I drive a lot. And I mean a lot. Over 20,000 miles a year. Most of it on the M3. So I listen to audiobooks. These days, I go through audiobooks like British governments go through elections: relentlessly.
So this is a run through of the books I’ve listened to this year.
The year in numbers
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, Sashi Tharoor
This book is the offspring of YouTube. When Tharoor spoke at the Oxford Union about the rapaciousness of the Empire, he became an internet sensation. Four years and six million views after that video appeared, this book pushes the same arguments in greater detail. It’s not a dispassionate analysis and doesn’t pretend to be. It is, however, a very well made argument.
NW, Zadie Smith
I’m not huge on fiction (which I know is a failing) but I will always make time for Zadie Smith. She writes about the parts of London I grew up in and her characters feel like old friends. NW is a series of short stories and every one of them is enjoyable. I highly recommend it.
Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell
I didn’t read this when it became a hit. It always sat on the list of books I really ought to read. I’m glad I got round to it. It’s deceptively simple. It’s engaging and it hammers home how much success is dependent on circumstance.
Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42, William Dalrymple
Dalrymple became a must-read author for me after I read his City of Djinns. He captures people and places in a way few others can. There’s an underlying enthusiasm that is infectious. This isn’t a book I’d revisit, if I’m honest. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed a closer exploration of a bit of the history of a part of the world we hear about but few of us really know.
Becoming, Michelle Obama
If you don’t think Michelle is the best Obama, this book will change your mind. The overall impression I got from this book was one of honesty. This felt like a warts-and-all account. Obama doesn’t pretend to be perfect. She’s open about hard times and her feelings about them. This is the best book I listened to this year.
A personal tale of revenge and a spotlight on the violent side of the struggle for Indian independence. I really enjoyed this book. What really brought it home to me was how prevalent the tale is in Punjab.
The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream, Paulo Coelho
Another book I didn’t read when it was hitting the bestseller lists. Short. Simple. Yet deep, deep. Really deep. And excellently read too. I listened to it twice.
The White Tiger, Arvind Adiga
The dark side of India’s now spluttering economic boom. A bright but poor lad goes from village to city to murderer to entrepreneur. The characters are vivid. The story compelling.
Catch 22, Joseph Heller
I’ll admit I only listened to this because it was going to be on the telly. I’m glad I did. Would it be career limiting to say that the illogical catch 22 situations feel very relevant to modern corporate life (albeit with little to nothing of value at stake)?
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, Mary Beard
I wanted to love this. I certainly learnt a lot. But it went on. And it jumped around. I think if I’d tried to crack it as a physical book I would have enjoyed it more. It requires and deserves your attention.
Winter Pilgrims: Kingmaker, Book 1, Toby Clements
An attempt at historical fiction. I won’t be repeating it.
This year, I worked on a special project. We worked lean. So I listened to this to get under the skin of the idea. It was good. I’m naturally cynical about books that generally fall into the “self-help” category, which I suspected this did. It was good though. It builds very much on the Kanban processes from Japan. It did make me think and I have implemented some of its thinking into my team permanently.
For the Record, David Cameron
30 hours in a car with David Cameron talking about himself. Ouch. Why did I do it? Well, I wanted to understand him a little better. And if I’m honest, it’s left me more kindly disposed to him than I was before. He strikes me as someone who is very kind to his friends, wants to do the right thing and, to a very troubling extent, is desperate to fit in. He also seems to want play fair. He’s essentially a caricature of a 1950s Englishman who struggled to control more modern opponents on his own side.
Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman
I thought Hindu myths were out there but the Vikings are on another planet. Amazing. strong. Loopy in the best way possible.
The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company, William Dalrymple
This is the book of the moment. I purchased it in print. Got 50 pages in, couldn’t find time to read it, so I stuck it on in the car. A detailed look at how a pretty unpromising enterprise came to rule a sub-continent ina very brutal fashion.
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, Malcolm Gladwell
I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s a people manager. Do we really understand people when we talk to them? Too often we do not. This book has few answers but it makes you think and introduces some engaging ideas (I particularly love the “default to truth” concept). I dare you to listen to it and not think differently.
Another memoir. Quite a fun one. It’s light. It’s interesting. If you liked his weird weekends, you’ll like this.
David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
I have to confess that I’m not a huge friend of Dickens. As a child I was forced, through a conspiracy between my mother and my English teacher, to read a Tale of Two Cities. Since then I’ve had a simmering resentment. The wound runs deep. However, people have been raving about the narration by Richard Armitage. Rightly so. It is excellent. I’ve not quite finished this one, but it is thoroughly enjoyable thus far. There are a couple of weeks left of the year so I’ve got a few hundred miles ahead of me. I’m confident I’ll get it finished by Christmas.