Incomplete reading list – 2016

Because everyone is listing and capsule reviewing books that they’ve read, this is a few that stuck in the mind this year. Be warned, there are a lot, and the list is incomplete.

The Polygamist King: A True Story of Murder, Lust, and Exotic Faith in America – John J. Miller

Very short (kindle single) thing – just wanted to read more about the Strangites after researching a post about Mormons and leadership.

In Defence of Politics
Sir Bernard Crick

Recommendation via Helen Beetham. One of those plain, smart, books that makes you rethink your radical stances. Now I have the tools to defend the political mainstream, should I need to.

Player Piano
Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut’s first (I think) novel. Human dignity after automation, a surprisingly modern theme that bled well into the Trump/Brexit WTF themes of 2016.

What a Carve Up!
Jonathan Coe

Number 11
Jonathan Coe

Number 11 was the new Coe, and a purported sequel to What a Carve Up – which is the better book if you like your grotesque political satires.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
Jon Ronson

Interesting, but kept hoping for him to draw parallels before the internet age (tabloid hits to courtly gossip) that he never did. Public shaming is one of civilisation’s great control mechanisms – dealing with it as a modern phenomenon is hardly scratching the surface. Also reminded me that I wanted to re-read “The Scarlet Letter”, which I have yet to.

Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now?: Everything You Need to Know about Britain’s Divorce from Europe
Ian Dunt

Quite. A succinct, yet terrifying, summary. Emboldened me that brexit may not be a thing that actually happens.

A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations
Mencius Moldbug

A bunch of Moldbug (from *that* research). Still washing the stink out of my brain.

Everything Belongs to the Future
Laurie Penny

Slight. Ultimately disappointing – which was a shame as I loved her writing on the alt-right this year.

The Elephant in the Room: A Journey into the Trump Campaign and the “Alt-Right”
Jon Ronson

Another Kindle single – which I picked up because I felt sure that Ronson (or Theroux) must have interviewed Trump during the late 80s-90s “wilderness years”. They didn’t, but this was as close as I could find.

Literature Against Criticism: University English and Contemporary Fiction in Conflict
Martin Paul Eve

I’d long suspected that literary studies (as mainstream subject of undergraduate study) would have an influence on literature. And Martin Eve got to the bottom it far better than I could. Following @CowEyePress on twitter alongside reading this was illustrative – and I’d love to introduce the pair somehow (if one of them wasn’t a partially fictional construct).

Clifford D. Simak

Cogdog recommendation. A post-human civilisation led by dogs. I loved it for the sense of hope. Looking back, an interesting parallel read to “Player Piano”.

Joseph Heller

Because 2016.

Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped Modern History
David Aaronovitch

Also because 2016. As conspiracies hit the mainstream I felt I owed it to myself to understand how they worked. It didn’t help,  but at least I know now.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
Yuval Noah Harari

Loved this – dataism as a post-human religion and (at last!) a proper definition of liberal humanism. There’s not many futurists I enjoy (Bryan Alexander and Martin Hamilton as obvious exceptions if they read this!) but will look out for other Harari work. I need to pick back up his ideas on animals.

Judas Unchained (Commonwealth Saga Book 2)
Peter F. Hamilton

Every camping holiday needs a stomping great space-opera saga – this was nicely done.

Station Eleven
Emily St. John Mandel

Post-apocalyptic touring orchestra and chorus visits an airport community in the ruins of Canada. Some lovely, affecting, touches.

Warren Ellis

How can I resist a rest-home for burnt out futurists? Story was a bit meh, but the world-building was excellent.

Neal Stephenson

Story was a bit meh, but the world building was excellent (x1000). One of the things that made me want to read about Mormons in 2016, as another example of a fully documented creation mythos.

The Best of All Possible Worlds
Karen Lord

This one got mixed up with “Seveneves” in my head, and lost out to a better described multi-species human future.

The Water Knife
Paolo Bacigalupi0

Recommendation from (I think) Pat Lockley. Nicely realised near-future, with a great story. Another reminder that our future may be to be led by gangsters.

Stoner: A Novel
John Williams

Token campus novel – I think everyone read it this year. If you haven’t, you should.

Martin Paul Eve

I should admit that I’d read pretty much most things that Martin writes.

Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia
Peter Pomerantsev

Properly loved this. Russia is another key to understanding the modern world, and I keep going back to this collection of insights from Russian scripted reality television. I’ve a feeling Adam Curtis read this too.

Snow Crash
Neal Stephenson

Everyone kept referring to this. Another Neal Stephenson book – great world-building, meh storytelling.

Neptune’s Brood
Charles Stross

If you only read one post-human thriller about forensic accountancy and robot religion: make it this one.

The Nightmare Stacks: A Laundry Files novel
Charles Stross

The new one.

Just Say No: The Spectator On The 1975 Referendum
The Spectator

Because I wanted to understand Vote Leave from a historical perspective.

Adrian Barnes

Most people forget how to sleep. The collapse of civilisation ensues. In Canada. I guess I just love books set in Canada.

Richard Powers

The digressions about biological warfare were less interesting than the digressions about C20th classical composition. But the digressions about C20th classical composition were amazing.

Red Plenty
Francis Spufford

Series of short stories about soviet Russia and cybernetics. Again, stuff about Russia.

The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up
Jacob M. Appel

Kind of (on reflection) a companion piece to “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”

Look Who’s Back
Timur Vermes

2016 was the year that Godwin’s law was repealed. This is a translation of the hugely successful German satire on the return of you-know-who.

Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy
Joseph A. Schumpter

Austrian school LOLs.

Flat Earth News: An Award-winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media
Nick Davies

Was expecting great things from this, but didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know about the death of journalism.

The Trial
Franz Kafka

An insight into my own personal 2016.

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction
Philip Tetlock

A fair few books about prediction this year. None of them really matched up to Nate Silver – see below.

Shoeless Joe
W. P. Kinsella

The book that inspired “Field of Dreams”, which got stuck in my head early this year. It was an excellent read and I would recommend it.

Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin
David Ritz

That rare beast – a biography by someone who loved their subject but was not blind to their flaws.

The Silo Effect: Why putting everything in its place isn’t such a bright idea
Gillian Tett

Read it. Didn’t help me understand why people worry about silos so much.

Frank Zappa: The Complete Guide to his Music
Ben Watson

Zappa The Hard Way
Andrew Greenaway

Somewhere in my head there is a post about Zappa’s 88 tour band and parallels to both Trump and contemporary academia. It’ll happen one day. This was source material (the Ben Watson should be “The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play”, but no-one should read this more than once…)

Broken Vows: Tony Blair The Tragedy of Power
Tom Bower

Can’t remember why I read this – probably looking for more stuff about Michael Barber. Wasn’t any.

Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets
Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction
Nate Silver

Two more books about prediction – both of which I would want to go back to. Taleb’s authorial voice annoys me –  couldn’t get through “Black Swan” for instance – but this was readable.

Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money are Challenging the Global Economic Order
Paul Vigna

Bitcoin: The Future of Money?
Dominic Frisby

Because this year we all learned about Blockchain. Either of these would have done admirably.

The Origins of Higher Learning: knowledge networks and the early development of universities
Roy Lowe, Yoshihito Yasuhara

A history of higher education that is clear that higher learning is globalised by nature. Great to move me from my early European HE history fixation.

Boomerang: The Meltdown Tour
Michael Lewis

One of my favourite financial journalists on the global, personal impact of the 2008 financial crash. The stories about Iceland particularly stuck in my head.

The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work
Joanne B. Ciulla

“Timely” is the word that comes to mind. Would have liked more on “the history of the future of work” (sounds like an Audrey Watters post!)

Taking Our Country Back: The Crafting of Networked Politics from Howard Dean to Barack Obama
Daniel Kreiss

Really liked this on modern political campaigning. I think this was a rewritten PhD.

The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies
Bryan Caplan

He didn’t know either.

Ready Player One
Ernest Cline

The novelisation of an imaginary John Hughes film from a story by Mike Judge. Recommened by both my son and Bryan Alexander.

Dangerous Medicine: Problems with assuring quality and standards in UK higher education
Paul Greatrix


Debt: The First 5,000 Years
David Graeber

Want to go back to this one too. The parallels between societal organisational structures, religion, learning… and, of course, the idea of debt.

9 thoughts on “Incomplete reading list – 2016”


  • Cow Eye Press


  • Helen Beetham
  • Paul Greatrix

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