November 2023 reading list

November 23

  • Follow the Money: How Much Does Britain Cost? by Paul Johnson
  • Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry
  • Politics on the Edge: A Memoir from Within by Rory Stewart
  • Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life by Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • A Heart That Works by Rob Delaney
  • The Xmas Files: The Philosophy of Christmas by Stephen Law
  • How to Resist Amazon and Why by Danny Caine
  • Free For All: Why The NHS Is Worth Saving by Gavin Francis
  • The Known Unknowns: The Unsolved Mysteries of the Cosmos by Lawrence M. Krauss
  • Nightwalking: Four Journeys Into Britain After Dark by John Lewis-Stempel
  • A Death in the Family (My Struggle) by Karl Ove Knausgaard
  • I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
  • How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton
  • The God Desire by David Baddiel
25 November 2023 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

October 2023 reading list

October 23

  • Code of Conduct: Why We Need to Fix Parliament and How To Do It
  • The Race That Changed The World: The Inside Story of UTMB by Doug Mayer
  • We Can’t Run Away From This by Damian Hall
  • The Future of Geography by Tim Marshall
  • Shattered Nation: Inequality and the Geography of A Failing State by Danny Dorling
21 October 2023 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

September 2023 reading list

September 23

  • The Way of the Runner by Adharanand Finn
  • Free and Equal by Daniel Chandler
  • Debt by David Graeber
  • The Internet Con by Cory Doctorow
30 August 2023 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

August 2023 reading list

August 23

  • Regenesis by George Monbiot
  • Storyworthy by Matt Dicks
  • Hiroshima by John Hersey
  • Against Intellectual Property by N. Stephan Kinsella
  • What Gandhi Says by Norman G. Finkelstein
  • Midlife by Kieran Setiya
  • Show Me the Bodies by Peter Apps
29 August 2023 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

July 2023 reading list

July 23

  • The Long View by Richard Fisher
  • Iron Maiden Running Free by Garry Bushell and Ross Halfin
  • ChatGPT for Creative Non-Fiction by Nova Leigh (+2 other books by same author on fiction/prompts)
  • What Does This Button Do? by Bruce Dickinson
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Bin by Christopher Shevlin
  • Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis
  • Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner
  • Ultra-Processed People by Chris Van Tulleken
31 July 2023 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

New Antidotum post has landed

Please check out my Antidotum Substack where there is a new post: Vol 8 Opioid deaths and hospital admissions

My biggest challenge with this one was keeping it down to 1500 words. It raises so many potential areas where we could be developing treatment services for people who use drugs. And, if you want to subscribe you can do so here:

4 July 2023 Scribbles

June 2023 reading list

June 23

  • Politics: A Survivor’s Guide: How to Stay Engaged without Getting Enraged by Rafael Behr
  • Lawfare by Geoffrey Robertson
  • Abolish the Monarchy by Graham Smith
  • Written by Bec Evans and Chris Smith
  • Exploratory Writing by Alison Jones
  • Writing Landscape by Linda Cracknell
  • What We Fear Most by Dr Ben Cave
  • A Philosophy of Loneliness by Lars Svendsen
  • What Is ChatGPT Doing… and Why Does It Work? by Stephen Wolfram
30 June 2023 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

Taking the longer view

I don’t normally write about books until I have finished them but I wanted to raise an interesting concept in The Long View: Why We Need to Transform How the World Sees Time by Richard Fisher.

I’m only about a quarter of the way through and he has raised the notion of the Buxton Index.1 This is defined as the length of time (in years) over which the entity, be it a company, other institution, or individual makes their plans.

So a politician may be thinking over a 5-year electoral cycle but corporations who report quarterly may be very focused on short-term results. Some of the commentary on the Buxton Index is about recognising it as a potential source of tension between organisations — when the Buxton Index is significantly different it could result in disputes and disharmony. There is an argument, that Fisher is in the process of developing, that we are now far too short term in our thinking.

It has made me consider a little on how short-term/long-term the organisations I know and work with are in their thinking. It’s worth some reflection.

  1. There is, unusually, no Wikipedia entry for the Buxton Index.↩︎

24 June 2023 Scribbles

Lawfare - another area where reform needed to preserve and promote our democracy

This book is relatively brief and that, in itself, is commendable. Too often books have to be stretched out to the standard length of 80-100,000 words regardless of whether the content merits it. Publishers demand books of a certain length and it’s a pleasure to read books, such as this one, concisely written and just as long as they need to be and no more. It makes the message all the more powerful.

