January 2022 Reading List
The Outlaw Ocean by Ian Urbina
The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell
Audiobook: Human Compatible by Stuart Russell
- The Social Conquest of Earth by EO Wilson
On giving up on books
Another post on the theme of reading a little less…
Just when is it reasonable to give up on a book? This used to be something I almost never did, at least not deliberately, and I would somehow persuade myself I would come back to them. Naturally, there were books that I put down and not picked up again but I always held out that I would return. Nope. Now I’m older I have come to terms with the fact I won’t finish them and I am more than willing to give up on books.
Sometimes they are just not for me. No hard feelings.
I don’t have a rule on the point at which I give up as I try to take into account the context. I think it is different between fiction and non-fiction for sure. It certainly varies between genres. And I have to take into account my own state of mind. Am I tired or distracted? I can have periods of days/weeks like that but usually I can identify a style/genre that will get me through those days. Maybe I’m in need of something light-hearted and funny and that book on disaster capitalism isn’t going to work. But I’ll try to go back to a book if I think that might be the case.
There are more fabulous books than it is possible to read in a lifetime and my willingness to persist is inversely proportional to my increasing age.
I’ve got more brutal about giving up on books that get stuff wrong. I was reading Alan Rusbridger’s book News: And How to Use It and found a Latin phrase that helps describe how this feels. It’s a legal phrase: falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. Untruthful in one part, untruthful in all. I suspect this might be more to do with witness testimony but it is just as applicable to the presentation of facts. It is all about trust, as Rusbridger frequently points out. If you have specialist knowledge in an area and you realise the author is getting it wrong, it becomes much harder to maintain the willingness to accept what the author is saying on other areas.
The most egregious example was a book I was reading about drugs written by an American author. At one point, quite early, the book stated that fentanyl was also believed to be involved in the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury in the UK. It might have been, for about five minutes, and it was very apparent, very quickly, it was something very different. If you don’t know you can Google it. Which is all the author had to do. You will quickly learn just how shockingly, teeth-itchingly, wrong this is. In a heartbeat, my trust in the other facts in the book collapsed. I went on for a while but I realised that it had destroyed the book for me. There was simply no point in continuing.
Ah, good grief. Reading a book and just read a statement that is so spectacularly wrong that I can’t continue. I just don’t have any confidence that anything else is true, though it is likely fine. What a shame.— Euan Lawson (@euan_lawson) November 30, 2020
“In 2018, a former colonel in the Russian army named Sergei Skripal was poisoned in Salisbury, England, along with his daughter. The poison was reportedly fentanyl. Skripal had been convicted in Russia of spying for Britain years earlier but was sent to the United Kingdom as part of a “spy swap,” an exchange for sleeper agents in the United States. Both he and his daughter survived. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov denied Russian involvement.”
The incident with Skripal happened on 04 March 2018. On 12 March the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, gave a statement in the Commons that it was a chemical weapons attack using a Russian-produced nerve agent, novichok. The book was published in the UK in September 2019. It is spectacularly wrong and the fact-checking has utterly failed. For me, that book is unreadable.8 January 2022 Scribbles
More numbers — this time on exercise
So, my post two days ago was about being wary of chasing numbers. How better to follow up than to chase some more numbers? This time some overall stats on my exercise from 2020 to 2021. Firstly, my numbers from 2020 in summary:
Then the numbers from 2021:
A very satisfactory improvement. It’s all a bit skewed due to the pandemic as working from home has made it, paradoxically for me, easier to get exercise. A rare privilege for which I am very grateful. And — touch wood, fingers crossed — I have managed to avoid any significant injury but circumstances may make it harder to be so consistent with my running in 2022.
Almost all my exercise is running but I simply couldn’t manage the volume if I was out slapping feet on tarmac. It’s all on varied terrain, mostly up the fells and on hilly trails as the elevation data show, and on trails and that seems to make a huge difference to my overall tolerance. I suspect it is also much better for my mental state and it is easier to go out and simply enjoy the experience when I am a bit fatigued. It has become almost comedic, when I have been away in a city, how I end up pinging a calf muscle when I go for even a moderate 10k on the roads. And, I have avoided any sort of racing at all. My long post about the Ring of Steall fell race in 2017 should answer any questions on why I don’t go for races.
My main aim for 2022 is to get myself a regular bodyweight exercise habit. I am just aiming at the minimum to maintain strength and some flexibility and offset the drop off from ageing. I’ve no ambitions beyond that. I am very aware that some kind of strength training is probably the single best way to reduce the risk of injury. Want to check the evidence? This systematic review and meta-analysis showed a dose-response relationship between strength training and its preventive effect on injuries.7 January 2022 Scribbles
Sun up on Winder
A couple of days ago was the latest the sun will get up and it has already been taking a little longer for the sun to go down since we got over the shortest day. I always like this point, just a little after the winter solstice, as we can know that we are over the hump and we’ll be getting up in the light soon.
The photo was taken on 06 January 2022 at 08.38.6 January 2022 Photos
Some reflections on a year of reading
Must read less…
I’m not one for New Year resolutions but there is never a bad time for some reflections.
Last year I read 116 books.
It’s a decent number, indeed it often surprises people, and it certainly affords me a lot of scope to cover plenty of new and classic books. I do include audiobooks but I now select these with care as detailed audiobooks quoting evidence drive me nuts as there is no easy way to take notes and look up references. I’ve tried various techniques but it just doesn’t work.
My best strategy for the next few months is to read a little less. Not the most common of resolutions but I certainly don’t need to read more. At least not books, although I do think I have scope to read more academic papers in a targeted and purposeful way. I’d like to capture more notes, write more, and linger over the books I do read. If I dropped a couple of books and spent that time writing it would amount to a significant increase.
Now, it is not quite as straightforward as that and reading is obviously a different kind of experience. Yet, there is scope and, as with many things, it is far too easy to chase the numbers and I think, honestly, that is what I have been doing. In the old cliché, I need a little more quality rather than quantity.5 January 2022 Scribbles
December 2021 Reading List
Tharoor’s Inglorious Empire was gloriously angry and rightly so. It is quite remarkable how the British have managed to re-write the history of Empire and it is coming as a nasty shock to the nostalgically inclined to have it challenged and re-examined with a gimlet eye. Tharoor does, in his understandable ire, overstep with some conclusions but they are rare moments and it shouldn’t detract from the brutal assessment of the British in India.
All the Young Men has over a thousand five-star reviews on Amazon. It is worth every one of them. I thought McMindfulness was an excellent polemic though it lacked focus in places and was occasionally repetitive — not unusual with a polemic but it offers an essential perspective. I’ve never been an enormous fan of Bob Mortimer’s comedy style, that’s just a personal preference, but there is no denying the sheer likeability of the man and his book And Away… is a warm, amusing and shyly life affirming book.
- Inglorious Empire by Shashi Tharoor
- Do Breathe by Michael Townsend Williams
- All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks
- Fake Law by The Secret Barrister
- McMindfulness by Ronald Purser
- The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy by Arik Kershenbaum
- And Away… by Bob Mortimer