It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Yes it’s that time of year again. To help you with your seasonal shopping, we’ve collected recommendations from our staff, trustees and friends. We hope you enjoy our Christmas reading room.

Rebecca Asher

Shirley Jackson Ruth Franklin book cover

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life – by Ruth Franklin

Feminist. Fabulist. Witch? Who wouldn’t be interested in the life of writer Shirley Jackson.

Sanjana Balu

the goldfinch donna tartt book cover

The Goldfinch – by Donna Tartt

A story about a boy who survives a terrorist bombing at an art museum.

Tracey Brown

selfie Will Storr blurred background book cover

Selfie – by Will Storr

I was skeptical about a trip from chimpanzees, via Aristotle and 60s self-discovery, to the neoliberal deconstruction of society. It turned out to be the most thought-provoking book I’ve read this year. And how refreshing to read well-paced journalism that explores and builds where so much else exhorts from the first chapter.

Tom Chaloner

Remainder Tom McCarthy repeated man walking down stairs

Remainder – by Tom McCarthy

Traumatized by an accident that leaves him eight and a half million pounds richer but hopelessly estranged from the world around him, he spends his time and money obsessively reconstructing and re-enacting vaguely remembered scenes and situations from his past… but when this fails to quench his thirst for authenticity, he starts reconstructing more and more violent events, as his repetition addiction spirals out of control.

Rich Clubbe

how music works David Byrne with speaker icon

How music works – by David Byrne

David Byrne presents a rational but passionate exploration of how music has evolved to fit its physical environment and the technology that shapes it, alongside observations from a lifetime in performance with the Talking Heads and as a highly creative solo artist.

Max Goldman

Jerusalem Alan Moore with tapestry looking artwork on book cover

Jerusalem – by Alan Moore

Longer than the Bible and 10 years in the making, you get undeniable bang for your buck with cult-hero Moore’s sprawling, vivid and occasionally infuriating novel that’s somewhere between Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and Joyce’s Ulysses, but set in Northampton.

Abigail Jones

Vintage Maugham Of Human Bondage with vintage dressed man and woman on yellow book cover

Of Human Bondage – by W Somerset Maugham

Grueling, exasperating, cathartic coming of age story that will briefly destroy you, but in the good way.

Ilaina Khairulzaman

Good night stories for rebel girls 100 tales of extraordinary women blue book cover

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls – by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

Stories about kickass women illustrated by kickass women – isn’t Christmas a time for a little bit of inspiration?

Sí­le Lane

the power Naomi Alderman with graphic propaganda style cover in red

The Power – by Naomi Alderman

Imagines what the world would be like if women became the dominant gender (we became able to produce a very strong electric shock from our finger tips). The shift in the balance of power around the world doesn’t all go smoothly but this is a great read, especially for anyone who likes Margaret Attwood-esk stories.

Stephanie Mathisen

Inside Story Philip Webster laid out like newspaper article with black and white photo

Inside Story: politics, intrigue and treachery from Thatcher to Brexit – by Philip Webster

The story behind the story – fascinating accounts of how the biggest political events of the past forty years came to light. A political journalist at the Times for 43 years, Philip Webster was there for them all.

Chris Peters

Fate of the world

An indie climate change strategy game that gives you the ability to make sweeping changes to global policy; it’s a bit like the Global Calculator with added consequences.

Ana Skamarauskas

Susan Calman Cheer up love with illustrated crab around susan's photo on yellow background

Cheer up love – by Susan Calman

Whether you know her from Strictly, panel shows, radio 4 or her fantastic stand up; this earnest account of her adventures in depression with the crab of hate will make you fall in love with her all over again. #SusanIsAwesome

Sofie Vanthournout

The baroque cycle series of book covers on blue background

The Baroque Cycle – by Neil Stephenson

Louis XIV, Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, slave trade, the Longitude act, alchemy, the protestant reformation, pirates, vagabonds and a former Turkish harem member. This trilogy has it all.

