Monday, 1 February 2021

Good books 2021

Over the summer holidays we like to blob out and read, and I've caught up with some great titles.

In economics, top of the list are two excellent books, Zachary D Carter's The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes; and Matt Ridley's How Innovation Works. I've also enjoyed Daniel Markovits' The Meritocracy Trap (and in the same area I've got Michael Sandel's The Tyranny of Merit: What's become of the common good? lined up); and next on the runway will be Robert Skidelsky's What's Wrong with Economics? A primer for the perplexed. Tim Harford's How to Make the World Add Up: Ten Rules for Thinking Differently About Numbers focuses on the behavioural biases we bring to statistics, and is likely to prompt you to have a go, if you haven't yet, at Daniel Kahneman's fascinating Thinking Fast and Slow.

In biography, I hugely enjoyed Fredrik Logevall's JFK: Volume 1, 1917-1956, where the story reaches JFK's (in retrospect fortunate) failure to get the Democratic vice-presidential nomination in 1956 and his decision to go for the big one in 1960. Volker Ulrich's second volume, Hitler: Downfall, 1939-1945, necessarily has more military history than the politics and personalities of the previous Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939, but is also a good read. We've been blessed with some great biographies in recent years: try Ron Chernow's Grant (Ulysses S, that is), or Charles Moore's three-decker biography of Margaret Thatcher.

In politics, I defy anyone not to enjoy Sasha Swire's ringside view of the Cameron years, Diary of an MP's Wife. Still in the UK, both Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire's Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn, and Tom Bower's Boris Johnson: The Gambler, are well worth reading. Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends will get you thinking about the origins of polarisation, populism and demagoguery, and dovetails nicely with Ian Dunt's How To be a Liberal.

And in history I'm well into Ritchie Robertson's enormous The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness 1680-1790, and when that's finished I'll be starting Katja Hoyer's Blood and Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German Empire 1871-1918. If you've any nostalgia for hereditary rule, Martin Rady's The Habsburgs: The rise and fall of a world power will put you right. While you're wandering around central Europe, try Richard Fidler's The Golden Maze: A biography of Prague

After all that highbrow fare, I confess my fiction tastes run to private eyes and the more intelligent espionage thrillers. This summer's haul included the third in Glen Erik Hamilton's Seattle-based Van Shaw series, Every Day Above Ground, Peter Hanington's A Single Source (an oldstyle BBC Radio journalist gets caught up in illicit arms smuggling during the Arab Spring), Henning Maskell's After the Fire (he's best known for his Inspector Wallender books, this is a one-off), and Liz Moore's A Long Bright River (Philadelphia policewoman on trail of someone killing young women,and her drug addict sister is one potential target). I'm halfway through Cecilia Ekb√§ck's very well written The Historians, set in the murky politics of WW2 Sweden.

I'm a big fan of the physical book. I like the heft, the shape, the smell of a new book. Our house is stacked with them. So I've had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the idea of a Kindle. But now that I'm there, I have to say, it's terrific. See a good review, and you can have the book on your Kindle a few minutes later. It's great on a plane or anywhere else bulk comes into consideration. While I'll never begrudge the price of a good book, and I'm still reading both physical and digital versions, the Kindle price for the e-version is quite handy, too.  And if your partner's sleeping habits aren't synchronised with yours (ours aren't), with a backlit Kindle you can keep reading in bed when the lights are off.

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