Liz Lochhead, Makar

Almost all of my reading this year has been directly or indirectly related to the thing I’m working on. Enjoyable, but thus the new Anne Tyler, A Spool of Blue Thread, and Ali Smith’s How to be Both remain anticipated treats-to-come. Don Paterson’s 40 Sonnets (Faber, £14.99) blow the whole form apart, honour it utterly. My book-of-the-year is Helen Simpson’s just-out Cockfosters (Jonathan Cape, £15.99). By a writer as much a master of the genre, as distinct, as Carver or Alice Munro or Chekhov, these nine pitch-perfect stories don’t put a foot wrong in nailing exactly what is like to be no-longer-young, all-too-mortal (and all-too-aware-of it) but alive and kicking. Her characters have ‘got on’, but it has cost them. “We’re making history as we go along of course and that’s the truth of it. We live in time”. Ours. Listen to the voices. And Simpson’s own. Irresistible. Funny, sharp, sly, subtle, stingingly tender.

Loading article content

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland

Books were a huge part of my childhood and I still enjoy reading when I can – although my time is sometimes limited. Some of the books I’ve enjoyed reading most this year are by Val McDermid - The Skeleton Road (Sphere, £8.99) and Splinter the Silence (Little, Brown £18.99). Given 2015 is the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, The Skeleton Road is very poignant as it tells the story of a massacre in a small Croatian village during the Balkan Wars, while Splinter the Silence is the latest addition to her extensive back catalogue.

Scotland is home to wonderful authors and Val is one of our finest. She’s also part of the modern tartan noir movement alongside other authors such as Ian Rankin, Christopher Brookmyre and William McIlvanney. Scottish writers have had a fascination with crime fiction that dates back to Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle – there must be something in our DNA that not only makes us captivated by crime fiction, but makes us excel at it, too.

James Robertson, novelist and poet

Freeland Barbour’s The Music and the Land (Birlinn, £60) is a handsome, two-volume affair, a musical journey through Scotland and further afield, illustrated by stunning photographs from Cailean MacLean and others. The scores of hundreds of Barbour’s dance tunes are reproduced along with anecdotes and information about the people and places that inspired them. A very fine first novel is Truestory by Catherine Simpson (Sandstone, £8.99). It tells of a mother trapped on an isolated Lancashire farm by the demands of her autistic son and the failings of her husband, and what happens when a stranger arrives, offering hope and the possibility of escape. A groundbreaking anthology, full of diverse voices and bursting with energy, is Whaleback City: The Poetry of Dundee and its Hinterland, edited by W.N. Herbert and Andy Jackson (Dundee University Press, £9.99). And an impressive debut poetry pamphlet is Fios (Tapsalteerie, £5) by Stewart Sanderson, who quietly and cleverly demonstrates a deep concern with the meanings of words.

Candia McWilliam, novelist

I am not going to waste my breath on the lament for serious unsensational fiction. I hope it is implicit, legible, here. Universal Man: The Seven Lives of John Maynard Keynes by Richard Davenport-Hines (Harper Collins, £9.99) is a sparkling and also human and imaginative consideration of the prodigiously and multiply intelligent Keynes. An account is given, of, for example, the roots of Keynes's The Economic Consequences of The Peace, that sheds light and shade on the history of Europe since the Great War and – certainly – to our own day. Davenport-Hines is himself of that rare generous intellectual temper whereby he assists his reader to think beyond their own mental habit. This is an astonishing book; full, rather surprisingly, of love. The sex isn't a surprise and is dealt with excellently, not bossy, not clinical, not lewd. A triumph. 40 Sonnets by Don Paterson (Faber, £14.99). Buy it and read it and go on reading it. Not a foot wrong. Another Mother's Son by Janet Daley (Chatto, £12.99): this novelist reproduces the texture of thought and its chafe with principle and the outside world in sentences that are clean and shimmer with life, telling stories that apply to us all in an almost somatised London. Janet Daley is as unstrainingly, Europeanly, good as Anita Brookner. We live in a time of shouty novels; here is one you listen to and continue to hear.

Lorraine Kelly, television presenter

I was very saddened by the death of Ruth Rendell, one of my favourite authors who gave us sharp and queasy books that stay in the mind long after you have finished them. Her last, Dark Corners (her 66th, Hutchinson, £18.99), was the perfect goodbye. She was brilliant at showing how weak characters can put themselves in horrific situations. In this case a young novelist who sells slimming pills to an actress feeling under pressure to lose weight. I really enjoyed According to Yes (Michael Joseph, £20), the third novel from Dawn French. If she keeps writing like this she will have just as successful a career as an author as an actress. It's all about a delightful young woman who goes to New York and basically says yes to everything with some very mixed results. A joyful book. Dawn was on my show on launch day in October and gigglingly confessed to rather enjoying writing the sex scenes, although she banished friends, family and even the cat from the room as she felt rather embarrassed about all the "squelchy bits". Patricia Cornwell always goes to a very dark place with her Scarpetta books. I have to admit being disappointed by the last couple of efforts, but she's back on form with Depraved Heart (HarperCollins, £20), which once again focuses on her nemesis, psychopath Carrie Grethen. Scarpetta isn't as much of an irritating smarty pants in this books, and is actually vulnerable and even paranoid. The relationships between her and her husband Benton, her long term admired Marino and her damaged niece Lucy are as intriguing as ever.