Jonathan Brunn

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

It’s written and directed by Taika Waititi, and is a gently funny, sweetly sad, resolutely quirky and ultimately uplifting film about two misfits and a dog called Tupac getting lost in the bush, and (spoiler alert) coming out the other side as better people. Despite that premise, it’s spiky rather than sentimental, so it won’t put you off your Christmas lunch. If you like the ‘Happy Birthday Ricky Baker’ bit – it’s definitely the film for you.

Matthew Cobb

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived – by Adam Rutherford

Funny, insightful and full of some of the most amazing science around. From Neanderthals to Charlemagne to you: the story of us, told through DNA.

Claire Coleman

The Trouble With Lichen – by John Wyndham

Although it was published over 50 years ago, it’s brilliantly relevant in its exploration of the responsibility of scientists, how the public engages with science, the relationship between science and the beauty industry, and the role of women in society.

Clive Cookson

To Be a Machine – by Mark O’Connell

O’Connell, an Irish journalist, has written a hilarious transhumanist travelogue, visiting people who are aiming to live for a thousand years, upload their minds to a cosmic supercomputer and see human brainpower superseded by machine intelligence.

Sergio Della Sala

Be the first to like this: new Scottish poetry – edited by Colin Waters

Enough of love and dove? Read poems on politics, social media and genetics: no heart, still art.

Tom Feilden

Life 3.0 – by Max Tegmark

To both inspire and terrify you about the future we’re sleepwalking into.

Mike Fitzpatrick

The Enlightened Mr. Parkinson: The Pioneering Life of a Forgotten Surgeon – by Cherry Lewis

My top recommendation for Christmas reading is Cherry Lewis’ biography of James Parkinson, commemorating the 200th anniversary of his historic description on ‘the shaking palsy’, the neurological condition that now bears his name. It reveals that Parkinson’s clinical work and medical writings were but one aspect of a rich and colourful life as a surgeon apothecary, scientist, geologist, fossil hunter and radical republican.

Irene Hames

The Periodic Table – by Primo Levi

Not a chemistry book but a collection of beautifully written stories from the author’s life, using the properties of 21 elements from the periodic table to reflect on family, friends, encounters and situations. An engrossing read.

Roger Highfield

Into the Grey Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border between Life and Death – by Adrian Owen

Owen’s work is disturbing yet also deeply uplifting, for the insight it gives into the extraordinary resilience of the human spirit.

Julian Huppert


I’m a bit of a geek, in several ways. I really enjoy worker-placement board games like Carcassonne. I also really like cell biology, and find the theory and reality of the central dogma of biology really fascinating. So you can imagine how excited I was to find that someone had combined the two – a board game called Cytosis, from Genius Games, where you have to manage processes inside a cell to generate ATP, mRNA, sugars and carbohydrates to make a range of enzymes, hormones, receptors, and more. There’s even epigenetic and virus expansions. It’s fun, educational, and manages impressively to capture how cells really work!

Prue Leith

How hard can it be? – by Alison Pearson

Jason Palmer

Scale – by Geoffrey West

His and colleagues’ work on the curious scaling relations that underpin everything from animal sizes to innovation in cities has made the news for years, and now it’s all drawn into a single, compelling volume. It’s more than just noticing some parallels across disciplines; it’s also about looking to put the maths to good use in improving lives and societies. And it’s fascinating.

Nick Ross

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – by Yuval Noah Harari

Page after persuasive page of fascinating insights into what made the ascent of our species, or rather our branch of our species, so brutally successful – not least a human attribute in some ways inimical to science, the power of collective faith. This is a science book, a philosophy text, an economics primer, and an engrossing read.

Jill Rutter

Unhealthy Politics : The Battle over Evidence-Based Medicine – by Eric Patashnik, Alan Gerber and Conor Dowling

Why do US doctors so often shun evidence-based medicine?  Political scientists Eric Patashnik and Alan Gerber give their answer in Unhealthy Politics.

Hetan Shah

This is London – by Ben Judah

I was gripped by This is London which tells untold stories of the diverse migrant communities in London.

Janice Taverne

The Magic of Reality – by Richard Dawkins

How we know what’s really true.

Tom Whipple

Built on Bones – by Brenna Hassett

What smashed-in skulls, fractured femurs and shrunken limbs tell us about who we are and where we came from. And, equally importantly, what they can’t tell us.