2020 in books: Trinity reads of the year

Posted on: 30 December 2020

Trinity alumni and academics have been busily producing books on all kinds of topics this year – so for a selected guide to Trinity-linked 2020 publications from poetry through prose to science, read on … 


A Thousand Moons: A Novel 


By Sebastian Barry BA (1977) 

A brave and moving novel [that] has a tender empathy with the natural world.

—Hermione Lee, The New York Review of Books 

Winona Cole, an orphaned child of the Lakota Indians, finds herself growing up in an unconventional household on a farm in west Tennessee. Raised by her adoptive parents John Cole and Thomas McNulty, whose story Barry told in his acclaimed previous novel Days Without End, she forges a life for herself beyond the violence and dispossession of her past. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/550964/a-thousand-moons-by-sebastian-barry/ 




Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom  

Penguin Random House 

By John Boyne BA (1993) 

An ambitious, epic sweep of a book…John Boyne brilliantly and economically creates a sense of history and place… an enthralling read.

—The Sunday Express Magazine 

This book is about a family, a father and a mother with two sons. Their stories will intertwine and evolve over the course of two thousand years. They will meet again and again at different times and in different places. From Palestine at the dawn of the first millennium and journeying across fifty countries to a life amongst the stars in the third, the world will change around them, but their destinies remain the same. https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/111/1117186/a-traveller-at-the-gates-of-wisdom/9780857526199.html 



Tramp Press 

By Sara Baume MPhil (2011) 

A beautiful rendering of the passing of days.

—Kerri Ní Dochartaigh, The Irish Times 

In this contemplative short narrative, artist and acclaimed writer Sara Baume charts the daily process of making and writing, exploring what it is to create and to live as an artist. A short, elegant piece that encompasses images and is itself a significant artifact, handiwork will offer more of the beautiful prose and extraordinary versatility you’ve come to expect from Sara Baume. https://www.tramppress.com/product/handiwork/ 


Catching The Worm

Royal Irish Academy in partnership with the RDS

By Bill Campbell BA, MA (1952), with Claire O’Connell

Nobel laureate Campbell’s memoir captures the essence of scientific endeavour.

—Kevin O’Sullivan, The Irish Times

In 2015, Dr William C. Campbell’s quiet retirement changed abruptly when, at the age of 85, he won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. In Catching The Worm – A Memoir, Campbell recalls his early life in Donegal and studying zoology in Trinity, then moving to the United States to work as a parasitologist. While working with the company Merck, he helped to discover several drugs to control parasitic worms. One of those drugs, ivermectin, has spared millions of people from the devastating effects of river blindness. Through his memoir, Campbell provides a snapshot of growing up in Ireland before and during World War II, as well as insights into science, the arts, teaching, family and what really matters in life. https://www.ria.ie/catchingtheworm



Notes from an Apocalypse


By Mark O’Connell PhD, MPhil, BA (2003) 

Smart, funny, irreverent, and philosophically rich

—Wall Street Journal 

We’re alive in a time of worst-case scenarios: The weather has gone uncanny. Old post-war alliances are crumbling. A pandemic draws our global community to a halt. Everywhere you look there’s an omen, a joke whose punchline is the end of the world. How is a person supposed to live in the shadow of such a grim future? What does it mean to have children—nothing if not an act of hope—in such unsettled times? What might it be like to live through the worst? And what on Earth is anybody doing about it? 

Mark O’Connell is consumed by these questions—and, as the father of two young children himself, he finds them increasingly urgent. In Notes from an Apocalypse, he crosses the globe in pursuit of answers. https://granta.com/products/notes-from-an-apocalypse/ 



While the Music Played

Blackstone Publishing 

By Nathaniel Lande PhD (1992)

Nathaniel Lande has written an epic, compelling and cinematic, richly imagined, often chilling but ultimately life-affirming tribute to the power of music and art, honouring the human spirit.

—Richard Zoglin, Time magazine 

With a seamless blend of historical and fictional characters told from multiple points of view and sweeping across the capitals of Prague, London, and Berlin, this beautifully researched book is unique with interweaving narratives threaded with news accounts, highlighting some of the most triumphant and devastating moments of the war from the opera houses of Berlin to the music halls of London. It is a grandly cinematic work; a lyrical and heart-breaking novel from the revered and best-selling author, Nathaniel Lande. https://www.blackstonepublishing.com/while-the-music-played-nathaniel-lande 


Break the Mould

Wren and Rook 

By Sinéad Burke PhD (2018) 

A very important book encouraging us all to celebrate the uniqueness and gift of our own and others’ differences, while recognising all of that which we share in common.

—Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland 

Sometimes we can feel like we are not good enough. That we don’t belong. Or that we want to be more like our friends. In this empowering guide, Sinéad Burke draws on her own experiences and encourages young readers to believe in themselves, have pride in who they are and use their voice to make the world a fairer, more inclusive place. 