Stewart Conn, poet

The poems in Second Wind (The Saltire Society/Scottish Poetry Library, £7) were commissioned from Douglas Dunn, Vicki Feaver and Diana Hendry on the theme of ageing. Their cumulative insights, from the perspective, or precipice, of old age embrace gallows humour, tenderness and trepidation. And each can be haunting, as in Dunn's resonant “There's love in the world. But never enough”, Feaver's Maiden sensing Death “following / Behind me in velvet slippers” and Hendry visualising herself “As guest or ghost in lighted rooms elsewhere”. Three fine poets in vintage form. Clive James's Poetry Notebook: 2006-2014 (Picador, £14.99) is an invigorating harvesting of miniature essays – lucid, impassioned, penetrating and witty. He muses not only on the poets from whom he has derived pleasure over the years but on the nature of poetry (“the centre of my life”), its binding energy and interior music, and its power to enchant.

Hugh Andrew, publisher, Birlinn Books

The first book I read in 2015 instantly became a choice. David Carpenter’s Magna Carta (Penguin, £10.99), written for the anniversary, is a definitive account of this extraordinary document, beautifully written and featuring not simply insights on every page but major new discoveries. For those in Scotland who treated Magna Carta as irrelevant this is a magisterial rebuttal and reveals how intertwined the two kingdoms already were. Related to this is John Guy’s superb biography of Thomas Becket (Penguin, £9.99), not just a thrilling and dramatic story but a superb characterisation of the two protagonists and analysis of their motivation. One of the most extraordinary books of the year was GW Bowersock’s The Throne of Adulis (OUP, £16.99). Who today knows that what is now Yemen was the seat of a radical and fanatical Jewish kingdom engaged in the persecution and extermination of its Christian minority? Who too now knows that it was the Christian Empire of Aksum in Ethiopia that overthrew the Himyarites to establish for a brief period a Christian state in the Arabian peninsula? A story pieced together largely from inscriptions it is a recovery of a piece of our history integral to the rise of Islam and the fall of the Sassanian Empire and with startling relevance to today’s world.

Jackie Kay, poet, novelist, short story writer

A year for thinking about maps and charts and borders. Kathleen Jamie’s The Bonniest Companie (Picador, £14.99) captures the complex character of Scotland – urban and rural, wild and calm, past and present – with characteristic flair. She has the fabulous idea of writing a poem a day during Scotland’s tumultuous year. It is increasingly poems that people turn to when they want to understand the nuance of political and social change. Jamie’s book will stand as a guiding light. Andrew McMillan’s first book, Physical (Jonathan Cape, £10) comes with the kind of a clap and bang that announces a new voice on the poetry scene. McMillan’s strong and vulnerable charting of the male body is full of unusual and yet precise observations; he takes us places some of us have not been in poems before – into male urinals, men weeping in gyms… These poems are tough, tender, and reveal a keen emotional intelligence. He’s the kind of writer that makes you want to read him in the company of writers he loves; books speak to other books and together they tell the time. I re-read Mark Doty’s extraordinary Deep Lane (Cape, £10) where he explores the natural world and the underworld; and returned to Sharon Old’s Stag’s Leap (Cape, £10), a staggeringly moving book that charts the journey of divorce, and the conversation between the three books was wholly enjoyable. I’d invite them all to my dinner party.

Judy Steel, author

I always enjoy historical novels and Anne Donovan’s Gone are the Leaves (Canongate, £12.99) is a truly exceptional one, of two ordinary teenagers caught up in events far beyond their experience. The atmosphere is almost mystical; the underlying theme is love: love between the “under-aged”, and above all maternal love. Apart from the voices of several narrators, a storytelling technique that always works well for me, the book has two outstandingly original elements. One is that she never pin-points the time or the exact places in which her characters play out their lives; the other is her joyous use of onomatopoeic Scots words. For non-fiction, I would recommend the Letters of James Hogg (ed Gillian Hughes and others, Universities of Stirling and South Carolina, £70). Vivid and outspoken, they bring this remarkable Scotsman and his times to life in a way that reaches across the centuries. I read Volume 1 (1809-1820) so there are more of his letters to look forward to in the subsequent two volumes.

