I’ve been tracking my reading since 2010 or so, occasionally jotting a few notes down in a blog post, on Readmill when it was alive, or on Goodreads. This page brings that information together into one place. Books are listed in reverse chronological order as I have read them.
A ⭐️ denotes that the book is one of the best things I have ever read, typically books that I have been thinking about for many years afterwards.
Burning Bright by John Steinbeck — Compared to most of his other works up to this point, this is a big disappointment. The story felt obvious, and surprisingly slow for such a short book. I didn’t understand the change of setting with each chapter. Not good.
A Russian Journal by John Steinbeck — A small, interesting snapshot of parts of the Soviet Union a couple of years after the end of World War II. I’m not sure how valuable this trip was to a broader understanding in the west, but it’s a worthwhile piece.
⭐️ Brexit Unfolded: How no one got what they wanted (and why they were never going to) by Chris Grey — A superb, concise history of the past five years. Grey presents events as they happened with clarity of thought and logic and doesn’t get distracted from the central narrative. I only wish the future looked more optimistic.
Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson — Another text that I picked up as we think about what returning to the office looks like. Super easy to read, with teeny chapters on a wide variety of topics relating to remote working. I didn’t like the writing style very much, e.g. “[people] might not realize that an interruption to show you the Internet’s latest hit meme is not what the productivity doctor ordered”, but it didn’t prove to be too much of a distraction. There are lots of great points in here and I can see why it is a popular book.
The Public Domain Review: Selected Essays, Vol. I — I wanted to love reading this more than I did. An eclectic selection of very short essays, some of which were fascinating. Would have been useful to have some pointers to going deeper on a particular topic. Will look at picking up further volumes, if only to support the project.
Personal Kanban by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry — Disappointed by this; I was hoping for a book that assumed some existing Kanban knowledge and gave insights into using it for personal productivity, but it was more of an introduction to the theory.
The Long Distance Cyclists’ Handbook (2nd ed.) by Simon Doughty — A very useful guide, albeit a little dated in places. I searched the author’s name and was so sorry to read that he suffered awful injuries when a drunk motorist hit him on his bike in 2006.
Mr Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of the Byrds’ Gene Clark by John Einarson — Such a waste of talent, with an end that comes far too soon. I’m only a couple of years younger than Gene Clark was when he died, and its hard to understand how much damage he did to himself through alcohol and drugs. He seemed to be caught in a loop of being in the wrong place at the wrong time from a career perspective, exacerbated by his tendency towards self-destructive behaviour, lack of self-confidence and unwillingness to promote himself. The fact that No Other wasn’t recognised as a masterpiece in his lifetime, and how much that must have hurt, has parallels with Nick Drake. It was great to learn more about Gene Clark, but it’s a terribly sad story. (See longer blog post.)
The Art Of Being Brilliant by Andy Cope and Andy Whittaker — Abandoned the audiobook after about an hour. Too whimsical and not enough insight or actionable content.
Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu — A vampire novella published 25 years before Bram Stoker’s Dracula. For a reader in 2021 the plot was obvious and not scary at all, but I can see why this is considered an important book given the context.
Forever Employable by Jeff Gothelf — Very short; more of a long essay than a book. Gives a basic framework for how to start building a career around your own personal brand, and a few useful questions to ask yourself before you set out.
The Forgotten Village by John Steinbeck — Weird little book, with every page containing a grainy still of the film of the same name alongside a small snippet of text. Better to watch the film than to read this, but the film isn’t that great either.
Illusions On The Path: Buddhist Thought For Modern Times by Stan B. Martin — Picked this up as it was written by an old colleague and friend of mine. It brought back memories of our conversations all those years ago. I am an atheist, and I think that not believing in a ‘reward’ of an afterlife or rebirth actually leads me to live a more meaningful, purposeful existence. It was interesting to see this conversation surface again in the pages of the book. There’s lots here — history, looking at Buddhism through different lenses, as well as guided meditation practices.
The Pearl by John Steinbeck — A simple, beautiful and tragic tale whose characters are immediately knowable. Steinbeck had written a couple of paragraphs in Sea Of Cortez some years earlier which gave a general outline of the story.
Feminist City by Leslie Kern — Didn’t get what I wanted from this book — to see through a different lens and learn ideas about how cities could be rethought from a feminist viewpoint — but it does serve as a good document of one person’s lived experience.
The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will be Glad That You Did) by Philippa Perry — I picked this up in 2020 but found that getting into bed and having my parental failings mirrored back at me after a long day of dealing with pandemic news as just too much. The advice in here is excellent. Although it’s a difficult read when you compare yourself to the model parental behaviour, the overall advice is that it is never too late to have a better relationship with your children.
Kanban from the Inside by Mike Burrows — A very good reference work that I am glad to have on the shelf. A little dense in places, and read like the author was visibly consolidating all of his knowledge and theory frameworks in one place as opposed to providing a practical handbook or narrative.
A Field Guide To Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit — A book that left me feeling like I wasn’t intelligent enough to appreciate it. Chapters that contained snippets and impressions of life, well-written but didn’t add up to a satisfying whole for me.
The Wayward Bus by John Steinbeck — A day in the life of unhappy, deeply flawed characters that are thrown together by a bus journey and bad weather. The characters aren’t likeable; the enjoyment of the book comes from seeing the difference between how the characters present themselves to others and their internal monologues on their own lives and situations, and the recognition of some of the traits in ourselves. I couldn’t help but think of where Steinbeck was in his own life at the time, into his second marriage that was ultimately doomed to end. Very good.
Team Topologies by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais — Excellent concepts, and I love the idea of deliberately thinking about what teams you have and how they interact. Would love to read more case studies of applying the thinking, especially beyond software.
Agile Estimating and Planning by Mike Cohn — I bought this in 2008 after Dean Leffingwell recommended it to me following a talk at my firm. I only started it in 2020, but I wish I had read it sooner. Superbly written, clear prose. The case study at the end is like a prototype Phoenix Project, brilliantly illustrating the key points. SAFe must have started here.
Acorn: A World In Pixels by idesine — If you have any nostalgia for 8-bit gaming on the BBC Micro or Acorn Electron, you simply have to get this book. It’s beautiful and luxurious, and is about as comprehensive as we are likely to get. 8-bit coders had skillz; being able to fit Sim City into 20KB of usable memory is no mean feat.
A Cure For Gravity by Joe Jackson — Really enjoyed this eclectic musical journey of his early years. There’s more time between when he wrote the book in 1998 and today, as there is between then and the release of his first album Look Sharp! in 1979. His reflections on where music was at the end of the last century are interesting, and I wonder what his thoughts are now that almost every piece of music is instantly available to everyone with an Internet connection. I would love to read a part two.
The End of Epidemics by Dr Jonathan B. Quick — It’s all here. Published in March 2018, I couldn’t help wondering where we would have been if the advice in this book had been heeded. I picked this up soon after we went into lockdown in early 2020 but found that living through the news cycle and reading this at night was too much for me to handle. I came back to finish it at the start of this year. Logical, readable advice for political and business leaders, scientists, healthcare professionals and citizens.
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck — The first bit of ‘light relief’ in my Steinbeck journey for quite a few books. In style, it reminds me of Tortilla Flat which was published ten years beforehand. Although not one of his most profound works, there is a lot in here to love, particularly with his descriptions and personification of things, like the second party held for Doc.
Bombs Away: The Story of a Bomber Team by John Steinbeck — A really strange, interesting work of propaganda that came three years after The Grapes of Wrath. I found it hard to adjust to Steinbeck being so jingoistic and celebratory about the history of US gun ownership and how it contributes to staffing the Air Force with excellent gunners, for example, when a number of his previous works had been about the common, working poor railing against big business and the state. Perhaps the magnitude of events and the need to play a part in a potentially existential crisis overrode everything.
Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage by Susan Shillinglaw — A superb read, giving a real insight into the people involved (and there were more than two of them) without judging. Shillinglaw did an excellent job, particularly given that Carol didn’t keep much of a diary at any point. Steinbeck’s work up to and including The Grapes of Wrath were influenced and, in his words for this book specifically, “willed” by his wife who even suggested the title. I’ve been working my way through the Steinbeck bibliography and stopped off on my journey to read a few different books that discuss this 1930s period; I think that I’ve completed my ‘reading around’ on this for now and will get back to the main body of work.
Politically Homeless by Matt Forde — Bought this on the strength of the author’s excellent podcast. It’s like the ‘director’s cut’ of his backstory that has come up in fragments across the episodes. Enjoyed it so much that I’ve bought a couple of copies for some friends.
The Western Flyer: Steinbeck’s Boat, the Sea of Cortez, and the Saga of Pacific Fisheries by Kevin M. Bailey — A little book that goes deep on the context in which the boat — a ‘purse seiner’ that was hired by Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts for their trip to the Sea of Cortez — existed. It’s incredible how there can be such debate and ‘alternative facts’ from different groups for fish numbers declining over the years. Some groups wouldn’t believe that overfishing was to blame whilst environmental factors might be the issue. Misinformation has a longer history than it seems.
On Reading The Grapes of Wrath by Susan Shillinglaw — The author asserts a few times in the text that the book was written in a hurry to a deadline, and it feels that way. There are some insights here and it was well worth picking up, but I wonder how good this could have been if there wasn’t so much pressure to get it out.
Product Roadmaps Relaunched by C. Todd Lombardo, Bruce McCarthy, Evan Ryan, Michael Connors — Good overview of how to approach a roadmap and use it as a communication and discussion artefact with stakeholders. It is not a plan! Print book paper quality is quite poor for this one.
Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World by Rob Sheffield — Picked this up after hearing the presenters of the Nothing Is Real podcast raving about it. Quite fun, but more about the author’s personal relationship with the band as a thing rather than a history.
⭐️ Shady Characters: Ampersands, Interrobangs and Other Typographical Curiosities by Keith Houston — Fantastic book. Covers a number of well-known typographic characters and digs into their origin and usage. Fascinating. Great writing style with just the right level of humour.
With Steinbeck in the Sea of Cortez by Audry Lynch — A really lovely supplement to the main Sea of Cortez book. This should probably have been attributed to Sparky Enea with Audry Lynch as it is essentially his story, which Lynch put together through hours of interviews. There is much more substance and detail here than in Steinbeck Remembered, another of Lynch’s works that I read recently, which covers a greater expanse of his life at much less depth. There are some fascinating insights, such as the fact that the Western Flyer was hired for $2,500, which sounds like a gigantic sum of money for 1940. Carol Steinbeck doesn’t come across very well, and not just because the men on the trip seemed to assume that she would cook for everyone (she didn’t) I plan to read Susan Shillinglaw’s Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of Marriage to get a much better understanding of this important person in Steinbeck’s life. Hearing that Steinbeck and Ricketts took a bit of artistic licence with the things that happened on the trip when they wrote Sea of Cortez doesn’t take anything away from their story. It’s a tiny book — more of a pamphlet — and well worth a read if you are familiar with the story of the original journey.
The Diving Bell And The Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby — An incredible achievement, but if judged on its own merits without the context it isn’t something that I would go back to.
Tintin In America by Herge — Early Tintin seems to be rubbish. A small book, but I was still aching to get it over with.
The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck — Wonderful novel, apparently set in a Norwegian town that is taken over by Nazis, that examines the futility of the occupation.
Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research by John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts — I read this as a teenager and it bored me, but coming to it for a second time as a fortysomething adult I found it captivating. Steinbeck’s observational, descriptive writing is superb.
Normal People by Sally Rooney — Didn’t enjoy this as much as the recent TV series.
Imagine John Yoko by John Lennon — Lovely detailed coffee-table book all about the period surrounding the Imagine album. I used to live a few miles away from Tittenhurst Park, where Lennon and Ono lived during this period in their lives, and it is fascinating to get an inside look.
If I Could Tell You Just One Thing: Encounters with Remarkable People and Their Most Valuable Advice by Richard Reed — Listened to this as an audiobook. Somewhat throwaway, with the notable exception of Margaret Atwood’s interview.
⭐️ The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck — An incredible book. I’d read it as a teenager, but coming to it again now I found that I once again couldn’t put it down. It really stirred up a hornet’s nest when it was released in 1939 for many different reasons, and reading it you can see why.
The Harvest Gypsies: On the Road to the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck — Such clearly written, simple, powerful and moving articles. Really interesting to get the background and inspiration to The Grapes of Wrath.
Look Back In Anger by John Osborne — Awful.
Biko by Donald Woods — Read this around the same time that I watched Cry Freedom with my children. What an incredible man, and a terrible tragedy for him to have had his life cut short.
The Best of Smash Hits: The 80s by Mark Frith — The memories were better than rereading the original articles as an adult.
The End is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses by Dan Carlin — Effectively the book of Dan Carlin’s excellent Hardcore History podcast. Having listened to every episode so far, many of the themes of the book were very familiar to me, but no less enjoyable for it.
Thornhill by Pam Smy — Surprised at where the story in this book went given that it is promoted in schools. Difficult topic which needs some discussion if it is read by younger children.
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei — Tragic tale of how the USA treated its own citizens of Japanese descent in World War II.
Hostage by Guy Delisle — Excellent. I felt as though I was there with the main character during his captivity.
March of the Lemmings: Brexit in Print and Performance 2016–2019 by Stewart Lee — I love Stuart Lee’s standup, and even attended a 3–4 hour marathon show at the Royal Festival Hall in London some years ago. But I couldn’t get on with this book at all and abandoned reading it.
Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time by Clive James — Incredible book. James collects his thoughts on a lifetime of reading, organised alphabetically by characters from history. He uses each person as a jumping-off point for wider musings on all kinds of topics. I will never be as clever as Clive James.
Much Loved by Mark Nixon — Broken teddy bears and their stories.
⭐️ Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results by Christina Wodtke — Superb, short read if you are looking to understand the world of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). I have taken the advice on running a weekly team ‘wins’ session and have implemented this very successfully at work.
John Lennon: Life, Times and Assassination by Phil Strongman — Conspiracy-theory rubbish. Didn’t finish.
Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton — A reminder of what being young is like, that made me feel old.
Searching for Candy: John Candy: A Biography by Tracey J. Morgan — A love letter to John Candy. Not the greatest work of writing of all time, but a lovely indulgence that I enjoyed.
⭐️ Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck — A masterclass in what a novella should be. Wonderful characters, superb storyline.
Attack of the Flickering Skeletons: More Terrible Old Games You’ve Probably Never Heard Of by Stuart Ashen — Didn’t finish due to terrible formatting in the Kindle version.
To a God Unknown by John Steinbeck — Bizarre, otherworldly story. Really enjoyed this.
Airline: Identity, Design and Culture by Keith Lovegrove — Photos of airline interiors from yester-year. What’s not to love?
Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner — A delightful book that felt let-down by the ending. The pacing, characters and storyline were perfect up to the last chapter. It felt as though the last chapter was rushed in order to fit the book into a particular length. A very quick read.
Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah — Funny, well-written, very enjoyable.
Travellers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People by Julia Boyd — Fascinating read, showing how ordinary life was as the Nazis rose to power.
⭐️ Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking, #3) by Patrick Ness — I read this on the recommendation of my children (aged 11 and 9). All three of the novels had me completely hooked. Top-quality science fiction. Apparently there is a movie in the works and I cannot wait to see it.
The Unknown Kimi Raikkonen by Kari Hotakainen — Very poor. I hoped that he would talk and reveal a lot, but he didn’t.
Office 365 For IT Professionals by Tony Redmond — Reference work, essential if you do much with the Office 365 platform.
Frozen in Time: The Worst Winters in History by Ian McCaskill — Very poorly-written, abandoned.
Panty by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay — Terrible.
Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin — Great insight into Martin’s early years.
Donny Hathaway’s Donny Hathaway Live by Emily J. Lordi — First book of the ’33 1/3 series’ that I’ve read. I love this album, and it was great to read more about it and the artist in more depth.
At the Bay by Katherine Mansfield — Like an impressionist painting. A day in the life of a bay and the people around it. Beautiful descriptive prose, but too short to feel much for the characters; we drop in like a silent drone and leave before we know who’s who.
Be More Pirate: Or How to Take On the World and Win by Sam Conniff — Long, drawn-out metaphor. Lots of hype around this book and it failed to live up to it.
Now the Chips Are Down: The BBC Micro (Platform Studies) by Alison Gazzard — Excellent book on the history and legacy of the BBC Micro, from a number of different angles.
IT Infrastructure Architecture – Infrastructure Building Blocks and Concepts Third Edition by Sjaak Laan — Excellent overview of IT infrastructure, recommended.
⭐️ Lion: A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley — I saw the film, and then went through all of the emotions again when I read the book. What a story.
Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life by Adam Greenfield — Abandoned. Very heavy-going.
The Inside Story of Viz: Rude Kids by Chris Donald — I grew up reading comics, and this included the occasional copy of Viz as a teenager. Fascinating popular cultural history.
⭐️ Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates — Eye-opening.
A Brief History of Crisps by Steve Berry — Poor, cheap Kindle book.
⭐️ Demystifying Public Speaking by Lara Hogan — Excellent advice. Brilliant short book.
⭐️ The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek-The First 25 Years by Edward Gross — Listened to this as an audiobook. Very, very long, but all the better for it. I had been working my way through all of the original series of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation with my boys at the time. If you love Star Trek, get this.
Five on Brexit Island by Bruno Vincent — More amusing than I thought it would be. A well-done short parody that isn’t just a book cover.
Phoenix by S.F. Said — Read this because my 9-year old son asked me to as he had really enjoyed it. This is a lovely introduction to science fiction/fantasy with a gripping story and enough mystery to keep you guessing until very late on in the book. Great narrative, plenty of action and even a little bit of death and romance. Very enjoyable.
DevOps for Finance by Jim Bird — Can’t really argue with this as a free book. Offers a very good, broad and concise overview of the topic with a good focus on Financial Services firms and excellent references to explore more. I would have happily paid for a bigger book with more content of this quality. For example, I’m interested in understanding how off-the-shelf vendor software that is customised and enhanced by the client is handled in terms of Continuous Integration. Need to do some digging because this wasn’t covered in the scope of the book.
Formula One: The Pursuit of Speed: A Photographic Celebration of F1’s Greatest Moments by Maurice Hamilton — On the surface this book looked really good — select photographs from a father and son’s archive spanning their many years of covering the sport with accompanying text from Maurice Hamilton — but having finished it I found myself disappointed. The work is organised into three somewhat arbitrary chapters: driver rivalries, teams and tracks. Although the book is big there are only a couple of pages and an odd paragraph dedicated to each subject, such as a particular driver rivalry, which left me unsatisfied and wanting to know more; but I do accept that an in-depth account is not the point of this book. A couple of pages had me reaching for Wikipedia, for example to look into the very dangerous F1 track at Berne, Switzerland, which I had never heard of before. Given the preamble and forward by Sir Jackie Stewart I was expecting to see lots of interesting, intriguing and revealing photographs but felt disappointed by the selection here. There just weren’t enough new insights from the photos to leave me ‘wowed’ and keep my interest. This book is probably good for someone who has only just started to get an into Formula One and us interested about its heritage as it provides enough jumping-off points for you to explore elsewhere; for long-term fans of the sport I don’t think there is enough here to justify spending on such a big book.
Capote in Kansas by Ande Parks — Good, but felt like it was over as soon as it started. Felt like reading a 10% preview of a much larger work. I knew nothing of Capote, and less about his friendship with Harper Lee. This has whetted my appetite to know more but I suspect there is only the scent of the story here.
Dickens at Christmas by Charles Dickens — Hard not to give this book five stars. A Christmas Carol is here but there is a lot more besides, most of it extremely readable and enjoyable.
Two Ronnies: But First the News by Peter Vincent — Reading this, you realise how much of the fun came from their delivery and laughing at their own jokes. I miss them! I had the occasional chuckle from reading this but mainly it felt pretty dated and tired.
The White Mountains (The Tripods, #1) by John Christopher — I remember this book from my childhood — that is to say, I remember the presence of a scary TV programme where the book was dramatised but I am not sure I read or watched either of them. The descriptions of a post-apocalyptic world are convincing and grotesque; it is a great start and genuinely exciting, but the sudden ending gives it the feel of a longer novel that has been chopped into pieces. I started reading this to my boys (ages 9 and 7) but they didn’t seem to be as interested in it as me. I’m now keen to read the sequels but will probably do that on my own.
1913: The Year Before the Storm by Florian Illies — An unexpected delight. This book takes you on a month-by-month journey through 1913 primarily from the perspective of the arts scenes in Vienna, Berlin and Paris. I encountered many figures I had never heard of before as well as quite a few that I had. Some segments are a single sentence long with others spanning many pages, joined together by a great sense of humour. Many reading sessions were interrupted by going off to search the Internet for a particular artwork or look up a book that was mentioned in the text, opening my mind up to lots of beautiful and interesting things.
Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work by Nick Srnicek — Felt like wading through treacle and gave up about 30% of the way through. Not for me. Need to spend my time elsewhere.
What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe — Clever, interesting, amusing and just the right length so that it doesn’t become tedious. Recommended.
A Race For Madmen by Chris Sidwells — A fine book on the history of the Tour de France. I stopped reading a couple of chapters from the end when we got to the work of fiction that is Lance Armstrong, although the chapter before does a great job of explaining what EPO is/does and why people would use it. I spoke to the author on Twitter and he tells me that there is a revised and updated edition — if you are thinking of reading this, make sure you buy that one!
The Brexit Crisis: A Verso Report by Étienne Balibar — Surprisingly balanced set of essays on the various aspects of Brexit. Some of the viewpoints on the EU have really got me thinking and made me more uncertain of the future than before. The outcome of the vote may still yield good results in the long run, but as we only have one timeline ahead of us it will be difficult to say how the alternatives would have worked out. Well worth the short amount of time it takes to read this, especially when it is free on the Verso Books website.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — Yes, we should.
Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike by William Fotheringham — An enjoyable but frustrating read. The story is completely carried by Merckx’s achievements and unfortunately not by the author’s writing. This is the second book I have read by William Fotheringham and he seems to take a very factual and journalistic approach to his narrative without whipping up a sense of excitement. At times the writing bordered on the annoying; he uses the sentence “It was not that simple, however.” on p.144 followed by “It was not that straightforward, however.” on the next page. There are also two photo sections in the book but every shot is presented without any notes so I have no idea what part of the story they relate to; this kind of oversight made me feel a little bit cheated. For me, the bar for sports writing was set very very high with The Limit by Michael Cannell (which I still can’t believe hasn’t been made into a film yet) — an immensely thrilling read which I couldn’t wait to leave work for just so that I could pick up the book again. Instead this book plods along, giving you all of the key points no doubt, but in a way that didn’t grip me. A shame.
