Pirates of Barbary by Adrian Tinniswood

barbary

When we think of pirates it tends to be sailing the Caribbean with wooden legs, parrots and pieces of eight. But there was a whole other pirate menace for hundreds of years that operated out of the north African coast harassing ships throughout the Mediterranean. Covering the whole span of their activities this book does a nice job of covering both the characters involved and also the quasi-official politics of their situation. These were not mere renegades but in many cases the primary economic activity for many of these cities. Their rise and fall is charted in great detail. An enlightening read.

Why We Build by Rowan Moore

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Something totally different for this book. Architecture. I’ve always been interested in buildings and spaces. I would have liked to have been an architect but sadly I never had the creative or artistic skills necessary. This book is a series of essays really about various points around architecture. Some are more successful than others. Some carry the authors own prejudices more heavily than others. But that variation still makes them interesting and thought provoking. It will make you look at buildings, and the spaces in and around them, in a whole other light.

The Plantagenets by Dan Jones

Plantagenets

A dynasty who did more than probably any other to shape England and what it means to be English. Taking over from the Normans and running the show for over two centuries they were around for historic events like Crecy and Magna Carta, left behind legacies such as common law, and provided us with some of our most famous and successful kings. All of them are covered here and the constant ebb and flow of fortune that made up medieval England. So much history covered in an engaging and entertaining style without being too simplistic or sensationalist. It may have been 600 pages long but it certainly didn’t feel like it.

1848 by Mike Rapport

1848

Year of Revolution proclaims the cover and it certainly was – breaking out all over Europe. This book does a great job of explaining how they were all linked and how they were all different at the same time. The creation, confusion, counter-revolution and aftermath are all covered in great detail. Having been to many of the cities mentioned in the book it was especially nice to try and imagine what it must have been like to have been there at the time (although perhaps watching from a safe distance!)

Blood Cries Afar by Sean McGlynn

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An interesting look at a largely forgotten episode in English history when King John fought a civil war with his barons. They were aided by the dastardly French who invaded in support (as the title mentions). Perhaps a little too much hyperbole at times for its own good – seen in the wider context of medieval history it was hardly a unique event warranting such bold claims. Having said that though it gave a thorough review of the details and the personalities of those involved.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking

A very detailed and interesting look at the way our brain functions and how we make decisions.  Quite heavy going in places Рlots of examples and probability questions to go through. Unsurprisingly for a Nobel Prize winner this is detailed and thought out stuff not something jotted down on the back of an envelope. Kahneman references Nudge quite a bit for how to use some of these ideas on a practical level but it was nice to read this one too in order to see where many of these ideas first came from.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers

Success is less about talent and more about opportunity. That’s the basic thrust of Gladwell’s argument. He’s lined up a whole list of people we would associate as outliers – super successful businesspeople, lawyers, sportspeople, etc and explained their success. by listing all the breaks they got along the way. There are two types of opportunity identified – access (to people, resources, etc) and timing (being born in the right month or the right year). It’s an interesting argument and well delivered. At times the editorialising gets in the way – and the final section about his own history is interesting but perhaps less relevant to the rest of the book – but overall a good read and worth checking out.