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Monty Hannaford provides some suggestions for books to read in isolation.
We are all in very different situations to what we could have envisioned at the start of the decade. However, I think a silver lining amongst the chaos is that as our pace of life has slowed, we have been presented with a unique opportunity to read. For many of us, our relationship with reading since high-school has been non-existent, or at best, fickle, as we juggle the often-competing imperatives of university, work, sport, College and family.
Whilst there seems to be a certain pressure at the moment to be more productive than before – to ‘make the most of all our newfound free time’ – perhaps a good first step is to pick up a book. What better time to create a productive and rewarding habit?
This reading list represents some of the more engaging reads I have enjoyed in recent months. They hold broad appeal and are of varying intensity.
Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking
Good for: everyone. This book engages with 10 of the most significant questions that face humanity, such as: Is there a God? How did it all begin? Is there other intelligent life in the universe? Will artificial intelligence outsmart us? and more. If that sounds confronting, all the more reason to dive in – Hawking’s eloquent expression and ability to distil the complex theories of physics, make this a surprisingly easy and rewarding read. Dealing with some of the greatest uncertainties of the universe, Hawking is at times solemn, often witty, and always optimistic about the ability of humanity, through science, to solve our greatest mysteries and challenges.
The Pinstripe Prison by Lisa Pryor
Good for: anyone contemplating a corporate career. Lisa Pryor, an Arts and Law graduate of the University of Sydney and journalist, ‘gets’ the forces at play in a young, educated Australian’s transition from high school, to university, and into the corporate world. In this light, yet thought-provoking analysis, she questions why so many of Australia’s brightest ‘overachievers’ pursue careers in Banking, Management Consulting and the Law. It is not written with the specific intent of deterrence from such a path, however, provides a fascinating insight into the reasons driving this phenomenon, the reality it represents for individuals, and consequences for society more broadly.
Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
Good for: all Australians. A heavier read, Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu provides a counter-narrative to the dominant European story of Australia’s First Nation’s people and their history. Pascoe tells of an Indigenous Australia with sophisticated farming, fire and land management practices, deconstructing the long-held view that Aboriginal Australians lived a nomadic life as hunter-gatherers. The book was a prominent feature of discussion as this past summer’s bushfires raged across the country, as we as a nation wondered what could have been done differently.
A Temporary Refuge by Lee Spencer
Good for: everyone (particularly those of us stuck in the city). Every May since 1999, Lee Spencer has spent 8 months camping by a pool of a tributary creek of the North Umpqua River in Oregon, with the singular purpose of protecting a population of wild summer steelhead (salmon) from poachers. In this reflective natural history, Spencer distils 14 years of detailed observations of the surroundings of the pool; the result is a month-by-month account of the seasonal happenings and behavioural idiosyncrasies of the animals that call this place home. Surprisingly engaging and unlike anything else I have read; each reading transports the reader to the remote pool in south-west Oregon – a great way to escape the present!
Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall
Good for: everyone with an interest in history and global affairs. In this book, Marshall considers today’s global foreign policy challenges through the lens of geo-politics. Many of the most pressing global issues are rooted in geographical factors – if you’ve ever wondered why Putin is so obsessed with Crimea, why the Middle East region is so contentions, or why China’s power base continues to expand ever outwards, the answers are all here. This is a fresh perspective on the current global order and what we might anticipate from the future.
The World From Islam by George Negus
Good for: anyone who ‘doesn’t understand’ ‘Islam,’ the ‘Middle East’ or what is means to be ‘Muslim.’ This is another heavy read, however for anyone who makes it even half-way through, your understanding of these three things will be changed. Negus demystifies the issues, misconceptions and prejudice that have set the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds against each other. Did you know that the most populous Muslim country in the world is Australia’s northernmost neighbour, Indonesia?
Admissions by Henry Marsh
Good for: everyone. Henry Marsh spent four decades as a neurosurgeon. Following his retirement from the National Health Service (the public health system of England), he wrote this ‘searing and provocative memoir,’ reflecting on the experiences that shaped his career and life. A fascinating insight into the high-pressure environment of the surgical room, the complexity of the human brain, the importance of a well-resourced and functional health system, and what it means to be human.
What I’m reading next: See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Abuse by Jess Hill, which recently won the 2020 Stella Prize. In Australia, one woman is killed every week by somebody she has been intimate with. Hill ‘scrutinises the social and psychological causes of domestic abuse, it’s terrifying consequences, and – most hauntingly – the failure of our legal and social institutions to adequately respond.’
I hope this has inspired you to pick up a book during COVID 19 or given you a few suggestions as to what you could read next. In this time of global change and where misinformation and headlines proliferate:
“Think before you speak. Read before you think.” – Fran Lebowitz