I read 25 books in 2017, eight fewer than I did in 2016; I think this is because I read a lot more articles (saved to Pocket, on my Kobo eReader) as research for my job and my newsletter. Still, 25 books in 12 months isn’t a bad return, and I aim to read around the same number this year.
Of all the books I read, these were the notable ones.
Steven Johnson’s Wonderland explores how technology and progress has been driven by play, entertainment, and leisure. From how a taste for spice accelerated global travel (and conflict) to the Victorian ‘virtual reality’ craze, this is full of fascinating stories and credible theories.
Radical Technologies, by Adam Greenfield, is brilliant and frustrating. Really clear, concise explorations of current and near-future technologies and their potential consequences—both good and bad—let down by occasional bloody-minded negativity. I really liked parts of this book (the first chapter, on mobile and maps, was especially eye-opening), and was intensely frustrated by other parts of it.
Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature is a biography of Alexander von Humboldt, geographer, naturalist, and explorer. Von Humboldt is largely forgotten today, but in his time was one of the most famous men in the world, and has given his name to many species, places, geographical features, and universities. This book tells his life story, with particular focus on his Romantic view of nature.
Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer, tells the story of a double murder in 1984, the bloody nature of faith, and the foundations of Mormonism. A history I’d never heard before, with some eye-opening revelations (pun intended).
In fiction, George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo was the standout. A supernatural—perhaps, magical realist—telling of the death of Willie Lincoln, son of US president Abraham, and his time between death and afterlife. Mixes real reports and accounts of the time with the stories of the spirits of the people who shared the cemetery he was buried in. Sad and funny and insightful. A work of art.
Under the Skin, by Michel Faber, is an examination of what it means to be human, through the lens of aliens. I don’t really know how to describe it; it’s science fiction, but also not. It’s beautifully written and strange and thought-provoking, and I loved it.
I read all of Robert Harris’ Cicero Trilogy (Imperium, Lustrum, and Dictator) in a period of just over a week while on holiday. It tells the story of the end of the Roman Republic, and the start of the Roman Empire, through the actions of the great lawyer, politician, and orator, Cicero, as written by his slave Marcus Tullius Tiro (inventor of shorthand). As an examination of tyranny testing the limits of democracy, it’s very timely.
Also published on Medium.