Our annual delve back into the books we have read in the last year.
There is something of an unintentional historical thread to this collection of books. The history of the inhabitants of our planet, the history of aspects of medicine, the history of our societies, design and music. Our ranking is subjective, albeit based on our recommendations to others.
Don’t miss the opportunity to make yourself better informed starting here
- The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte
- The Rise and Reign of Mammals by Steve Brusatte
- The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
- World War C by Sanjay Gupta
- Five Little Indians by Michelle Good
- Surrender by Bono
- The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
- Happy City by Charles Montgomery
- Never by Ken Follett
- CRISPR people by Henry T Greely
The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of Their Lost World by Steve Brusatte
I challenge anyone not to be absorbed by this book. I asked our neighbour if dinosaurs were still cool with kids as his son ran past wearing a dinosaur t-shirt. That answered my questions. I guess they are. There are some amusing nods to Jurassic Park, while also emphasizing how much we have learned in the last few decades. It is fascinating to understand the competition between dinosaurs and crocodiles, both members of the archosaurs family. The book also gives deeper comprehension of the way in which the separation of Pangea into separate continents. While we accept that dinosaurs became extinct 66 million years ago, that’s not actually true. There are birds flying around us all the time.
The Rise and Reign of the Mammals
If there are strange people out there for who dinosaurs are not fascinating, then Steve Brusatte followed up with an equally engrossing book about mammals. I was especially intrigued by chapters describing whales, elephants, and bats, which appear the most notable outliers in evolutionary terms.
The fossil record has revealed that mammals coexisted with dinosaurs for 140 million years. Many of our notions about the lineage of modern mammals appear to be incorrect. This book contains many surprises, including on which continents mammals first appeared, were wiped out and appeared again.
The Emperor of All Maladies
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
A phenomenal book. The Emperor of All Maladies won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 2011. Cancer is the second leading cause of worldwide mortality after cardiovascular disease. While the number of cases is increasing in line with population growth, five-year survival rates are increasing. It is startling how little we have known about cancer until recent decades are how savage we were in trying to rid the body of cancer. Should we engineer our genes to stave off cancer? I am now eating more Marmite again; the factor folate that Lucy Wills identified in 1928. Did you know the human body generates 300 billion blood cells a day through cell division? Through Mukherjee’s research, he describes the ‘obscene fecundity’ of cells proliferating in a specimen of blood from a woman who died 30 years before. The cancer cells are immortal.
In my opinion, one of the great health-related books is The Gene, written by Dr. Mukherjee in the years following The Emperor of All Maladies. We voted The Gene the best read of 2017. It is an easy and entertaining read.
I also learned about the origins of the March of Dimes through reading this book, the largest disease focussed association in the US at the time, aiming to research polio. It is good timing too, as I commence on producing Canadian malignant wounds best practice recommendations for nurses.
World War C by Sanjay Gupta
I have spent years listening to Dr. Gupta on TV or radio. He is also an accomplished and eloquent writer. COVID eclipsed the mortality rate of tuberculosis (TB). While you can kill TB in a petri dish, you can’t kill a coronavirus as it’s never been alive. A coronavirus is a piece of RNA sequence; something like a piece of computer code. On that side note, I also read again Frank Ryan’s poignant book Tuberculosis: The Greatest Story Never Told. Like cancer described by Dr. Mukherjee, both lie dormant in the body in remission. COVID is evidence of how complacent we can be and fail to take meaningful measures from history. There is no doubt about the fact that there will be another pandemic. The book has pertinent advice on becoming pandemic P.R.O.O.F.
Five Little Indians
Five Little Indians by Michelle Good
A staggeringly good debut novel that makes the category of ‘must read’ for any Canadian. I didn’t learn about residential schools until the Truth and Reconciliation report was published and Gord Downie brought us The Secret Path. As an immigrant to Canada, I had assumed that family and friends here had learned about it decades ago. It turns out it is much more recent in our national consciousness. I would like to say this book promoted us to do a podcast episode with Water First and Perry Group. Water First is a non-profit that supports Indigenous communities in addressing critical water challenges through education and training. Michelle gets a gold star for liking my Instagram post. This book shines a critical spotlight. It has inspired me to read more, like Jonah K and Unreconciled.
Surrender – 40 songs, one story by Bono
The music of U2 has been the soundtrack of my generation since Live Aid. This is the most unexpected book on this list. As a lyricist, perhaps I should not be surprised that Bono is able to express himself with deep emotion in words and introspection. I now appreciate that I have sung along to songs all my life without listening to the lyrics. This book is an inflection point for me, after which I will pay much greater attention to the lyrics of a song. Opinions may be divided on whether U2 should re-record their original song catalogue. I look forward to listening to Songs of Surrender when it is released on March 17, 2023. Interesting to understand that there were some songs where the meaning has changed or that they never felt were quite right at the time they were released.
