I have not written anything for a while, having gone from taking a short break at the wind down of university and then straight back into work, and thought that I should get a head start on the yearly reading list review. I hope to add another one or two by year’s end, but I am quite happy with the amount I’ve managed to get through this year. List will be in the order I read them with comments looking back over them, and with a few exceptions I would recommend most of them. Also keep in mind the earlier in the year it was the less precise details I’m going to remember about the book, so bear with that.
Glimpses of Utopia: Real Ideas for a Fairer World – Jess Scully (Finished)
Half cheating, but I properly finished this book after having started it in the final week or so of 2020. It is a nice, simple book written by the Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney that covers (although not overly deeply) a number of ideas and ways we can try and improve society from the grassroots level. It was also ideologically “accessible”, I guess is the word. It never mentions socialism explicitly (from what I recall), but there is a lot of focus on democracy, worker and community control over decision making. Perhaps my favourite part was when Scully talked about the digital commons, decentralised and public online spaces for various purposes.
What We Cannot Know – Marcus du Sautoy
This was a fascinating book about science and mathematics, basically my first step into scientific topics since grade 10 and it is about stuff we don’t understand – what a great choice. But it was good, offering a good description of chaos theory (Gleick’s book is on my wishlist), the unknowns of quantum physics, and explained how free will may or may not exist depending on what on earth the human consciousness and subconsciousness is up to. There was also a bit of interplay with religion, given the concept of the “god of the gaps” and how current research is exploring those gaps.
Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal – Noam Chomsky | Robert Polin
I can’t remember specific details of this book – Chomsky has been talking about the climate crisis for many years, and Polin is an economist, that’s the gist. It was basically a roadmap of sorts showing why the Green New Deal proposed in the US was necessary and how it could be implemented and be beneficial on a global scale.
Joe Biden: American Dreamer – Evan Osnos
Awful book, would not recommend. Just a glowing review of Biden, wasn’t overly interesting, was too small to go into any of his issues, etc.
The Knowledge Illusion – Phillip Fernbach | Steven Sloman
This was an okay book explaining how we think we know things but don’t, mostly using examples of banal things, but also how it affects things like politics. My main take away from it was the intuition versus deliberation part, which I expanded on with social media and politics. An addition of my own from it was combining that with my (non-illusive) knowledge of networks. The more neurons in the mind, the more connections there are and the great the processing power of our biological computer. Similarly, the more nodes in a computer network, the faster the processing power is too – that’s why with Bitcoin people have huge networks constantly set on mining, for instance. Thus, the more people in communities with more knowledge, the greater the society. I also like to think there’s a similar cosmic counterpart involving the cosmic web, for which there has been some research but no real conclusions at all.
The Arab Winter: A Tragedy – Noah Feldman
The details of this book in my memory are a bit hazy as I write, but it was good. It was a reflection on how and some possible why’s on how the Arab Spring, for the most part, took a turn for the worse in many of the countries. Egypt reverted back to dictatorship (with help from the US), Syria plunged into a conflict that continues over a decade later, but Tunisia (until some rough patches recently), where it all started, seems to have been the most stable result. For what was such an interesting and promising time in that region of the world, it sadly did not deliver for the people who fought for it.
Corporate Power in Australia: Do the 1% Rule? – Lindy Edwards
This was an excellent book covering a number of case studies of corporate power here in Australia. It’s conclusion was pretty much yeah, corporate power has a lot of sway over both major parties, with the Coalition parties usually being in power when the decisions discussed were made. Telstra and the butchering of the NBN, and Murdoch and Nine creating a greater stranglehold over media ownership were the two that interested me most, with the obvious connections between the two. It was a bleak picture, and current policies and rhetoric from the Coalition and Labor don’t offer much in the way of hope for a change of course.
Media & Society: Production, Content & Participation – Nicholas Carah | Eric Louw
This was a first year textbook for a unit at UQ of the same name, Media and Society, that “destroyed” my career in journalism before it has even begun. The content that interested me most, as a journalism student, is stuff I have seen different versions of before about power dynamics and control over media and media consumption. I was drawing from Chomsky and Herman’s Manufacturing Consent, which does specifically talk about journalism, whereas this book was talking about media in general, referencing a fair amount of Adorno and Horkheimer, as well as Walter Lippman and Edward Bernays. As an introductory book, as befits an introductory course, it was interesting and worth the read (although admittedly I skipped the chapter on advertising because I do not care and advertising, to me, is so transparent it’s painful).
Dead In the Water – Richard Beasley
Jumping back to Australia, this, as the subtitle spells out for you, is a very angry book discussing how the Murray-Darling Basin and its two rivers have been utterly abused over the past 20 years. Following (surprisingly) an arguably decent water policy in the final year of the Howard government, the mismanagement and corruption surrounding this vital water system has spiralled, which has resulted in worsening conditions that are horrifically exacerbated with the encroaching climate crisis. It also lays out a roadmap for potentially saving and recuperating the Basin, including a heavy focus on listening to Indigenous voices and following good policy plans, some of which we know we have because of unreleased information and independent research.
Too much to hope the governments of this country that administer it will do so. I await an angrier book in the years to come.
Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States – James C. Scott
This book lurches back to very early history, and was a book I read without realising that the author was actually a rather well-known anarchist leaning anthropologist and historian. It was a fascinating look some of the why’s and how’s of state creation, formation and dissolution in this early period, a lot of it very much centred around on the kinds of crops that could be grown in certain regions susceptible to taxation and the evolving hierarchical structures. There was also a chapter on zoonotic diseases, which was particularly pertinent given the little zoonotic virus currently crippling the globe. Between explaining the state as an entity in this time period and being a clear, if slightly unintended, warning of future detrimental pandemics, it is a definite must read.
Read my previous reading lists: