As I posted in my last blog, I have set two reading targets for 2019; finish fifty-two books but also complete a separate reading challenge with John Rothwell where we read the same book each month and write a short review comparing our thoughts on that book. There has been a slight change to the book-a-month challenge as we did not properly think through the logistics when we only have one copy of each book. We are still reading the same books, but the order might change.
Back to my own reading challenge, I have made excellent progress. In January I completed eleven books which I will now list with a short review of each.
1. Bad Science by Ben Goldacre
For the most part I enjoyed this book. It has a sharp wit when it comes to debunking some of the myths that are part of our day-to-day life. I particularly enjoyed how Ben Goldacre took apart the homeopathy industry as well as commenting on some public figures who are not as qualified as one might think. As someone who has studied science at post-graduate level, I really appreciated this book but I feel it might be lost on some people who don't have a grounding in science. This could be a problem as I feel this is the sort of book people should read if they are not familiar with the scientific method. Most people will get it, but I fear the sort of people who are fully supportive of things like homeopathy will not "get" this book but those are precisely the people that would benefit the most from a book like this. Overall, I would rate the book 7/10.
2. Artemis by Andy Weir
I listened to this book on Audible and it took me a couple of attempts to get into it. I don't think that's a reflection on the story, but more about the fact you need to really pay attention in the early part to find your bearings. Artemis is a murder mystery/thriller set on the first lunar city called Artemis. The protagonist, on the face of it, is a refreshing change being a young middle eastern woman. The only problem is she is written as a slightly older American male. Many of her lines, and her humour, could easily have been spoken by Matt Damon's character in The Martian which was also written by Andy Weir.
Despite this criticism of the main character, I really enjoyed Artemis. I liked the setting. Andy Weir did a fantastic job of building a new world and as I was listening to the book, I found myself wanting to visit Artemis. I would be amazed if the film rights are not already snapped up and my hope is that when the film is inevitably made, they do not shy away from casting the right person for the role. It would be too easy for Hollywood to put a white actress with "star power" in the lead role, but this is a chance for Hollywood to go a different route and bring a bit of diversity to a big budget film. Overall rating: 8/10.
3. Monarchy by David Starkey
Although I oppose the idea of monarchy in a modern setting, I am fascinated by the historical monarchy despite not knowing much about it. This was an engaging introductory book to chart the progress of the monarchy from Richard III through to the Victorian era. I learned a lot about the time between Tudor England and the modern times, and for that I would say this was a successful book. David Starkey is a good writer and an excellent historian. My only complaint is that the book was very descriptive with not much attempt at analysis. Overall rating: 7/10.
4. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
This book is part of the 2019 reading challenge I have with fellow NWL contributor, John Rothwell, so I'm not going to write too much here as my review will be more in depth when I post that article. The book, as the title suggests, is broken down into 21 chapters. Some of those I enjoyed and some bored or frustrated me. I'm glad I read this book, but I don't know if I would ever read it again. At times, the book felt a little self-indulgent. Overall rating: 6/10.
5. The Transition by Luke Kennard
This was a strange little book. The plot is based around the relationship between the protagonist, Karl, his partner, and their experiences in The Transition. Karl is convicted of credit card fraud and is given the choice between prison or joining The Transition; a social program to help young people become productive members of society. At first, The Transition appears too good to be true and we are left wondering if the paranoia is all in Karl's head or if The Transition is something more sinister. I enjoyed almost all this book; it was a light read and I didn't have to think about it too much. The ending completely underwhelmed though, and having read other reviews that seems to be a common opinion. I believe this was a debut novel and judging it on that basis, it was a good attempt. Overall rating: 5/10.
6. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
The version I have linked above is not the same version I read, but I could not find that version on Amazon. I read a version that came with a lot of artwork and it was more like a graphic novel than an actual book. I enjoyed it. I've been wanting to read The Art of War for a long time and although much of it appears to be common sense when you think about it, the book has clarity and wisdom in equal measure. Sometimes you can know something but not understand it on a deeper level. I would recommend highly recommend The Art of War; the lessons contained within the work are applicable to most walks of life. Everyone can take something from the book. Overall rating: 9/10.
