This year, I read 55 books, which compares well to previous years (here’s 2016’s book round up, and 2014). This year, I seemed to read less than ever about sport (directly at least), in part because I started to get serious in my study for a Professional Doctorate, which required me to read a lot of research papers, something I also do as part of my day job at DNAFit. As such, reading became more of a tool to wind down, relax, and be exposed to ideas outside of my usual domain.
The best book I read this year was The Sting, closely followed by Columbine. I don’t really enjoy fiction, and so narratives of real life events, which read like fiction, are my substitute. The Sting was incredible; the story has so many turns, and I don’t want to ruin it for you, so please just read it. My attention was initially drawn to it because the initial crime itself happened very close (in Australian terms) to where I now live. Columbine is an in-depth look at the eponymous school shooting, exploring the potential motives of the killers. Given that the shooting took place 18 years ago, the theory put forward by the author – that Eric was likely a psychopath, and Dylan just wanted to commit suicide – was completely new to me, and well argued.
After that, I also enjoyed For Queen & Currency, about a financial scandal that occurred in the Met Police’s Royal Protection group, which again read like a novel. That was much better than The Untouchables, by the same author, that looked at corruption in the police force, which hadso many characters, it was hard to keep track of all the goings on. Into the Black, the story of the first Space Shuttle flight, was much better, sending me into a Wikipedia black hole exploring various different threads. Painful Yarns by Lori Moseley was also excellent, and a great explanation of the concept of pain, particularly chronic pain.
I also read a decent number of books by Michael Lewis. The Undoing Project was as good as you’ve heard, exploring a number of different biases humans hold through the life story of Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The Blind Side was also great, and I especially enjoyed the continuing thread of how a specific position had evolved over the years within football (not the real football, but Gridiron). The Big Short and Flash Boys are great examples of making a complex topic simple to the lay person, something that everyone involved in research should aim to improve within themselves. The concept underpinning Flash Boys was especially complex, but Lewis does a great job in explaining it. Moneyball got its own article. The New New Thing was probably the book of his I enjoyed the least, but I still read 200 pages of it in one go on a plane, so it can’t have been that bad.
Messy by Tim Harford and Behave by Robert Sapolsky were so good they got their own articles, both on HMMRMedia. Definitely read both books if you haven’t already. Fooled by Randomness was, sadly, a letdown, and I’m struggling to motivate myself to move onto The Black Swan, although I feel I must if only to finally be able to read Antifragile (and avoid being labelled an imbecile with no skin in the game). I also didn’t enjoy What Happened by Hillary Clinton as much as I thought I would, which is a shame. The Speechwriter was surprisingly good, and I enjoyed the constant tension between English graduate speechwriter and not-so-well-educated politician boss.
Tribe of Mentors was very Tim Ferriss-esque, promising to 100x my lifestyle by 8am through mindfulness and exogenous ketones. I found Tools of Titans much more interesting, although I suspect on second reading I’ll still pick up some useful tidbits (mostly book recommendations), although the repetitive nature of the same 11 questions might still wear thin. Speaking of book recommendations, via Tools of Titans I picked up House of Leaves (recommended by Amelia Boon), which I think is the worst book I’ve ever tried to read, and Tripping Over the Truth (recommended by Dom D’Agostino), which looks at the hypothesis that cancer is a metabolic disease; this was interesting, if a little left-field. Cancer: A Beginners Guide acted as a counter-balance, and, whilst well researched and informative, was perhaps a little dry.
Of the textbooks I read (yay!), the best two were Monitoring Training and Performance in Athletes – a hot topic in sports science at moment, and done justice by Mike McGuigan – and Molecular Exercise Physiology: An Introduction, which, as textbooks go, was all shades of excellent. Sticking to academic texts, Genomics and Personalized Medicine: What Everyone Needs to Know was a good introduction to many of the precision medicine technologies, along with a good discussion of some of the more contemporary issues around their use. Junk DNA was interesting, but also very complex. Caffeine for Sports Performance was a textbook masquerading as a popular science book, and it was wholly readable and very interesting; if you’re interested in caffeine and sport, like I am, it is required reading.
Sleep by Nick Littlehales was a timely reminder of the importance of sleep that I read in a jet lagged state, and, whilst I wouldn’t necessarily say it contained anything groundbreaking, it had a host of practical tips on improving our sleep, and I’d thoroughly recommend. Guests of the Ayatollah (the story of the US Embassy crisis in Iran), The Operator (the autobiography of the SEAL “who shot” Bin Laden), The Crash Detectives (an exploration of air crashes, just what a frequent flyer needs), The Nowhere Men (the story of football scouts), and Lethal Force (the autobiography of a Police Marksman) all deserve honorable mentions and were enjoyable reads.
To finish the year, I’m reading The Angry Chef, which got off to a great start by exploding myths regarding foods and eating, slowed down a bit with an explanation of how myths develop and quackery, and then picked up again with an excellent discussion on relative risk. It’s like the food version of Bad Science, and well worth checking out.
Last year, I said I was going to aim to read most of the highly recommended books from Tools of Titans. I didn’t. Perhaps next year.