U2 is one of few bands which continue with the original members 40+ years later. Can you name another? It is intriguing to learn about how closely interwoven many creative performers are. Bono has exemplified a role as an activist on many social issues. It is interesting to learn the context of many familiar lyrics.
The Design of Everyday Things
The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
The oldest book in this diverse library by far. First published in 1990, yet now revised and expanded. Norman had me hooked from the start as he described his inability to navigate doors, light switches, stoves or other household appliances. They are many familiar examples of poor design, while bizarrely, we often don’t even notice good design. Even notes the two critical elements of good design are discoverability and understanding. The book should be essential reading for anyone working in fields around design thinking models, covered in depth in chapter six.
Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design by Charles Montgomery
Guided to this excellent book from a remark in Andre Picard’s interview in the first The Conversation Piece podcast episode podcast talking about loneliness and social isolation. I learned inspiring cases about the roads in Bogata, long commutes in Atlanta, mixed-use projects in Vancouver, and a lawsuit brought by a school board against a child in New York who wanted to ride a bike to school. When we started Milton Transitional Housing, we experienced the strangulation imposed by different urban design codes (residential, retail, manufacturing, green space, mixed-use). We planned to offer a soup kitchen to the homeless, yet city code bylaws prevented people sleeping overnight. This was perhaps my first introduction to urban design and its importance to the design of healthy cities. Wealth has driven us further from our places of employment, so many families spend less time together, more time communicating and more money.
This book then also prompted me to read The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Richard Wilkinson and, in turn, The Weightless World by Diane Coyle. It is good to see the conversations continue through the CityAge Podcast series.
Never by Ken Follett
I couldn’t put this book down. It seems surreally pertinent and kept me guessing all the way to the end. It sheds light on how nations have allegiances to one another from pacts dating back decades. A departure from his story about Kingsbridge through Pillars of the Earth and related series of books.
CRISPR People: The Science and Ethics of Editing Humans by Henry T Greely
This book was inspired by reading The Code Breaker last year. Some intersection with The Emperor of All Maladies, Deep Medicine, World War C, and The Gene. The book follows the history of the events following the cloning of the first human embryo by He Jiankui in China in November 2018. CRISPR stands for ‘Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats’ The book distinguishes between human gene editing to treat disease in one person yet doesn’t affect the offspring of that person against genome editing that irrevocably changes the DNA of all offspring, termed heritable germline genome editing. The presidents of American and UK scientific societies argued that a broad societal consensus is needed before making a moratorium on heritable genome editing. What has happened to those babies born in 2018 is unknown.
Beyond those books noted above were several written by friends.
Slalom: 6 river classes about how to confront obstacles, advance amid uncertainty, and bring focus to what matters most by Joe Jacobi. Joe and I have known each other 30 years. We discussed his river lessons through an ICFslalom podcast episode. I now realize I have been ‘slaloming’ my whole life.
Sustain: Plant-based foods for active people by Brooke Donoghue, Luuka Jones, and Christel Dunshea-Mooij. New Zeland Olympic silver medallist Luuka Jones and I discussed the book during one of our ICFslalom podcast episodes. I bought a copy and had it shipped from New Zealand. We have been eating our way through some of the recipes.
Open Innovation Labs and Innovation Management: The dynamics of communities and ecosystems edited by Valérie Mérindol and David W. Versailles. Luc Sirous wrote two excellent chapters with other coauthors. Chapter 5 describes the cocreation formulated by Hacking Health Foundation. Chapter 6 presents Communitech as a beacon of an open lab. Much of the book is centred on health. Tip: skip the preface and introduction, which are academic and painful to comprehend! Luc and team authored an extended article in French examining Communitech.
Accessible Atonement by David McLachlan. My brother-in-law, Revd David McLachlan, examines the intersection of disability and theology. It was the subject of his PhD.
We hope these books help make you better informed. More than anything, these wonderful books took us to different parts of the world we have never visited, Gander, Pearl Harbor, Tokyo, Swat Valley, Thunder Bay, North Korea, Bletchley Park and more. They also echo the fact that innovation is an ongoing process of collaboration and incremental hypotheses over decades. Both provide stark evidence of our desire to build silos, boundaries, or walls and to claim breakthroughs and advances as our own. We should learn from history.
Note. Cover image of Happy City published by Permission reproduced with permission of the author.