The Books I Read in 2015

I'd originally set myself a goal of reading one book per week this year, but only completed 22 - though I am in the middle of reading Raoul Vaneigem's "The Revolution of Everyday Life" (phiosophical gems amongst somewhat hard going) and Avishai Margalit's "The Decent Society" (clear and thought-provoking). In the order I read them, with some notes:

1. The Road - Cormac McCarthy. A bleak, bitter portrait of two humans in a burnt-out, desolate and cruel land. Others have called the ending wrenching and draining, but to me it seemed apt - the final extinguishment of hope in a hopeless world.

2. The Republic - Plato. Penguin has just released a new translation of this, by Christopher Rowe, and I found it made this foundational work of western philosophy leap off the page. Astonishing that ideas written over 2,000 years ago can still have currency.

3. How to Find Fulfilling Work - Roman Krznaric. I read this when I was pissed off at my job. I recall it seeming interesting at the time, but when I write this months later, nothing really sticks in my mind.

4. Antifragile - Nicholas Nassim Taleb. Along with The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, this forms part of Taleb's "Incerto", which has rightfully reconfigured a lot of thinking about probability and risk. Antifragile looks at the response of systems - economic, biological and technical to risk and stress, and has changed my thinking about the world. This is probably the only book in this list I will re-read.

5. For Whom The Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway. Months later, I still recall the vivid characterisations - particularly the women. And the ending. A monument to the futility and cruelty of war.

6. In Defence of Food - Michael Pollan. Maybe this book would seem more radical in the United States, that land of florescent orange cheese and unrecognisable processed meat products. To anyone who eats decent meat and decent vegetables that they cook themselves, it will confirm but not surprise.

7. Nagasaki - Eric Hayes. A slim, but powerful novel that comments on the ever-growing loneliness of society - particularly in Japan. Depressing, but necessary.

8. Empire of Illusion - Chris Hayes. This book really impressed me - it's a series of essays about America, focussing on the surreal, the corrupt and the violent. The one that really stands out is the chapter where he carefully and convincingly draws out the violence now ubiquitous in pornography.

9. The Black Swan - Nicholas Nassim Taleb. You don't know what you don't know. And unless you know that, you may find yourself at mercy of a black swan: events that fall far outside the ability to foresee them and models to predict them, with consequences - both good and bad - to match.

10. Utopia of Rules - David Graeber. Graeber is probably one of the most interesting voices in the world today. One might associate bureaucracy with socialist governments and Terry Gilliam films, but Graeber shows that it is a product of capitalist governments and corporations as well. Why do we have all these rules, and who do they serve?

11. The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde. Come to think of it, this might explain why some of my friends never seem to age. I found it most interesting to read for the implicit references to homosexuality, which seem to form a part of Dorian's tortured and cruel soul.

12. Platform - Michel Houellebecq - Houellebecq is the literary equivalent of fast food - nasty, greasy, bad for you, but sometimes it just tastes so good. Depravity, misanthropy, cynicism and even a hint of racism.

13. Explore Everything - Bradley Garrett. This was, I think, the standout book I've read this year. A magisterial treatment of urban exploration, with a mix of tense recounting of actual infiltrations and perspicacious philosophical discussions of the nature of private and public space. 

14. The Catcher in the Rye - J. D. Salinger - I'd read this in high school 20-odd years ago, so decided to read it again. Holden Caulfield is still a knob.

15. The Lucky Country - Donald Horne - For a book written more than 30 years ago, it is breath-taking how relevant it is to modern-day Australia. Horne has found some of the essence of Australia, as a fundamentally good country that has succeeded less through effort and skill, and more through luck.

16. Zero to One - Peter Thiel - There is a view, that I share, that capitalism as now practised is tending towards a system of rent-seeking and wealth-concentration, rather than a system of innovation and wealth-creation, as imagined by Schumpeter (and, for that matter, Marx). So it was refreshing to see a venture capitalist put forward ideas for the second type of capitalism.

17. Siddhartha - Herman Hesse. A beautiful, short book, rich in images and meaning. A reminder that intellectual pursuits aren't everything, and sometimes you need to simply experience the world.

18. Look Who's Back - Timur Vermes. In 2011, Hitler suddenly reappears in modern-day Berlin, and - of course - becomes a YouTube sensation. Fantastically written, with a number of brave and trenchant jokes that had me laughing out loud.

19. Affluenza - Oliver James. Imagine that materialism and sociopathy is some sort of virus, and our societies infect us with it, causing us to be unhappy even as we're richer than ever. Not a bad idea, but James ruins it by his stretched and tortured virus metaphor, and the digressions into neo-Freudian psycho analysis make this book downright weird. A waste of time.

20. Mammon's Kingdom - David Marquand. The United Kingdom fascinates me, as a country I've lived in, and the country perhaps furthest along the road of capitalism. Marquand is deeply concerned, giving a portrait of "a society sleepwalking towards a seedy barbarism". I'm not sure he was that effective, as I can not remember much of what he said even a few months later. Something is wrong in the UK, but this isn't it.

21. Consolations of the Forest - Sylvain Tesson. Now this was fantastic, even more so because it was true. Sylvain Tesson, a French writer, goes to spend 6 months in a cabin in the Siberian taiga, a sort of modern-day Thoreau with crates of vodka. Pithy, rough and I think revealing of some of the substance of life.

22. The Martian - Andy Weir. A bit of light sci-fi to round out the year, and a thoroughly enjoyable bit at that. I like sci-fi like this, where every last bit rings technically true, and I don't have to suspend my disbelief at all. Tense, realistic and funny.