Books I think I read in 2019
An unreliable reading memoir
The Knowledge Illusion, Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach. Cognitive scientists explain why everyone knows a lot less than they think. Good and chastening intro to the topic.
Dreaming The Beatles, Rob Sheffield. Free-wheeling and uneven but overall really good with many brilliant, perceptive insights.
The Shortest History of Germany, James Hawes. Excellent. I want to read it again. Lucidly written.
Finite and Infinite Games, James Carse. Rather too gnomic for me but the essential concept is a powerful one.
Other Minds, Peter Godfrey-Smith. The octopus as an alien intelligence. Starts well although after a while my attention drifted like one these creatures through the ocean.
The Adversary, Emmanuel Carrere. Strong recommend. Gripping, dark true story with profound implications. Carrere is a first-rate storyteller and thinker.
Paris To The Moon, Adam Gopnik. Re-read this for my sojourn in Paris earlier this year, thoroughly enjoyed it, so many brilliant sentences.
The Metaphysical Club, Louis Menand. Superb. One of the best books of intellectual history I’ve ever read. The section on the impact of Darwinism alone is worth the entry fee.
Knowing Mandela, John Carlin. Very good short book. If you want an introduction to Mandela the man and the politician, this is it.
Eve’s Hollywood, Eve Babitz. So damn good. What a voice, so free and fearless and funny.
Inventing The Individual, Larry Siedentrop. Still working my way through this, veeery slowly, which is not to say I’m not enjoying it, because I am.
Bad Blood, John Carreyrou. As good as everyone says, actually exceeded my expectations.
Help! The Beatles, Duke Ellington and the Music of Collaboration, Thomas Brothers. Lots of interesting observation even if ultimately it felt like a jamming together of two separate books.
Brunelleschi’s Dome, Ross King. Somewhat interesting, although perhaps more so if you’re an engineer.
Normal People, Sally Rooney. I mean you’ve probably read it, what can I tell you?
The Spy and The Traitor, Ben Macintyre. A contender for my book of the year, certainly in terms of pure reading enjoyment. Mind-blowing true story, masterfully told.
U & I, Nicholson Baker. Witty, exquisitely written miniature.
Ride of a Lifetime, Robert Iger. Not brilliant but pretty interesting as these books go. See my review.
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson. This one comes absolutely festooned in prizes and praise and not once does anyone mention how incredibly dull it is.
The Scottish Enlightenment, Arthur Herman. Another contender for book of the year. Basically a history of Scotland from 1600 with emphasis on its world-changing ideas. Fabulous.
Talking To Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell. Very enjoyable as ever, see my forthcoming New Statesman profile of MG for more.
Range, David Epstein. Among books in the “Gladwellian” genre of ideas-based non-fiction, this is best-in-class. Deeply researched, hugely interesting and stimulating.