My Life in Books

What is John le Carré reading?

Here are three books that are meaningful to the bestselling author and former British spy.
John le Carré at his home in London in 2017. (Eleanor Wachtel/CBC)

After 25 years, George Smiley is set to make a grand return this fall in A Legacy of Spies. His creator, former British intelligence officer, John le Carré says the new novel, "[E]nds a canon in my work... and it could easily be my last book."

Le Carré, author of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and The Constant Gardener, rose to literary prominence and up bestseller lists by crafting ingeniously complicated stories set in the world of spies and secrets. Though he's considered a master of fiction, his reading habits tend toward nonfiction. Below, he shares three books that are meaningful to him.

Le Carré will be the first guest on the new season of Writers & Company with Eleanor Wachtel. You can listen to Writers & Company on Sundays at 3:00 p.m. ET/AT, 3:30 p.m. NT and 5 p.m. CT/MT/PT or by subscribing to the podcast.

1. The Dawn Watch by Maya Jasanoff

The Dawn Watch by Maya Jasanoff will be published in the U.S. in Nov. 2017. It does not currently have a Canadian publication date. (Windham-Campbell Prize)

"At the moment I've just put down a book that is soon-to-be-published. It's a new [biography] of Joseph Conrad called The Dawn Watch by Maya Jasanoff. It's really very interesting; a very modern vision of Conrad and how he spoke for the effects of globalization from very early on."

2. Churchill and Orwell by Thomas E. Ricks

Thomas E. Ricks spent 20 years reporting on the U.S. military for the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. (Foreign Policy)

"Another one is a book by Thomas Ricks about Winston Churchill and George Orwell. The two never met, but their parallel lives and their views of how society should function, notions of individual freedom, limitations of politics and so on — extraordinarily harmonious thoughts in different places, really very impressive. I went in assuming [they'd be at odds], but quite the reverse. Really, very interesting."

3. The Hotel Years by Joseph Roth

Joseph Roth was an Austrian novellist and journalist, who lived between 1894 and 1939. (New Directions)

"I love going back to Joseph Roth. He's one of the best journalists who ever lived and certainly an amazing writer and novelist. His book called The Hotel Years are articles he wrote about staying in hotels, mostly in eastern Europe as it then was in the last days of the Austrian Habsburg Empire. I love his style of observation and his descriptions of characters and so on. I always feel enriched when I put down a book by Joseph Roth."

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