It’s been a particularly busy year with work and travel but somehow I found the time to read more than 85 books. In no particular order here are my picks from 2017.
Hubris : The Tragedy of Warfare in the Twentieth Century by Alistair Horne
A relatively short book, but one that captures understanding from Alistair Horne’s lifetime of studying conflict and warfare. Focusing primarily on three periods, the Japan-Russia war of 1905, the Japan-America conflict during WW2, and more briefly the French-Vietnam war, this book is a brilliantly insightful examination of hubris, it’s causes and consequences.
All Out War by Tim Shipman
Widely regarded as the definite book on Brexit, one of the most important decisions of our time, All Out War provides both context and detail for both sides of the story. The personalities involved and behind the scenes action were worthy of the Think Of It. It’d be hugely entertaining if the consequences weren’t quite so epochal.
Street Of Eternal Happiness by Rob Schmitz
One of the best books I’ve read on the rise of modern China, as Rob Schmitz (who I discovered via a great talk at the Auckland Writers Festival) tells the story of handful of people living on Changle Lu (the Street of Eternal Happiness) in Shanghai. Too unbelievable to be fiction, from the accordion manufacturer trying to make it in the sandwich business to the bickering couple who have two competing televisions in their bedroom playing at maximum volume.
1971 : Never A Dull Moment by David Hepworth
As both a huge music fan, and devotee of sadly defunct The Word (which David Hepworth created), this was pretty much the perfect book for me. David Hepworth makes a pretty convincing, and very entertaining, case for 1971 being the greatest year ever for rock music. The list of classic albums released that year is quite staggering, and we are still living with many of the ideas that originated over 45 years ago.
Names For The Sea : Strangers In Iceland by Sarah Moss
An evocative and informative warm up for my trip to Iceland, though I may have been better reading it upon my return to have had more context. Sarah Moss spent a year in Reykjavik as it’s economy imploded in 2009, and provides fascinating insights into both Icelandic society and the impact of that eventful year on it. It’s also unusually well written, and a delight to read.
Enduring Patagonia by Gregory Crouch
Borderline poetry at times as Gregory Crouch finds the right language to describe the attraction and madness of climbing in Patagonia, home to some of the most extreme and changeable mountains and weather in the world. A short but enthralling read.
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
A powerful argument for how we can better care for people, particularly toward the end of life, through humanity and respect, recognising that many of the Western models currently used lack both of these essential traits. A sobering but thought provoking wake up call for the medical and care professions.
At Home by Bill Bryson
I’m a late convert to Bill Bryson but am making up for lost time working my way through his back catalogue. This was my favourite of his that I read this year, telling the fascinating history of just about everything you’d find in a typical home, informative and brilliantly told.
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
A beautifully written book using the lives of seven artists (including Edward Hopper and Andy Warhol) to talk eloquently about modern day loneliness. It is effective both as biography of three fascinating individuals and in drawing out highly relevant wider themes of isolation, and the challenges of connecting with people.
Where My Heart Used To Be by Sebastian Faulks
Sebastian Faulks is one of the most reliable authors of thoughtful, well written, and emotionally engaging fiction. His latest demonstrates this, a highly readable and idea filled story, incorporating some of the most notable events of the twentieth century.
The Noise Of Time by Julian Barnes
A tour de force first person fictionalised biography of Shostakovich, one of the twentieth century’s finest composers, and his challenges working within the Soviet system, where an opinion from Stalin was literally life or death. A relatively short but beautifully crafted and well toned read.
Politics : Between the Extremes by Nick Clegg
For me one of the more sensible politicians Britain has produced in recent years, Nick Clegg has produced one of the more readable and insightful political books of recent years. It’s not a biography but more a highlights / lowlights from his time as the deputy leader of the surprisingly successful collation Conservative / Liberal Democrat government.