Ronald Frame, novelist

In a year of too many personal upheavals, I found great consolation in John Aubrey My Own Life (Chatto & Windus, £25) – a biography skilfully assembled by Ruth Scurr from the writings of the eccentric and deeply patriotic scholar and antiquarian (1626-97). The mission of his life was the preservation (in words, and also physically) of a time-rich culture, Englishness itself, which he believed to be vanishing. As well as the achievements of great Englishmen, he celebrated the material fabric of the country, from the stone of its buildings and monuments to the fugitive colours of stained glass. Ruth Scurr makes him a delightful (and, for me, timely) companion. Edith Hall’s Introducing the Ancient Greeks (Bodley Head, £20) is a splendidly readable distillation of 2,000 years of their civilisation. She homes in on 10 character traits which contributed to their greatness, and shows how important the sea was in terms of their national psyche. (Practically, it was what connected peoples spread over a very wide area.) The past seems intensely present. An unread recommendation: two trusted friends of forty years have sent me Monsters by Emerald Fennell (Hot Key Books, £7.99) It’s wonderful, they assure me. A YA – a read for young adults, a burgeoning market. Great cover. Promises the blurb, “A twisted tale of two friends with an unsavoury interest in murder.” I’m enticed further by my friends: Roald Dahl meets Muriel Spark!

David Steel, Rt Hon Lord Steel of Aikwood

In a year full of politics I especially enjoyed In It Together, the story of the coalition government, by Matthew D’Ancona (Viking, £25); British Liberal Leaders by Brack, Ingham and Little (Biteback, £25), and as a welcome relief from those the masterly novel Lion Heart by Justin Cartwright (Bloomsbury, £8.99).

Alistair Moffat, writer and director of Borders Book Festival

This has been a vintage year for historical fiction and as chairman of the Walter Scott Prize, I felt we had to publish a long list for the first time, such was the richness of what was submitted. The eventual winner, John Spurling, for his Ten Thousand Things (Duckworth, £7.99), was astonished when the result was revealed at the 2015 Borders Book Festival. But he shouldn’t have been. Set in 14th-century China and revolving around the life of an artist, Wang Meng, it is simply beautiful and a quote that Spurling puts in the mouth of his protagonist might well equally apply to the novelist: "No one has the same ability as you to translate the ten thousand things from reality to marks on paper. Your paintings are...journeys through the world, but also out of it.”

Robert Harris won the Scott Prize last year for his An Officer and a Spy about the Dreyfus case, and the moment his new Roman novel came out last month, I devoured it. Dictator (Hutchinson, £20) deals with the late career of Cicero as it is seen through the eyes of his secretary, Tiro. An excellent device, it is wholly satisfying – and credible, since Tiro invented a version of shorthand and so all that recall, often incredible in other historical novels, is neatly made possible. Unfussy and direct, yet politically very acute (in any age), Harris is a masterful storyteller. I’m currently experiencing that terrible phase of cold turkey after finishing something superb.

I bought A Work of Beauty: Alexander McCall Smith’s Edinburgh (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, £14.99) but didn’t get to it until January. I lived in Edinburgh for 20 years and came to see it as the most beautiful, complete city in the world. But Sandy McCall Smith’s superb tour de force helped me understand why. A friend of mine was very unwell for a while this year and I gave him this. He told me later, and when he was better, that Sandy’s description of their native city had really lifted him. McCall Smith should be prescribed on the NHS.

Sheena McDonald, broadcaster

What a happy year of reading I have enjoyed: Eichmann before Jerusalem by Bettina Stangneth (Bodley Head, £25) is a meticulous and important example of proper revisionism; a different historical record is the first-person witness testimony of Charles Carrington, who served at the Somme and Passchendaele, in Soldier From the War Returning, first published in 1965 but only found by me this year (Pen and Sword, £19.74); Anthony King's Who Governs Britain? (Pelican, £8.99) is a page-turner that trumps all op-ed columns; my aversion to fiction is always overcome by good writing – this year, Toni Morrison's God Help the Child Shone (Chatto & Windus, £14.99); John Philip Newell's The Rebirthing of God (Skylight Paths, £16.99) is a sober and intelligent assessment of spiritual life in the 21st century; but Edinburgh: Mapping the City by Christopher Fleet and Daniel MacCannell (Birlinn, £30) is a constant pleasure – a beautifully-produced collection of over 70 maps of the capital charting the last 500 years of the capital and its infinite variety: every Edinburgher should have a copy.

