Alex Salmond

Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party

For hundreds of years, Scots have settled across the globe, from North America to Asia to Africa. Their contribution to a range of fields such as education, science, finance and engineering has been immense -- shaping the positive reputation Scotland enjoys internationally. Today, there are an estimated 50 million people around the world with Scottish ancestry, and the impact of the Scottish diaspora has been huge. To The Ends Of The Earth: Scotland’s Global Diaspora, 1750-2010 (Allen Lane, £25) -- the third volume of what Professor Tom Devine describes as an unintended trilogy, following The Scottish Nation 1700--2000 and Scotland’s Empire 1600--1815 -- examines how successive waves of emigration have affected this country too, sometimes in ways we are only just beginning to appreciate. Filled with fascinating descriptions of the social inequality that drove emigration, Scotland’s Diaspora manages to look beneath the myth and sentimentality and focus on the true reasons why so many people chose to leave Scotland to begin new lives elsewhere. In his writing, Professor Devine has brought a greater understanding to this fascinating subject and offers an intriguing perspective on a key component of our history and national identity.

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Jackie Kay, poet and author

With my Christmas malt, I would dip in and out of Ian Duhig’s Pandorama (Picador, £8.99) which is panoramic in its subject matter. As always with Duhig, you learn strange and random things, but the poems move you beyond facts to think about the world and our place in it. He is a poet who refuses to be boxed in: one minute seeringly political, as in the extraordinary elegy for David Oluwale, a Nigerian immigrant whose racial harassment led to his death; the next humorous, playful, as in the poem that describes 13 different international reactions to the blackbird. Duhig is full of surprises and each new book of his is a gift. Lavinia Greenlaw, an exact contemporary, is also a poet who makes you think. The Casual Perfect (Faber, £12.99) is her most perfect book to date, involving the reader in a real and unusual way, making presence out of absence, and making us ask questions. This collection moves through time, inventing tenses and ways of perceiving the moment. Cool, poised, intelligent, Greenlaw just gets better and better.

Clare English, presenter of The Book Cafe, Radio Scotland

A bit of a cheat for my first choice -- The Crimson Petal And The White (Canongate, £9.99) -- as it was published back in 2002, but a BBC TV adaptation brought it back to public attention this spring. The first pages have to be among the most seductive I’ve read: you’re sucked into a dark and dangerous steampunk Victorian London. The cast of characters is colourful and ambiguous and each page reeks of sex, deceit, squalor and pathos as you enter a world of “haves” and “have nots”. The TV series certainly put the book on the map thanks in part to stunning lead performances from Chris O’Dowd and Romola Garai, but the book is a character in its own right: unputdownable, even at its most disturbing. Francisco Goldman’s autobiographical novel about the death of his young artist wife, Aura, was heartbreaking to plough through but I’m glad I did. Say Her Name (Atlantic, £14.99) is his attempt to make sense of her untimely death (a freak body-surfing accident in Mexico) but at the core, it’s a tribute to their love. The cover put me off initially -- it looked a bit too schmaltzy for my tastes -- but the candour and passion shine through in this tale of an all-too-brief love affair.

Karen Cunningham, director of Aye Write! book festival

Julian Barnes’s The Sense Of An Ending (Jonathan Cape, £12.99) was, I think, a worthy winner of this year’s Booker Prize: short, but certainly not slight, precise and insightful. In The Better Angels Of Our Nature: The Decline Of Violence In History And Its Causes (Allen Lane, £30), Stephen Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard and MIT, argues that violence both within and between societies, including war and murder, has, despite current perceptions, declined from prehistory to today. Even the death toll of the Holocaust, two world wars and various campaigns of genocide supports this theory and challenges our assumptions that recent events have been the most violent in history. It’s a brilliant but at times horrific read that is eventually consoling that mankind is becoming more civilised. I can never resist Sophie Hannah’s psychological thrillers. They are unsettling and disturbing, and Lasting Damage (Hodder, £7.99) is every bit as enthralling as usual, if you like your crime dark and troubling.

