Six months of reading

Fri, 14 Jul 2017

The last six months has been a particularly enjoyable and productive time in terms of reading, though I think my ‘to read’ list has still grown rather than shrunk.  A lot of the books are aimed towards getting me ready to go back to University in September, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend all of these to everyone I know, but I still thought some people might be interested in what I've read so far this year (in chronological order).


Leaving Alexandria, by Richard Holloway (UK) (US)

I enjoyed this thought-provoking memoir by the former Bishop of Edinburgh - it didn’t shy away from difficult questions of imperfect faith in an imperfect world.  

Think Like a Freak: Secrets of the Rogue Economist, by Levitt and Dubner (UK) (US)

An easy read which gave me a few interesting insights, though I’ve possibly read enough of these kinds of books that I’ve started to find this kind of thinking normal rather than freakish.

The Unseen World, by Liz Moore (UK) (US)

A surprisingly emotional novel about a girl, Ada Sibelius, struggling to understand the world and how she fits into it.  

Doing Good Better, by William MacAskill (UK) (US)

This was a great book on effective altruism and how best to make good decisions in your career and in life.  I blogged about it here.

The Rage against God, by Peter Hitchins (UK) (US)

Journalist Peter Hitchins, brother (and opponent) of atheist Christopher Hitchins, writes of the harm that arises when humans attempt to destroy God, with particular reference to the Soviet example.

Algorithms to Live By, by Brian Christian (UK) (US)

This book, subtitled The Computer Science of Human Decisions, highlights the parallels between the decisions computers make and those that we make.  

100% Christianity, by Jago Wynne (UK) (US)

This is aimed at Christians, particularly those who may be struggling to see why Christianity matters and how it can change our lives today, even in a city like London.  

The Econocracy, by Joe Earle and Cahal Moran (UK) (US)

I really enjoyed this analysis of how economics has become the preserve of experts, taught to unquestionably accept assumptions that are wrong, and how we might make economics better reflect our values.  I blogged about it here.

Building the New American Economy, Jeffrey Sachs (UK) (US)

I read this after attending a talk by the author and found it good, if a bit light on detail - it talks about the potential to make the US economy smarter, fairer and more sustainable.  

Honesty, by Seth King (UK) (US)

Although quite depressing, I enjoyed this novel of two young men coming to terms with themselves and first love in the southern states of America.

Gay, Straight and the Reason Why, by Simon LeVay (UK) (US)

Many people (both conservative and progressive) hold their views on sexual orientation (and gender) as a matter of faith, but in reality it is something that science is learning more and more about, and I was keen to learn what we actually know and what we’re still finding out.

Different Eyes: The Art of Living Beautifully, by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann (UK) (US)

A short book on Christian ethics, but I ultimately found it a bit forgettable.

The Boy made of Blocks, by Keith Stuart (UK) (US)

A beautiful story from the point of view of a father, struggling to cope with a son with autism.

Dear Lupin, by Roger Mortimer (UK) (US)

For several years I had been meaning to read this collection of letters from a father to his son, but I found it quite disappointing - hard to relate to either the father or the son.

Rethinking the Economics of Housing and Land, by Ryan Collins, Lloyd and MacFarlane (UK) (US)

An excellent book on one of the biggest challenges to society - why standard economic approaches fail to lead to good outcomes.  I blogged about it here.

The Philosopher’s Toolkit, by Julian Baggini (UK) (US)

This book from my pre-course reading list was good for learning some of the terms and approaches used in philosophy.

A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith, by John Rawls (UK) (US)

20th century philosopher John Rawls is most famous for his Theory of Justice, which I confess I haven’t yet read, but I found his final undergraduate dissertation thought-provoking, particularly his contrast between the natural/objective and the personal perspectives on relationships.  I disagreed with some of the logic and conclusions (as subsequently did Rawls), but it has shaped my thinking.

From Bacteria to Bach and Back, by Daniel Dennett (UK) (US)

This is a very recent book which gave me a good overview of biological, cultural and technological evolution, and the helps inoculate the reader against the overly simplistic perspectives that can easily entice thinkers in this field.

Free Will, by Sam Harris (UK) (US)

This is a very short book, and ultimately quite disappointing - much more focussed on criticising other viewpoints than providing a clear alternative.

Doughnut Economics, by Kate Raworth (UK) (US)

The best book of the list - it considers how many assumptions of standard economic are increasingly harmful, and how we could do better in the 21st century. I blogged about it here.

Conversations on Ethics, by Alex Voorhoeve (UK) (US)

This was another book of my university pre-reading list.  It is presented as a set of conservations with quite a broad range of contemporary philosophers.  Some I had read of, some were new to me, but I enjoyed seeing the range of perspectives.

The Zero Marginal Cost Society, by Jeremy Rifkin (UK) (US)

This book optimistically describes how technology and collaboration will lead to a transformation of capitalism.  The start was a bit of a struggle, but it got much better.

Natural Justice, by Kenneth Binmore (UK) (US)

I was introduced to Binmore by Conversations on Ethics, and he is definitely my kind of philosopher - pragmatic, rational and aware of the limitations of any model.  In this book he proposes that much of what we consider ethics arises from societal coordination problems, allowing us to analyse it using game-theory approaches.  I blogged about this book here.

Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination, by Corvino, Anderson and Girgis (UK) (US)

The news these days is full of stories highlighting the tension between maximising liberty and minimising harm to individuals, particularly with respect to free speech and discrimination.  I found this book helpful in directing my thinking, though ultimately I have come to quite different conclusions than either the position proposed by Corvino, or that proposed by Anderson and Girgis.

The Precariat, by Guy Standing (UK) (US)

If The Zero Marginal Cost Society was a touch optimistic, the Precariat makes much more depressing reading; it describes a world in which a majority lack hope and genuine opportunity, for too many reasons to hope for a simple solution.  

I Was told to Come Alone, by Souad Mekhennet (UK) (US)

This got a good review in The Economist, and I wasn’t disappointed - German-born journalist Mekhennet describes her life experiences and efforts to understand the rise of Jihadism in the Middle East and in Europe.  

The Retreat of Western Liberalism, by Edward Luce (UK) (US)

Also picked up based on a review in The Economist, this consideration of the challenges the world is going through (eg Brexit, Trump, fake news) had some interesting thoughts, but I struggled to get a clear message from it.