Tag Archives: nonfiction

Guns, Germs and Steel

Jared Diamond’s door-stop of a book has been on my to-read list for quite some time. Maybe not quite since it was released over twenty years ago but probably not far from it.

The gist is pretty much there in the title: in the last 13,000 years, the most successful societies used guns, germs and steel to conquer others. Why, for example, was it Europeans who had world-wide empires rather than Africans or Americans or Chinese?

The ideas are laid out in the first few chapters and the rest are used to justify it.

In that sense it’s a very academic work. It’s very, very thorough, perhaps too thorough for a “pop science” book. It could have been half the length without losing any significant ideas.

Like much academic text, the writing could have been better; there were quite a few awkward sentences. But it was clear and the anecdotes livened it up, meaning it wasn’t just a very long paper.

I was aware that some sentences made me cringe a little. I wondered if it had dated badly or just that it’s difficult to write about race without sounding at least a little politically incorrect. Worrying that I’m too PC, I’m practically a liberal caricature.

Having said that, I did enjoy it and I’m glad I finished it. There’s some thought-provoking ideas and answers to questions you maybe didn’t even consider previously and, ultimately, that’s why I read these kinds of book. But I think my next read will be a lighter, fiction book!

Reading 2018

It’s been an interesting year. Half way through 2018 I started working from home basically full time. While that may not sound like it’s relevant, my time on the Tube was my “reading time.”

What I’m saying is: I didn’t reach my twelve book target this year.

I need to do better, allow myself to carve out some dedicated time as I did for exercise. Looking back over my list, I also want to read more fiction. I enjoy novels too much to only read one in a year!

You can read my full thoughts on my reading material by looking through the “Reading2018” tag, but if you want a theme drawing them together it might be “disappointment.” While pretty diverse — covering politics, persuasion and management — many of them didn’t quite live up to expectations.

On the other hand, What if… might be the best pop-science book I’ve read in a while and, in these turbulent times, Factfulness really is an important book. (I generally don’t like that term, so the fact I’m not using it ironically does mean something!)

Even without the library and new acquisitions, I already have a dozen unread books lined up for 2019. Let’s do this!

Factfulness

I didn’t mean to immediately buy Hans Rosling’s “Factfulness“. I saw it in a “recommended reads” list (both Bill Gates and Barak Obama suggested it, if I remember correctly), thought it sounded interesting and went to Amazon to add it to my wish list. Fat fingers meant that I tapped the “buy” button instead.

Anyway. As an antidote to all the bad news around at the moment, I decided to read it right away. The narrative that the world is getting worse by many measures, this book argues, is false. I want to believe that we’re progressing but the pictures on TV of Trump and Brexit, famine and war make it hard to accept.

It starts with a questionnaire and, without wishing to steal the book’s thunder, most people will do incredibly badly at it. Worse, in fact, than merely picking answers at random, or “the chimps” as the book calls it.

I’d like to think that I’m better informed than many, if not than the general public than some chimps, but I still did badly!

The book continues with a list of errors that we all make, examples of them and how to spot and avoid them in the future. It sounds dry but it isn’t. Hans Rosling is humble, keen to draw attention both to where he made mistakes and where he made a difference. If anything, his modesty often sounds misplaced. I think it’s fair to say that he had more achievements than failures.

“I don’t tell you not to worry. I tell you to worry about the right things.”

The curse of this book, if there is one, is that we all think we’re well informed and that we don’t need to read it. The numbers show that we’re wrong. I hope that doesn’t make it the least read, most important book I’ve picked this year!