Denise Mina, novelist

Jeff Lemire’s third volume of Sweet Tooth, Animal Armies (Titan, £10.99), follows animal/human hybrid children through a post-apocalyptic world. The dialogue is spare, but it’s his skill in spinning a tense series that amazed me most. John A Farrell’s Clarence Darrow -- Attorney For The Damned (Doubleday, £20) is a book I didn’t expect to find as relevant. Darrow represented the union movement in the US at a time of vast disparities in wealth. He introduced psychoanalysis as mitigating factors in the thrill murderers, Leopold and Loeb. His defence of Darwinism is especially telling: he was never afraid of being a lone voice. Tessa Hadley’s The London Train (Jonathan Cape, £12.99) shows her skill in taking narratives in odd, unexpected directions. This is a delicious, beguiling novel.

Sergio Casci, screenwriter

As a Scots-Italian, The Songs Of Manolo Escobar (Polygon, £10.99) -- Carlos Alba’s story of a boy growing up in a Spanish-Glaswegian family -- struck all sorts of chords with me. Narrator Antonio’s struggle to reconcile the cultures separated by his front door is beautifully described, and in Antonio’s grouchy father, Pablo, Alba has created one of the most memorable characters I’ve encountered in years. I loved the TV series Raffles, based on EW Hornung’s upper-class gentleman who supports himself by nicking other people’s stuff. Maybe that’s what attracted me to Chris Ewan’s The Good Thief’s Guide To Venice (Simon and Schuster, £7.99). Protagonist Charlie Howard is a crime writer who, like Raffles, supplements his income with the occasional burglary, which Ewan describes in fascinating (and worryingly well-informed) detail. It’s a fun, wise-cracking romp. And the descriptions of Venice, that most fragile and enigmatic of cities, are among the best I’ve read. The first time I went to see one of my own films at the pictures, the bloke in front spent the first 10 minutes chatting and munching popcorn. I wanted to stab his neck with a pencil. Mark Kermode is equally (if less violently) intolerant, and in The Good, The Bad And The Multiplex (Random House, £11.99) he has produced an articulate, passionate plea for better films and better places to watch them.

Ronald Frame, novelist

The title, Stars And Cars Of The ‘50s (teNeues, £25), says it all. Irish photographer Edward Quinn prowled the Cote d’Azur with his camera during those golden years, with the glamour captured all the more effectively in black and white. The stellar cast, from Picasso and Churchill to the latest Hollywood big hope, is outshone by the dream cars they drove or were chauffeured in. If Italian marques, chassis-dragging Cadillacs and vintage Hispano-Suizas are your thing, you’ll love this. Republished this year, The Collected Stories Of Isaac Bashevis Singer (Penguin, £14.99) was described as Singer’s “Book of Creation” by American critic Cynthia Ozick.

New York’s West Side is haunted by the transplanted spirits of the Old World, and Singer’s modesty and self-effacement as narrator makes it all seem very matter-of-fact. Endlessly inventive, one could live inside these stories for ever. In The Artist Of Disappearance (Chatto & Windus £12.99), Anita Desai proves her own mastery of the novella (there are three): more delving into the (Indian) past and more self-reduction by the characters intent on reaching their own vanishing points.

Isla Dewar, author

I finally got around to reading The Age Of Absurdity (Simon and Schuster, £7.99) by Michael Foley. Wry and witty, it looks at the craziness of our 21st-century lives. It made me smile and feel ashamed of myself. And, no, it’s not a self-help book. I was entranced by When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman (Headline Review, £7.99). Starting in 1968 and ending just after 9/11, moving between Cornwall, London and New York, it is a story of childhood secrets, family love, catastrophes and enduring friendship. Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson (Doubleday, £12.99) is a beautifully paced, disturbingly haunting thriller about memory loss and loss of self. I re-read Pride And Prejudice (Wordsworth Classics, £1.99) for no other reason than I love it. I also re-read The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (HarperPerennial, £7.99). I admire her writing and in this book her raw honesty was a comfort.

David Torrance, writer and biographer

Supermac: The Life Of Harold Macmillan (Pimlico, £16.99) by DR Thorpe delivered everything I want from a political biography: comprehensive research, fine writing and the busting of some well-worn myths. Supermac also completes a biographical trio for Thorpe, complementing his prime ministerial lives of Anthony Eden and Sir Alec Douglas-Home. In Vanished Kingdoms: The History Of Half-Forgotten Europe (Allen Lane, £30), historian Norman Davies examines Europe’s lost duchies, empires and republics, including the ancient kingdom of Glasgow, founded by the Welsh in a period when neither England nor Scotland existed. Finally, Charles Dickens: A Life (Viking, £30) is another fine biography by Claire Tomalin, who somehow manages to paint a fresh portrait of Dickens as we approach the bicentenary of his birth.

