16 NOVEMBER 2002, Page 47

Robert Macfarlane

Three books, all non-fiction, particularly impressed me this year. William Fiennes's beautiful travelogue The Snow Geese (Picador, £14.99) went some way towards closing the gap between North America and Britain in terms of writing well about landscape and nature. Francis Spufford's memoir-meditation on how we learn to read, The Child That Books Built (Faber, £12.99), reconfirmed Spufford's reputation as one of the country's finest stylists, and at least partly explained why The Lord of the Rings exerts such a powerful grip on so many imaginations. And Ken Alder's The Measure of All Things (Little, Brown, £15.99) was exemplary of how successfully non-fiction can marry intellectual range and human interest. In terms of fiction, Philip Hensher's The Mulbeny Empire (Flamingo, £17.99) and Richard Flanagan's Gould's Book of Fish (Atlantic, £16.99) — two novels preoccupied with the idea of originality — were outstanding.