Book Reviews

Since January 2018, I’ve been reviewing all the books I’ve read, even if only very briefly, as a discipline to make me reflect on what I’ve read, but also to aid my memory of it.  The list below links to these reviews, either on this site or over on GoodReads.

This page also serves as a reading tracker – a list of books I’ve read to give me an overview – so the books are listed in order of my reading them.

I found that Art Garfunkel has been listing every book he’s read since 1968 – he was up to 1195 books  in 2014, which works out to about 26.5 a year.  I aimed to read 24 books in 2015 – see below – but didn’t quite make it having a few fallow spells in the year.

Why do all this?  I’m not quite at the stage of Nilanjana Roy, constructing a lifetime reading plan, but, like her, with less lifetime ahead of me and less free time I am thinking of taking a more focused and considered – at least less random – approach to reading.  Tracking is the first part of that.

Books per Year

I averaged around 17 books per year over 2015-2017 – putting me roughly in the ‘average reader’ category and giving me only a maybe 400-500 book life expectancy left apparently!  (Time to start abandoning books I’ve stalled with or am very slowly slogging through.)

2019 — 26
2018 — 21
2017 — 15
2016 — 16
2015 — 21


2019

September

  • The Pigeon Tunnel, John le Carré (2017)
  • Self Discipline in 1o Days, Theodore Bryant (1999)
  • Conan of Cimmeria, Robert E. Howard (Ed. L. Sprague de Camp) (1974)
  • A Legacy of Spies, John le Carre (2017)

August

July

  • In the Shadow of the Sword, Tom Holland (2012)
  • Wilding, Isabella Tree (2018)

June

May

April

  • Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane (2015)
  • Notes on a Nervous Planet, Matt Haig (2018)
  • The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss (2007)

March

  • Industrial Society and Its Future: The Unabomber Manifesto, Theodore Kaczynski (1995)
  • Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Manifesto, Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine (2009)
  • Willpower, Roy Baumeister and John Tierney (2012)
  • Siddhartha, Herman Hesse (1951)
  • Identity, Francis Fukuyama (2018)

February

January


2018

December

November

September

August

July

June

April

March

February

January


2017

December

November

  • After Europe, Ivan Krastev (2017)

October

July

  • The Sea Raiders, H.G. Wells. (1896)

June

  • The New Western Way of War: Risk Transfer and Its Crisis in Iraq, Martin Shaw (2005)

May

April

  • Submission, Michel Houellebecq (2015)
  • In Siberia, Colin Thubron (1999)

January

  • All That Man Is, David Szalay (2016)

2016

December

  • Realpolitik: A History, John Bew (2015)

November

  • American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers, Perry Anderson (2015)
  • A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, Eric Newby (1958)

September

August

July

  • The Lamentations of Zeno, Ilija Trojanow (2016)
  • Austerlitz, W.G. Sebald (2001)

June

March

February

  • Everyman, Philip Roth (2006)
  • A Sort Of Life, Graham Greene (1971)
  • Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande (2014)

January

  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan (2013)
  • Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, John Gray (2002)

2015

24 Books in a Year
In January of 2015 I finally finished my PhD. For the preceding 5 years or so I’d had very little time for reading outside my specialism, and even within it one learns to take a very mercenary approach to books in particular, using them as tools – at most skim reading and delving only into the most relevant sections of chapters.
Having finished, I resolved to read more, and to feed on a more varied diet of books. I set myself a sort of challenge – to read 24 books in the year. This seemed do-able, but also only possible if I consistently read. I started off with the advantage of an hour long train commute most mornings and evenings, which gave me pretty much two hours a day to read. My selection was mostly unplanned. I had an initial idea of reading one fiction and one non-fiction book every month, but tended towards more non-fiction.
One year on (just under), and I managed 21 books in the year. Here’s what I read, in date order of completion:

  1. The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes (2011): January 2015
  2. Revolt on the Right, Matthew Ford and Matthew Goodwin (2014): January 2015
  3. The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane (2012): February 2015
  4. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari (2014): March 2015
  5. Camus: A Life, Olivier Todd (2015): March 2015
  6. Economics: A User’s Guide, Ha Joon Chang (2014): March 2015
  7. Nemesis, Philip Roth (2011): April 2015
  8. Debt: The First 5000 Years, David Graber (2014): April 2015
  9. Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader, Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre (2015): April 2015
  10. An Intimate History of Humanity*, Theodore Zeldin (2012): May 2015
  11. Mammon’s Kingdom, David Marquand (2014): May 2015
  12. Conversations in Sicily, Elio Vittorini (1949): May 2015
  13. Good Strategy, Bad Strategy, Richard Rumelt (2011): May 2015
  14. The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1958): June 2015
  15. Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman (2012): June 2015
  16. Dirty Faxes, Andrew Davies (1991): July 2015
  17. How Good We Can Be, Will Hutton (2015): July 2015
  18. Post-Capitalism, Paul Mason (2015): September 2015
  19. Money: The unauthorised Biography, Felix Martin (2014): October 2015
  20. The Rise of ISIS, Patrick Cockburn (2014): October 2015
  21. Sir Vidia’s Shadow, Paul Theroux (1998): December 2015

— Started / Ongoing —

  1. Other People’s Money, John Kay (2015)
  2. Everyman, Philip Roth (2006)
  3. A House for Mr Biswas, V.S. Naipaul (1961)

* This is the only one I didn’t finish. About a third of the way through, I just could not make myself read any more. I found it one of the worst books I have ever read: a sequence of pointless, specious and facile over generalisations.
Overall I’m pretty pleased with the result – some of these are very big books, in terms of length and content. I started a new job in September which meant my reading tailed off – no more commute, and a lot more to take up head space. I did find it challenging to get through this many books, having to read so consistently over the year, but it was an enjoyable challenge.