Allan Massie, novelist and journalist

The Quality Of Mercy by Barry Unsworth (Hutchinson, £18.99) is an outstanding historical novel, the long-delayed sequel to his Booker winner Sacred Hunger. With The Love And Death Of Caterina (Quercus, 12.99), Andrew Nicoll triumphantly cleared the second novel hurdle. Set in an unnamed South American country, there are moments reminiscent of Graham Greene. Nobody interested in the problems of the Middle East should miss Amin Maalouf’s Disordered World (Bloomsbury, £20): a masterpiece.

Vic Galloway, broadcaster

Kill Your Friends by John Niven (Vintage, £7.99) was everything I expected and more. Debauched, immoral, ruthless and repulsive, Steven Stelfox is one of the most hateful main protagonists of any book I have ever read. Set in the world of Britpop A&R, this razor-sharp critique of the music business is visceral, acerbic and hysterically funny. Smokeheads (Faber, £7.99) is Doug Johnstone’s third novel and best yet. A group of friends embark on a whisky-tasting holiday in the Western Isles that goes horribly wrong. Violence, mishap and adventure combine with Johnstone’s black humour to make this a rollicking tale. It’s Lovely To Be Here: The Touring Diaries Of A Scottish Gent by James Yorkston (Faber/Domino, £7.99) is an honest and self-deprecating read from a man better known as a member of Fife’s Fence Collective. It’s a wonderful set of insightful, personal stories from a grumpy, vegan singer-songwriter and had me chuckling away throughout.

Gordon Brewer, presenter of Newsnight Scotland

For sheer imaginative energy, Neal Stephenson is difficult to beat. The just-published Reamde (Atlantic, £18.99) is a less intellectually dense caper than some of his others (try Cryptonomicon or The Baroque Cycle), but still interesting. Haruki Murakami rivals Stephenson in turning out massive novels. His multi-volume IQ84 (Harvill Secker, £20) had some book stores in the US staying open late because of the excitement when the translation from Japanese was published. Having sampled the first part I’d say it was promising, but will find it difficult to live up to some of his earlier efforts like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or A Wild Sheep Chase. Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty (Faber, £9.99) is a fascinating, fictionalised study of Soviet technology when it looked as if the USSR could overtake the west. Walter Isaacson’s biography of the late Steve Jobs is an equally fascinating study of what actually happened to American technology. Ian Jack’s collection of essays, The Country Formerly Known As Great Britain (Vintage, £9.99) is as engrossing as it is unassuming. His description of Fife mining villages in the 1950s and his short life of the opera singer Kathleen Ferrier were particular highlights.

Alexander McCall Smith, author

Neil MacGregor’s fascinating History Of The World In 100 Objects (Allen Lane, £20) was an absolute treat, a box of intellectual chocolates … [Note from Literary Editor: That was published last year; the paperback came out this autumn, but this is about books of 2011 if you don’t mind.] All right, Alistair Moffat is one of our most versatile Scottish writers. This year his The Scots: A Genetic Journey (Birlinn, £16.99) explored the issue of where our DNA comes from … [Note from Lit Ed: Interesting. Did you hear that programme where they tested James Naughtie? Gave him a surprise. They should test some of our politicians: where do they come from? The Moon?] If I may proceed, there’s a very fine poet, Henry Marsh, who this year published The Hammer And The Fire (Maclean Dubois, £10). If you are interested in Scottish history and the outer islands, then both of these are beautifully explored in Marsh’s work, which is gentle and highly evocative … [Note from Lit Ed: Hold on! You were involved in the publication of Marsh’s book, weren’t you? Then you have an interest, and you can’t recommend books you have an interest in. Do that again and we won’t invite you to contribute next year. Understand? What about something written by Herald writers? Anything come to mind?]