School Wars: The Battle for Britain’s Education by Melissa Benn — This book was written back in 2011 and updated in 2012. Although it was aimed squarely at current affairs and the business of the coalition government and the then education secretary Michael Gove, it is still extremely relevant. There is so much meddling and pursuit of political ideology that continues to impact our schools; it is extremely important that people are aware of what is going on and what is at stake as we move away from accountability to local authorities. Benn’s book covers a lot of ground — the history of our education system, the types of schools that we have today and where politics is taking us in the future. She makes good arguments as to why the current setup with public schools, grammar schools and academies with selective entrance criteria make us all poorer as a society. “The international evidence is equally clear: whether it’s Finland or South Korea or the province of Alberta in Canada, genuinely non-selective education systems routinely top the world league tables. The best school systems are the most equitable, in other words students do well regardless of their socio-economic background. Conversely, schools that select students based on ability at an early age show the greatest difference in performance according to a child’s socio-economic background.” She points out that even parents who send their children to private schools think that they are actually not good overall for society and are somewhat embarrassed by the choice they have made: “When I spoke to the primary-school mothers in Hammersmith and Fulham, they seemed surprised at their own anger at private education. As one mother exclaimed, ‘Close down the private schools. Take away that choice’—and then looked shocked that she had said it. I hear that argument a great deal, and most often, interestingly, from parents who use private education. They are in pole position to understand how it divides society and perpetuates inequality, even when they are personally in thrall to its advantages. Such conversations remain rather hole-in-corner, however, reflecting a peculiar silence in our culture—not about the educational merits and occasional eccentricities of private schools, but about what they do to, and mean for, our society, and the kinds of people they produce and do not produce. Could that silence be in part attributed to the fact that most of the elite in this country, including the most powerful editors, broadcasters and commentators, who largely dictate the terms in which state education is discussed, educate their own children privately? Some choose to denigrate state schools, often to justify their own personal choices; others are embarrassed and prefer to say nothing at all.” All of the text that covers the academisation programme is now more relevant than ever, given the government’s determination to move every state school to this model, away from Local Authority support and directly accountable to the Department for Education. If you want to understand what this means, not just for your particular school but for schools across the country, read this book.
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce — We liked this one. Didn’t capture the children’s imaginations quite as much as some other stories we read recently but it was pretty good.
The Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language by Mark Forsyth — Dipped into and out of this book over a long period of time. The writing is good and very humorous — just enough to keep me coming back — but the format and journey through endless words was too much for a long reading session. Best new word I came across was decognise — the opposite of recognise. “Sorry I didn’t say hello, I decognised you!”
Definitive Saint Lucia (The Definitive Caribbean Guides) by James Henderson — Not bad for a very brief overview but doesn’t go into any detail on the historical contexts front. Not worth the price.
Lost New York by Marcia Reiss — Lovely book of old New York buildings (mainly), ordered chronologically by the years that they became ‘lost’. Not quite as luxuriously presented as the similar ‘Lost London’ book that was published recently, nor as in-depth as the coverage in ‘New York: A Documentary Film’. Nevertheless, a worthwhile read. There are some gems in here and some shockers too—amazing opulent houses the size of a city block were put up by rich characters only to be demolished less than fifty years later. A lot of beautiful buildings have been lost but, like London, a boldness for bringing in the new has surely played a part in the continued success of the city.
The Gershwins by Robert Kimball — A strange book. Large format with lots of pictures, published in the 1970s. This chronicles both Gershwins from their early years. The text is mainly made up of recollections of friends and acquaintances as well as diaries and letters from the Gershwins themselves. This may sound compelling, but it could really do with much more of a narrative to put it in context. The small narrative that was included was mainly very factual and sometimes scant on detail. George’s death is covered very quickly and then Ira’s life afterwards only gets a handful of pages. Unsatisfying.
Varjak Paw (Varjak Paw #1) by S.F. Said — Chosen by my 8 year-old son to read with everyone as he had been loving reading it as a class at school. Very good story, everyone was gripped by it. Serious moments, funny moments and a great ending.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie — For a book that is 80 years old, this is impressive. Sounds dated but not so much to put it completely out of touch with today’s world. There’s a lot of good common sense advice in here illustrated by endless anecdotes and case studies. Fascinated me as much for being an early ‘self-help’ book as much as for the content itself. Worth a look but don’t expect too much.
The Secrets of the Wild Wood by Tonke Dragt — Read this with my boys, aged 8 and 6, straight after finishing The Letter For The King earlier in the year. We absolutely loved both of these books. This definitely feels like a progression from the first novel in many ways—the main character seems to have matured and has a little bit of a love interest, and there are genuinely complex and profound issues tackled such as death, taking another person’s life and Pyrrhic victories. If you’re a family that reads together and enjoys a bit of fantasy and adventure with knights, battles and mysterious lands you will love this, but pick up The Letter For The King first.
Mid-Life Cyclists by Chris McHutchison — An enjoyable, quick read. I was disappointed when I found myself halfway through the book and realised that there were not enough pages left for them to have completed the challenge they set themselves, as it would have been great to hear about it. There isn’t much here in the way of tips and things to learn. It does read well and you feel as if you get to know the main characters and their families a little but I felt it was over before it got started.
Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics 1965-1999 by Paul McCartney — The co-author goes out of his way in the introduction to explain why Paul McCartney’s writings are valid works of poetry. I’m no expert but I would say that there isn’t much in the book that really pushes the case forward on its own merit. Some surprises are present but they are few and far between. The lyrics to ‘Once Upon A Long Ago’, for example, work fine in a song but don’t offer anything extra on a printed page. Worth a flick-through but not a great collection.
I Used to Know That: Stuff You Forgot from School by Caroline Taggart — Short, straightforward book that presents a lot of facts in a lighthearted way.
⭐️ How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business by Douglas W. Hubbard — I need to reread this. Lots of information in here on techniques to make the intangible, tangible.
⭐️ Lesterland: The Corruption of Congress and How to End It by Lawrence Lessig — Great dissection of institutionalised corruption in the U.S. government and what to do about it. Feels like a very important work. Based on what has been happening so far with the next U.S. election I cannot see that anything has materially moved forward. Interesting to read this whilst the Labour Party in the UK have been going through their leadership election and contrasting the U.S. process with how U.K. political parties end up with candidates for the general election. I listened to the audiobook version of this which is a free download on iTunes.
The Graduate (The Graduate, #1) by Charles Webb — Just bizarre! Started straightforwardly enough but seemed to progress into a series of delusions and strange behaviour for all of the main characters. I get the feeling that I am missing something from not knowing about 1960s American culture, e.g. I have no idea what the “blood tests” were for nor why everyone was so keen to get married so quickly. Reads as if it would be better as a stage play. Am yet to see the film—maybe that will make things clearer?! I felt very little empathy for anyone in the story and am not sure if this was what the author intended.
Unreliable Memoirs by Clive James — Quite enjoyable but finishes before it gets started. Didn’t love this as much as I thought I would. James’ anecdotes about his young childhood are much more enjoyable than the whistle-stop tour of his teenage and university years. Will have a look at the reviews of his later memoirs before committing the time to them.
After Midnight by Irmgard Keun — Beautiful writing, so many wonderful quotes. The analysis at the end of the Melville House edition of the book is spot-on as well. Well worth reading.
Red Love: The Story of an East German Family by Maxim Leo — Interesting account of three generations of a family that finds itself ensconced in the GDR after the war. It feels as though we whizz through the years and this gives the book an ephemeral feel—it only occasionally dives more deeply into the emotions of the characters and this makes them feel distant. Perhaps this is the biographer choosing not to second-guess how the others in the story felt and therefore doesn’t cheapen the writing by projecting his own thoughts into them. Am glad I had read Postwar by Tony Judt before reading this. There is a small hint in Red Love that people were scared of what a reunified Germany could mean and Judt’s book provides a lot of context to this issue. I would love to know more about what the changes meant to the people of the GDR—to have their country’s restrictions and institutions dissolve in such a short space of time must have been so exciting, jarring and unsettling. For me, the way in which this affects the author’s parents was the most interesting part and I would have loved to have read about how it turned out.
Rites of Passage at $100,000 to $1 Million+: Your Insider’s Lifetime Guide to Executive Job-Changing and Faster Career Progress in the 21st Century by John Lucht — I picked this book up after hearing it mentioned multiple times on the Manager Tools podcast. This book provides an excellent insight into the world of recruiting and provides invaluable advice for working with recruitment firms and managing your career. The text is very colloquial and the points that are somewhat laboured—this style annoyed me at first but I quickly got used to it a couple of chapters in. Even though the book has a US focus it is still relevant for executives elsewhere in the world. Recommended.
