Reading: August, September, October

Relying on online services and account history to remind me what I’ve been reading since last time I wrote about this in July.

Ploughing on with a nice project for work which will see us sending a Christmas gift to clients, contacts and people we’re friendly with – the LSU “we read books so you don’t have to” summary of over 50 books for strategists and planners in agencies or just busy people who never get the time. Otherwise busy flicking through the following…

M.E. Thomas – Confessions of a Sociopath. Lauded by the Economist, Tyler Cowen and others. Pretty good account of sociopathy and Mormon beliefs – made me see good old Ender’s Game in a very different light. Worrying I might be one now.

Stephen Cave – Immortality. If there’s anything that explains most of human behaviour since the dawn of civilisation and up until now, it’s the desire to live forever. Never seen it so nicely packaged anywhere else. The four narratives just flow beautifully: living forever, cryogenics, reincarnation beliefs and legacy – what more could you want?

Italo Calvino – Invisible Cities. Beyond the question of whether Marco Polo actually travelled as far as the popular myth has it (or he’s merely storytelling to the khan whilst modelling imaginary cities on the Venice he knew), I really enjoyed the anecdote on Cities and the Sky – 4; the city gets built according to the ‘precise’ fictions of astronomers so that it stands to benefit from the fortuitous planetary alignments but ends up populated by less than aesthetically pleasing inhabitants: cripples, dwarves, obese men, bearded women. Do the astronomers admit that they were wrong and that they can’t ‘read’ the skies or is it the ‘will of the gods’ to have a city of monsters?

Lucian Boia – Why is Romania Different? From the guy who brought History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness, an interesting take on the tension between the myth perpetuated by historians and schools versus the stark reality of geopolitics. The people who should be reading this will probably never read it. As always.

Robert Solomon – The Art of Client Service – A while ago I read KesselKramer’s ‘Advertising for people who don’t like advertising’ and it made a good point about that moment in advertising history when agencies, startup offshoots and automated procurement processes decided that there’s no harm in cutting out the ‘padding’ or the human middleman, as account people ended up being perceived. A question floated around in some of my friend circles, mainly because a) good account people were fun to know and b) even if you decide you can give planners and creatives a phone or put them in direct contact with clients, there are still some times when having them around can’t hurt: more spare time for people doing the actual work and hey presto, more people in employment too (if you can factor that in). That question was, who or what teaches you to be a suit? Apart from just a painful learning curve once you’ve blagged your way into an agency on a grad scheme or did the classic ‘lied to get that first job in account management’ humblebrag that big names do? Suit friends who shall not be named have some of the best stories and even manners but are reluctant to share them for obvious drunken haze reasons. Sans that, this book does the trick. I’d give it to loads of juniors I see and meet. Read. Learn. It’s more than just being nice to people, giving good phone and taking notes in meetings.

Dave Eggers – The Circle – The book that is nothing like what the critics say it is; it’s not about mindblowing “oh my god is this the future we’re heading towards” stuff, unless you have a particularly narrow view of reality and we have very different definitions for ‘mindblowing’. If, like me, you suffer from TCRF or Technology Column Reading Fatigue from all the prophecies and speculation that anyone with a laptop and blog can dish out, this will be a hilarious read (somewhat semiotically charged as Margaret Atwood observes in ‘When Privacy is Theft’). Yeah, whatever, Dave Eggers gets Silicon Valley wrong if you listen to Felix Salmon; he also fails to acknowledge technology’s impact on health other than a dig at health insurance whilst ACA is on the agenda and in public consciousness. But it *is* fiction.

Will Storr – Heretics: Adventures with the enemies of science – I pretty much accidentally met Will at a Matter hosted dinner I went to about a month ago. I read this book afterwards and now regard it as a brilliant, modern-day equivalent of my old time favourite, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and Madness of Crowds (by Charles Mackay). Having read what he’s been through whilst preparing for this book, am now kicking myself for having sat next to someone so wildly interesting and not known (or discovered) it in that short space of time.

Honourable mentions:

Adam Phillips – On Balance + On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored and now reading Missing Out – In praise of the Unlived Life. At times really interesting (I’m no stranger to those seemingly disconnected ‘things born out of conversations with people because they are too interesting to not document but not coherent enough to form a narrative’ type things). Wonderful stuff for when you want to let the mind wander. Basically impossible to read during the weekday or in busy places. The kind of book you want to read when the house is empty and you shriek deliriously at the thought of having it all to yourself.

Adam Phillips Missing Out

Terence Kealey – Sex, Science and Profits; a catchy title that masks the less sexy topic of scientific research and funding (alternate title actually was ‘Economic laws of scientific research’). A long history of the world and the tensions between government-funded research and innovations born out of the commercial world (i.e. out of an incentive for wealth). Handily summarised in Paul Graham’s ‘Hackers and Painters’ chapters six and seven for those too lazy to read 800 pages.