Hugh Buchanan, artist

To keep myself at work in my studio I treat myself to a steady stream of audio books. Scribbling the Cat by Alexandra Fuller (Picador £ 14.99) is an unflinching and disturbing account of post-war Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Former opponents now regard each other with a sort of grudging respect and have developed hybrid Shona and Afrikaans dialects for which Fuller has a keen ear. Scribbling is slang for killing and a macabre bush humour also gives us Henry the fourth – HIV – for AIDS. I’ve enjoyed James Robertson’s Testament of Gideon Mack (Penguin, £8.99), an essay in the Manichean nature of Scotland and the most effective examination of our character since Alasdair Gray’s Fall of Kelvin Walker. Lastly Richard Balls’s biography of Ian Dury (Omnibus, £9.95). With more entries in the Dictionary of Quotations than any other contemporary writer, Dury should have been poet laureate, doing for Upminster what John Betjeman did for Ruislip.

Nick Barley, director Edinburgh International Book Festival

One of the books that stood out in 2015 was the Man Booker-shortlisted debut novel The Fishermen (One World, £14.99) by Chigozie Obioma. It is brimming with life and buzzing with emotion but at the same time it carries a deeply poignant quality: Obioma has a deep understanding of recent Nigerian history. But my favourite discovery was Minna Needs Rehearsal Space by the ferociously-talented Danish writer Dorthe Nors (Pushkin Press, £8.99). It’s a very short novella that takes the form of a series of ‘headlines’, each stacked on top of one another. A device that’s maddening for the first few lines, it settles down and becomes a powerful driver through a beautiful, moving, totally compelling account of one woman’s yearning. I simply can’t wait for Nors’s next English translation.

Bernard MacLaverty, novelist and short story writer

Best book I read this year was Colm Tóibín’s Nora Webster (Penguin, £7.99). In prose that’s wrung out but not dry we’re left with the essentials. It is a picture of a middle-aged woman who has been recently widowed, and her attempts to make a new life for herself. It is moving and funny. Wonderfully done. A brilliant short novel by Birgit Vanderbeke translated from the German is The Mussel Feast (Peirene Press, £10). A monologue from a daughter as she and her mother and brother await the return of the breadwinner from work. His favourite food is mussels. Barbed and black comedy. And the best poetry for me this year has come in bunches of fourteen lines. Don Paterson’s Forty Sonnets (Faber, £14.99). A memorable collection.

Harry Reid, writer and journalist

Trigger Mortis, Anthony Horowitz’s James Bond novel (Orion, £18.99), keeps the franchise going with great aplomb. It helps that Horowitz is a better writer than Ian Fleming. The second volume of Charles Moore’s vast authorised biography of Margaret Thatcher (Allen Lane, £30) is for the most part thorough and measured, yet disgracefully cursory on the subject of her disastrous relations with Scotland. The historian Mark Peel’s thoughtful discussion of Britain’s private schools, The New Meritocrats (Elliott and Thompson, £20) is notable for a particularly trenchant discussion of school sport.

Rona Munro, playwright

This year most reading has been done on trains, planes and buses and while my brain has been exhausted jelly. In those circumstances I need beautifully written, strong narrative. Two books in particular really delivered that. The Girl with all the Gifts, by M.R Carey (Orbit, £8.99) is a genre piece, in a genre I hate, and I loved it. I won’t tell you the genre as it’s a huge plot spoiler, but I loved it because it took a genre premise and then realised it with completely believable characters. We are all completely beside ourselves, by Karen Jay Fowler (Serpent’s Tail, £7.99) was another book with a huge twist revealed about a third of the way in. Both make you consider what it means to be human in a very accessible way. Both are great reads even if someone does drop a spoiler.

Alan Spence, novelist

The novel of the year for me was Lila by Marilynne Robinson (Virago, £16.99), revisiting the fictional Gilead of her three previous novels. The prose, as always, is magnificent, pitch-perfect, carrying a moral authority, a gravitas and a spiritual depth. There really is nobody else writing like this. Two collections by Scottish poets at the very top of their game were also published this year. 40 Sonnets by Don Paterson (Faber, £14.99) shows his sheer mastery of the form, by turns scathing, witty and profoundly moving. The Bonniest Companie by Kathleen Jamie (Picador, £14.99) was written throughout the marvellous frustrating year that was 2014, and she casts a clear eye on Scotland now in all its moods and weathers. A delight.

Alexander McCall Smith, novelist

For those who can’t get enough Scottish history, Alistair Moffat always comes to the rescue. His latest book, Scotland, A History from Earliest Times (Birlinn, £25), is a superb introduction to Scottish history from a writer who can make it come alive like no other. I read his Bannockburn in one sitting; this is longer, but goes down as smoothly as a fine malt. David Eagleman, author of Sum, has now written The Brain: the Story of You (Canongate, £20). It’s very unfashionable to be ignorant of neuroscience these days, since it is being identified as the key to everything. This is a wonderfully stimulating introduction. Finally, Fallen Glory (Old St, £25) by James Crawford is a fascinating account of great buildings – ancient and modern – that have disappeared. Crawford writes beautifully about the context in which these buildings rose and fell – a real triumph.

