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My top books of 2022
Each year I try to read at least 100 books, for no other real reason than because reading is broadly a useful and interesting thing to do and 100 is a nice round number.
I figured that if I consistently reached 100 books per year, then over a decade I would be able to read 1,000 books. And since 1,000 is an even nicer round number than 100, that seems like a rather worthwhile goal.
In practice, my reading target normally means I start by taking on ambitious biographies and long-form histories in January, but by October I'm powering through novellas, poetry compilations and anything else under about 250 pages.
One good thing about trying to read lots of books each year is that I get to read widely on all sorts of interesting topics.
I tend to read a lot more non-fiction than fiction, but have tried to start to balance that out recently.
It won't surprise anyone who knows me that I keep a database of everything I read, so drumroll please..
📊 Some key stats for the books I read in 2022:
Average publish date was 2010
Oldest book read was published in 1855 (Song of Myself by Walt Witman)
9 books were published in 2022
Top 5 books of 2022
Some of my favourite books I've read this past year include the following:
Quantum Economics: The New Science of Money (David Orrell)
David Orrell is a Canadian mathematician who has some strong opinions about the state of the Economics profession (reader, he's not a fan. See his other book Economyths: 11 Ways Economics Gets It Wrong). A decade after the financial crisis Orrell rightly argues that economics has lost its way and needs some fresh thinking.
Orrell's thesis is twofold, firstly, that Economics sees itself as the science of scarcity when it should be about the science of money, a concept which has been overlooked in much of mainstream economic theory. And secondly, when you take a closer look at money, it is a phenomenon that has a quantum nature of its own, and can be best understood by applying principles from quantum mechanics.
For example - the concept of wave-particle duality in quantum mechanics posits that a quantum entity may behave like a wave until it is observed, at which point it behaves like a particle. It's a complicated idea to get your head around, until you consider that there are some real-life scenarios that are very similar. Take real estate: a property doesn't have a price until it is sold, and yet may change in value dramatically between sales. When the value of a property is not being observed it may behave like a wave function, responding to factors acting upon it, but when it is "observed" (i.e. a transaction is made to put an offer on the property to purchase it) it then behaves like a particle, with a defined value.
What I loved about this book was the way Orrell draws parallels between quantum theory and how we think about money, which is a fascinating way both to learn more about quantum theory and think critically about economic dogma. Would highly recommend this book or any of David Orrell's other works.
Entangled Life (Merlin Sheldrake)
Merlin Sheldrake (who sounds like he should be the substitute Herbology teacher at Hogwarts) has written this hugely entertaining exposé about everything you didn't realise you needed to know about fungi.
Sheldrake takes the reader on a deeply-researched and somewhat poetic tour of lichen, yeast, psychedelics, and much much more. He charmingly describes mycelium, the network of threads that make up a fungi, as "ecological connective tissue, the living seam by which much of the world is stitched into relation."
By the end of this book there is a profound appreciation of just how much we don't know about one of the fundamental types of life on our planet, and it contributes to a real sense of wide-eyed wonder.
If, like me, you thought fungi had something to do with how things rotted down but were ignorant of the vital importance they can play to therapy, medicine and emerging technology, then you will very much enjoy this book.
The Dawn of Everything (David Graeber & David Wengrow)
David Graeber was an American anthropologist and anarchist who sadly passed away in 2020, widely known for his 2018 book Bullshit Jobs that looked at the existence of meaningless jobs and the harms they inflict on society. David Wengrow is a British archaeologist and Professor of Comparative Archaeology at UCL, and together David and David have written one of the meatiest (stacking up at over 700 pages) and most provocative challenges to established historical paradigms.
The book starts by arguing that the popular view on how Western civilization developed, as set out by authors like Jared Diamond, Steven Pinker, Francis Fukuyama and Yuval Noah Harari, is out of step with anthropological and archeological evidence. They then proceed to provide this evidence in spades, and show a host of various political models, including societies that switched between authoritarian and communal systems with the changing of the seasons.
The authors paint a picture of a much more diverse and nuanced picture of "development" than what is conventionally understood, and point to how our world has lost three social freedoms that were once common: the freedom to escape one's surroundings and move away, the freedom to disobey arbitrary authority, and the freedom to reimagine and reconstruct one's society in a different form. It's a well-argued and strongly-evidenced book, and suggests that much can be learned by looking into our history to find alternative models of organising society and managing political power.
Invention: A Life (James Dyson)
Everybody's favourite vacuum cleaner inventor shares his story in this enlightening autobiography. Famously, James Dyson made
5,127 prototypes of what would ultimately become his hugely popular cyclonic vacuum cleaner, and he shares how success was far from guaranteed in the early days of building his eponymous company.
