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Verso Staff Picks: The Books We Read in 2023

As 2023 draws to a close, we reflect on the books from other publishers that we enjoyed most this year.

Verso Books26 December 2023

Verso Staff Picks: The Books We Read in 2023

At the end of every year, we shed light on the burning question: what do we read when we're not hard at work publishing the latest in radical thought? Look no further, because here's the answer for 2023 – as selected by the Verso offices in London and Brooklyn!

Don't forget: we also celebrate each new year with a massive End of Year Sale. This year, you can save up to 50% on your entire order! Shop now before it's too late!


The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
The story of Hans Castorp’s period of residence at a Davos sanitorium is, among other things, a study of time. That was a subject much in the air in 1924, when Henri Bergson’s influence was still strong, and the world was reeling from the first impact of Einstein’s theories. As it happens, time as a subject doesn’t grow old. The Magic Mountain is fresh as a daisy. To say it’s “about” time doesn’t convey the sense of wonder I felt reading this book. It toys with time. Mann plays with it like putty. A story thin on event, in which the few things that happen are developed over great stretches of text, is miraculously riveting. Hans’ sense of time’s subjective dilation and expansion during his convalescent sojourn isn’t explained to the reader but experienced in tandem with Mann’s feckless protagonist. There are also two wonderful characters who vie for Hans’ soul and form a study of philosophical idealism, which appears to distort their political sensibilities as much by its absence as its presence. Mann’s sense of humour has a way of sneaking up on the reader unawares to leave you chuckling.
- Mark M., Production
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
A vast book about a giant subject, the French Revolution, with the narrative drive of a thriller. Mantel knew what she was doing. This was her first novel and, by some accounts, the one she loved best. But it languished unpublished for eighteen years until her reputation as a writer was established.
- Mark M., Production

The Iron Council by China Mieville:
There are a good number of novels out there that bottle the fire of class solidarity, but to my knowledge only one has done so with a cast of humanoid cacti, nomadic birdmen, vampires, and multi-dimensional spiders. While each book in this trilogy is thrilling and well worth the read, Miéville’s meticulous construction of Bas-Lag in books 1 & 2 permits him to reach new heights in The Iron Council. Already aware of the insidious fascist creep in New Crobuzon, their mass exploitation of the “remade”, and a government which only finds itself competent in matters of empire building, we as readers are ourselves ready, on page 1, to take up arms with the glorious rebels aboard the perpetual train. My thanks to Mark Steven for the recommendation!
- Tim T., Publicity
The Maniac by Benjamin Labatut
From the author of the inestimable When We Cease to Understand the World, this novel explores, amongst others, the life of Johann Van Naumann and the dark chaos at the heart of computation. It has a thrilling recreation of the Go competition between Lee Sedol and DeepMind's GoAlpha, including the infamous 'move 37'.
- Leo H., Editor