The Second Schleswig War 1864. Prelude, Events and Consequences. by Inge Adriansen — An excellent overview of the war of 1864 including its consequences. Very short read that gives the key facts and essence of the conflict.
When Computing Got Personal: A history of the desktop computer by Matt Nicholson — Really good, short but comprehensive overview of the personal computing revolution. Follows the essential threads of the times and doesn’t just focus on the well-known big names of today.
⭐️ Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale by Jez Humble — An excellent book. There is so much in here, so clearly explained. Brings together a number of disparate modern concepts related to working in and managing IT in a large organisation. I have made hundreds of notes and now need to find a way to develop these ideas within my own firm. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot by Richard Wiseman — Well-written but I found the format got quickly tiresome and I wasn’t motivated to pick it up and carry on with it. Not as many revelations in the book as I was hoping for.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Gene Roddenberry — This book compliments the film in that it gives a greater insight as to what Kirk had been up to and how he came to take command of the Enterprise again as well as offering more of an understanding of who Decker was. The end of the book seemed completely rushed to me though—the description of the Enterprise crew finding what was really at the centre of the life form was nowhere near as effective as the film. The book finishes very abruptly and has an unsatisfying ending which is a shame. A quick read—not an amazing one but worth it if you are a big fan.
Project Retrospectives by Norman L. Kerth — Useful text on running retrospectives, albeit from someone who seems to do this work on a full-time basis. Bottom line: for a retrospective to be useful you need three days. The book contains an overview of the whole process as well as a ‘cook-book’ of exercises you can use in various situations, including when a project has completely failed.
Raising Boys: Why Boys are Different, and How to Help them Become Happy and Well-Balanced Men by Steve Biddulph — Over before it gets started. There are a few pearls of wisdom here but nothing revolutionary. Has given me a few things to think about and talk over with my wife in terms of how we will approach particular issues and subjects as our children grow.
Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience by Shaun Usher — Some fantastic correspondence in here, lovely Christmas gift!
Fifty Bicycles That Changed The World by Alex Newson — A very short book with good general insights. I now understand why people would want to own more than one bike!
Infographic Guide to Cycling by Roadcycling UK — A very quick read. Interesting facts but makes me want to look up more information!
Wisdom Hackers by Various — A generally interesting read. More like a curated selection of medium-length reads than a consistent whole. Highlights for me were the staves on alter egos and capitalism, although the latter highlighted a lot of points without making any viable suggestions for solutions.
⭐️ Great Expectations by Charles Dickens — An absolute joy. I thought I was familiar with the story from having seen so many productions of this on TV and film over the years. It turns out that the story, and the telling of it, is so much better than I hoped for. I now understand why Dickens is revered so much. There is so much humour and poignancy in the text and it is so readable that I couldn’t wait to pick it up again. Unreservedly recommended.
⭐️ Bright Lights, Dark Shadows: The Real Story of Abba by Carl Magnus Palm — On a hunch I picked up an audiobook copy, £7.99 from Audible.co.uk with a monthly subscription, and I’m very glad I did. At just over 26 hours in length it is a bit of a commitment but it is well worth it—listening to the book felt just like an extension of the audio tour that we took around ABBA the Museum which is exactly what I was after. The story is very interesting and goes far beyond just a chronological sequence of events in the lives of the group. There are touchpoints with Swedish and European cultural history such as in the ‘schlager’ song traditions that they started out with and which where intertwined with the Eurovision Song Contest. Their tale is closely woven with Polar Music and in particular their manager and early songwriting partner Stig Anderson, someone who had such an impact on Sweden that he was given a televised funeral which is traditionally something reserved for ‘distinguished statesmen or royalty’. The story reflects the decades in which it takes place, for example the focus on songwriting and music publishing in the 1960s and 1970s and how this changes as we moved into the 1980s and beyond as well as the ABBA revival in the 1990s that was kicked off by Erasure and the multitude of tribute acts. I finished the book on the way home from work and like any good story I’m sad to finish it. If you’ve an interest in popular culture, pop music or just like long and detailed biographies then it is well worth the time.
The Iron Man by Ted Hughes — Read over five nights with my two boys. I remember reading this at school years ago. Had forgotten all about the space-bat-angel-dragon! Brilliant.
The Little Book of Values: Educating Children to Become Thinking, Confident, Responsible and Caring Citizens by Julie Duckworth — Very quick read. We’re adopting this in the school at which I am a governor so I thought I should read it. I’m not an educator but this gave me food for thought, especially the story about shouting.
The Chimp Paradox: The Acclaimed Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness by Steve Peters — Pre-reading for a work course I am attending this month. Not bowled over by it—there are some insights that would have been useful to me when I was 19 years old or so but I felt as though I understood a lot of what the book had to say beforehand. Not sure about the model—with all of the moons etc. it’s a lot to hold in your head and I think I’d need to keep the reference diagram handy to remember all of the components.
DC Essentials: Batman: The Killing Joke #1 by Alan Moore — Disappointed at how short this was after all the hype.
⭐️ Traveller of the Century by Andres Neuman — As a love story, this book is brilliant. The romance at the centre of the book is so well described—it doesn’t just linger in the world of fairytales but also presents a reality of how people behave both alone and with each other as their relationship begins and develops. I found the book a little difficult to follow in the dazzling array of literary references the characters made when conversing with one another, but this didn’t make it any less enjoyable. In terms of downsides the only things for me were the lack of development of some of the characters and the way in which some of the sub-plots never turned into something more substantial. It may be that with more distance from the book that I understand why they were there and the value they added to the story but it isn’t immediately clear. Overall, a very worthwhile novel.
⭐️ Kanban in Action by Marcus Hammarberg — Excellent introduction to the concepts of Kanban. I learnt so much. The book is very well-written and explains topics in just the right amount of detail with plenty of references to articles and books if you want to go deeper. Recommended.
A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary by Alain de Botton — Good short, amusing read. Reminded me of a Clive James narrative.
Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 by Tony Judt — 43 hours of unabridged audio. Not only does Judt incorporate all of the major elements of the history of Europe from 1945 to 2005 (much of which I didn’t know or had little idea about), he also weaves the narrative together effortlessly. Understanding the roots of the European Union and Europe’s approach to the war in Yugoslavia were particularly interesting given current events and it helps enormously to view kings happening today in context of what has gone before. Very worthwhile.
Land’s End to John O’Groats Self Help Cycle Guide by Royston G. Wood — For £2 from the author’s website you can’t go wrong. This is a quick read and goes into just enough detail about the planning and experience of a bike ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End. Some of the material in the middle of the book on planning a route with Google Maps is possibly now out-of-date—I would use the Strava route planning tool and take advantage of data from a massive number of cycle rides—but the majority of it I am sure is timeless and is good, practical advice for getting yourself ready. Has given me a lot to think about.
⭐️ The Beatles: All These Years: Tune In by Mark Lewisohn — Finally finished this book this morning and so sad to have got to the end. Took me about three months or so to plough through both parts of the entire extended edition. There is so much detail here but it never feels laboured or tedious, everything has a point that adds to the story. It’s fantastic. If you can afford it, go for this version—I paid about £39 total for both parts of the extended edition as an eBook and am glad I didn’t just go for the ‘regular’, abridged book. As soon as part two comes out, I’ll be putting other things aside and diving in. Can’t wait.
The BFG by Roald Dahl — The kids absolutely loved this. So much shorter than I remembered from when we read it at school. What can be more fun to read about than a whizzpopper?
Portfolio and Programme Management Demystified: Managing Multiple Projects Successfully by Paul Rayner — My first impressions of this book weren’t that great; the cover looks very serious and it isn’t a cheap book so the extremely jokey style in which it was written was quite jarring against my expectations. That said, there is lots of good advice in here which clearly comes from years of experience of running traditional IT projects, programmes and portfolios. Unfortunately there isn’t much in here relating to portfolio management when some of your projects are following an agile process. Overall not bad, but I am hoping that there is something better out there.