Reading this book worked its magic on me: I'm now the proud owner of a V15 Detect that makes me genuinely look forward to cleaning. More importantly though, Dyson's anecdotes about what it was like to build such a successful consumer technology brand in the UK reveals much about what it is to be an entrepreneur, the state of the tech industry in the UK, and how the UK's inability to navigate the EU's regulatory regime meant that British firms were regularly outmanoeuvred by French and German rivals.
I remember one point in the book, where once Dyson has made his fortunes he is asked by a similarly wealthy acquaintance when he will stop working - which points to a fundamental difference between British and US cultures. In Dyson's experience, many wealthy people in the UK often don't actively work once they have built successful and established business. According to Dyson, many of his peers choose to live off their passive income where possible, compared to somewhere like the US where titans of industry like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk are driven to continually reach new heights. Maybe there is something in that which can help us understand why the UK hasn't fostered as many hyper-successful tech giants as the US?
Everyone is Everyone Except You (Jordan Hamel)
This last one is brilliantly weird and wonderful. Jordan Hamel was the 2018 New Zealand Poetry Slam champion and represented NZ at the World Poetry Slam Champs in the USA in 2019.
His debut poetry collection is eclectic, modern, and hugely entertaining. I laughed out loud at least a dozen times reading this short collection, and would recommend it to be read widely.
One highlight was You’re not a has-been, you’re a never was! which is a great example of Hamel's biting wit, and begins thus:
I used to think I was meant for great things until I nearly died choking on ‘Very Thin’ Vogels watching The Mighty Ducks: D2 after chairing a Flash Fiction Zoom conference.
Like God reaching into to my Scrabble-bag mouth dropping mixed-grain marmite letters onto my iPhone spelling out ‘stick to poetry’ immediately ending the game and the indoor rhino stampede.
You get the gist. Witty, weird and wonderful.
Full list for 2022
Below is the full list of what I read in 2022, in the order I read them through the year:
Diamonds, Gold, and War - Martin Meredith (Non-Fiction, 2007)
The Lords of Strategy - Walter Kiechel III (Non-Fiction, 2010)
The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West - David Kilcullen (Non-Fiction, 2020)
Masters of Scale: Surprising Truths from the World's Most Successful Entrepreneurs - Deron Triff, June Cohen, and Reid Hoffman (Non-Fiction, 2021)
Just Deserts: Debating Free Will - Daniel Dennett and Gregg D. Caruso (Non-Fiction, 2021)
Quantum Economics: The New Science of Money - David Orrell (Non-Fiction, 2018)
Einstein's Unfinished Revolution - Lee Smolin (Non-Fiction, 2019)
The Mythical Man-Month - Frederick P. Brooks, Jr. (Non-Fiction, 1995)
Exponential: How Accelerating Technology Is Leaving Us Behind and What to Do About It - Azeem Azhar (Non-Fiction, 2021)
Entangled Life - Merlin Sheldrake (Non-Fiction, 2020)
The Platform Society: Public Values In a Connected World - José van Dijck, Thomas Poell, and Martijn de Waal (Non-Fiction, 2018)
The Antisocial Network - Ben Mezrich (Non-Fiction, 2021)
Hivemind: The New Science of Tribalism in Our Divided World - Sarah Rose Cavanagh (Non-Fiction, 2019)
The Rules of Contagion: Why Things Spread--And Why They Stop - Adam Kucharski (Non-Fiction, 2020)
The Hype Machine: How Social Media Disrupts Our Elections, Our Economy, and Our Health--and How We Must Adapt - Sinan Aral (Non-Fiction, 2020)
The Art of Statistics: Learning from Data - David Spiegelhalter (Non-Fiction, 2019)
How To Live Like Your Cat - Stéphane Garnier (Non-Fiction, 2017)
Invention: A Life - James Dyson (Non-Fiction, 2021)
The Future of British Politics - Frankie Boyle (Non-Fiction, 2020)
The Power of Geography: Ten Maps that Reveal the Future of Our World - Tim Marshall (Non-Fiction, 2021)
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics - Carlo Rochelle (Non-Fiction, 2014)
Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams - Matthew Walker (Non-Fiction, 2017)
