So summer is almost here once again. In Madrid we haven’t reached 40 degrees, like last June. I normally finish at the end of June, but this year I need to start my reports and the World Cup has just started, and so this will be my last post until the autumn. Now is a great time to catch up on reading. Here are some of the books I am thinking of reading over the summer:
The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken – Anonymous
I love law and am looking forward to this critical insider’s account of the current state of the criminal justice system in England and Wales. Writing under the pseudonym of The Secret Barrister was originally a successful blogger. It is not a positive view:
“Walk into any court in the land, speak to any lawyer, ask any judge and you will be treated to uniform complaints of court deadlines being repeatedly missed, cases arriving underprepared, evidence lost, disclosures of evidence not being made, victims made to feel marginalised and millions of pounds of public money wasted”.
Chicago – David Mamet
David is better known as a playwright and screenwriter. I haven’t read of his three previous novels, but I have seen a number of the films he’s been involved in: The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Verdict, House of Games, Untouchables, Glengarry Glen Ross, State and Main, Heist and The Winslow Boy. His fourth book, his first in 20 years, is a story set in prohibition era in the Windy City.
Heavens on Earth – Michael Shermer
I am a big fan of the sceptic Michael Shermer’s work. Since reading Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time some twenty years I have read The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense, How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science, The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule, The Mind of The Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics, The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths and The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom. Apart from liking long titles, he is an excellent proponent of the sceptical point of view. In this book he goes in search of what drives our belief in life after death. He does explore religious worldviews, but he seems especially interested in the scientific quest for immortality, the world of extentionists, extropians, transhumanists, cryonicists, and mind-uploaders. I did read Mark O’Connell’s To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death last year, but I am looking forward to getting Shermer’s take on this. In last year’s summer reading I mentioned that I had been panning to blog about the singularity. I still haven’t got round to it and at this rate I think it may arrive before I actually write about it.
The Black Book – Ian Rankin
I am gradually working my way through Rankin’s oeuvre; this is the fifth Rebus novel, which came out in 1993. After one of his colleagues is brutally attacked and left in a coma John Rebus finds himself in a case involving “a hotel fire, an unidentified body, and a long-forgotten night of terror and murder”.
The Vietnam War- Ken Burns
This is the companion book to the Ken Burns’ Vietnam War ten-part documentary series on PBS. I am a big fan of Burns documentary work and this will help me remember this powerful series, which looks at the conflict from multiple perspectives.
A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in the Trash – Alexander Maters
The author Alexander Masters is an author, screenwriter, and worker with the homeless. I haven’t read Stuart: A Life Backwards, his unconventional biography of Stuart Shorter. As the title implies, the book begins with Shorter’s adult life, going back in time through his troubled childhood, examining how his family, education and disability shaped his life. The book I’m planning to read, A Life Discarded is from 2016. The source of this biography was the 148 diaries that Masters’ friends Dido Davies and Richard Grove, both Cambridge professors, found in a skip. The anonymous author was a prolific diarist, who averaged 2,500 words a day.
Rethink – Steven Poole
I am really interested in innovation and have done a number of posts about its importance. In this book The Guardian’s Steven Poole argues that innovation and progress are often achieved by going back to old ideas and revamping them. The ultimate message seems to be if you want to change the future, you need to begin by looking at the past.
Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Skin in the Game is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s fifth book, and I think I have read the previous four – Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, The Bed of Procrustes and Antifragile. In his latest work Taleb argues for the importance of players having skin in the game. This is the idea that they should have something at stake, something to lose.
Taleb is not a fan of fund managers that get a percentage on wins, but no penalty for losing, or the war hawks don’t themselves bear any risks of dying during a war which they have championed.
Frankenstein in Baghdad – Ahmed Saadawi
I don’t know too much about this book, but it seems to have transferred Mary Shelley’s work to the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq. The main character Hadi is a junk peddler who starts to bring home body parts, left in the streets from the day’s explosions. Feeling they deserve a dignified burial, he begins to stitch these bits together. If he can create a whole corpse, he hopes someone will bury it.
Anyway have a great summer and I’ll be back in early October.