Ruth Davidson, Scottish Conservative leader

The vast batch of my fiction reading is done in the summer and there must be something about the sun which attracts me to tales of darker deeds. The first book that stands out for me this year is Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train (Doubleday, £12.99) – an engrossing psychological thriller which, to my mind, absolutely deserves the success, attention and sales that have come its way.

Hawkins – a former journalist – has a beautiful sense of pace and the characters she’s created are compellingly real. No spoilers from me, but she really keeps the reader guessing until the final reveal. My second choice also has a journalistic connection. Andrew Nicoll is best known to MSPs as the political editor of The Scottish Sun, but also moonlights as a maddeningly accomplished novelist.

The Secret Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne (Black and White, £8.99) is set in his native Broughty Ferry and is based on a true story; a decades old tale that has captivated the local community.

Using real police files recently released through a Freedom of Information request, Nicoll builds a perfect cast of characters as he tries to solve this murderous whodunnit.

In reality, the killer was never caught, but the reader is left in no doubt as to why, how and by whom Ms Milne was slain.

Roy McEwan, chief executive, Scottish Chamber Orchestra

The Impossible Exile by George Prochnik (Granta, £9.99) is a fine, original biography of one of my favourite writers: Stefan Zweig – inspiration for Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. Zweig wrote an outstanding memoir himself, The World of Yesterday, but Prochnik brilliantly tells his story and traces his mental decline and ruin (along with other great artists swept away by the rise of Nazism) as the central European society he grew up in was destroyed through the 1930s. Mollie Panter-Downes’s War Notes 1939-1945 (Persephone Books £12.00) were written for The New Yorker from war-time London. In an astute and unsentimental way (and of course with no benefit of hindsight), she gives a remarkable blow-by-blow account of events as a civilian. Patrick Gale’s A Place Called Winter (Tinder Press, £7.99) moved me; a quiet, strong gay man’s life in Victorian Britain and colonial Canada. Vividly rich in its sense of place and time, it is compassionate and timeless.

William Dalrymple, writer

It’s a very long time since I read a travel book that has taught or illuminated so much as Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms (Simon and Shuster, £9.99), Gerald Russell’s brilliant and constantly engaging account of his travels through the disappearing minority religions of the Middle East. Tragically, this book puts on record for the last possible time a once-plural world that is on the verge of disappearing for ever

BN Goswamy is to Indian art history what Sachin Tendulkar is to its cricket pitches or Shah Rukh Khan to its movies: a towering colossus who has transformed the nature of his chosen field, as well as being, at the same time, an irreplaceable national treasure. India's most admired art historian combines in one elegant frame the eye of the aesthete, the discrimination of a connoisseur and the soul of a poet, with the rigorous mind of a scholar and the elegant prose of a gifted writer. His new book, The Spirit of Indian Painting (Allen Lane, £25, published next spring) is the summation of a lifetime's loving dedication to his subject. It may well also be his most beautiful, and is his most heartfelt work too.

But it was Peter Frankopan’s massive 650 page Silk Roads (Bloomsbury, £30) that is my book of the year: history on a grand scale, with a sweep and ambition that is rare, especially in professional academia. This is a remarkable book on many of levels, and one that anyone would have been proud to write: a proper historical epic of dazzling range, ambition and achievement.

Sir Tom Devine, historian

Books continue to pour from the presses on World War Two. Very few, however, now contain very much that is new. One very important exception is The Maisky Diaries. Red Ambassador to the Court of St James 1932-1943, edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky (Yale University Press, £25). Angela McCarthy’s Migration, Ethnicity and Madness (Otago University Press, £20) sheds considerable light on the under-researched but important area of the mental health of migrants with special reference to those who settled in the Antipodes from around the world. The book, though historical in focus, resonates powerfully with aspects of the current crisis in global migration. Penguin is thankfully republishing the entire series of the wonderful Maigret novels by the marvellous Georges Simenon, much more than a writer of detective stories. For those new to the genre, one way to begin is with Inspector Maigret. Omnibus 1 (Penguin Classics, £18.99)

Julie Bertagna, author

Ferrante fervour reached a peak this September when the last book in Elena Ferrante’s addictive Neapolitan saga hit the shelves. Ferrante is a publishing phenomenon; an invisible Italian writer, an enigma who shuns all publicity in an age of compulsory author media platforms and ever-Twittering presences, compared to Tolstoy and Dickens in the grand sweep, ambition and popularity of her work. The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions, £11.99) is the fourth and final episode that brings the revelation of the terrible thing, some unknown disaster, that characters Elena and Lila have been moving towards since we meet them as children in Book One (My Brilliant Friend). This is an epic exploration of a lifelong friendship and the complex interior worlds of two women, enmeshed with a rich cast, set against the story of a changing nation. Brilliant, brutal, beautiful, bleak and brave, Ferrante is this winter’s fireside read.