Caro Ramsay, author

The Blackhouse by Peter May (Quercus, £7.99) is a chillingly atmospheric crime novel set in Stornoway. It captures beautifully how difficult it can be to return home to a small community and the uneasy memories this can provoke. Murders in Edinburgh and Stornoway, a love triangle that spans 30 years and a long forgotten accident that has hideous repercussions are all there, but the main character that runs through the prose is the ever-changing mood of island weather. Belinda Bauer’s Darkside (Corgi, £6.99) is another quiet and provocative book set in a small village, this time in the snow and fog. The village beat bobby Jonas is a man torn between his job and his loyalty to the community he grew up in as he contends with a serial killer. The irritatingly smart cops from the big smoke need his local knowledge yet refuse to give him any respect. As he tries to protect the community he adores, Jonas realises the killer knows him, and knows him well, and that while he is out on his cold, lonely beat, his disabled wife is at home in their cottage and vulnerable. This novel has the ending of a Shakespearian tragedy, touching and brave. And to cheer up, just read The Glasgow Fairytale by Alistair McIver (Black and White, £9.99). It’s supposed to be a kids book but it will make you laugh out loud if you read it on the bus.

Christopher Brookmyre, author 

I only discovered China Mieville’s work this year, and the instinct to kick myself for having arrived so late was ameliorated by the prospect of having so many books to look forward to. The Scar (Pan, £8.99) was one of the most immersive novels I have read in years, with the oceanscape of New Crobuzon rendered so tangibly you start to assume Mieville must have gone there for his holidays. Taking its title from the internet maxim that “if you can think of it, there’s porn out there”, Charles Stross’s SF thriller, Rule 34 (Orion, £12.99) managed to be exciting, disturbing, thoroughly icky and utterly hilarious. Perhaps the most striking aspect of its vividly convincing depiction of near-future Edinburgh was how massive advances in technology had changed the attitudes and everyday feel of the city not a jot. Having long since established himself as the funniest gaming critic inhabiting this dimensional plane, Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw proved that he could be as charming as he is vicious with the hectically paced and hugely enjoyable fantasy novel, Mogworld (Dark Horse, £5.99). Programmed to please gamer geeks everywhere, it ran with its inventive concept and achieved the improbable feat of soliciting sympathy for an undead mage who just wants to be left to rot in peace.

Alex Gray, author

I want to highlight three great crime novels. Firstly, Gordon Ferris’s fabulous book, The Hanging Shed (Corvus, £15.99). Set in Glasgow after the Second World War, that entire era is brought alive with skilful writing that transported me to the city my parents must have known and, with it, the ever-present threat of a death penalty that was then the punishment for murder. Peter May has deserved every accolade he has been given so far for The Blackhouse (Quercus, £7.99), a story set on the island of Lewis. The protagonist remembers the island he knew as a child and the tragedies he had experienced while investigating a present-day murder. I know Lewis and felt that wonderful surge of recognition on every turn of the page, one glorious description unfolding after another. My all-time favourite crime writer is PD James and 2011’s offering, Death Comes To Pemberley (Faber, £18.99), did not disappoint. I snatched it off the bookshelves the moment it was available, settling down to immerse myself in the lives of the Darcys, Bingleys and all the rest (even Mr and Mrs Knightley become involved on the sidelines). What joy! PD James and Jane Austen rolled into one glorious volume! Readers, I commend it to you. I would love to endorse Kenneth Steven’s latest collection of poems, Evensong (Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, £8.99), as reading them is like seeing special stars in the night sky and, of course, Carol Ann Duffy’s wonderful poem The Christmas Truce (Picador, £5.99).

James Robertson, author

New novels by Dermot Healy don’t come along that often, but Long Time, No See (Faber, £12.99) was certainly worth waiting for. Rich, slow, funny and deeply humane, it takes the reader into the extraordinary world of a small community of wonderful characters located somewhere on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, where not a lot happens, yet everything happens. Brilliant. A very different seaside community -- St Andrews in the 1840s -- is explored in Robert Crawford’s meticulously researched, intelligent and humorous The Beginning And End Of The World: St Andrews, Scandal And The Birth of Photography (Birlinn, £16.99). The Fife town was a hive of very early photographic activity, at a time when it was also inhabited by Robert Chambers, whose anonymous, pre-Darwinian book positing a theory of evolution caused 19th-century Britain to convulse in its corsets. I was also pleased to see Canongate make a stand, in the age of the e-book, for the desirability of books as physical objects, by reissuing 12 of its diverse Scottish and international backlist in elegant paperback form with new introductions. They range from Knut Hamsun’s Hunger to Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, from Charles Mingus’s Beneath The Underdog to The Complete Stories Of Muriel Spark -- a feast of delights. 

