My favourite books of 2016

There are some chaps who are no good for anything but books. I plead guilty to being such a chap. EM Forster, A Room With A View

Indeed. Here are ten books I particularly appreciated this year – though not necessarily published in 2016 – listed in alphabetical order. I reviewed quite a few of them for various online magazines, and where applicable have provided links to the versions archived on this site.

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The Battle for Home: The Memoir of a Syrian Architect

If we can no longer recognise our surroundings as a shared home it becomes easier to contemplate their destruction.

The Battle for Home: The Memoir of a Syrian Architect by Marwa al-Sabouni is a profound, understated meditation on architecture’s capacity both to civilise and destroy, written while the author witnessed first-hand the destruction of her native city of Homs.

Al-Sabouni argues that years of misguided and corrupt urban planning have ripped apart the delicate urban and social fabric of Syria’s ancient cities, facilitating the conditions for violence between segregated communities living as strangers in fractured landscapes they can no longer recognise as their own.

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Zaha Hadid’s radical geometries

Some time in the mid-1970s a student came to London from Iraq with a vision of how architecture could remake the world. Remarkably – and eventually – she succeeded.

Zaha Hadid’s untimely death deprives the profession of one its most belligerent, brilliant and fascinating talents at the height of her powers.

After decades of failing to get any of her radical designs built her practice now realises dozens of projects every year for corporations, governments and private individuals across the world.

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Akko Old City

A couple of days ago we spent a few hours in Akko, a historic city a few miles north of Haifa.

Akko’s history is much too complex to hope to summarise in a few paragraphs. Suffice to say it is one of the most ancient cities even in this land, first settled some time around 3000BC. It has changed hands innumerable times: at various times it has been Canaanite, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, Mamluk and Ottoman. I refer you to the extensive Wikipedia entry for a full introduction. It is most closely associated in my imagination with the history of the first three Crusades, when ‘Acre’ – as it has often been called – was fought over as a crucial strategic port.

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Across the plaza – Fascist Rome

During last week’s Roman excursion I was able to make a brief visit to a part of the city I’ve wanted to see for some time, the EUR district located a few underground stops south of the centre.

EUR – or the Esposizione Universale Roma – was designed in the 1930s and 40s under the supervision of Mussolini for the 1942 World Expo, which the fascist regime wanted to use to showcase the 20th anniversary of its rise to power. EUR indicates how much of urban Italy might have looked had fascism survived: this is a stark space of plazas, ramrod straight avenues and austere buildings that strive for the imagined monumentality of ancient Rome.

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