Books, 2019

There have been some great books these last few years that I’ve finally managed to get around to. Here are some of my favourites so far.

How to Change your Mind by Michael Pollan - This is such a tricky subject to write given that most first-hand accounts of psychedelics and hallucinogens tend to be mystical and tedious to read. Pollan manages to write about the subject while making genuine inroads into our understanding, or lack thereof, of consciousness. The book is accessible, entertaining - he includes an entire chapter on ‘tripping’ on a variety of drugs - and very informative.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safron Foer - Ever since we got a dog, I’ve been somewhat queasy about eating meat, especially the four-legged variety. While the book can put off the more avid meat-eaters among us, there are some compellingly documented reasons to be wary of of factory farming, the cruelty it inflicts on animals and it’s impact on the environment. There’s an interesting counterpoint to ‘nature is cruel’ argument as well that I found particularly insightful. If anything, the book has been directly responsible for me giving up KFC and staying away from lamb, beef and pork over the last few months.

The People vs Tech by Jamie Bartlett - Technology giants are an easy target and writing about evil algorithms and smartphone addiction is in vogue and lucrative; however, the point needs to be hammered home. I found Bartlett’s book a bit too on-the-nose but still riveting - he paints a picture of how we got here and how our reverence for technology has blinded us to it’s impact on democracy. It’s bleak and provides little hope much like another book I read this year.

The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace Wells - This is both one of the best and worst books I’ve read in the last few years. Wells paints a bleak picture of the horrors of climate change and how we’re programmed to ignore slow decimation. He tackles the unfairness of climate change - the countries that shoulder the most ‘climate guilt’ will see the least impact and the best case scenario that he (and the IPCC) paints isn’t ideal - a 2.5 degrees increase is still catastrophic - but the worst case scenario is downright depressing. There are some optimistic takeaways but they’re mostly relegated to the last few pages. I’d say this was essential reading especially for those that believe the invisible hand of the market or increased awareness will save us.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang - Chiang returns with a book of science fiction short stories (following Stories of Your Life) that are entertaining and mind-expanding. There are some genuinely excellent stories here especially, ‘The Lifecycle of Software Objects’ and ‘Anxiety is the Dizziness of Feeling’.

The Overstory by Richard Powers - This book is full of such rich detail, especially the first half where it paints elaborate portraits of its varied protagonists. As with most books I’ve read this year, the environment and our impact on it is a major theme.