Jessica Tribunella

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Books of the year 2015 - a scientist's reading list

The twenty-three books this scientist read in 2015 in search of stimulation and amusement. For the most part, he was not disappointed<p>Here continueth a tradition I started way back in 2013, having resolved at the beginning of that year to read less internet and more books. I present a review of the …

Books

The 100 best novels: No 1 – The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (1678)

The English novel begins behind bars, in extremis. Its first author, John Bunyan, was a Puritan dissenter whose writing starts with sermons and ends with fiction. His famous allegory, the story of Christian, opens with a sentence of luminous simplicity that has the haunting compulsion of the hook …

The 100 best novels: No 2 – Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)

English fiction began with The Pilgrim’s Progress, but nearly 50 turbulent years, including the Glorious Revolution, passed before it made its great leap forward. The author of this literary milestone is a strangely appealing literary hustler of nearly 60 years old originally named Daniel Foe (he …

The 100 best novels, No 3 – Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)

Seven years after the publication of <i>Robinson Crusoe</i>, the great Tory essayist and poet Jonathan Swift – inspired by the Scriblerus club, whose members included John Gay and Alexander Pope – composed a satire on travel narratives that became an immediate bestseller. According to Gay, Gulliver was …

The 100 best novels: No 4 – Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (1748)

After <i>Pilgrim's Progress</i> and <i>Robinson Crusoe</i>, the next landmark in English fiction is a towering monument of approximately 970,000 words, <i>Clarissa</i>, the longest novel in the English canon. From time to time, its length is challenged by later upstarts – most recently by Vikram Seth's <i>A Suitable Boy</i> and</i> …

The 100 best novels: No 6 – The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1759)

<i>Tristram Shandy</i> and its author, Laurence Sterne, are so intensely modern in mood and attitude, so profanely alert to the nuances of the human comedy, and so engaged with the narrative potentiality of the genre that it comes as something of a shock to discover that the novel was published during the …

The 100 best novels: No 5 – Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749)

How many readers, if they are honest, discovered some of the greatest novels through film or television? <i>Gatsby</i>? <i>Pride and Prejudice</i>? <i>The English Patient</i>? <i>Dr Zhivago</i>? I first got interested in <i>Tom Jones</i> having seen John Osborne's famous adaptation, starring the young Albert Finney as the eponymous hero. …

The 100 best novels: No 8 – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

The summer of 1816 was a washout. After the cataclysmic April 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa, part of what is now Indonesia, the world's weather turned cold, wet and miserable. In a holiday villa on the shores of Lake Geneva, a young English poet and his lover, the guests …

The 100 best novels: No 9 – Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock (1818)

<i>Nightmare Abbey</i>, like <i>Frankenstein</i> (no 8 in this series), appeared in 1818. Strangely, it was also inspired by Shelley, who was friends with Peacock. His satire, however, was lighthearted and whimsical and a kind of in-joke. There's no way of knowing if Peacock had actually read Mary Shelley's …

The 100 best novels: No 7 – Emma by Jane Austen (1816)

How on earth to choose just one Jane Austen novel? Austen, for some, is simply the supreme English novelist, on any list. Some will say: she is the greatest. Nominate all six, from <i>Pride and Prejudice</i> on. But the rules of our selection only allow one title per author: there has to be a choice. So, …

The 100 best novels: No 10 – The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe (1838)

The Yanks are coming. Thus far, as many readers have noticed, ours has been an English list, with just one or two Irish diversions. All this, however, is about to change. Within a generation of the 1776 revolution, American writers were beginning to explore an identifiable American sensibility. …

The 100 best novels: No 11 – Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli (1845)

For more than a decade after the death of Jane Austen in 1817, the English novel was rather in the doldrums, a reflection of the times. English literary culture was making the transition from the high camp of the Regency to the hard grind of early Victorian society. A brilliant new generation would …

The 100 best novels: No 12 – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)

"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day."<p>From its haunting first line to its famous closer, "Reader, I married him", Charlotte Brontë takes her audience by the throat with a fierce narrative of great immediacy. Jane Eyre's voice on the page is almost hypnotic. The reader can hardly …

The 100 best novels: No 13 – Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)

The above image of Emily Brontë – endlessly reproduced – is less a portrait, more an icon. Intense, fierce, inward, solitary, elusive and unknowable: the young author of <i>Wuthering Heights</i> in profile is of a piece with her first, and only, novel.<p>Her elder sister's work – <i>Jane Eyre</i> (no 12 in this …

The 100 best novels: No 14 – Vanity Fair by William Thackeray (1848)

<i>Vanity Fair</i> jumps out of this list as a great Victorian novel, written and published deep in the middle of a great age of English fiction. Indeed, so commanding was Thackeray at the height of his powers (some say he never wrote as well, or as sharply, again) that Charlotte Brontë even dedicated <i>Jane</i> …