⭐️ The Principles of Product Development Flow: Second Generation Lean Product Development by Donald G. Reinertsen — An amazing book. I can’t help thinking that this book contains lots of the ingredients to the secret sauce that would make my organisation work much more effectively and successfully. The author states himself that it is lacking in practical implementation detail — this is appropriate as the concepts apply to many different situations — but I would dearly love to read how people have gone about it.
Photograph by Ringo Starr — Lovely set of photos taken by Ringo over the years. Great use of iBooks technology. I just wish it was longer!
Markdown by David Sparks — Useful introduction to Markdown that makes full use of iBooks features such as embedded screencasts and audio files. Less content than I was hoping for and was a shame that I couldn’t easily pause/seek on the audio excerpts. I definitely learned a couple of things and am convinced Markdown is the right way to write.
The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim — Really interesting concept to structure this as a novel. The authors paint a very persuasive vision of the future and now have me thinking about how my colleagues and I can get to where the characters in the novel did.
Becoming Agile: …in an imperfect world by Greg Smith — Brilliant book. I have a feeling that I am going to keep this within easy reach for some time to come and it may end up being one of those rare books that I re-read. Takes agile concepts and makes them practical. I feel like I can now see a way forward as to how we make a start on becoming agile within my department and will be putting this into practice over the next few months.
Writing On The iPad: Text Automation with Editorial by Federico Viticci — Great introduction to the power of Editorial on iOS. Well worth £1.99 from the Apple iBooks store. Contains links directly to workflows put together by the author that you can install with a button-press into the Editorial app. Wondering if this will get me into updating my out-of-date and very stale WordPress blog sometime soon…
⭐️ The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt — Bought this to read to my children but they are a bit too young for it, probably more suited to 8 year-olds and upwards. I, however, enjoyed it very much! Not the sort of book I would usually pick up. A fun adventure of a young knight-to-be as he goes on a long and dangerous mission whose secrets are revealed along the way. (Update: We read it together a couple of years later. They loved it!)
I Was Jack Mortimer by Alexander Lernet-Holenia — Gripping short story about a taxi driver in Vienna, set over a couple of days in the 1930s. Romance, murder, sex and intrigue. Very good.
All You Zombies by Robert A. Heinlein — Picked this up after hearing Dan Benjamin recommend it on one of his podcasts. Strange little story.
Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s by Tom Doyle — Good, readable overview of Paul’s exploits in the 1970s. Not overly critical or harsh, reads like it presents a balanced view of his highs and lows. Would have loved to have had more detail, but perhaps that’s another book. If you’re reading the eBook, be sure not to miss the photos at the end, after the index!
Scaling Software Agility: Best Practices for Large Enterprises by Dean Leffingwell — I’ve had this sitting on my bookshelf since 2008 after Dean Leffingwell came to speak at my firm and now wish that I had read it sooner. (Thanks to my ScanSnap, iPad and Readmill I finally got around to it!) Offers both a solid introduction to agile as well as recognising the inherent problems of applying the techniques across many teams in a large organisation. Has given me lots to think about.
Laika by Nick Abadzis — Engrossing, well-written and tragic. Brings the story to life. Poor old Laika.
Do the Work by Steven Pressfield — Didn’t do a lot for me. Not keen on the style and the advice is too directional without explaining anything.
British Highways and Byways from a Motor Car by Thomas D. Murphy — A surprisingly readable account of an early road trip across Great Britain. The author has seen vastly more of my own country than I have and his account has given me itchy feet that want to take me to see more. He visits countless churches, stately homes, abbeys and cathedrals on the way and must have been exhausted by the end of his adventure. Overall, as he might have said, ‘quite agreeable’.
The Subterranean Railway by Christian Wolmar — Interesting read but quite dry. Am sure I read a similar book a few years ago but it was before the time I was logging my reading so can’t remember what it was! There are better histories out there, you’ll need to look for them.
The Perfect (Ofsted) School Governor by Tim Bartlett — A compact and worthwhile read for new school governors.
The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico — Strange little book that finished before it got started. I’m sure there’s lots to read about the context in which it was written, given that it was first published in 1941. Found this copy after we moved into our house, it contains petals from a flower picked long ago as well as a handwritten note to the owner in July 1945.
The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas L. Friedman — I wish I had read the most up-to-date copy of this book. My edition was published in the mid-2000s and it starts out with a narrative on technological innovations that already seems a little outdated. However, the book goes on to explore broader themes of globalisation and offers some good insights and theories into why certain groups prosper and others do not. A worthwhile read.
Pryor Convictions: and Other Life Sentences by Richard Pryor — This guy led a seriously wild life and I am sure that not even a few percent of his hellraising is documented in this book. He’s clearly funny, but also tragic — in many ways a product of his upbringing, where he came from and his childhood experiences as well as the choices he made for himself. I want to go and listen to the albums as I’m sure I’ve never really heard the best of him.
It’s Hello from Him by Ronnie Barker — Ronnie Barker was one of my favourite comedians and I will forever be in love with The Two Ronnies. Barker’s life seems to be one full of hard work but no seismic events, at least as he has portrayed it here. I can’t think of a reason to recommend this book to anyone who isn’t already a big fan. A pleasant read but quite non-eventful.
The Duel by Anton Chekhov — The Melville House imprints of these books have so much additional material (over half of the book!) that you forget a lot of what the story was about by the time you get to the end. Having said that, this is an interesting and engaging tale that is probably significantly elevated by the historical contexts and illuminations. Great Russian characters to be found here.
The Train by Georges Simenon — Believable story of a man caught up in the early days of the German invasion of France.
The Safety Net by Heinrich Boell — So glad to have finished this, felt like an almighty slog. This book made me feel stupid (and perhaps I am); I had little grasp of what the hell was going on for the first third of the book and it didn’t get a lot better after that. So many characters, oblique references to size 38 shoes and milk errands and chapters that gave you no idea who was narrating until some way in. Pah.
Everest 1953: The Epic Story of the First Ascent by Mick Conefrey — Fascinating. Adventure old-school style.
Fred Astaire by Benny Green — A strange book. Large format like the kind of book you would give to children but the language of the author is quite complex; he also doesn’t hold back on his opinions.Whizzes through Astaire’s career at lightning speed. Lots of black and white photos. The quality of the book seems somewhat dated now. Contains extensive listings of all of his stage shows, films and audio recordings.
Chess by Stefan Zweig — Enjoyable novella. Who knew chess could be so exciting?!
⭐️ Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig — I could not put this book down. Completely captivating. The story veers from situations which invoke empathy, cringing, dread, disgust and serenity on the part of the reader, sometimes in the space of a few pages, and leaves you questioning yourself. Immensely readable.
Darth Vader and Son by Jeffrey Brown — Amusing Fathers’ Day gift. Quick read!
After Mandela: The Battle for the Soul of South Africa by Alec Russell — This is an excellent book for anyone who wants to understand the dynamics of key issues in recent South African history. Despite the title, the author does a good job of explaining the relevant historical contexts that led up to the challenges of the past two decades. Reading Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom beforehand is recommended if you want to go even deeper into the history.
Lennon Remembers by Jann S. Wenner — Classic interview, must have been conducted in 1970 or thereabouts.
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris — Didn’t really float my boat. Found the random potpourri of stories a bit tiresome towards the end and didn’t find the stories that amusing. Difficult to warm to the characters when you get fleeting glances of them and it jumps around so much.
⭐️ Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do: A Manager’s Guide to the Social Web by Euan Semple — Good book for those looking at their firm ‘going social’. I wish I had a few copies of this a couple of years ago when we started dabbling with internal status updates and links. Has motivated me to think about blogging again.
