2017 Reading Diary

As the New Year begins, we all look back on the year that's passed, reflect on what was lacking, and implement change. For me, 2016 was a year in which my reading schedule featured little more than scholarly journal articles relating to Russia, US sanctions and Central Asia. Beyond that, I was gripped with a bunch of excellent long-form journalism inspired by the US election. But my bookshelf remained under-explored: each night, a suite of great works lay waiting, frustrating me to no end as I pushed them aside for something more immediately satiable. 

I know some reading blogs offer more substance. Australian politician Tim Watts, for example, reads a book a week according to his excellent Blogging the Bookshelf. I've even heard some self help gurus claim they devour a book a day to keep them on top of their game.

Well, unfortunately I am only human, my days only have so many hours, and my willingness to sacrifice all social and professional commitments for a great page turner is not quite there. So I thought in 2017 I'd pursue a relatively modest, and certainly achievable target: 20 great books, well and thoroughly consumed.

This is more a personal journal for future reflection, and to encourage self discipline. 

My 2017 list is as follows:

  1. Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson. 
  2. The Rise and Fall of Nations, Rachir Sharma 
  3. The First Fleet, Rob Mundle.
  4. Rubicon, Tom Holland. 
  5. Ghost Empire, Richard Fidler.
  6. The River at the Center of the World, Simon Winchester. 
  7. The Romanovs, Simon Sebag Montefiorte
  8. Black Wind, White Snow: The Rise of Russia's New Nationalism, Charles Clover.
  9. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, Peter Frankopan. 
  10. Nudge, Richard Tahler & Cass Sunstein.
  11. A Time of Gifts,  Patrick Leigh Fermour
  12. Master of the Senate, Robert Caro.
  13. The Cruise of the Snark, Jack London.  
  14. Sapiens, Yuval Harari
  15. Homo Deus, Yuval Harari

Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson

Isaacson's famous biography is a detailed portrait of a tortured genius on a perpetual quest for perfection and greatness. This is an easy skim - light, fun, easy going. For me, the greatest value attained from this is the broader history of the computer industry. Having grown up with early Mac computers, it was fun to hear the behind the scenes accounts regarding the debates that brought them to fruition.  I probably wouldn't have bought this, though it was a Christmas present from my boss. He badgered me about it all 2016 until I read it. Steve Jobs is a fun holiday read - but not an essential placeholder on your bookself. 

 Buy | Borrow | Chuck


The Rise and Fall of Nations, Ruchir Sharma




Buy | Borrow | Chuck


The First Fleet, Rob Mundle

This is a stunning account of the trials and tribulations of the 11 ships that sailed 9 months from Plymouth, on the south coast of England, to Botany Bay.  For me, I have a special interest in this story: my direct ancestor, Owen Cavanough, was a sailor about the fleet's flagship, the Sirius. In discovering Mundle's roaring narrative history, I was captivated by the detail of the account. The ghastly conditions the sailors - but especially the convicts - endured on their journey is nothing short of astonishing. That their journey ended with the further ardour of establishing a new colony in inhospitable foreign lands renders this a tale of epic proportions.

Mundle does well to identify the crude motives London had for sending the First Fleet to New Holland - essentially, to find a permanent prison to offload poverty stricken criminals battling to survive England's rapid industrialisation in the late 18th century - while also painting the human experience of the individuals who laboured through this treacherous voyage. It is truly a 'ripping yarn', as the Toowoomba Chronicle claims, and an indulgent piece of weekend escapism. 

Buy | Borrow | Chuck


Rubicon, Tom Holland.

I found this read in a discard pile at a magazine fair in Wooloomoolloo in early 2015, and can quite safetly say it's the most enjoyable free book I've found in recent years. 

Tom Holland is a highly immersive narrative historian. Rubicon chronicles the downfall of the Roman Empire. 


Buy | Borrow | Chuck


Sapiens, Yuval Harari. 

Harari's Sapiens is undoubtedly one of the most profound, compelling, readable and horrifying books out there. 

Barack Obama's analysis of Sapiens - a book that views all of human history from 40,000 feet - is succinct. The 2011 best seller offers a thrilling account of the transformation of our species. It questions every narrative about our history with a relentless objectivity, forcing the reader to render old concepts in brand new ways, and foreshadows the next step for humanity: the transition to 'godlings', or Homo Deus

If for nothing else, read this work for Harari's commentary around the spread of wheat by humanity. He argues that it was wheat that domesticated humans -  by co-opting and regulating another species' behaviour and diet into ensuring the plant's expansion and survival - rather than the other way round. It is but one example of the converse way Harari makes the reader think. 

Buy | Borrow | Chuck


Ghost Empire, Richard Fidler.

Buy | Borrow | Chuck