Do Humankind’s Best Days Lie Ahead? - Malcolm Gladwell, Steven Pinker, Matt Ridley, Alain de Botton (Non-Fiction, 2016)
Moneyland: Why Thieves And Crooks Now Rule The World And How To Take It Back - Oliver Bullough (Non-Fiction, 2018)
Butler to the World: How Britain Became the Servant of Oligarchs, Tax Dodgers, Kleptocrats and Criminals - Oliver Bullough (Non-Fiction, 2022)
Uncommon Wealth - Kojo Koram (Non-Fiction, 2022)
Matchmakers: The New Economics of Multisided Platforms - David S. Evans & Richard Schmalensee (Non-Fiction, 2016)
This Is Your Mind on Plants - Michael Pollan (Non-Fiction, 2021)
Ten Cities that Led the World: From Ancient Metropolis to Modern Megacity - Paul Strathern (Non-Fiction, 2022)
The Status Game: On Social Position and How We Use It - Will Storr (Non-Fiction, 2021)
Platform Scale - Sangeet Paul Choudary (Non-Fiction, 2015)
The Strategy of Conflict - Thomas C. Schelling (Non-Fiction, 1960)
Why Do Smart People Make Such Stupid Mistakes - Chris Merrington (Non-Fiction, 2011)
Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It - Gabriel Wyner (Non-Fiction, 2014)
The Circle - Dave Eggers (Fiction, 2013)
And Finally: Matters of life and death - Henry Marsh (Non-Fiction, 2022)
Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals - Oliver Burkeman (Non-Fiction, 2021)
The Age of Unpeace: How Connectivity Causes Conflict - Mark Leonard (Non-Fiction, 2021)
Do Deal: Negotiate better. Find hidden value. Enrich relationships - Richard Hoare & Andrew Gummer (Non-Fiction, 2022)
Why the Dutch are Different: A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands - Ben Coates (Non-Fiction, 2015)
Drown - Junot Díaz (Fiction, 1996)
Our Souls At Night - Kent Haruf (Fiction, 2015)
Real Estate - Deborah Levy (Non-Fiction, 2021)
Notes on Grief - Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (Non-Fiction, 2021)
Books v. cigarettes - George Orwell (Non-Fiction, 1946)
Luminous Moments - Paul Callaghan (Non-Fiction, 2014)
Money Made Simple - Sam Stubbs (Non-Fiction, 2022)
Committed Writings - Albert Camus (Non-Fiction, 1960)
Thorndon: Wellington and Home: My Katherine Mansfield Project - Kirsty Gunn (Non-Fiction, 2014)
I know this to be true: Nelson Mandela - Sello Hatang & Verne Harris (Non-Fiction, 2020)
Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time - Dava Sobel (Non-Fiction, 1995)
All Tito’s Children - Tim Grgec (Fiction, 2021)
Funkhaus - Hinemoa Baker (Fiction, 2020)
Everyone is Everyone Except You - Jordan Hamel (Fiction, 2022)
100% Pure Future: New Zealand Tourism Renewed - Sarah Bennet (ed.) (Non-Fiction, 2020)
A Child's War: The German Occupation of Guernsey - Molly Bihet (Non-Fiction, 1999)
The Story of Peking Man - Penny Van Oosterzee (Non-Fiction, 2001)
William Massey - W. J. Gardner (Non-Fiction, 1969)
False Divides - Lana Lopesi (Non-Fiction, 2018)
Automation and the Future of Work - Aaron Benanav (Non-Fiction, 2020)
Ruth, Roger and Me: Debts and Legacies - Andrew Dean (Non-Fiction, 2015)
The Struggle for Sovereignty: New Zealand and Twenty-First Century Statehood - Margaret Wilson (Non-Fiction, 2015)
The First Migration: Māori Origins 3000BC - AD1450 - Atholl Anderson (Non-Fiction, 2016)
The Edge of Life: Controversies and Challenges in Human Health - Mike Berridge (Non-Fiction, 2015)
Amnesty - Aravind Adiga (Fiction, 2020)
On Coming Home - Paula Morris (Non-Fiction, 2015)
Liberty - Virginia Woolf (Non-Fiction, 2017)
Seven Pillars of Science: The Incredible Lightness of Ice, and Other Scientific Surprises - John Gribbin (Non-Fiction, 2020)
Haerenga: Early Māori Journeys Across the Globe - Vincent O’Malley (Non-Fiction, 2015)
Fragments from a Contested Past: Remembrance, Denial and New Zealand History - Joanna Kidman, Vincent O'Malley, Liana MacDonald, Tom Roa and Keziah Wallis(Non-Fiction, 2022)
The Fox - Frederick Forsyth (Fiction, 2018)
Heatwave - Victor Jestin (Fiction, 2021)
Alexa, what is there to know about love? - Brian Bilston (Fiction, 2021)
In the Garden: Essays on Nature and Growing - Various (Non-Fiction, 2021)
The Fell - Sarah Moss (Fiction, 2021)
The Dawn of Everything - David Graeber & David Wengrow (Non-Fiction, 2021)
Assembly - Natasha Brown (Fiction, 2021)
Wilfred Owen (Poets of the Great War) - Wilfred Owen (Fiction, 2014)