William Carter: The Case of the Missing Barrels

Tripoli was dangerous – not as dangerous as Benghazi but still dangerous. Random, lethal violence was to be expected. There were no police officers, no official law enforcement of any kind – only tribal militia, who ruled the roost. He told me to be careful of ambushes while being driven around the city. ‘What should I do if I get ambushed?’ I asked. ‘Well, standard operating procedure in the army is to shoot your way out. Don’t be static. Push on, fight back.’ I pointed out to him that I was an unarmed middle-aged lawyer who would be sitting in the back of a rickety saloon car when the moment came. He shrugged.

Jean McNicol: Harriet Harman

Harman was first elected to the shadow cabinet in 1992 and her account of her difficulties in her first job, as shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Gordon Brown’s deputy, are typical of the descriptions she gives of her ministerial career as a whole. She stresses her own inadequacy and failure in a way it’s almost impossible to imagine a man’s political memoir doing.

Anne Diebel: Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach

The novel’s re-creation of New York City will probably inspire wistfulness. Sections of the Navy Yard have been preserved, and in recent years revitalised, but the new businesses there make things like zillion-dollar lighting fixtures and fake subway signs. Last year, Admiral’s Row was demolished to clear space for a development that will include a huge supermarket and a car park. Who can resist the romance of the bustling yard in a time of industry and righteousness? In this plot-driven page-turner about a period so important to Americans’ idea of themselves, Egan’s dearth of analysis almost passes without notice.

Vadim Nikitin: Diary

The time capsule was buried in a secluded square in Murmansk in 1967 on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Inside was a message dedicated to the citizens of the Communist future. At short notice, the authorities brought forward the capsule’s exhumation by ten days, to coincide with the city’s 101st birthday. With the stroke of an official’s pen, a mid-century Soviet relic was enlisted to honour one of the last acts of Tsar (now Saint) Nicholas II, who founded my hometown in October 1916. From socialism to monarchism in ten days.