As the nights get colder (and appear to be starting from about 3 o’clock in the afternoon now!) there is something very comforting about the idea of curling up with a good book. We hope you like these suggestions from across the team on what they’re reading this winter:
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
Invisible Women is a really revealing book that shows the consequences of existing in a world where so much, from government policy to technology, is designed by men. Data is fundamental to the modern world – we rely on numbers to allocate resources and make crucial decisions. But because so much data fails to take into account gender, it treats men as the default and women as atypical, baking in bias and discrimination into our systems. Some of the case studies of this ‘gender data gap’ are a good reminder as to the annoying everyday realities, such as why my phone is always the wrong size for my hand or why I am always cold in the office, through to workplace issues such as recruitment and selection, with the example given of blind auditions increasing the proportion of female players hired by orchestras to nearly 50%. The book has highlighted a lot of bias I wouldn’t have even thought of, and has been a good reminder that you shouldn’t accept data as applicable to all.
Just my Type, by Simon Garfield
I’m conscious that reading a book about the history of fonts might be on the dorkier side of the bookshelf, but the thing I find fascinating about fonts is that they have their own personalities, and you have an instinctive reaction to that, whether you mean to or not. You’d find it odd to see Times New Roman on a kid’s birthday invite, or Comic Sans at a funeral parlour, even if you don’t know exactly why. Part of Simon Garfield’s book is talking about the history of fonts, and whether that recognition is because of something innate in the font itself or because of the role they’ve taken over time. Why do some become more prolific than others? You may not be asking yourself what does the New York subway, American Airlines, and Jeep have in common, but now that I’ve learned about the Helvetica boom in 1960s Madison Avenue advertising, you begin to realise that you are in fact seeing the same characters everywhere!
The Penguin Book of Modern Speeches
This is definitely at the more intellectual end of books I’ve read this year, but actually lots of these speeches are really accessible and gives great insight into different leaders and the history of the last century. Read chronologically, the book essentially presents as a whistle stop tour through the politics of the last 120 years. It’s easy to dip into and my favourite speeches have been Teddy Roosevelt’s “The doctrine of the strenuous life” and Nelson Mandela’s “An ideal for which I am prepared to die”. It’s also hard not to feel inspired by Obama’s now infamous “Yes we can” speech!
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
A Gentleman in Moscow tells the story of the charming, witty and resourceful Count Alexander Rostov, an aristocrat placed under house arrest in the glamorous Hotel Metropol in Moscow during the Russian Revolution. The book offers a fascinating insight into the life he creates and the many interesting people and situations he encounters, all set against a backdrop of enormous political and societal change.
It gives a thought-provoking perspective on the concept of confinement, restriction of liberties and the importance of friendships and human relationships, which I’m finding particularly pertinent at this time!
Plagues and Peoples, William H. McNeill
There is no doubt that 2020 has been a totally extraordinary year, but reading Plagues and Peoples, an interpretation of world history through the impact of disease, has really helped put that into context. William McNeill argues that the significance of disease is massively underappreciated in mainstream historical studies, with examples ranging from the downfall of the Roman empire to the Spanish conquest of Latin America. The book was originally published in the 70s but I’ve found the insights give a really interesting perspective to the current crisis, with Covid-19 being the latest chapter in humanity’s ongoing battle against disease. It is also very readable for a sweeping revisionist history!