My books of the year 2019

8th December, 2019

Not all of them published this year – and of course the list is subjective.

Book that did most to change the way I thought – Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women. My long-time producer, Charlotte McDonald, has been trying to get me to engage with the “gender data gap” for ages, but I never really felt I got the problem. Perez has delivered a much needed correction: full of persuasive examples and analysis of areas from public policy, medicine, economics and elsewhere in which data have been gathered in such a way as to obscure or omit matters of most concern to women. I learned a lot.

Best book about numbers – David Spiegelhalter’s deep yet very readable The Art Of StatisticsSir David is a superb explainer of statistical concepts, and here he delivers much of the material one might find in a first-year undergraduate course on statistics – yet while managing to avoid most of the technicalities. The book is full of memorable examples and crystal-clear explanations.

Best book about catastrophe Meltdown by Chris Clearfield and Andras Tilcik. This book was up against a lot of competition, because I’ve been reading a lot about catastrophe recently – but Meltdown is fun, wide-ranging, vivid and full of clever observations. Two episodes of Cautionary Tales owe a debt to Meltdown and I strongly recommend the book.

Best book about numbers and catastrophe – Humble Pi by Matt Parker. Very funny, terrific storytelling, and despite some hair-raising tales very few people actually die. You’ll also learn about the mathematics behind all sorts of everyday technologies from Excel to a jumbo jet.

Best science fiction  The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray. I don’t read enough fiction but when I was sent an early copy of this book I found myself drawn in. Very elegantly done – a post-apocalyptic thriller in which the apocalypse is superbly inventive and the Orwellian police state brilliantly low-rent. It’s about Brexit without being about Brexit, about climate change without being about climate change, and I very much enjoyed it.

Best picture book – Sandman by Neil Gaiman. I’ve never read this classic series and after an enjoyable but slightly schlocky first volume it quickly finds its epic, whimsical, endlessly inventive stride. I’ve been reading a book every couple of months all year; what a joy. Honourable mentions.

Best coffee-table book – The Brick: A World History. I don’t own a coffee table, but goodness me this book is gorgeous.

Best business book  Range by David Epstein. Epstein nails the difficult mix of argument, evidence and story. His book is a persuasive argument for not settling down or focusing too narrowly. I explored some of the same issues in Messy but even so I ended up learning much that I didn’t know.

Best computer science book – Hello World by Hannah Fry. An expert but highly accessible account of what algorithms do, how they work, and what they’ll do to the world around us. Great fun and a model of crisp explanation.

Best self-help book – Digital Minimalismby Cal Newport, by a long long way. I would never have found the time to read anything else if I hadn’t read this book last Christmas. Newport eschews tips and hacks and instead demands that we face up to our digital habit and make far more deliberate choices. I cannot recommend this book too strongly.


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