Journalism is a broad church but most of us would wholeheartedly welcome the work that goes into the best kind of investigative journalism. It is deeply threatened by people with much to hide and plenty of money to pursue that desire. As Robertson notes:

The function of investigative journalism is to report, analyse and comment on such matters, and on the beneficiaries, without let or hindrance. By providing the powerful with weapons to obstruct such examinations, British law reduces the availability of news that is worthy of reporting, precisely because it opens people’s eyes to what is happening in their country or their community. For that reason, speech should be accounted the first of our freedoms and have in our laws a presumption in its favour.

It is difficult to come up with any reasonable justification for the UKs law around libel but this book goes beyond that. It lays to waste the notion that the UK is a model state when it comes to free speech.

So, contrary to the boasts of politicians such as Mr Raab, the United Kingdom has a wretched history and tradition when it comes to free speech. That is because of laws and procedures that for the most part remain in force.

Robertson unpicks the web of legislation and its unintended consequences before suggesting the reform needed at many levels.

23 June 2023 Scribbles

Surviving politics

I need to write a few catch up notes on recent books. Behr’s book on politics is excellent reading and he interleaves his experience with a brutal MI with great skill. He is particularly good on nationalism and populism and identity.

The political scientist Benedict Anderson described nations as imagined communities’, which is to say their existence — real enough in the minds of those who feel they belong in one — is a narrative construct. It is a myth that people tell themselves, assembled from bits of common economic interest, shared religion, ethnicity and remembered history. The myths stick and evolve into identities when they have sufficient resonance with a critical mass of people.

The book warrants a re-read for sure. He covers a lot of ground and with keen insight. I also liked the thoughts on running at the end as well. He captures it rather well:

There is a technique to distance running that I had not known before. You need to check for hazards at your feet, but mostly keep your head up and your shoulders back, unclench your fists. Look out, look up. That is how I keep things in perspective, especially when the anger rises and I need to think my way through it, to run through it, until I have reached the other side and found my way home.

It’s a fine description and, of course, reads beautifully as a metaphor for engaging with politics. On the more literal running level it is also good advice and, as I’ve said before, it is important to learn how to run. We all think we know how and I don’t want to over-complicate something as natural as running. Yet, it is possible to do it better and enjoy it more as a result.

22 June 2023 Scribbles

Back from the Cape Wrath Ultra

Sandwood Bay on the final day.

I should note that I am back from the Cape Wrath Ultra. It was an absolutely epic experience. Spending over a week in a bubble with like-minded people concentrating on doing one thing was very special. And I went better than I could have possibly hoped - I far exceeded my (low!) expectations. It was superbly organised by Ourea Events and the whole ethos in the camp and on the trail was very special.

Full results here:

6 June 2023 Scribbles UltraNormal

May 2023 reading list

May 23

  • Sludge by Cass R. Sunstein
  • People Hacker by Jenny Radcliffe
  • Swearing Is Good For You by Emma Byrne
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • Ravenous by Henry Dimbleby
  • Closer To The Edge by Leo Houlding

A quiet month of reading - a lot of time was taken with the Cape Wrath Ultra. I listened to Closer To The Edge on the drive up and back to Scotland and it was a good choice for some inspiration. Dimbleby (of Leon restaurant fame) is also excellent in Ravenous and I have a couple of other books about food supply/culture and agriculture in the UK that I’ll follow up with.

One thing I noticed when I was away in Scotland was just how few sheep there were. I suspect that’s because you can’t throw a stick around Cumbria without hitting about three of the woolly monsters. I’ve been conditioned to expect sheep to be dotting every rural landscape. Admittedly, the Cape Wrath UItra does cover some very wild ground but, still, it was noticeable.

31 May 2023 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

April 2023 reading list

April 23

Just finished 😀

  • A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton Notes
  • Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte Notes
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy Notes
  • Everest the Cruel Way by Joe Tasker
  • No Easy Way by Mick Fowler
  • The Trolley Problem by Thomas Cathcart
  • Marx: A Very Short Introduction by Peter Singer
  • Unlawful Killings by Wendy Joseph
  • Psychovertical by Andy Kirkpatrick
  • Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Sharif

And, yes, I did read War and Peace. Not all this month but I did, finally, finish it.