⭐️ After the Gold Rush: Creating a True Profession of Software Engineering by Steve McConnell — This is brilliant stuff and I have no idea why it is not discussed more. Do we need to wait until we have a massive public accident — the equivalent of bridges falling down — before software development is ‘forced’ to become a true profession?
Identity by Milan Kundera — Really enjoyed the book, right up to the last couple of chapters where things seemed to go off piste a bit too much and came to an end a bit too soon for me. The book was written in 1996 and the absence of anyone in the story having a mobile phone is notable — when somebody goes out there is no way of quickly telling where they are and I kept thinking “just phone or text them!”
Project Reviews, Assurance and Governance by Graham Oakes — A useful book. Found it a little repetitive and feel that it could have been a lot more compact. Would recommend Rescue The Problem Project over this one although I will probably be referring to both in the future.
Rescue the Problem Project: A Complete Guide to Identifying, Preventing, and Recovering from Project Failure by Todd C. Williams — An excellent book. There is so much good advice in this text, I had to resist highlighting even more than I did. I think I will be using this as a reference guide for many years to come. Thank you to those on Twitter that recommended it to me.
Page 1: Great Expectations by Lucienne Roberts — Interesting book. A collection of the work of seventy designers who have been asked for their take on the first page of Dickens’ Great Expectations. The results range from ‘straightforward’ exercises in typography and layout to the completely abstract.
The John Lennon Letters by John Lennon — An interesting book for the hardened Lennon fan although not quite as insightful as I was expecting. If you don’t know anything about John Lennon’s life, start elsewhere and come back to this one.
⭐️ Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada — An amazing book that fascinated me even more when I read the history of the author and the real-life characters the novel is based upon. Written in 24 days and published after the author died, based on a husband and wife that tried to resist the Nazi regime from inside Berlin. I found it very difficult to put down.
The Duel by Heinrich von Kleist — I think this was a short, interesting read — however the book finished a quarter of the way in and there was three times as much supplementary material to get through. Am becoming well-versed in the politics and skills of duelling!
⭐️ The Big Necessity: Adventures in the World of Human Waste by Rose George — An important book that demonstrates both the importance of sanitation as well as the fact that it is far from being a solved problem, even in modern cities. Well worth a read.
The Business of Investment Banking by K. Thomas Liaw — Not impressed. This book feels like it didn’t have a very good editor. Some parts are completely pointless (e.g. closing share prices for a few investment banks on one day in 2005) and others assume knowledge of certain events and concepts that it renders this a difficult text for a beginner. I can’t recommend it. Disappointed for such an expensive book.
Chocky by John Wyndham — I remember watching the TV series in 1984 when I was 7 years old and remember how scared and fascinated I was. The book is less scary than the TV series (take a look at the opening titles on YouTube!) and doesn’t contain quite as much drama but it is still an enjoyable read.
⭐️ Estates: An Intimate History by Lynsey Hanley — As much a personal story as the story of council estates. Fascinating reading and has got me thinking about my attitudes towards estates and the people that find themselves living in them.
100 Lost Rock Albums From The 1970s by Matthew Ingram — Well worth a look based on the few albums I have heard so far. I now have a bounty lined up in Spotify to work my way through. Plus, there’s a big fat ‘notable mentions’ section with even more albums to check out!
I Want It Now! a Memoir of Life on the Set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory by Julie Dawn Cole — A lovely memoir of a wonderful film. Contains lots of original photos and copies of handwritten postcards and letters. There’s a lot more in here than I expected.
⭐️ The Limit: Life and Death in Formula One’s Most Dangerous Era by Michael Cannell — Absolutely fantastic book. Historical non-fiction, but reads like a novel. Would recommend this even if you are not a fan of motor racing. Brilliant.
The Postcard Century by Tom Phillips — Finally finished this wonderful book! A really splendid selection of postcards across 100 chapters, one for each of the years from 1900 to 1999. Each card is by its nature ephemeral and yet there are threads and cross-references running through the pages. Excerpts of the senders’ messages are transcribed under each card and are sometimes just as interesting as the images themselves. A joy.
Fitness for Geeks: Real Science, Great Nutrition, and Good Health by Bruce W. Perry — Turns out there is no substitute to watching your diet and engaging in physical activity. Some good insights behind the science of nutrition and exercise, however I got a bit lost in the detail. Would be useful to pick this up again as a reference book if I ever commit to a health regime.
A Life with Books by Julian Barnes — Little (meta-)book/ pamphlet that I picked up next to the till at Daunt Books. Glad I’m not alone with being addicted to buying books faster than I can read them.
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson — An amusing yarn, very readable. Not the best or most profound book I’ve ever read but enjoyable nonetheless.
The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas by Ariane Sherine — An enjoyable read of many chapters contributed by many people with an atheist viewpoint. Some chapters are brilliant, some are skippable but all are pretty short. Made me laugh out loud in places.
Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison by Joshua M. Greene — Worthwhile as it offers a different perspective from the typical biography, with a focus on George’s spirituality. The book is well-written, if a little dry and factual. Some of the recollections of what was said in certain situations feel a little unbelievable when told without directly quoting someone who was there and I found this distracting.
Elite: The Dark Wheel by Robert Holdstock — Great memories of reading this as a child when I was an avid Elite player on my Acorn Electron and later my BBC Micro. The story is better than I remembered.
Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun — An inspirational joy. I did not expect to find this book even half as enjoyable as it turned out to be. If you are a public speaker of any kind or are a regular attendee of talks, read this book.
Clea by Lawrence Durrell — A worthwhile read if you have worked your way through the other books in the quartet, otherwise go back and start at Justine! This book is perfect in its development of the characters. It has a nonchalant air relative to the intense drama of the earlier novels. Very enjoyable.
Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload by Mark Hurst — Recommended given that this is a free download from Amazon. For non-geeks this is a very useful text, for geeks it’s worth a few minutes to skim-read it. The book is a few years old now and could do with a bit of a refresh given its subject matter.
The Lazy Project Manager: How to be Twice as Productive and Still Leave the Office Early by Peter Taylor — Awful. Really dislike the jokey style. 20% in and I don’t think the book will teach me anything new.
The Train Was On Time by Heinrich Boell — Absolutely loved this. Short, fascinating, tragic, lovely and charming. Works on a number of levels which is summed up excellently in the afterword.
slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte — Useful for inspiration when putting together a presentation. Felt like it scratched the surface of the topics it covered. Primary focus is on ‘presentations’ in the old-fashioned sense where someone is standing in front of an audience; made me realise that in my work we mainly produce ‘slideuments’ and I am not sure the book covered the contexts for when this is appropriate.
Mountolive by Lawrence Durrell — This book is just as good as Balthazar that preceded it in the quadrilogy. It is also the first to tell a thread of the story from a different character’s perspective. Really enjoyable. I’m not sure how much this would stand up on its own without reading the first two books so I suggest starting there first.
Pete Townshend: Who I Am by Pete Townshend — If you’re a fan of The Who or Pete’s solo work this is an essential read. Disarmingly honest and readable and a unique insight into the life of a fantastic musician.
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes — Subtle and somewhat charming. I didn’t find the conclusion very satisfying or profound but this was quite an enjoyable read.
The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing by Richard Dawkins — Very readable collection of excerpts from modern scientific works, broken out into four sections covering ‘What Scientists Study’, ‘Who Scientists Are’, ‘What Scientists Think’ and ‘What Scientists Delight In’. As well as learning quite a bit, I found some of the descriptions of scientific phenomena to be incredibly elegant and beautiful. A great read.
Balthazar by Lawrence Durrell — After the slow and at times confusing start with Justine, this second book in the Alexandria Quartet is a very compelling read. It now feels as though the story has found its feet. Humorous, tragic, romantic and profound. Recommended, however do read Justine first!
⭐️ What It is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes — Picked this book up on the recommendation of Dan Carlin in his Hardcore History podcast. I’ve always considered myself a pacifist and this has given me a lot to think about. Not only does it describe what it is like to go to war but also offers thoughts on how the military, parents and wider society should change to reduce spiritual problems of dealing with violence and conflict. Very good.
Justine by Lawrence Durrell — Will need a little time to reflect on this book. Starts off in a very impressionistic style with tiny fragments of the story and then builds a grander narrative. Full of intrigue. I’m looking forward to reading the other three novels in the quartet.
On Seeing and Noticing by Alain de Botton — Picked this up to sample de Botton’s work. It’s a good, very quick read with interesting views on a variety of topics such as the honesty of relationships, airports, going to the zoo and the boring-ness of Zurich. Will try one of his full-length books at some point.
The Project Management Coaching Workbook: Six Steps to Unleashing Your Potential by Susanne Madsen — This book is different in that it approaches the reader as someone who has had a little project management experience and wants to hone their skills. It does not teach the basics of project mgmt but instead looks to help you improve your abilities through observation, assessment and application of different techniques. Very good. (Disclaimer: I know Susanne and read an early draft of this book.)
⭐️ Moonshot: The Inside Story of Mankind’s Greatest Adventure by Dan Parry — A wonderful book. Dan Parry interweaves the story of the Apollo 11 mission with the events that led up to it to make an immensely readable and engrossing story. There were so many things mentioned in the book that gave me an “Oh, yes! I hadn’t thought of that” moment. All the while I am still in disbelief that they achieved what they did with 1960s technology. Amazing.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton — Picked this up as I completely love the 1939 film adaptation. Unfortunately this was a real let-down – it’s a very quick read and has none of the depth and substance of the film.
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber — An amazing and important book, offering genuine fresh perspectives on not only the history of debt but also human relations in a wider context. Very readable and thoroughly recommended.
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald — A very enjoyable read with a few big twists and turns. Beautifully written.
Beautiful Data: The Stories Behind Elegant Data Solutions (Theory In Practice, #31) by Toby Segaran — Thought-provoking collection of essays about different aspects of data. The book was a bit slow to start but soon picked up and covered a variety of thought-provoking topics. Although I feel that it just scratched the surface and the whole book isn’t greater than the sum of its parts, frequent changes of subject with each chapter worked to its benefit and kept me interested.
Queen Unseen: My Life with the Greatest Rock Band of the 20th Century by Peter Hince — Memories of a roadie who worked for Queen in the 70s and early 80s. Didn’t find the book to be particularly great. Not much learned about the band themselves, more about the anecdotes of stuff that happened on tour.
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber — A very quick read. Lots of great advice in here that you can immediately pick up and start using as a parent. The book feels like there is a lot of self-congratulatory ‘dressing’, however a lot of this is in the form of case studies which help to reinforce the material. I feel like I will need to reread this sometime soon to reinforce my understanding. Definitely worth a read.
⭐️ How Music Works: A listener’s guide to harmony, keys, broken chords, perfect pitch and the secrets of a good tune by John Powell — Excellent introduction to the technology and science behind music. I learned lots from the majority of this book such as the relative qualities between different instruments and the reasons why volume isn’t just additive based on the number of players. Recommended to anyone who loves music and wants to find out more.
Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville — A great read. Comical, absurd and dated and yet you can put yourself in the shoes of the author as he wrestles with himself. This version has a variety of related articles which doubles its length. Some of this was extremely interesting but others I found very hard-going and inaccessible. I recommend the book on the basis of the novella alone which was very enjoyable.
A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World by Gregory Clark — Very interesting book – unusual theories (at least, to me) with LOTS of data to back them up. Would have been a useful book to have around during A-Level Human Geography and Economics with its talk of Malthusian economies and standards of living. Unfortunately this book felt like a bit of a slog to me and it as taken me a year to finish it. Interesting, nonetheless.
Lost London: 1870 – 1945 by Philip Davies — Fantastic book of old photos of lost London. It’s great fun to sit there with Google Street View open to see what the places look like today.
⭐️ Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen — I originally read this book five or six years ago and can honestly say it changed my life. Asking “what’s the next action?” and putting tasks into contexts are immensely powerful techniques and the book does a great job of explaining these (as well as lots more besides). Re-reading was very useful in seeing where I have got to with my personal system — not bad, could always do better!
Living in the Material World: George Harrison by Olivia Harrison — Gorgeous collection of photos and quotes of and about George Harrison. I’ve read a lot of Beatle-related books and so many of these photos were new to me. Great presentation. Some of the chronology leaps around a bit but they do well to cover the cornerstones of George’s life in 400 pages as well as keeping a feeling of intimacy.
The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman — First time I have read a proper adult graphic novel, on my friend Marc Sobel’s recommendation. So much more depth than I was expecting, felt like reading a short novel. The personal nature of the story was very effective — it was strange at first to read about the creation of the book in the story itself but this was very clever. Not sure it conveyed the scale of the tragedy but this is probably impossible
Life on Air: Memoirs of a Broadcaster by David Attenborough — ‘Read’ this in unabridged audiobook form, read by the man himself. A real treat — he has led such an amazing life. I can remember a lot of the scenes and animals that he talks about from The Living Planet onwards and in some cases can’t believe how long ago the series were released. Didn’t realise he was controller of BBC2 for a time, very interesting to learn about his life. Worth a read.
George Harrison by Alan Clayson — A worthwhile read if you have not read much about George’s life before. I didn’t warm to Clayson’s style in that he comes across as quite judgemental and acerbic at times, however others may find this direct approach to be refreshing. The appendices felt a little out-of-place and there isn’t anything about his death (contrary to the back cover). Other than that, it’s pretty good.
⭐️ The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg — Fantastic book. Started out as a bawdy romp and at some point turned into what felt like a horror film. It’s amazing to think how old this book is and yet how much of the structure has made its way into horror movies. Struggled a little with some of the olde English but the Readmill ‘define’ feature solved most of those problems for me. Definitely worth reading.
⭐️ A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens — A good quick Christmas read. Amazed at how closely A Muppets Christmas Carol followed the story and how much dialogue came from the book. I found it impossible not to picture Fuzzy Bear as Fozziwig.
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer — Listened to this as an audiobook and completed the 57 hours in about 2-3 months. It’s an excellent read although felt far too detailed in places — we seemed to be stuck in late summer 1939 forever — and not detailed enough in others. The actual ‘fall’ of the third reich is covered relatively briefly. A star has been knocked off due to the outrageous (to modern ears) homophobia expressed by the author and the foreboding words written about what the future may hold in the afterword, written in 1990.
The Handbook of Program Management: How to Facilitate Project Success with Optimal Program Management by James T. Brown — Very readable book with tons of tips for program an portfolio managers. Recommended.
Las Vegas: An Unconventional History by Michelle Ferrari — Basic glossy overview of the key events in Las Vegas’ history. A very quick read. Enjoyable. Not comprehensive.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque — Amazing book, so tragic. Like Birdsong but written many years before. Has been great to read this while listening a lot to PJ Harvey’s ‘Let England Shake’ album as both are filled with tragedy and despair. Our grandparents went through so much.
South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami — First book in a long while that I found I couldn’t put down. Loved it. Unsatisfying ending but I guess that anything else would not have done.
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman — A rare foray into Sci-Fi for me. I picked up a copy of this following recommendations from two of my colleagues. Was a good, enjoyable read but not great and not as profound as I was expecting.
Ringo Starr by Alan Clayson — This is an excellent biography of Ringo Starr with lots of detail both on the man himself but also the times in which he has lived (so far!). Alan Clayson is a biographer who is never afraid to bring his personal opinion into his writing and when he does he makes it clear that the opinion is his own; this adds some colour to the book and gives it more context.
Incredible Years Trouble Shooting Guide by Carolyn Webster-Stratton — Excellent book on good parenting techniques. Recommended.
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre — A must-read.
Notable earlier reads
Esio Trot by Roald Dahl — Dubious morality in this tale. Couldn’t finish it without explaining to the kids that I didn’t think it was great that someone tricked someone else into marrying them!