In 2021 our writers considered technology, meritocracy and the trans debate

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Athens: City of Wisdom. By Bruce Clark. Pegasus; 512 pages; $35. Head of Zeus; £25

A regular contributor on culture and ideas documents the history of one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited places, from its legendary origins to the bustling modern conurbation where an ancient passion for politics and verbal pyrotechnics remains undimmed. The result is an “enchantingly readable history”, said the Literary Review.

Framers. By Kenneth Cukier, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Francis de Véricourt. Dutton; 272 pages; $28. WH Allen; £20

Our By-Invitation editor and his co-authors explore what people can do that AI can’t: use mental models to see the world in a new way. AI depends on data, but human cognition applies counter factuals to see what isn’t there. A plea for pluralism that is “different, and better, than the usual recipes for smart thinking”, said the Financial Times.

We See It All. By Jon Fasman. Public Affairs; 288 pages; $28. Scribe; £16.99

Our US digital editor examines the moral, political and legal implications of surveillance technologies used by police, reporting from Ecuador, Israel, Sweden and across America. He shows how surveillance affects everyone, and what concerned citizens can do. An “illuminating account”, said Publishers Weekly, which “issues an essential warning”.

Trans. By Helen Joyce. Oneworld; 320 pages; $25.95 and £18.99

Our Britain editor analyses the sidelining of biological sex in favour of self- declared “gender identity” in situations from rape-crisis centres to sport. A “searing and at times devastating analysis”, said the Sunday Times. The New York Times called it an “intelligent, thorough rejoinder to an idea that has swept across much of the liberal world”.

Dohany Street. By Adam LeBor. Head of Zeus; 384 pages; £18.99

The third volume in a noir trilogy featuring Balthazar Kovacs, a detective in the Budapest murder squad. An Israeli historian goes missing after investigating the lost wealth of Hungarian Jews murdered in the Holocaust. “A sure-footed piece”, said the Financial Times, set in “an exuberantly realised Budapest”. By our former Hungary correspondent.

A Brief History of Motion. By Tom Standage. Bloomsbury; 272 pages; $28 and £20

One of our deputy editors considers the rise of the car, and the history and future of urban transport, in a 5,500-year road-trip that explodes myths and imagines roads not taken. “Great fun—and utterly timely”, reckoned the Sunday Times. “Standage writes with a masterly clarity,” said the New York Times.

Two Hundred Years of Muddling Through. By Duncan Weldon. Little, Brown; 339 pages; £20

A former British-economy correspondent reflects on 200 years of the country’s economic history, showing how politics and the economy have interacted since the Industrial Revolution. “Impressively researched, succinctly written and highly readable”, said the Times.

The Aristocracy of Talent. By Adrian Wooldridge. Skyhorse; 504 pages; $24.99. Allen Lane; £25

A history of the rise of the meritocratic idea, its tendency to harden into aristocracy and the current revolt against it, by our departing Bagehot columnist. The Times Literary Supplement called it “extraordinary and irresistible…unfailingly entertaining, effortlessly drawing on a wealth of anecdote and statistics”.

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