Kirstin Innes, novelist

A new book by Sarah Hall is always a cause for celebration in my house. In The Wolf Border (Faber, £17.99), set in a parallel Cumbria made paranoid by a newly independent Scotland and an eccentric aristocrat’s whim to re-release wolves into the country, her language is beautiful and feral; perfectly suited to a story about wildness, animal instinct, the process of procreation and the foolishness of boundaries created by politicking humans. Irish-Canadian author Anakana Schofield’s Giller Prize-nominated Martin John (& Other Stories, £10, published here early next year) is an extraordinary, startling piece of writing. An experimental novel about a compulsive flasher (with an overbearing mam) on the London Underground might not sound like easiest of reads, but Schofield brings warmth and humanity to her characters, and the formal experiments she attempts within the text are always in service of their inner realities rather than ostentatious stylistic flourishes

Iain Macwhirter, journalist

We keep hearing that the great literary novel is dead, so it is just as well that Jonathan Franzen returned triumphantly to form this year with Purity (Fourth Estate, £20), a very satisfying big book with big themes. It is actually a reworking of Great Expectations in the digital age – the central character, a woman, is even called Pip – and casts a Dickensian eye across issues like internet evangelism and the excesses of US gender politics. It also has a marvellous New Age Fagin in the charismatic digital guru Andreas Wolf who runs a computer hacking collective in the Bolivian jungle. As in all Franzen novels, though, the minute observation of dysfunctional relationships makes it amount to more than mere satire. Another big theme/little people novel I hugely enjoyed was Paul Murray's The Mark and the Void (Penguin, £12.99), an often hilarious take on the impact of the financial crisis on his home town, Dublin. The best of it was that, while, of course, there is a condemnation of the greed culture that fuelled the boom, the only really morally redeemable character turns out to be Claude Martingale, a rootless French financial analyst employed by the bonkers bank of Torabundo.

And talking of challenging right-on prejudice, it was a pleasure to see Kirstin Innes' novel about sex workers, Fishnet (Freight, £8.99), win the Guardian's Not-the-Booker Prize. This well-researched work of fiction challenged our assumptions that prostitutes are always victims of coercion and explored the ambiguities of the relationships they form with their Johns. It's extremely rare for a novel actually to change public attitudes, but Fishnet already has.

It was a terrible year for political books – the worst I can remember. The only one that stands out is Lord Ashcroft's mostly pedestrian but malicious ghosted biography of the Prime Minister, Call Me Dave (Biteback, £20). However, the revelation that David Cameron engaged in carnal relations with a pig's head – allegedly – when he was at Oxford has already entered political mythology.

Sally Magnusson, broadcaster and writer

Got round at last to Dr Atul Gawande’s profoundly thought-provoking and important Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End (Profile, £8.99). He argues we have allowed the end of life to become medicalised and forgotten to ask ourselves what makes life worth living. Everyone must read this book. I’m a sucker for good crime writing and The Ghosts of Altona by Craig Russell (Quercus, £7.99) was a worthy winner of the 2015 Scottish Crime Book of the Year. Writing of a really high order, great plot and a vibrant evocation of the city of Hamburg. A novel purporting to be the stream of consciousness of an elderly woman with dementia is a difficult trick for a writer in her twenties, but Emma Healey pulls it off quite brilliantly in Elizabeth is Missing (Penguin, £7.99). A wonderful read.

Mark Douglas-Home, novelist

Anne Tyler's A Spool of Blue Thread (Vintage, £7.99) is a wonderfully engaging novel about the everyday small dramas of family life. I loved it. John Lister-Kaye writes about animals and birds with the same intimacy and insight that Anne Tyler describes humans. Gods of The Morning (Canongate, £14.99) follows the seasons through a year in the Highlands. It's a perfect book for picking up in a quiet moment or late at night. Rain by Barney Campbell, (Michael Joseph, £16.99) still has me wondering about the morality of sending young men to fight wars in faraway places. Campbell, from the Borders, was a young officer in Afghanistan. This novel, his first, is disturbingly authentic, as close as I would ever want to be to bullets flying and IEDs exploding. The ending is compelling, probably the best action narrative I have read this year.

Tom Leonard, poet

Peter Makin's Neck of the Woods (Isobar Press, £10) contains poems with sharp natural haiku-like images appropriate from a poet longterm resident in Japan. "I do not want to be a number" writes Atef Abu Saif in his The Drone Eats with Me (Comma Press, £9.99), the acutely sensitive diary of a father living in Gaza in the midst of an Israeli onslaught which kills 100 of his fellow Palestinians in one day. Sandie Craigie's Coogit Bairns: Selected Poetry and Prose (Red Squirrel Press, private printing, 104pp) is the testimony of a working class Edinburgh poet refusing to be self-censoring in her language or her angry, joyful, satiric independence of mind. She died tragically seven years ago. Though some copies have been placed in national libraries, this is one of the books of the year and should be commercially available.

