'The Leopard by Giuseppi di Lampedusa is my favourite work of fiction of all time. I would offer it to any new person I met whom I thought likely to become a real friend. It became a joke among my nearest and dearest that I put people through this kind of test.
It is vividly written, well paced and alive in its descriptions. At one level it is a story of how the nouveau riche became established in the middle of the 19th century in Sicily, yet more generally it is about change, and 'things have to change in order that they might stay the same'. But the most gripping layer is that of facing one's own mortality. The author, a literary dilettante, evaded writing this book for years and only did so once he realised he had a year to live.
It is all the more poignant then that in the deathbed scene involving the central character, the Duke approaches death with huge optimism - seeing it as a lady in a brown travelling dress who lifts her veil to kiss him, and is 'more beautiful than ever before'.'
Susan Greenfield is professor of pharmacology at Oxford University and is director of the Royal Institution. Her new book, Brain Story, was published last month.