My own taste is for biography and letters, and in this department two very enjoyable books stand out: James Lees- Milne's The Bachelor Duke: The Sixth Duke of Devonshire (John Murray, £19.95) is a portrait of an engaging personality as well as a lively description of the age and world in which he lived — the Regency and reign of George IV — enlarged by a fascinating account of his friendship with the future Tsar Nicholas of Russia, and his patronage of Sir Joseph Paxton.
My second choice is Richard Garnett's life of his grandmother the translator, Constance Garnett: A Heroic Life (Sinclair- Stevenson, £20) — and so it proves indeed, leaving us full of admiration for this indomitable and very scholarly little lady, who travelled alone to Russia, got mixed up with anarchists and showed a different form of courage in her rational beliefs. The gruelling work of translation left her time to make friends with many literary figures of the day.
Lastly, 'little books' are a welcome relief in this age of monsters seemingly made of lead. Patrick Leigh Fermor's delightful Three Letters from the Andes (John Murray, £10.95) is the perfect choice for a journey or a Christmas present.