Michael Russell, MSP

Scottish Sun political editor turned magical-realism novelist Andrew Nicoll has found a new and haunting voice in his first historically based crime story, The Secret Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne (Black & White £8.99), which mixes madness, murder and moral claustrophobia in Broughty Ferry. Equally gripping was Barton Swain’s The Speechwriter (Simon & Schuster, £14.99). This account of the three years and ten months Swain (an American who studied in Edinburgh) spent as speechwriter to the governor of South Carolina is the most painfully accurate account of life inside politics I have ever read, yet also the most entertaining. His learned distaste for politicians is absolutely understandable after what he suffered as a result of the governor’s narcissistic, irrational, arrogant and ultra-demanding approach which culminated in a spectacular though long drawn out act of political self-immolation involving an Argentinian mistress, a false story about hiking on the Appalachian Trail and a botched impeachment process. However, the book is also a beautifully written and very thoughtful dissertation on the nature of political language, which makes it invaluable for anyone who has to speak that tongue.

Hugh MacDonald, journalist

Age has not wearied them. At 74, Paul Theroux has produced his best travel reportage and, in his 69th year, Antony Beevor has added another volume to his exceptional work on the Second World War. Theroux’s Deep South (Hamish Hamilton, £25) is an examination of the Third World state that exists south of the Mason-Dixon line. Theroux is typically forthright on the poverty and discrimination that endures within the Southern states of a world superpower. Written with both passion and learning, it is a convincing indictment of the indifference of the powerful. Beevor’s Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble (Viking, £25) is typically assured in its broad sweep of the Battle of the Bulge but is brilliant in its detail that brings the combatants to life and death.

Sir John Leighton, director-general, National Galleries of Scotland

In the extraordinary book that accompanies his current television series, The Face of Britain; The Nation through its Portraits (Penguin, £30), Simon Schama sets out powerful arguments why, even in the age of Facebook and Snapchat, we remain fascinated by an artist’s ability to capture a convincing likeness and evoke a sitter’s personality. At over 500 pages this is no swift read but Schama is a mesmerizing storyteller who grips the imagination as he dissects some of the greatest images made in Britain. Coming from a very different angle, David Eagleman’s The Brain: The Story of You (Canongate, £20) offers some equally forceful explanations for our obsession with the faces of others. This wide-ranging book offers a glimpse of modern neuroscience for the general reader, showing how, among many other things, the circuitry of the brain is programmed to monitor other people, to judge their intentions, to read emotions and to respond to the slightest variation in facial expression. We need no longer wonder why the eyes in a portrait seem to follow us around the room.

Val McDermid, crime novelist

In a time of turbulent politics in Scotland, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about what it means to be Scottish and looking for answers in some offbeat places. So among my favourite reads this year were Daunderlust by Peter Ross (Sandstone Press, £8.99) and This is Scotland by Daniel Gray and Alan McCredie (Luath Press, £9.99). Peter Ross’s collection of articles takes us into the often unexplored corners of Scottish individuality, letting us eavesdrop on voices usually unheard. McCredie and Gray take us inside the Scotland that’s seldom a destination but whose existence we need to take note of. And the pics are absolutely cracking. If, after that, you’re longing for a reminder of natural beauty that still has the tang of politics, head for Sarah Hall’s gripping novel, The Wolf Border (£17.99) about landscape, love and the troubled question of reintroducing wolves.

Ian Bell, journalist

Ruth Scurr’s John Aubrey: My Own Life (Chatto, £25) might sound too clever by half. Composing a biography in the form of a diary using your subject’s words is risky enough. When that subject is the remarkable author of Brief Lives, the attempt could seem impertinent. Scurr’s book, as delightful as it is ingenious, is a triumph. David Drake’s Paris At War: 1939-1944 (Belknap, £25) is perhaps the best attempt, of a great many, to convey how daily life felt under Nazi occupation. A vast range of sources have gone into creating a portrait of grim times that is full of nuance and free, mercifully, of assertion. Paul Muldoon can exasperate and enthral in the space of single poem. His ambition never falters, but his willingness to compromise diminishes steadily. Trust him and his One Thousand Things Worth Knowing (Faber, £14.99), however, and you are repaid in full.