The 100 best novels: No 15 – David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)

Robert McCrum introduces the series<p><i>David Copperfield</i> was the first book Sigmund Freud gave his fiancee, Martha Bernays, on their engagement in 1882. It was the gift of a lifelong Anglophile to his beloved, a book encrypted with peculiar meaning to a man with a special fascination for the …

The 100 best novels: No 16 – The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)

Nathaniel Hawthorne, describing "a tale of human frailty and sorrow", insisted that <i>The Scarlet Letter</i> was "a Romance", not a novel. This distinction, in his mind, was important. Where a novel, as he put it, "aims at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and …

The 100 best novels: No 17 – Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)

On 5 August 1850 a party of writers and publishers climbed Monument Mountain in Massachusetts, during the American equivalent of a hike in the Lakes. Among the literati on this excursion were Nathaniel Hawthorne, 46, author of <i>The Scarlet Letter</i> (No 16 in this series), a recently published …

The 100 best novels: No 20 – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868-9)

<i>Little Women</i> is probably unique in this series: it was conceived, and commissioned, by a publisher. An instant bestseller, and a coming-of-age classic, it continues to appear in polls of Anglo-American reading, and remains among the most widely read novels of all time.<p>Born in 1832, Louisa Alcott …

The 100 best novels: No 18 – Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)

On 4 July 1862, a shy young Oxford mathematics don with a taste for puzzles and whimsy named Charles Dodgson rowed the three daughters of Henry Liddell, dean of Christ Church, five miles up the Thames to Godstow. On the way, to entertain his passengers, who included a 10-year-old named Alice, with …

The 100 best novels: No 19 – The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868)

<i>The Moonstone</i> is often said to be the godfather of the classic English detective story, its founding text. TS Eliot, claiming that the genre was "invented by Collins and not by Poe", declared it to be "the first, the longest and the best of modern English detective novels". Dorothy L Sayers, a …

The 100 best novels: No 22 – The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875)

Inspired by the author's fury at the corrupt state of England, and dismissed by critics at the time, The Way We Live Now is recognised as Trollope's masterpiece<p>Anthony Trollope is the epitome of the 19th-century English writer, indefatigable, popular and tightly wired-in to his society, a monument …

The 100 best novels: No 23 – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884/5)

Mark Twain began his masterpiece, he said, as "a kind of companion to <i>Tom Sawyer</i>". Drafted in the 1870s, the first chapters of the new book continued the old mood with the sharp ironic humour of its famous opening line: "You don't know about me, without you have read a book… made by Mr Mark Twain, …

The 100 best novels: No 21 – Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871-2)

<i>Middlemarch</i> is one of those books that can exert an almost hypnotic power over its readers. Few other titles in this series will inspire quite the same intensity of response. When, for instance, in 1873, the poet Emily Dickinson referred to the novel, she wrote in a letter: "What do I think of</i> …

The 100 best novels: No 25 – Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (1889)

An ancient river. The journey upstream of some impressionable young men into a mysterious, challenging interior. An inevitable reckoning at the source. Finally, the terrible return to reality. Here, surely, is pre-Edwardian English fiction at its classic finest.<p>But this is not <i>Heart of Darkness</i>, and …

The 100 best novels: No 26 – The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle (1890)

In the summer of 1889, the managing editor of the American magazine <i>Lippincott's</i> visited London to commission new fiction from some up-and-coming authors. On 30 August, he held a dinner at the Langham hotel attended by Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle, among others. The upshot was an unprecedented …

The 100 best novels: No 24 – Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

In a society shaped by the profound transformations of the 1870 Education Act, Robert Louis Stevenson stands apart from his late-Victorian contemporaries as a strikingly romantic artist, and literary celebrity. He held a very modern attitude to his profession and yet, nevertheless, somehow seemed …

The 100 best novels: No 28 – New Grub Street by George Gissing (1891)

<i>New Grub Street</i> is the first novel in this series explicitly to address, in a realistic narrative, the contemporary working conditions of a new class, the professional author. George Gissing, born the son of a chemist in 1857, was breaking important new ground, as well as responding to significant …

The 100 best novels: No 27 – The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891)

Of all the books in this series, Oscar Wilde's only novel enjoyed by far the worst reception on its publication. The reviews were dreadful, the sales poor, and it was not until many years after Wilde's death that this remarkable work of imagination was recognised as a classic.<p>Its gestation was …

The 100 best novels: No 29 – Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895)

The publication of <i>Jude the Obscure</i> is both an end and a beginning. In hindsight, it signals the transition to a modern literary sensibility while also painting a picture of a profoundly Victorian rural society. It was another kind of turning-point, too, because Thomas Hardy, shaken by the hostility …