My Favourite Books I Read in 2017

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.