I haven’t read as many books this year. With dad duties taking up my non-working days, I’ve been using my train journeys to catch up on my writing rather than reading. But looking back at what I have read this year, it’s not difficult to pick five favourites. These, in no particular order, are the five books that I’ve found most rewarding this year.
Poor Economics, by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo
A Christmas present from my mum, as it happens, Poor Economics takes a fresh approach to a host of common development themes. The difference here is that the authors believe that the best authority on the lives of the poor are the poor themselves. It’s rather sad that this is a novel idea, but it is and it makes this one of the most discussed development titles of the last couple of years.
What’s mine is yours, by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers
An exploration of the ‘collaborative consumption’, a catch-all name for all the new ways of sharing that have emerged with the internet. I’d notice lots of the individual projects, from peer to peer finance to crowd-sourcing or car sharing, but I hadn’t stopped to think about the broader social movement they represented. The book documents a very positive social trend, so it’s well worth a read.
How to Change the World, by John Paul Flintoff
A short, simple and inspiring book, How to Change the World argues that we all affect the world around us in little ways, whether we’re aware of it or not. It doesn’t take much to start affecting it more pro-actively, and we might find that change comes easier than we thought. Books this deep aren’t usually this easy or entertaining to read.
All that we Share: A Field Guide to the Commons, by Jay Walljasper
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘the commons’, often prefaced with the dismissal ‘the tragedy of …’. Reading like a scrapbook of ideas and projects, Walljasper shows just how broad and useful the idea of the commons is. There’s a whole philosophy here, and the commons is a lens that can offer new perspectives on our economics, our politics and our environmental challenges.
How much is enough? By Robert and Edward Skidelsky
Written by an economist father and his philosopher son, How Much is Enough? asks some vital questions about what wealth is for. Every great civilization has had a definition of a good life, and wealth was a means to it. The idea of wealth as an end in itself is an entirely modern invention, and one we would do well to put back in its box, argues this literate and intelligent thesis.
Those are the five that stand out. I also enjoyed Voluntary Simplicity, by Duane Elgin, The Cooperative Revolution graphic novel by Polyp, No oil in the lamp, by Andy Mellen and Neil Hollow, and inspired my gardening with How to grow perennial vegetables, by Martin Crawford.
Among the books I didn’t review here I can also recommend Margaret Atwood’s In Other Worlds: SF and the human imagination,and Charles J Shields’ biography of Kurt Vonnegut, And so it Goes. I also liked Sarah Bakewell’s wonderfully titled philosophical biography of Michel de Montaigne, How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer.
What’s the best thing you’ve read this year?