What did I read in 2018?

I’ve just published my annual round-up of my non fiction reading for last year here. Do go and read the whole post, but here I’ll just mention my absolute favourites for the year (or at least the ones I keep telling people to go and read):

Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the birth of agriculture, by Bruce Pascoe

This book is amazing. Bruce Pascoe has painstakingly read the stories of early settlement of Australia, from all over Australia, and pulled out all of the stories that describe how aboriginal people lived.

The weight of evidence is overwhelming that Aboriginal people had settled agriculture, by farming plants (often in the form of yams) and fish (using fish traps all over the eastern part of Australia) and that they had villages and even small towns made of permanent huts and buildings.

Given how much of the Australian myth is based on the aboriginal people having been hunter gatherers, it is an astonishing read. I had heard of the fish traps of Brewarrina, but very much as an exception. This book makes the very strong case that the first settled farmers on Earth lived in Australia.

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Factfulness, Ten reasons we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think – reviewed here.

by Hans Rosling (with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund)

Hans Rosling is the person who introduced me to Ted Talks, with this classic talk on visualising the world through statistics. I’ve used it a few times with various teams helping them understand how much of a difference the way you communicate numbers can make (plus I always love some great demography).

This book is Hans Rosling’s final work, written as a collaboration with his son and daughter in law after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and finished by them after Hans died in 2017. Despite the sad circumstances of its writing it is a paean of optimism about the world, and how much better the lot of the whole population of the world is getting and has become, since Rosling was born in 1948. Although the book is the work of three people, it is written in Hans Rosling’s “voice”, which makes sense given every speech he wrote was a collaboration, so his voice is as much his collaborators’ voice as his own.

As Rosling points out, it is possible to believe both that the world needs to improve, and that it has improved by a long way to get to where we are now. This is an overwhelmingly optimistic book, and a delight to read.

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Leading on the Edge: Extraordinary stories and leadership insights from the world’s most extreme workplace, by Rachael Robertson

Rachael Robertson spent a year running one of Australia’s Antarctic bases, and this summarises her leadership lessons from that experience. There are two parts  to her leadership experience – the summer part, three months of frenetic activity, and the winter part, 9 months where there are 19 people who are on their own and have to get along and be productive.

The winter is the most interesting, and Robertson has taken some insightful lessons from the experience. I was lucky enough to hear her speak, six months after reading the book, and while the anecdotes were very similar, it is always better when you see someone in person. Two lessons I took away from this book (but there are more!) First, no triangles – it is a hard thing, but worth while, to ban people from complaining about others to a third party (especially a leader). Much better to make the conversation a direct one. And second – the bacon wars of Antarctica (you have to read the book to find out more!). The lesson here is that every workplace has a trivial sounding issue (generally involving the kitchen) that masks a deeper conflict, often a lack of respect. It is important to try to figure out what that deeper conflict is, and resolve it.

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Deep Listening; Impact beyond words, by Oscar Trimboli

How much do you think about your listening skills, as opposed to your speaking skills? Communication is just as much about listening as it is about talking, and this slim book gives you some systematic ways of thinking about listening, and paying attention, that will improve your listening.

I’d also recommend Oscar’s podcasts where he interviews various people about how they listen. All of them have jobs which mean that they need to listen well, but many of them have never thought explicitly about their listening skills before Oscar talks to them, and it is great hearing them work through what works for them and why.

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Boys will be Boys: Power, patriarchy and the toxic bonds of mateship, by Clementine Ford

Clementine Ford is an Australian feminist writer who recently gave birth to a son. Which means she is thinking hard about the effects of patriarchy on boys as well as girls. I generally read everything Ford writes in her columns, which means I felt familiar with many of her arguments. But laid out in one book it is pretty compelling.

This particular book had a surprising extra impact on my family; my seventeen year old son found it and devoured it in two days (benefits of sharing a kindle library!). He found it pretty shocking, particularly the fairly frank discussions of rape and rape culture, and we have had lots of interesting conversations about the effect of our patriarchal society on his own life, and his freedom to be himself.

I actually enjoyed this book more than Fight Like a Girl (Ford’s previous polemic) perhaps because it is more personal for her.

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I’ll leave you with my favourite fiction discovery for the year.

The strange case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, by Theodora Goss

This book is an adventure set in late 19th century Britain and Europe, imagining the life of the girls who were experimented on by the various gentleman scientists of their time, both real and imagined. They find each other and become the Athena Club – a group of women with various superpowers created by their scientists progenitors and/or fathers. Of course Frankenstein’s daughter makes an appearance, together with some fabulous other creations.

This was incredibly well written and imagined, and I’d be surprised if anyone reading this blog has ever heard of it. Given how much great fiction is being written these days, nearly everyone should be able to find something great in their favourite genre.

Do go and check out my full list in case something else sounds interesting here. Happy reading for 2019!