Nicola Morgan, children’s author

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton (Little, Brown, £14.99) is a thriller with heart, told through alternating voices of a mother and her deaf daughter as they struggle through eyeball-freezing Alaska to find a man they refuse to believe is dead. You will feel the cold, hear the silence and fear whatever is chasing them. For a non-fiction book which is NOT just an article painfully stretched by the insertion of a tedious list of examples, Drive by Daniel H Pink (Canongate, £9.99) is an eye-opening analysis of what really motivates us. Insight for parents, teachers, employers and other humans. I become ranty on the subject of valuing non-fiction and fiction equally. So, my children’s recommendation is the gloriously engaging and deeply researched Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill (Flying Eye Books, £14.99). It’s another book to make you feel the cold as you follow in words and pictures the terrifying story of Ernest Shackleton’s brave Antarctic crossing.

Alan Taylor, writer and journalist

Mark Sanford’s footnote in American political history was guaranteed after he told reporters he had been “hiking the Appalachian Trail” when in fact he was in Argentina canoodling with his mistress. The fall from grace of the erstwhile governor of South Carolina is reprised with restrained humour by Barton Swaim in The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics (Simon & Schuster, £14.99). “The governor”, as Swaim calls him throughout, is a bullying, egotistical monster who not only routinely abuses his staff but, worse, the English language. This is where The Office collides with The West Wing. The Bonniest Companie (Picador, £14.99) is poet Kathleen Jamie’s response to the year of the Scottish independence referendum and may yet be the best thing to emerge from it. Muriel Spark always thought of herself as a poet and Complete Poems (Carcanet, £14.95), which includes eight previously unpublished and inimitable poems, is a happy addition to an oeuvre that never ceases to sparkle.

Ruth Wishart, journalist

Jason Burke is a journalist who not only has a brilliant track record of examining the new strands of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, but a facility for setting the issues out in an accessible manner. His latest work, The New Threat (Bodley Head, £13.99) is an essential primer for anyone trying to understand the fragmented nature of the new groupings and their agendas. Similarly, trying to understand the history and context of the Israeli Palestinian conflict is helped enormously by the wisdom of authors from both traditions. Avi Shlaim’s newly updated The Iron Wall, now in paperback, (Allen Lane, £14.99) is an enormously even-handed account of post-1947 Israeli administrations. Equally beady-eyed is Ghada Karmi’s Return (Verso, £16.99), whose lifelong campaigning for the erstwhile Palestinian lands from which her family were exiled in 1948, doesn’t prevent her frank scrutiny of the Palestinian Authority and its internal tensions.

Regi Claire, novelist and short story writer

My discovery of 2015 was Tobias Wolff. In the Garden of the North American Martyrs (1976) was reissued with a new preface from the author this spring (Ecco, Art of the Story series,£9). I defy you not to be provoked – and enthralled. Nora Chassler's Grandmother Divided by Monkey Equals Outer Space (Valley Books, £8.99) is a roller-coaster 'trip' in words. Its portrayal of New York life on the fringes is exuberant, starkly honest and laced with wit. Several brand-new releases I can't wait to read: Alice Thompson's The Book Collector (Salt, £8.99) and Tendai Huchu's The Maestro, the Magistrate & the Mathematician (Parthian Books, £8.99), both novels, as well as Meaghan Delahunt's collection Greta Garbo's Feet & Other Stories (Word Power Women – a welcome new imprint - £11.99).

Andrew Greig, poet, novelist, writer

This year I have satisfied my inner anorak with Dylan Goes Electric: the night that split the Sixties by Elijah Wald (Dey Street Books, £16.99), which is an absorbing and insightful contextualisation of the undercurrents within American music and political culture of the early Sixties. Most enjoyable novel was The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Sceptre, £7.99). I keenly anticipate getting for Christmas Sonnets by Don Paterson (Faber, £14.99) and Kathleen Jamie's The Bonniest Companie (Picador, £14.99) – the kind of writers who give poetry a good name, nourishing parts of us that prose doesn't quite reach.

Rosemary Goring, Herald literary editor

Months after reading it, the atmosphere of setting and characters in Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s short story collection The All Saints’ Day Lovers (Bloomsbury, £8.99) remains hauntingly fresh. The backdrop is not Colombia, as in his novel, The Sound of Things Falling, but rural Belgium. A shifting landscape of woodland hunters, old lovers brought face to face with their decisions, unhappy couples, and animals, variously prey and companions, creates a loosely linked sepia world. It is as if a latterday Brueghel has picked up a pen not a brush. The standout history this year is another collection, this time of essays: Recovering Scotland's Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection, edited by Tom Devine (EUP, £19.99). Examining the woefully overlooked Scottish involvement in the slave trade over two centuries and more, it is not only revelatory, but written with the clarity and verve that makes history from the coal face completely compelling.

Read tomorrow's Sunday Herald for more choices from Kezie Dugadale, Alex Salmond, Christopher Brookmyre, Pat Kane, Gordon Brewer and other high profile bookworms.