Britain for aliens

The World Today Published 2 August 2016 Updated 25 January 2019 1 minute READ

The Life of Samuel Johnson
James Boswell
(Penguin, £19.99)

Boswell describes the life of one of the towering figures of English literature and his set of friends. The life of the poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic and author of the seminal Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1755 and encompassing nine years’ work, is charted through a series of richly detailed anecdotes and illuminates both the man, and British society in the 18th century.

Notes from a Small Island: Journey Through Britain
Bill Bryson
(Black Swan, £8.99)

Sometimes it takes an alien to capture a nation. American Bryson takes a delightfully irreverent last tour around the UK before returning to the United States after 20 years in Britain, providing a mixture of historical information and insights into behaviours. In 2003, Notes from a Small Island was voted the book that best represented Britain by BBC Radio 4 listeners.

What a Carve Up!
Jonathan Coe,
(Penguin, £8.99)

Coe’s satirical novel charts the political and social environment in Britain during the 1980s and the influence of the chattering classes. A take-down of power under the Thatcher government, it follows the corrupt Winshaw family through the investigations of their hapless biographer Michael Owen.

The English and Their History
Robert Tombs
(Penguin, £14.99)

What does it mean to be English? Covering 2,000 years of English history, Tombs uses distant historic events to give perspective to current affairs and looming crises. Full of thematic links and contrasts across centuries, the author begins with the Roman invasion of Britain and takes the reader right up until the modern day, all with a wit and insouciance that are of themselves rather English.

A Dance to the Music of Time (12 volumes)
Anthony Powell
(Arrow, £53.18)

This epic series of 12 novels follows narrator Nick Jenkins from London at the end of the First World War through to the turbulence of the 1960s. Often seen as the epitome of the English novel, Jenkins reminisces on the people he met over the previous half a century and the manners, power and movements in British political, cultural and military life in the mid-20th century.

Kingdom Come
J G Ballard
(Fourth Estate, £8.99)

Ballard’s 2006 dystopian fantasy – his last published novel – presents a United Kingdom where affluent suburbanites find release from boredom in consumer-led fascism, with gangs of football supporters egged on by TV personalities torching the homes of minority communities.