7. The Secret Barrister by The Secret Barrister
This book is terrifying. It breaks down all the different ways in which the law, and the legal process, is failing people. It describes how the criminal justice system is woefully underfunded and stretched beyond breaking point. The parts which were most scary were the ones focusing on how people can be jailed for crimes they did not commit. The book also spends some time comparing our imperfect system with other systems across the world and throughout history. The end result is an argument that although our system is not perfect, it is still better than many other systems (a bit like the argument about democracy). I learned a lot from this book and it's funny how much of our beliefs about the legal system come from (American) television, and the American system is very different to the British system. A real eye opener from someone who obviously cares about the legal system. A must read for anyone with even a passing interest in the British legal system. Overall rating: 9/10.
8. Nod by Adrian Barnes
A book where the premise is more interesting than the execution. All around the world, almost the entire population is unable to sleep. A few people are immune and as the world suffers from this lack of sleep, civilisation crumbles. Think The Walking Dead but instead of zombies you have people unable to sleep. I read the book in two sittings. It is structured as a series of diary entries and whilst it's engaging, it's not particularly exciting. Nod is obvious film bait for Hollywood and I'd be surprised if it's not eventually made into a movie, but I can see it being one of those that is released as VOD on Netflix as opposed to being a cinema release. This could have been a great thriller or horror but it didn't seem to settle on a genre. A good piece of disposable fiction and I'll probably never read it again. I can't even remember what any of the characters were called, which is not a good sign considering I read it just a couple of weeks ago. Compare that to Artemis which I read over a month ago and I can remember many of the characters quite vividly. Overall rating: 4/10.
9. The Numbers Game by Chris Anderson and David Sally
Two things that interest me; football and statistical analysis. This book marries the two and manages to bore in the process. There are some interesting anecdotes and a few decent bits of analysis but I found some analysis went far too deep and other parts not deep enough. I also felt that much of the analysis lacked a point. It was mostly descriptive with not much work on how that analysis could be used in practice. I also found many of the tables and graphs to be badly put together and formatted. I started the book with enthusiasm but by the time I had finished it, I was relieved it was over. The biggest point of interest was the finding that defence matters more to success than attack, which is a little counter intuitive to most fan opinion. Overall rating: 3/10.
10. The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman
I didn't know much about Stoicism before a TED talk I watched a few months ago. Then I saw this book and thought it would be a good introduction. It was ok. It's one of those page-a-day books but I read it over a couple of weeks. There are some good lessons from historical figures such as Marcus Aurelius and Seneca. Much like The Art of War there is wisdom for all walks of like. I think this will be a book I revisit and I might go into next year reading it as it was intended; a page a day. There is a lot to admire from the Stoic philosophy and I've recently purchased Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, from which The Daily Stoic draws many quotes. Overall rating: 9/10.
11. The Last Kingdom: Saxon Series Book 1 by Bernard Cornwell
I've posted before about how much I love The Warlord Trilogy by Bernard Cornwell. It is probably my favourite series of books and I have read it several times over the years. That series focuses on the Arthurian legend and the Saxon invasion of Britain. Those books end in a bittersweet way. Most people know the basics of the Arthurian legend and there is only so much Bernard Cornwell can do within that legend, but he does it well. It is the strength of that series that stopped me from reading the Saxon series for so long. I could not bring myself to read about the enemies of the characters I loved from the Warlord Trilogy. Towards the end of January I got over myself and started the series, and I'm really enjoying it (currently on book three).
There are several similarities between the two series. Each is written from the point of view of one central character, who is a warrior serving a Lord. Each central character has a mixed heritage; the Warlord Trilogy has a Saxon raised by the Britons who is fully aligned with the Britons. The Saxon Series has a Saxon captured by the Danes as a child. He is raise by the Danes and comes to love them, even as he finds himself serving a Saxon Lord. Unlike the Warlord Trilogy, the central character here is an untrustworthy and miserable prick. He is written to be quite unlikeable, although he does have moments of honour. I get the feeling there is a slow burning arc for Utred (the main character) and I'm excited to see how the series progresses and I believe there are currently eleven books in it. Overall rating for book 1 is: 8/10.
Critic. Writer. Thinker. Observer. Creator of nowwelive.com.