Unputdownable Articles – By Jeffrey


How do you choose your ‘favourite’ books? And how often does that list change?

Some – like Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities – have been favourites for most of my life. They make their mark when you first read them and stay with you forever. Others come and go, constantly making way for new books that take you by surprise. This is my current Top 12. Will it be a different Top 12 next year? Who knows? That’s one of the joys of reading!

Unputdownable Top 12 Favourite Books1. A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens (1859)

A Tale of Two Cities is one of Dickens’ most exciting novels. A story of revenge and sacrifice, set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, it tells the story of a family threatened by the terrible events of the past. It’s also a classic tale of love and loss… not to mention a schoolboy adventure story.

Dr Manette, wrongly imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 years, is finally reunited with his daughter Lucie. Lucie has fallen in love with Charles Darnay, who has abandoned both wealth and title in France because of his political convictions. When revolution eventually breaks out, Darnay travels from England to Paris to help an old family servant but is soon arrested because of the crimes committed by his relations. Lucie follows him across the Channel, thus putting all their lives in danger.

With Dickens – and Shakespeare does this, too – I’m constantly impressed by how he manages to imbue his bit part players with as much wit and substance as the major characters. You fall in love with so many of the lesser lights because he paints them so well.

Profiles in Courage2. PROFILES IN COURAGE by John F. Kennedy (1956)

Mary and I were at Oxford when he was assassinated, and all the students congregated outside the Bodleian. We couldn’t believe it… what a very special man he was. Courageous, too. Wounded in the Pacific and awarded a Purple Heart.

This book takes eight senators – avoiding some of the best-known names like Jefferson and Roosevelt – and looks at the key decisions that ensured they became much more than just a face on a postage stamp. Decisions that altered the course of American history.

What you have to remember is that during the 40s and 50s, when Kennedy was establishing his political career, most people thought that politicians were only interested in themselves and being famous. Here we are in 2023 and nothing much has changed. Kennedy would have looked at Donald Trump and wondered how on earth he got anywhere near the White House!

The Thirty-Nine Steps

3. THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS by John Buchan (1915)

Richard Hannay finds a corpse in his flat and becomes involved in an espionage plot to precipitate war and subvert British naval power. The resourceful victim of a manhunt, he is pursued by both the police and the ruthless conspirators. Underneath all the excitement, this engaging novel also provides insights into patriotism, fear and prejudice, and how the three constantly interact with each other.

It has been widely influential and frequently dramatized; the 1978 version with Robert Powell was a box office hit, but I much prefer Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film with Robert Donat. An absolute screen classic.

The Count of Monte Cristo

4. THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Alexander Dumas (1844)

Based on a true story, it recounts the life of Edouard Dantes, his betrayal and imprisonment in the sinister Château d’If.  Some years later, Paris is intrigued by the mysterious Count of Monte Cristo, who bursts onto the Paris social scene. He encounters the three principal betrayers of Dantes, who have all prospered in the post-Napoleonic boom and, one by one, their lives fall apart. The book was a huge success when it was first serialised in 1844, and arguably remains the greatest tale of revenge and retribution.

I love this story so much that I thought about writing a modern-day version of it. Then, I remembered that the original is 1200 pages long!

A Gentleman in Moscow

5. A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by Amor Towles (2016)

This is the best novel I’ve read for the past couple of years and is a wonderful example of originality. The follow-up to Towles’ Rules of Civility, it draws us into the world of the Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, who is arrested after the Bolshevik revolution and sentenced to life imprisonment in Moscow’s Hotel Metropol.

I read a lot of books and I understand how difficult it is for an author to pen a novel that isn’t a variation of something that has been done in the past. Towles manages that with ease and reminds us of what divides a great novel from a good one.

Incidentally, this was recently filmed for TV, with Halifax, Bolton and Liverpool standing in for Moscow!



I fell in love with an art student when I was about 16 and she was 17, and the only way I could get anywhere near her was to accompany her to art galleries. As it turned out, I fell out of love with her and in love with art. For the last 60 years, I have been both a passionate collector and admirer. Published in 1952, this book on Lord Duveen – who, as the title suggests, was considered the world’s greatest art dealer and whose client list included John D. Rockefeller Sr. and Willian Randolph Hearst – is one of the classic biographies of the era.


