My 10 favorite books 2016
It’s the time of the year for “best of the year” articles. I’m a sucker for these lists, so here’s mine. It draws not from books published in 2016, but from those I read in 2016. In reverse order:
- “The Party”, by Richard McGregor. Take-away: The Chinese Communist Party is the operation system that all other Chinese institutions run on.
“Heretic: Why Islam needs a Reformation Now”, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Controversial and challenges your thinking. And how about this:
The Free Europe Press mailed numerous books to dissidents in Eastern Europe, sneaking their materials past the censors wherever they could. By the end of the Cold War, “it was estimated that over ten million Western books and magazines had infiltrated the Communist half of Europe through the book-mailing program.”
How much did these efforts cost? In the case of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, surprisingly little.
- “Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction”, by Samir Okasha. Good, readable introduction to a topic we all think we know. I excerpt it here.
“Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy”, by Simon Blackburn. Contains gems like:
We return to see this at various points in the book, but meanwhile I can promise that this book stands unashamedly with the tradition and against any modern, or postmodern, scepticism about the value of reflection.
It is quite difficult to detect any universal pattern at all: flexibility rules. Human beings can grow to make killing fields, and they can grow to make gardens.
- “The Language Instinct”, by Steven Pinker. I couldn’t put this book down.
- “Jeder stirbt für sich allein”, by Hans Fallada. I mention it here.
- “Doing Good Better”, by William MacAskill. Recalibrate your objective function.
“Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist”, by Niall Ferguson. Shines when Ferguson provides a feel for the times:
It was 1967. It was the Age of Aquarius. It was the zenith of an extraordinary period of cultural creativity in the Anglophone world that had produced a musical fusion bomb composed of Celtic folk harmonies, the twelve-bar blues of the Mississippi delta, and a few sitar riffs knocked off, in the Great British Orientalist tradition, from Ravi Shankar. On both sides of the Atlantic, four increasingly shaggy Liverpudlians bestrode the charts.
- “Im Westen nichts Neues”, by Erich Maria Remarque. Soldiers in the ditch used the same swear words and played the same card games as us.
- “John Maynard Keynes: Hopes Betrayed, 1883-1920”, by Robert Skidelsky. Among the best books I’ve read. Ever.