My favourite book this year was probably Wars, Guns and Votes by Paul Collier. It’s the best kind of political science book, backed up by tremendous amounts of data that actually illuminates his thesis, which is that sometimes, armed intervention or at least the threat of it is necessary to ensure that nation states in the bottom billion remain democracies. It’s not exactly a popular view, especially after Iraq, but Collier never argues for unilateral invasion anyway. His kind of peacekeeping involves a UN force much like we have today but with more power to intervene and stop conflict situations from breaking out and flaring into more than a skirmish. He points out how ineffective aid has been as a weapon to get states to do more than hold elections, and most importantly demonstrates that elections != democracy.
I’m slowly making my way through the Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen, who is an engaging writer and one hell of a visionary. It’s not an easy book, in that it can’t be read in one sitting, but it’s an important contribution to well, the Idea of Justice, and I’m really enjoying it.
I’ve been reading a lot of food writing this year. Mark K…’s anthology of food writing, Choice Cuts, was excellent. What sold me on the book was the inclusion of Pablo Neruda’s Ode to Fries in it, and the book lived up to my expectations – it’s a treat to be able to read people who truly love and appreciate food, and who understand it. I also read John Reader’s very interesting history of the potato.
In fiction, I read Guillermo Del Toro’s The Strain, which I mention only because it was recent enough for me to remember having read it and A.S Byatt’s The Children’s Book, which was beautiful and her best since Possession. I’m currently reading a biography on Gutenberg and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, though my attention is straying from the Gutenberg bio already, well written though it is. My mind is like a sieve though – I’m sure I reads more than that, I just can’t for the life of me remember what. Top 10 books to read next are:
1) Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked;
2) Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence;
3) Werner Heisenberg’s Physics and Philosophy;
4) Christopher Andrews’ authorized history of MI5;
5) Liaquat Ahmed’s Lords of Finance;
6) Michael Chabon’s Maps and Worlds;
7) Audrey Nieffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry;
8) Simon Schama’s Citizens (if I can find it) or Manjit Kumar’s Quantum;
9) The Age of Entaglement by Louisa Gilder and finally:
10) The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes.
Honourable mention to Wolf Hall By Hillary Mantel.
Me being me, however, I am likely (very, very likely) to get distracted from any and all of these books the next time I take a trip to a bookstore.