Nicola Morgan, author

Hisham Matar’s Anatomy Of A Disappearance (Viking, £12.99) would be compelling and moving even if it weren’t horribly autobiographical. This fiction, of a boy whose dissident father is abducted and never found, is gently written and carefully controlled, manipulating the unreliability of a child’s eyes and showing how cruelly yet kindly they are deceived. The child narrator in Sarah Winman’s When God Was A Rabbit (Headline Review, £7.99) is less deceived and the book manages to be light-sparky in tone yet devastating in punch. I laughed aloud at the scene where Elly and her damaged friend, Jenny Penny, sing Bohemian Rhapsody to drown a conversation they don’t wish to hear, and cried immediately afterwards at the shocking story behind her father’s breakdown. Piercing, exceptional. Please read it. And a book for children -- but please enjoy it yourself before treating the young ones in your life: One Boy And His Dog by Eva Ibbotson (Maria Lloyd Books, £10.99), who died last year aged 85. Delightful, brilliant, escapist and real -- although with a boy like no boy you ever met and the dog like no dog you’ve ever known. And as for the parents … Books like this create the avid readers we need.

Tom Devine, historian

My children gave me a birthday present this year of half a dozen novels by the great Patrick O’Brian on the sea adventures of Jack Aubrey and his shipmate Stephen Maturin, and their exploits in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. I quickly became addicted. The stories are all compelling yarns of adventure but what makes them truly special is O’Brian’s wonderful and memorable reincarnations of life in the wooden world of 18th-century men of war, coupled with his extraordinary grasp of contemporary seamanship and maritime lore. An era long gone comes alive as O’Brian weaves a spell which first intrigues then captures the interest of the reader in its entirety. I have never read a series of historical novels (20 were published before the author’s death in 2000) which so brilliantly convey the sights, sounds, smells and mindset of the past -- epic works indeed. If you are not already a fan, start with the first in the canon, Master And Commander (Harper, £7.99), now a Hollywood film, and move on from there. The Times once claimed that Patrick O’Brian was “the greatest historical novelist of all time”. If so, where is your Walter Scott noo? 

Val McDermid, author

Twenty years ago, I quit journalism to write full time. But enough is burned into my memory for Annalena McAfee’s The Spoiler (Harvill Secker, £12.99) to provoke smirks and outright grins of wry recognition at this marvellously entertaining dissection of the world of newspapers and its denizens. The time is 1997, the dying days of John Major’s government. Honor Tait is old school, a snob who revels in who she knew and what she knew even as she drifts inexorably towards a pitiful lonely death. Tamara Sim is a freelance clinging on by her false nails to a precarious existence at the showbiz end of a precarious business. Change is hurtling towards both women, and their world. McAfee’s novel is irresistible. Two crime novels with a similar premise impressed me. SJ Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep (Doubleday, £12.99) centres on a woman who starts every day with no memory of anything that has happened for the last two decades. But every day she rediscovers her attempts to rebuild her increasingly disturbing history. Alice LaPlante’s Turn Of Mind (Harvill Secker, £12.99) has a protagonist who is losing her grip on herself because of Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t know whether she murdered her best friend. Both books plug into our deepest fears about our sense of self. Both are also compelling narratives of horror and suspense.

TC Smout, historian

My first prize goes to Christopher Fleet, Margaret Wilkes and Charles WJ Withers for Scotland: Mapping The Nation (Birlinn, £25). The three authors have put together a splendiferous treat of text and illustration, to which the publishers have done justice in exemplary production. There are amazing maps, “windows of past life”, like the surveys by Timothy Pont from the 1590s or General Roy’s “magnificent military sketch” from the 1750s. There are maps to describe the resources and character of the land, maps to get you through Scotland as fast as possible. There are county maps to glorify the gentry, estate maps to help them clear the tenants. There are Victorian town maps so detailed they show bollards in the streets and trees in the gardens. There are imaginative early maps by men who never saw Scotland. I especially like the 13th-century English map that portrays Scotland as wasp-waisted, joined only by Stirling bridge, the northern part an island, “Scotland beyond the sea”. More ominously accurate is the German bombing map of Edinburgh 800 years later. What a book!

