The best books that embrace show business and history

The Books I Picked & Why

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

By Michael Chabon

Book cover of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Why this book?

For me, no book connects more wonderfully the themes of show business and history than The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Opening with the daring escape of a young Jewish magician from the clutches of Hitler to unite with his equally young cousin, a devotee of the burgeoning comic book craze, in America, this novel is about as theatrical as it gets. The two teenagers scale the heights of invention creating new comic book heroes who enthrall America as World War 2 brings the earth crashing all about them. It’s thrilling, compelling, funny, utterly engrossing and one of my favourite novels of all time.

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A Gentleman in Moscow

By Amor Towles

Book cover of A Gentleman in Moscow

Why this book?

This is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read, and again with a wonderfully theatrical flavour. When Count Rostov is placed under house arrest for life by the Russian Bolsheviks his prison becomes - to me anyway - a glorious theatre set inhabited by the most fascinating cast of characters you’re ever likely to meet. Why? Because his prison just happens to be the opulent Hotel Metropol in central Moscow, with the finest of wines, haute cuisine, and five-star service. 

The hotel’s highly colourful inhabitants include a Russian chef, a French maitre d’hotel, a philosophical bartender, and a capable seamstress, all of whom mingle with political hierarchy, princes, famous actresses, poets, orchestra conductors and the like. This book is such a feast of delights that as you savour every mouthful you don’t even realise you’ve been treated to a fantastically constructed story until you get to the end.      

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Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

By Yuval Noah Harari

Book cover of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Why this book?

Sapiens blew my brain, as I believe it did the brains of many millions of readers all over the world. I’m aware some scholars disagree with Harari’s theories, but I’m no scholar and I found them riveting. In fact, Harari really did open my eyes to a great many things that made a great deal of sense to me. I have also read the following two books of his trilogy – Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century – which I found equally compelling, although rather bleak in the final prognosis. However, his writing is so accessible, his use of analogy and metaphor for complex situations so clever that one grasps every argument in an instant. As the ‘blurb’ promised, Sapiens really did ‘change the way I view life’. And one can’t help but be impressed by that, surely. 

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Identity Crisis

By Ben Elton

Book cover of Identity Crisis

Why this book?

Identity Crisis is the most delicious satire! It is so much a send-up of modern times it will unfortunately date, and all too quickly become tomorrow’s history. But I don’t care. I will always find this one of the funniest books I have ever had the pleasure to read - indeed a wickedly witty laugh-out-loud on every page. Anyone who chooses to find the political incorrectness that abounds in Identity Crisis offensive really will need to delve deep in order to discover their obviously lost or sadly under-developed sense of humour.  

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Grand Days

By Frank Moorhouse

Book cover of Grand Days

Why this book?

There is one major reason I include Grand Days in my list of "best" books and her name is Edith Campbell Berry. Some might suggest that as Edith happens to be an Australian character and Frank Moorhouse an Australian author I’m favouring the pair, being Australian myself. But this is definitely not so. To me, Edith Campbell Berry is one of the most beautifully conceived heroines in literary fiction. And when I make this sweeping statement I include every great leading lady you can think of. 

From the moment I met Edith on the train from Paris to Geneva where she was to take up her position with the newly-created League of Nations in the 1920s, I was captivated. She is wickedly naïve, worldly innocent, outrageously proper and every other contradiction imaginable. She continued to bewitch me in Frank Moorhouse’s companion Edith novels, Dark Palace and Cold Light, but if you decide to introduce yourself to her do start with Grand Days

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