Prisoners of Geography


I thought I knew a thing or two about European politics and history until I read this book. It has that magnificent and rare gift of being written by a scholar – lots of facts and figures – but is also accessible to a non-academic like me. I learned so much from Marshall’s insights and investigations, while at the same time simply enjoying it as a cracking good read.

Beware of Pity8. BEWARE OF PITY by Stefan Zweig (1939)

Here’s a frightening story about Zweig. In 1939, he was the most popular author on earth. Disillusioned by the rise of Hitler, he and his wife then committed suicide in 1942, and his books actually went out of print. He’d been forgotten!
I didn’t discover Stefan Zweig until I was 60, when the Pushkin Press brought him back. As luck would have it, I began with this brilliant 1939 novel, which immediately pulls you deep in to its moving tale of unrequited love and the tragic consequences of that most complicated emotion… pity. Yes, Zweig is a great writer, but he is also a phenomenal storyteller who leaves the modern pack – and I include myself here – far behind.

My Brilliant Friend

9. MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by Elena Ferrante (2012)

Rewind a few years and I couldn’t have imagined that a book about two young girls growing up in Naples would possibly appeal to me. But this 2012 best-seller – like the other three books in Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels series – is magnificently written. Ferrante does for Naples what Dickens did for London, bringing the city to life and making it a central character in the story. The social and political climate of post-war Italy serves as a perfect canvas for Ferrante’s exploration of themes like ambition, love and the relentless pursuit of self-improvement against all odds.

Ferrante masterfully weaves a narrative that is as much about the intricacies of female friendship as it is about the transformation of a city through the decades. The relationship between Elena and Lila is a profound exploration of rivalry, support and the unspoken bond that can exist between friends. In My Brilliant Friend, Ferrante has not only created a tale of friendship and growth but also a lasting tribute to the city of Naples. This novel, and indeed the entire series, is a must-read for anyone who appreciates the art of storytelling at its finest.

Beneath the Wheel

10. BENEATH THE WHEEL (reissued as THE PRODIGY) by Hermann Hesse (1906)

The first page of this 1906 novel is an opening of genius. Hesse leads you up the wrong path, then plonks you right down on your nose. If you’d rather discover it for yourself, stop reading now! Hesse provides a few everyday details of a man called Joseph Giebenrath, but it’s all a feint. Suddenly, he blindsides us with: “Enough of him. It would require a profound satirist to deal with his humdrum existence and its unconscious tragedy. But this man had a son and of him there is more to say.” It’s absolute magic and offers a clue as to why he won the Nobel Prize.

Of Mice and Men

11. OF MICE AND MEN by John Steinbeck (1937)

Much like a finely crafted suspense novel, this literary masterpiece keeps the reader on the edge of their seat from beginning to end. And Steinbeck’s impeccable storytelling merges friendship, dreams and tragedy in a way that resonates with readers from all walks of life.

The characters of George and Lennie are brought to life with such depth and complexity that one can’t help but become emotionally invested in their journey. One that also explores the American Dream amidst the harsh backdrop of the Great Depression.

As a writer trying to create my own gripping narratives, I must tip my hat to Steinbeck for his ability to create a world so vivid and characters so unforgettable. Of Mice and Men is a timeless classic that will continue to captivate readers for generations to come. A testament to the enduring power of great literature.

All Quiet on the Western Front

12. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT by Erich Maria Remarque (1928)

In the UK, we’re used to seeing the Great War through the eyes of the Allied Forces, but Remarque’s novel tells the story of a German private on the front line. It’s a very moving account of the deprivation and hardship he goes through, and reminds us that innocent people on both sides were thrown into uniform and ordered to fight. Whether they liked it or not!

Remarque went on to write A Time to Love and A Time to Die about a German soldier falling in love with a French girl and, again, he does it with great empathy. As a writer, it’s hard to say which books influence you and which don’t, but I certainly hope Remarque has had an effect on how and why I write.

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