Richard Holloway, former bishop of Edinburgh

For me it has been a catch-up year on novelists. At a church book sale I picked up EL Doctorow’s novel of 2000, City Of God (Abacus, £9.99), about an Episcopalian priest in Manhattan who converts to liberal Judaism. It echoed many of my own struggles with religion and prompted me to revisit Doctorow, whom I had not read since Ragtime years ago. Of the four other Doctorow books I swallowed compulsively, the one I was most moved by was The March (Abacus, £8.99), his American Civil War novel, which, in turn, prompted me to re-read Stephen Vincent Benet’s epic poem, John Brown’s Body. I love these serendipitous trails in reading. I started next on Edward St Aubyn, beginning with his trilogy, Some Hope, then moving on to Mother’s Milk and the finale of the whole amazing sequence, At Last (Picador, £16.99). His On the Edge (Picador, £7.99) was amusing, but the sequence of novels about Patrick Melrose are, for me, one of the events of my reading year. I particularly appreciated the frail note of hope on which At Last concludes. Background reading I am doing for a Radio 4 series on doubt led me to the Princeton philosopher Mark Johnston’s Saving God: Religion After Idolatry (Princeton University Press, £13.95), in which he sets out to rescue God from religion. It’s a demanding but mind-expanding read; and I reckon he pulls off the rescue -- just.

Annabel Goldie, former leader of the Scottish Conservative party

An accidental reading coincidence of travelling people and their culture occurred with Tales From The Tent by Jess Smith (Birlinn, £9.99) and Gypsy Boy by Mikey Walsh, a pseudonym (Hodder, £7.99). Jess grew up travelling the Scotland of the 1950s. This is a very readable and invaluable social commentary of disappearing traditions and customs. Gypsy Boy is the searing, shocking, indeed heartrending but informative chronicle of growing up in a Romany Gypsy family. “Mickey” both moves and inspires the reader. The Forgotten Highlander by Alistair Urquhart (Abacus, £7.99), an impulse buy from the Erskine Garden Centre, is a compelling and humbling account of a Gordon Highlander imprisoned when the Japanese invaded Singapore in 1942. This incredible story must have taken remarkable courage to tell. It puts our padded 21st-century life into perspective and it is unforgettable. Stephen Fry is an absorbing, fascinating and talented writer so The Fry Chronicles (Penguin, £8.99) was a self select. It delivered -- a literary cocktail of fun, wicked observation, entertaining information, percipience and pathos. If I’m ever stuck in an airport or a train, let it be with him! A chance meeting a few years ago with Tony Benn left a lasting impression of a charming and principled politician, a man true to and unwavering in his beliefs over decades. His Letters To My Grandchildren (Arrow, £8.99) are engaging and thought-provoking.

Lorraine Kelly, TV presenter

Grande dames of crime writing Ruth Rendell and PD James are firm favourites of mine and both had books out this year. Death Comes To Pemberley (Faber, £18.99) is an interesting take by PD James on what happens after the happy ending at the end of Jane Austen’s classic Pride And Prejudice. The novel is set in 1803, Lizzie and Darcy have been married for six years and have two fine young sons. Their lives are thrown into chaos when black sheep Lydia Wickham barges into Pemberley shrieking that her caddish husband has been murdered. The story is in the hands of an expert in her craft, and those who loved the Austen original won’t be disappointed. Ruth Rendell’s The Vault (Hutchinson, £18.99) sees Inspector Wexford revisit Orcadia Cottage from earlier novel A Sight For Sore Eyes. The Wexford books aren’t as dark and twisted as when Rendell writes under the name Barbara Vine, but a new work from Ruth/Barbara is always a treat. I loved The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan (Canongate, £14.99), an intelligent, quirky book. Jake Marlowe believes himself to be the last werewolf standing. He is witty, jaded and world weary and, as you would expect from a novel about werewolves and vampires, there’s a sex and gore, but it is much more Being Human or True Blood than an offering from Hammer House of Horror. I know they weren’t written this year, but I was delighted to see that John Le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Sceptre, £7.99) and The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Penguin, £7.99) were republished off the back of two hugely enjoyable movies based on the books. It was a perfect opportunity to re-read both.

Lord David Steel, former leader of the Liberal Democrats

The most remarkable and memorable book I have read this year is I Shall Not Hate by Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish (Bloomsbury, £16.99). Soon after his wife died after a short illness and he was left looking after his family, three of his daughters were killed in the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip. I had been there subsequently and seen the devastation myself. Dr Abuelaish had worked in an Israeli hospital and so had many Israeli friends. His book is a moving testimony to non-violence amid the horrors of the continuing conflict in that troubled part of the world. Two more heavyweight (literally) volumes which I also enjoyed were Peter Mandelson’s The Third Man (HarperPress, £25), his account of life inside New Labour. It is a well-written, frank account which I balanced with Tony Blair’s A Journey (Hutchinson, £25) which has some surprising flashes of humour.

