It’s that time of the year again where I reflect on my reading over the course of the year. For a more wide-ranging review of the year in books, check out the coverage at The Millions here. My previous attempts are linked here.
As has been the goal for most of the past few years, at or around two books a month for a total of twenty-four books for the year was the reading target. Unlike previous years, I was open on the subjects, more open than usual to wending my way through the year in books depending on what piqued my fancy at any given time. I’d like to think that shows in the range of subjects and authors covered by my reading this year.
David Epstein’s Range kicked off the year, a fascinating look at the debate around what correlates (or causes) success between being a generalist or a specialist. Not being the unbiased referee – I am after all a purveyor of a niche engineering discipline – I found it hard to swallow the premise that generalists fare better/ triumph. The nuanced view, if there is any, is that the world needs both generalists and specialists, but even specialists would benefit from a broad base of knowledge, delaying specialization to as late as possible.
Carlo Rovelli’s Helgoland was one of several science based history/ biography books I read this year, the others being Helge Kragh’s Simply Dirac and Brian Greene’s Light Falls. Dirac’s Engineering (and Bristol) connections were an interesting subplot as was revisiting Eisenstein’s life as he battled with the theories for which he won a Nobel Prize.
Anyone who has followed me for any length of time on Twitter knows that I am a Pádraig Ó Tuama/ Poetry Unbound fan boy. Having read the hard copy along with inhaling as much of the podcast as I could get, I probably listened to the audio version of the book two or three times in full and several times for specific poems. This genre, of close reads of poetry almost akin to a spiritual practice, is one I have a lot of time for. In addition to the book above, I listened to the audio version of William Seighart’s The Poetry Pharmacy twice at least during the year.
From podcasts I listened to this year came several books from different genres. William Dalrymple and Anita Anand’s Empire led me to the fantastic read that was Sathnam Sanghera’s Empireland. The Holy Post led me to John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One which weighed in on the side of a non-literal seven day creation on the origins debate. Football Weekly led me to Calum Jacob’s A New Formation, an attempt to chronicle the influence black footballers have had on the British/ English game. Philip Yancey’s memoir, Where the Light Fell, was also a delightful read. His gift as a writer of a decidedly evangelical bent seem to be an ability to balance difficult issues which have threatened to tear the church apart.
Another blind spot I will admit to have relates to the big oil industrial complex and energy security, seeing as my livelihood depends (for now) on it. Whilst I have gone on record in the past to say that I think the answer lies in nuclear, it was refreshing to read Vaclav Smil’s How The World Really Works, a hard nosed, pragmatic view of the world’s energy challenges and how they might be solved sensibly.
All told it has been yet another interesting year in reading, one in which I think not having a set direction allowed me meander and pivot depending on what was the burning issue in my mind when I sought to pick up a book. Here’s hoping 2023 is as interesting a year in books for me.