It’s called A Whole Life, and that, between two thin card covers, is what you get. Apart from the seven years he’s interned in a Russian prisoner of war camp, Andreas Egger spends his entire life in one mountain valley in Germany. But, although he’s confined to one tiny corner of the globe, and makes so few ripples even in that limited sphere, Egger lives life to the fullest. A limping odd-job man who leads a largely solitary life away from the village community, he works hard and often sleeps rough. He’s known love and grief and seen the horrors of war. He knows the mountains in which he lives better than any man alive and is rewarded with some small sense of his own place in the vastness of eternity. Because his experiences resonate with us all, A Whole Life is an incredibly rich and moving book which packs an emotional punch all the more powerful for being so understated.


Sherry Turkle (Penguin, £12.99)

Studies confirm what we already knew: that mobile phones have changed the way we interact. Rules of etiquette have started to accrue around the use of phones at the dining table, and it’s been shown that the mere presence of a phone changes the tone of a conversation, steering people away from deeper topics. Turkle also relates here that children hooked on communicating via text are found to be less empathic towards others. Encouragingly, her investigations also show that this state is not fixed for life. Face-to-face conversation will develop empathy and social skills. She returns again and again to Thoreau, who, though many people think of him as a recluse, was anything but. He was a sociable man who had learned that being quiet and getting to know himself was the basis for balanced and healthy relationships with others. Reclaiming Conversation is thus a clarion call to people to pay attention to each other, but first of all themselves.


Michael Griffin (Pluto Press, £12.99)

The author of an acclaimed book on the Taliban, Reaping The Whirlwind, Griffin aims here to chart the rise of Islamic State before the facts can be enshrouded in myth. Tracing its origin to the catastrophically mishandled US occupation of Iraq, he emphasises the role of the Bucca internment camp and its transformation into a “jihadi university” by the detainees, and follows the movement’s competing views of jihadism through the process of Al-Qaeda Iraq (AQI) eventually giving way to Islamic State. The latter part is a catalogue of atrocities that’s hard to read, but he takes us through milestones like the introduction of rigid bureaucratic procedures to AQI and the brutal imposition of its policies on the Iraqi tribal network. It’s a situation so complex, with so many players and agendas, that it makes Game Of Thrones look like a straightforward action romp, but Griffin has condensed the story as far as he can to make a coherent, intelligible narrative.


Bashabi Fraser (Luath Press, £8.99)

Edinburgh-based poet Bashabi Fraser’s last book, Ragas & Reels, celebrated modern multicultural Scotland. This new volume of poetry comprises the letters she has been writing to her mother since her death in 2005. Ma sounds like she was a remarkable woman. A Bengali of the post-Partition era, she was a University Professor who was unafraid of turning her hand to anything, whether that be teaching herself the harmonium or finally learning in middle age how to be a dressmaker. Bashabi writes of how she sees her mother in every act of generosity she witnesses and of having her back so that she can return all the kindness and support she received growing up. When not reminiscing about the vigil they held at the bedside of Bashabi’s daughter after she was hit by a car, she keeps her mum informed about climate change and current events. It’s a beautiful tribute, with a tone of intimacy and tenderness that’s genuinely touching.