Helen Fitzgerald, author

I haven’t cried reading a book for years (last time was the final line of We Need To Talk About Kevin). This time the crying happened on a plane, when I reached the middle section of Emma Donoghue’s Room (Picador, £7.99). I wasn’t sad. I was just so in the boy’s head, desperate with fear and anticipation. Peace Love & Petrol Bombs, the debut novel by DD Johnston (AK Press, £8.99), is a non-preachy coming-of-age story set amid the complex and chaotic backdrop of anti-capitalist politics. It’s also funny as all hell. And it’s got morally ambiguous people in it. Exactly my cup of organic free-trade tea. It’s not often I find myself reading lines out loud to the sorry sucker who happens to be nearby. I couldn’t help myself with The Devil’s Mask (Faber, £12.99). Christopher Wakling has a gift with words and imagery that makes me sick with envy. The setting, characters and story are all top notch, but for me it’s the magic of his lines. No wonder his latest book, What I Did, was nominated for the Booker.

Rodge Glass, author

Scotland’s literary world is small. Increasingly we have opportunities, online and at live events, to collaborate with and then become friendly with other writers -- so I can’t recommend anything published here without feeling biased. Though I suspect fantastic books have been published this year by Kapka Kassabova, Alan Bissett and Allan Wilson, these recommendations certainly can’t be trusted. I’ve worked with them all. Outside Scotland, my favourite novel this year is Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr Fox (Picador, £12.99). What an amazing young writer she is -- what range, ambition and composure. Ali Smith spotted her talent as a teenager, and she’s rightly been championed by many senior writers, but with this fourth novel she hits new heights. I think she’s the most interesting female novelist around, dealing with issues of gender in a subtle, powerful way. A lightness of touch but a real depth as well. The big question mark for me this year was with David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King (Hamish Hamilton, £20). I love parts of it but can’t help feeling it’s a compromised collaboration, not Wallace’s novel at all. I haven’t made up my mind about it. I’m just sorry DFW didn’t live to complete the book.

Ruth Wishart, journalist

Like all good groupies, I read most of the New Labour post-mortems following their electoral demise. Most were relentlessly self serving. However I found Alistair Darling’s account in Back From The Brink (Atlantic, £19.99), credible, readable and remarkably accessible given the inevitable dollops of economic theory. A constant puzzle is why the girl who endured the generally joyless childhood she did has turned into the warm and funny human being who is Janice Galloway. A great loss to the teaching profession, but All Made Up (Granta, £16.99), the second volume of what we are not supposed to call her memoir, cements her reputation as an author imbued with rich powers of observation. As indeed is Jackie Kay, whose Red Dust Road (Picador, £8.99) is a terrific read worthy of all the bouquets bestowed on it.

A special treat was her own inimitable interpretation on Radio 4. Talking of which station, the latest marriage of radio documentary and publishing was Martin Sixsmith’s mammoth series on Russia. Russia The Wild East (BBC Books, £25) bears all the hallmarks of a correspondent who really knows his turf, and has the good communicator’s gift of bringing readers and listeners up to speed on this most enigmatic of nations. Luckiest author of the year? Undoubtedly Owen Jones, whose Chavs (Verso, £14.99), a timely slice of social commentary, hit the shelves immediately after the summer riots.

Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Thirty years on from the publication of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, how is Scottish literature bearing up? A brilliant novel and a poetry collection are among the books that prove it’s fighting fit in 2011. Ali Smith’s There But For The (Hamish Hamilton, £16.99) is the most exuberant novel I read this year, a breezy meditation on modern life and the people who find themselves excluded from the mainstream. The strength of Smith’s story lies in its ability to tease the extraordinary out of the everyday; as the depressing tedium of a middle-class dinner party is blown apart by one guest’s decision to lock himself in the host’s spare bedroom. Viewed through the eyes of the host, her young daughter and the man who locks himself away, There But For The speaks volumes about human beings and the ways in which modern society makes us feel like outcasts. Some of Scotland’s poets are anything but outcasts right now, and the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy has brilliantly succeeded in overcoming the constraints of having to be a “popular poet”. Her long-awaited collection The Bees (Picador, £14.99) offers a bittersweet contrast between the beauty of many things we hold dear, and the sense that they are being squandered. In a couple of centuries’ time, Duffy’s book will be studied by schoolchildren as a bellwether of the disasters towards which the early 21st-century world was stumbling.

