John Banville’s books of the year

Author, as Benjamin Black, of Holy Orders

Charles Townshend is that rare phenomenon, a historian with a fine prose style. His latest study in Irish history, The Republic: The Fight for Irish Independence 1918-1923 (Allen Lane), is, like his previous account of the 1916 Rising, at once informed, comprehensive and wonderfully readable.

Isaiah Berlin was a great letter-writer, and the third volume of his correspondence, Building: Letters 1960-1975, edited by Henry Hardy and Mark Pottle (Chatto), finds the philosopher deeply embroiled in the great world, one day dining with JFK and the next engaged in trying not to laugh at Igor Stravinsky. A marvellous book, fascinating, irreverent and funny.

Kafka: The Years of Insight, by Reiner Stach (Princeton), is volume three of what will surely be the definitive biography of one of the 20th century's most mysterious artists. Stach's declared aim is to find out what it felt like to be Kafka, and he succeeds.

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