30 April 2023 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

Substack Notes

Substack have now released their social media feature - Notes. Seemed worth a microblog here too.

My first post on Notes. So, I shall use it to highlight an essay on harm reduction and drug consumption rooms that I wrote for the New Humanist. It is currently available on their website. (And, of course, in the usual places like WHSmith - but don’t let the bastards upsell you any chocolate 😀)

11 April 2023 microblog

Revisiting The Cruel Way

In my younger years I was a keen climber. I wouldn’t say I was obsessed with it, that’s too strong, but climbing, and especially winter climbing and mountaineering, is not the kind of activity it is easy to dabble in. It tends to be all in.

I fed my interest by reading many of the classic books of the era. One of the most satisfying aspects of climbing and mountaineering (and especially the armchair variety) is that it has a rich and varied literature. I was living in West Sussex, so not a lot of climbing to be add there, and as a teenager I spent much time trawling the shelves of Haywards Heath library and working through the hardback volumes. I loved the stories and the cast became well known to me: Bonington, Haston, Boardman, Renshaw, Tasker, Patey, Whillans, and Doug Scott to name just a few.

I think it is time to revisit some of them and Joe Tasker’s Everest the Cruel Way is an unsparing description of a winter attempt on Everest in 1980-81. I had the audiobook and it makes a good companion for longer fell runs. Yesterday, I ended up on a much longer, harder run in the pouring rain, as I felt too embarrassed to turn back while listening to the brutal conditions of climbing on Everest’s West Face in winter conditions.

11 April 2023 Scribbles

Watching football when colour blind

It was one of the best games of the season today with Liverpool hosting Arsenal. Martin Tyler on Sky Sports commented at the start of the match that Arsenal were wearing grey socks to help people who were colour blind.

Sadly, it was of very limited help and viewing was a frustrating experience.

Imagine watching a football match where the two teams wear the same colours and the only way to tell them apart is via their socks… it was verging on unwatchable for those of us who are red-green colour blind.

9 April 2023 microblog

Finishing War and Peace

I’ve not got a long history of trying to read War and Peace but I do have a recollection that I tried to read it when I was 18. I was in Nepal at the time and I am fairly certain that I dragged the full paperback copy around the Annapurna circuit, including over the 5400m Thorung La in some stormy weather. I was wearing Doc Martens and a pair of cheap sportsocks on my hands as mittens. That’s another story though.

I don’t remember getting very far into it at all.

This time, I started reading it at the beginning of 2022 and I was following The Big Read Substack. Each week, you read seven chapters or so, and the author of the Substack, Jeremy Anderberg, would provide a summary and some comment. It’s a great way to get through it, adds some useful context, and adds a lot of value to the experience.

I fell off the Substack wagon last summer when I was about two-thirds of the way through the 600,000 words or so. I binged it this Easter weekend and carved off the remaining 200,000.

I read the Penguin translation by Anthony Briggs. This came out in 2005 and is incredibly accessible. (My original trip to Nepal was in 1991 so it sure as hell wasn’t that one I dragged around the Himalaya.) The chapters of War and Peace are short and the sheer readability of Briggs’ translation should banish any concern you’ll be wading through turgid prose. There are, handily, about 360 chapters in the book so set yourself the entirely manageable target of one a day and you’ll get there.

8 April 2023 Scribbles

Smart notes vs second brain

I read Building a Second Brain as I stumbled on it before doing a session on PKMs - personal knowledge management systems - for the BJGP Research Conference. It starts off encouragingly but quickly descends into absurdist levels of detail and convoluted systems. I do think there are important reasons to develop one’s own PKM but one of the whole points of PKMs is that they have to work for you. It’s the P’ bit…

Forte has some good ideas but they quickly run out and the need to sell a whole system has trumped everything. My advice is to stick with Sönke Ahrens’ How To Take Smart Notes.

5 April 2023 microblog

My second read of A Little History of Philosophy (well, listen, as it is an audiobook) by Nigel Warburton and it was a fine companion for a long drive to the south of England. Recommended.

4 April 2023 microblog

March 2023 reading list

March 23

Don’t jump to conclusions. Crawl to them, on your hands and knees, slowing checking every step of the way.”