Harry Reid, author and former editor of The Herald

This year Penguin published a new translation (by Prof Jeremy Robbins of Edinburgh University) of the 17th-century Spaniard Baltasar Gracian’s Pocket Oracle And The Art Of Prudence (Penguin Classics, £9.99), an elegant series of aphorisms. Feline, suave, cynical, it’s altogether better than Machiavelli. Meanwhile, Tam Dalyell has been an exemplary one-man awkward squad for more than 50 years. He fought and won 12 parliamentary elections, but was never even a junior minister. Yet he achieved far more as a diligent and thrawn backbencher than most ministers ever do. His memoir, The Importance Of Being Awkward (Birlinn, £25), is a fine political memoir, at once pugnacious and wise.

Elaine C Smith, actress

I always enjoy thrillers, and this year I have discovered Jo Nesbo in that genre, a Norwegian writer who does great and scary crime books like The Leopard (Vintage, £7.99). I loved Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (Windmill, £7.99), terrifying if you are a mother of teenage girls but heartbreaking and beautifully written. Also The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre, £7.99), an unusual book but again really well written with difficult and complex themes, but worth the work. I have had Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (Virago, £8.99) for about a year and finally got around to reading it -- quite, quite wonderful and uplifting, a real classic. If you liked The Help, which I loved, this gives a searing, beautiful account into the real lives of black American women in the last century. I also enjoyed Maggie O’Farrell’s After You’d Gone (Headline Review, £7.99) -- fantastic story and a great read. I did the usual amount of biography reading, and was disappointed in Judi Dench’s And Furthermore (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £20) -- I love her but the book was very luvvie and surface. I really enjoyed Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles (Penguin, £8.99) and Tom Hanks’ biog was well written and interesting too. Right now I am reading Against The Odds by David Torrance about Alex Salmond (Birlinn, £12.99).

Bob McDevitt, publisher, Hachette Scotland

Hood Rat by Gavin Knight (Picador, £12.99): the publication of this book couldn’t have been more timely, as it came out in the week of the riots. Knight writes from a unique position inside the street gangs of London, Manchester and Glasgow offering tremendous insight, context and hope along the way. The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes (Jonathan Cape, £12.99) is very short and he may only have won the Booker like a veteran actor receiving a long deserved Oscar, but this novel packed more emotion into its 150 pages than any other I read this year. Thirty-three Revolutions Per Minute by Dorian Lynskey (Faber, £17.99) looks at the history of protest songs through 33 key tunes (everything from Strange Fruit to Two Tribes) and is full of fascinating biographical detail, historical relevance and political significance of each track. A thoroughly researched and passionately written tome.

Kirsty Wark, presenter of Newsnight

For sheer entertainment and chutzpah Robert Harris’s thriller The Fear Index (Hutchinson, £18.99) is a must for a Christmas present. He has taken the economic crisis and given it a high-octane, well-written boost. Julian Barnes’s Sense Of An Ending (Jonathan Cape, £12.99) won the Man Booker this year, and certainly deserved the prize. I found it melancholic, suspenseful and thought-provoking. If you want to give someone a real treat, can I suggest an old faithful for when you need a little boost? The poetry anthology The Rattle Bag, edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes and published in 1981 (Faber, £14.99), is still the best volume to dip into for 10 minutes at a time when you want to feed your soul.

Jim Murphy, shadow defence spokesman, Labour Party

Which of the books that I’ve read this year should I recommend? I’ve chosen Black And Blue, the story of Paul Canoville, the first black Chelsea player’s battle with racism (Headline, £9.99). When I was reading it I thought it was simply an insight into a horrific period from the recent past. But this season’s events involving prominent players and the comments of Sepp Blatter make this book sadly relevant. Football racism is a demon that most people thought had been largely conquered. Scotland’s struggle with sectarianism also makes this story revealing. It’s a searing expose of the sport’s self-enforced denial about the racism corroding its heart and rationalised in its head; tolerated on the pitch and celebrated on the terraces; accepted in the boardroom and in far too many changing rooms.