Christopher Lasch (W.W. Norton, £12.99)

A best seller in 1979, this outstanding analysis is enjoying a resurgence, being reissued with a new introduction by E.J. Dionne Jr, who praises Lasch’s “intellectually rebellious spirit”. Writing in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate, Lasch (who died in 1994) saw America as a nation in crisis, in which the common good had been swept aside by “preoccupation with the self”, a tendency he associated with both capitalist consumerism and the counter-culture. Lasch was extraordinarily prescient, foreseeing liberals distancing themselves from their traditional base as well as government by “corporate elites” claiming to be anti-elitist, and the issues he raised in this book 40 years ago have become central to American political discourse. However, although he saw how the wind was blowing, it was the right that seized the initiative, not, as he had hoped, the left. Unashamedly serious in tone and nostalgic for the old left, it’s a snapshot of its time that enhances our understanding of the present day.


Jean McNeil (ECW Press, £15.95)

In 2005, Jean McNeil spent a year as Writer in Residence with the British Antarctic Survey, four months of which was spent on Antarctica itself. This record of her stay is like a journey to her own frozen interior, charting her fascination with the ice: its beauty, inscrutability, indifference, immensity and blankness, and its refusal to be captured in prose. Drawn inexorably towards it, McNeil never gets to understand the ice or express what it means to her, succumbing to writers’ block, depression and anxiety. An already troubled account becomes tangled further in flashbacks to her childhood in Nova Scotia, where a serial killer stalks the land and young Jean is reunited with her estranged father. Also delving quite heavily into climate science, Ice Diaries is far more fragmented than a straightforward travelogue, and it can be hard to reconcile all the strands, but it’s a uniquely personal and honest response to an extreme environment few of us will ever experience.


Edmund Gosse (Vintage, £8.99)

An inspiration for both Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda and Dennis Potter’s Where Adam Stood, Gosse’s 1907 work shows one era giving way to another in the relationship between the author and his father. Philip Henry Gosse was a marine biologist, but as a devout member of the Plymouth Brethren he rejected Darwin’s theory of evolution, which was then becoming widely known. Edmund, in turn, rejected his father’s religion, and this account follows him up to the age of 20, as he tests the tenets of the faith and is drawn to literature, which had been denied him as a child. The accuracy of Gosse’s portrayal of his father has been called into question, and he himself admitted he wasn’t the most reliable of memoirists. Once you know that, it’s easy to imagine that he has over-egged the story’s “misery memoir” aspects. But even taken as an autobiographical novel it’s still an amazingly evocative recreation of a Victorian household.