  • The Blazing World by Jonathan Healey
  • Long Story Short by Margot Leitman
  • This Mortal Coil by Andrew Doig
  • The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre
  • How to Think Like a Philosopher by Julian Baggini
  • Unnatural Causes by Richard Shepherd
  • What Does It All Mean by Thomas Nagel
  • Philosophy: The Basics by Nigel Warburton
  • Justice by Michael J. Sandel

My recommendation of the month is Baggini’s How to Think Like a Philosopher. I’m reading several general philosophy primers and this is the new one from a quite remarkably prolific author.

31 March 2023 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

Unnatural causes, natural reactions

Now finished Unnatural Causes by Richard Shepherd. Some mixed feelings about this one. It is, as you would expect, an engrossing tour of forensic pathology, but looming over the whole thing is Richard Shepherd. Or, more specifically, his mental health. This is flagged early in the book, pops up regularly on the way through, and his eventual diagnosis with PTSD is given some brief coverage at the end. It’s so blatantly obvious through the book it was starting to get uncomfortable and it was almost with some relief that it came out.

I did note that Shepherd has an interesting relationship with truths and facts — reporting the truth’ was, at one point in his career, pivotal to his professional approach and one had the slight sense this was anchoring him throughout the stresses and strains of subverting all emotions in the most challenging of circumstances. However, he later becomes ambivalent about this and he often seems contradictory. Overall, it was hard not to read this book and not think about all the doctors and the culture of medicine where emotional detachment is a prized commodity that is valorised. And it slowly eats out people from the inside.

17 March 2023 microblog

February 2023 reading list

February 23

  • The Five by Hallie Rubenhold
  • Eat the Buddha by Barbara Demick
  • The Life Inside by Andy West
  • Getting Better by Michael Rosen
  • Hidden Mountains by Michael Wejchert
  • Zen and the Art of Dealing with Difficult People by Mark Westmoquette
  • When the Dust Settles by Lucy Easthope
  • Why Vegan? by Peter Singer
  • If You Should Fail by Joe Moran

Some excellent books here and a good month. It’s difficult to pick one but I did think that Joe Moran’s book was a delight and one I will make a note and read again.

28 February 2023 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

January 2023 reading list

January 23

  • A World Without Email by Cal Newport
  • The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer
  • Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
  • Mythos by Stephen Fry
  • Essentialism by Greg Mckeown
  • The Hunt for the Silver Killer by David Collins
  • The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax by Christopher Devlin
  • Evil Beyond Belief by Wensley Clarkson
  • Jonathon Fairfax Must Be Destroyed by Christopher Devlin
  • The Pursuit of Coconuts by Christopher Devlin
  • Liberalism and Its Discontents by Francis Fukuyama

Book of the month is not easy to pick out. Not many of these really rang with me but I did enjoy a venture back into some gentle comedic crime fiction with the Fairfax novels. Perhaps Fukuyama was the book I am most likely to read again. (And Newport’s A World Without Email was already a second read and I got a lot more out of it this time. It hit the spot and I’m making some changes to how I work as a result.)

31 January 2023 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

December 2022 reading list

December 22

  • Billy No-Mates by Max Dickins
  • The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • The Making of the Modern Middle East by Jeremy Bowen
  • Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco
  • The Peter Principle by Laurence J. Peter & Raymond Hull
  • Complicit by Max Bazerman
  • The Moth and the Mountain by Ed Caesar
  • The Vegan Beef” Guide by Lyanna K. Peterson

Somewhat electic mix this month — an excellent graphic non-fiction book by Sacco is well worth the time. I read Down and Out in serial form via the Orwell Foundation Substack. Complicit was a well-timed book for me given my work situation and Billy No-Mates was more thorough and comprehensive than I expected. It just pips the others to my book of the month recommendation.

24 December 2022 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

Some winter photos

The temperatures have dropped and the morning fell run has been sub-zero but with the most stunning light to enjoy. Every day has been a treat. The photos below were all taken with an iPhone 11 Pro (and no filters). Indeed, the only editing at all was when I cropped the photo of the horses to a square format. That’s it!

The viewing dial on the top of Winder at sunrise.

Winter light as the horses enjoy some hay.

My favourite of the week. I used portrait mode on the iPhone and it gives an otherworldliness to the trig point with its coating of rime ice.

9 December 2022 Scribbles