Top 5 book antidotes to our miserable times

The author of Abject Quizzery: The Utterly Depressing Quiz Book picks the best reads for when you need a dose of optimism

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

A beautifully written, timeless story about the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s.

Men Like Gods by HG Wells

If you’ve had your fill of dystopia, here’s a future where everyone is clever and happy. Mr Barnstaple takes a holiday and discovers a world in which humankind has it all figured out.

Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker

The scientific case for optimism. The world might seem like a total mess but we’re actually making steady progress making it a better place for all of us. The good guys have already won.


In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.

How To be Right in a World Gone Wrong by James O’Brien

A funny-as-hell, thoughtful and very readable guide about how to deal with people who have been drip-fed a diet of low-level hatred by the likes of the Daily Mail.

Right Ho, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse

If you need cheering up, anything by PG Wodehouse, but one of the best-ever paeans to optimism in the English language is in Right Ho, Jeeves when Gussie Fink-Nottle puts straight “the fellow with a face rather like a walnut” who said the world was in a terrible state. “Don’t talk rot” advises Gussie. “It is a beautiful world. The sky is blue, the birds are singing.

Karl Shaw’s Abject Quizzery: The Utterly Depressing Quiz Book is out on November 5 (Old Street, £12.99)