dior muse — is not. This fascinating book chronicles Catherine’s life as a Resistance fighter and concentration camp survivor, a story intertwined with her brother’s spectacular success, the “New Look” and the revival of postwar France.
2034, by Elliot Ackerman and Adm. James Stavridis
This speculative novel “of the next world war” from Octavian board member, National Book Award finalist, and decorated Marine Ackerman and former NATO Supreme Commander Stavridis imagines a U.S.-China conflict (Iran is also a player) with terrifying specificity and plausibility. A great read and a great primer on global risk. Click here to read more.
THE TAKING OF JEMIMA BOONE, by Matthew Pearl
Bestselling novelist Pearl’s first foray into narrative nonfiction takes up an overlooked episode in American history: the kidnapping of a child of legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone by a Cherokee-Shawnee raiding party. Pearl examines the settler-native dynamic as well as the violent early history of America in this gripping, intellectually daring work. Click here to read more.
THE PLAGUE, by Albert Camus
This incredible new translation from Octavian contributor Laura Marris presents Camus’s classic novel in a new light, one informed by the COVID pandemic. The Plague is a book as essential to understanding the social and philosophical meaning of disease as it is to fighting authoritarian politics, and this new translation makes for essential reading. Click here to read more.
FIRST PLATOON, by Annie Jacobsen
The brilliant Jacobsen — Octavian board member and best-selling historian — here takes on one of the most important subjects in the modern world: the ever-increasing reach of the surveillance state. Staring with a tragedy in Afghanistan and moving outwards, Jacobsen takes us on a deeply informed tour of the issues shaping our fiery arguments over privacy, information, and freedom. Click here to read more.
A LIFE OF PICASSO IV: THE MINOTAUR YEARS, by John Richardson
The fourth, posthumous volume of Sir John Richardson’s definitive, magisterial biography of the artist continues Picasso’s story in a France on the edge of World War II. With his inimitable eye for detail and sensibility for cultural moments, Richardson describes a Picasso immersed in the world of Surrealism, a crumbling Europe, and the painting of his 1937 masterpiece Guernica.
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