Chosen by Hannah Rothschild
Hannah Rothschild, former chair of London’s National Gallery, is a writer, documentary maker, and philanthropist. House of Trelawney, her second novel, satirizes a family of British aristocrats who are reeling after the 2008 financial crisis.
The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875). Surely the biggest, baddest baddie in literature, Augustus Melmotte, a foreigner intent on swindling dumb British toffs out of their last inheritance, arrives in London with a load of fake shares and a beautiful daughter. He nearly succeeds, but his comeuppance when it comes is thoroughly enjoyable. This often-overlooked social satire has spooky resonances with today: It should be given to all self-important tycoons.
The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford (1945). This was a present from my grandmother to mark my 15th birthday that I’ve treasured ever since. Mitford’s satire tells a loosely autobiographical tale of a charming and bonkers aristocratic family. Hidden under layers of satire is a tragic tale of lost opportunity and the perils of romantic love.
The Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante (2012–2015). Discovering Ferrante later than most, I read these books back to back, only pausing/sleeping from absolute necessity. Beginning with My Brilliant Friend, she tells the story of two friends from childhood to middle age and how fate, choice, and random events affect their lives. Husbands, lovers, family, and children are bit players on a stage dominated by one central extraordinary and destructive female friendship.
Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938). An utterly absurd but brilliant tale of mistaken identity: A newspaper sends its nature correspondent to cover an African civil war. This fast, light, and lethal novel skewers journalists and the privileged.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877). One-line synopsis: the story of an entrancing, beautiful woman who lives and then dies for passion. It should be required reading for anyone wanting to learn about themselves or others. On every page, Tolstoy lays bare the frailties and peccadilloes of human behavior.
The Overstory by Richard Powers (2018). Nine Americans from disparate backgrounds come together to save a forest. This extraordinary novel transformed my view about nature—never again will I pass a great tree without offering a quiet but heartfelt incantation of thanks, gratitude, and wonder. Nor will I take for granted trees’ importance to every aspect of our ecosystem, or our duty to protect them. ■