Atomic Days by Joshua Frank
Recently I learned that I grew up in the most toxic place in America, according to the EPA. Sure, I’d heard about the contaminated soil sites (2,000 of them), the contaminated ground water (200 square miles of it), and the radioactive waste (millions of gallons), but it still somehow took me by surprise when I saw Atomic Days on display at the book store and read its description. I suppose when so much of the local culture is built around our town’s pride for The Bomb, folks would rather not think about how its leftover waste might just kill them too. To them and to anybody seeking to end nuclear proliferation–be it for energy or for destruction–I suggest this book. Joshua Frank is a talented reporter with a huge heart and all the right enemies.
- Colby G., Marketing
If We Burn: The Mass Protest Decade and the Missing Revolution by Vincent Bevins
In If We Burn, Bevins provides vital insights into why the exhilarating, hopeful, often awe-inspiring and initially effective mass protest movements of the 2010s, focusing primarily on movements in the Global South, so often sputtered, failed, and fell prey to reaction and counterrevolution. An important and persuasive study of the shortcomings of horizontalism, so-called leaderless movements, digital organizing, among other things.
- Nick W., Production
The God That Failed edited by Richard Crossman
This book, a collective volume of the testimonies of six former Communists and fellow travellers published at the beginning of the Cold War edited by a Bevanite Labour MP and partly distributed by the CIA-funded organ the Congress For Cultural Freedom, is an unlikely selection as a book of the year from someone who works at a radical press, I know. In fact, for many decades the book stood high in the heresiology of the left; a recusant statement of a gang of notorious apostates, offering a vicious indictment of the left and all who continue to stand with it. And yet, there is more than one way to read a demonology. It may have been, in the words of the cultural historian Frances Stonor Saunders, "as much a product of intelligence as it was a work of the intelligentsia", but it is also one of the most brilliant records we have of the political commitment, not only of that very particular generation of interwar leftists, but of commitment in general. What led these sensitive, intellectual, mainly bourgeois men (and they are all men) into the various Communist Parties? What drove their desire to see a new world born from the rubble of the old? All six accounts – the best being the opening two, from Arthur Koestler and Ignazio Silone – are deeply personal testimonies of the commitment to a great utopian cause born during the crisis ridden decades of the early twentieth century, of those who, in Koestler's words, "lived in a disintegrating society thirsting for faith." Like Dante's Divine Comedy, the authors take us deep into the Communist abyss and back into the sunny uplands once more. Read against the grain, though, they have much still to teach us.
- John M., Editor
Unconditional: The Japanese Surrender in World War II by Marc S. Gallicchio
This is an excellent overview of the Japanese surrender in World War II. Gallicchio mostly focuses on the US decision to hold firm on demanding unconditional surrender from the Japanese, as opposed to a conditional surrender in which Japan could avoid an occupation and keep its imperial system. In the book, you get a really good understanding of how completely insane the Japanese leadership was, with one of the head war ministers even suggesting that the utter annihilation of Japan and all its people would be preferable to surrender. The end of the book explores the afterlives of the surrender. The myth that Japan had wanted to surrender long before Hiroshima actually began as a right-wing conspiracy theory in the 50's, but became a left-wing one in the 60's which still persists to this day.
- Daniel C., Accounting
The People of Providence by Tony Parker
Often described as "Britain's Studs Terkel", Tony Parker was a pioneering broadcaster and oral historian. Yet unlike Terkel, since Parker's death in 1996 his work seems to have been almost forgotten. Although the writer of more than 20 books, it was somewhat by chance that Parker came to his unique vocation; a meeting with a BBC radio producer while a volunteer prison visitor in the early 1960s led him first to a radio series and later a number of books on those inside. It was to be an enduring theme in his long career. Never one to moralise, his interviews included not only petty criminals but those harder to empathise with, including sex offenders and violent murderers. But it is another book, The People of Providence, based on interviews conducted over 18 months with the residents of a working class South London council estate, that is my favourite. Sensitive, surprising, funny, charming, and deeply moving, Parker is a master, and deserves a new generation of readers.
- John M., Editor
Ordinary Dogs by Eileen Battersby
Apparently two dogs and a huge pile of books can constitute a life. Not only that, but when conveyed in recollection through the perceptive mind of someone as companionable as the Irish Times’s late literary critic Eileen Battersby, such a life can be hugely entertaining. Imagine this bibliophilic dog owner’s relief.
- Mark M., Production
The Strength of Poetry by James Fenton
With wit, wisdom, and technical know-how, Fenton approaches some enduring questions regarding a set of canonical poets (Auden, Blake, Owen, Bishop, Plath among them). It sounds too good to be true, but having this book around was like standing by a delicious cheese platter — impossible to leave it alone. It’s as good as a feast.
- Mark M., Production
The Visionaries: Arendt, Beauvoir, Rand, Weil and the Salvation of Philosophy by Wolfram Eilenberger
This is a brilliant work of popular philosophy bringing together four seemingly very different women thinkers. Eilenberger makes each one come alive and adds depth to a shared belief that thinking in hard times was a necessity. It is a surprisingly gripping read.
- Leo H., Editor
A Day in the Life of Abed Salama by Nathan Thrall
This book, longlisted for the Baillie Gifford prize, came out the first week of October and was somewhat forgotten amidst the events in Gaza. Author events were cancelled in London. However, this is a deeply moving account of the day to day hardships of life in the Occupied Territories. Centred around a father's search for his son following a bus crash, it drilled down through the layers of history, politics and everyday life. It is an exemplary piece of reportage.
- Leo H., Editor
Fury on Earth: A Biography Of Wilhelm Reich by Myron Sharaf

Every fan or critic of Wilhelm Reich is in part his analyst, pinpointing exactly where he lost his mind. For the circle of Vienna psychoanalysts, he was potentially always mad, but he certainly was after he embraced Marxism. For the Marxists it was when he started lab experiments in Norway, and for writers like Olivia Laing and many others, it was when he came to America and became engrossed with orgone. For Myron Sharaf, who met Reich after he immigrated to America and quickly became his student, Reich’s break happened exceptionally late – it wasn’t until the early 50s, with the FBI closing in and Reich’s mind in the clouds and cosmos. Sharaf’s proximity to and sympathy for Reich, as well as his enthusiasm for even his later day adventures, make this a uniquely interesting book on Reich’s life and work.

- Anthony K., Publicity