From the power of being different, to celebrating the things you love about yourself and helping others do the same, this is a brilliantly inspirational handbook for breaking the mould and finding your place in the world. https://www.hachettechildrens.co.uk/titles/sin%c3%a9ad-burke/break-the-mould/9781526363343/ 


The Historians

W. Norton

By Eavan Boland BA (1967) (1944-2020) – posthumously published

This book is alive as a legacy for all readers—and for the future where Eavan Boland’s greatness will endure.

—Carol Muske-Dukes, academic and author 

The Historians is the culmination of her signature themes, exploring the ways in which the hidden, sometimes all-but-erased stories of women’s lives can powerfully revise our sense of the past. 



Washing Up 

The Gallery Press 

By Derek Mahon MA (1986) (1941-2020)

A poet of prodigious gifts who has enriched contemporary literature and continues to astonish and delight.

—Hugh Haughton, academic and author 

Derek’s many admirers will be pleased to find the well-known verve and stylistic vigour in this new collection, published within weeks of his untimely death in October.’ https://www.gallerypress.com/authors/m-to-n/derek-mahon 



Never Mind the B#ll*cks, Here’s the Science

Gill Books 

By Professor Luke O’Neill, Chair of Biochemistry, School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity 

With references to popular culture, from Dolly Parton to Robert De Niro to Greta Thunberg, this is everything you want from a good book: informs, educates and entertains.

—Pat Kenny, Newstalk

In his new book, Professor Luke O’Neill, one of the leading voices of authority during the COVID-19 pandemic, grapples with life’s biggest questions and tells us what science has to say about them. Covering topics from global pandemics to gender, addiction to euthanasia, Luke’s trademark easy wit and clever pop-culture references deconstruct the science to make complex questions accessible. Arriving at science’s definitive answers to some of the most controversial topics human beings have to grapple with, Never Mind the B#ll*ocks is a celebration of science and hard facts in a time of fake news and sometimes unhelpful groupthink. https://www.gillbooks.ie/information-reference/never-mind-the-bllcks-heres-the-science 



The Selected Letters of John Berryman

Harvard University Press 

Edited by Dr Philip Coleman, Junior Dean and Registrar of Chambers at Trinity, and Calista McRae 

Though the outer world of politics and civil strife may occasionally intrude, it proves no match for the smoke-filled rooms inside the poet’s head… Anyone who delights in listening to Berryman, and who can’t help wondering how the singer becomes the songs, will find much to treasure here.

—Anthony Lane, The New Yorker 

Beginning with a letter to his parents in 1925 and concluding with a letter to the writer Edward Hoagland sent a few weeks before his death in 1972, John Berryman tells his story in his own words in The Selected Letters. Included are more than 600 letters to almost 200 people—editors, family members, students, colleagues, and friends. The exchanges reveal the scope of Berryman’s ambitions, as well as the challenges of practicing his art within the confines of the publishing industry and contemporary critical expectations. The letters show Berryman to be an energetic and generous interlocutor, but they also make plain his struggles with personal and familial trauma, at every stage of his career. https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674976252&content=reviews 



Tongues of Fire

Penguin Random House 

By Dr Seán Hewitt, Teaching Fellow in Twentieth-Century British & Irish Literature at Trinity 

This is an astonishingly assured debut delivered in a poetic voice that has eloquence, compassion, and serenity in equal measure.

—Bert Wright, Sunday Times 

In this first collection, Seán Hewitt gives us poems of a rare musicality and grace. By turns searing and meditative, these are lyrics concerned with the matter of the world, its physicality, but also attuned to the proximity of each moment, each thing, to the spiritual. https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1119058/tongues-of-fire/9781787332263.html 


British Detective Fiction 1891–1901: The Successors to Sherlock Holmes 

Palgrave Macmillan 

By Dr Clare Clarke, Assistant Professor of English at Trinity 

Professor Clarke’s superb new book is required reading for anyone interested in Victorian crime and detective fiction.

—Alexis Easley, University of St. Paul, Minnesota 

This book examines the developments in British serial detective fiction which took place in the seven years when Sherlock Holmes was dead. In December 1893, at the height of Sherlock’s popularity with the Strand Magazine’s worldwide readership, Arthur Conan Doyle killed off his detective. At the time, he firmly believed that Holmes would not be resurrected. This book introduces and showcases a range of Sherlock’s most fascinating successors, exploring the ways in which a huge range of popular magazines and newspapers clamoured to ensnare Sherlock’s bereft fans. https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9781137595621 


Collected Poems 

The Gallery Press 

By Professor Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Fellow Emeritus at Trinity 

Ní Chuilleanáin is the Vermeer of contemporary poetry. Her luminous interiors achieve great visual beauty, but should not be mistaken for exercises in escapism. They are sites where history and the individual brush against each other, force fields of action and radiant understanding . . . one of the most distinctive and rewarding bodies of work in contemporary poetry. 

  • — Aingeal Clare, the Guardian.
  • Collected Poems is a book of singular beauty and uncommon cohesion. It contains work from more than fifty years and nine collections and includes new, previously unpublished poems. 


This list appears with the kind permission of the Trinity Alumni News magazine, where it was first published. 

To see the full magazine, click here.

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