Whitechurch Blog: Summer Reading List 2020

23rd June 2020

Five books to read this summer

Summer is officially here – a time to catch up on missed readings, re-read old favourites and discover new ones. A time to sit by the pool beneath a tropical sun, cocktail in hand, while enjoying a gripping page turner. Ok, scrub that last idea – at least for now! But at least the current lockdown has given many of us more time to read than we usually have. With that in mind here are five books, we’ve recently read, that will both stimulate and entertain you.

The Rules of Contagion: Why Things Spread and Why They Stop, Adam Kucharski

Adam Kurcharksi, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, managed to time his writing to perfection. The Rules of Contagion was written in 2019 and released in early 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic reached public consciousness. The author, a mathematician by training, explains the history of epidemics and the hidden laws that govern them. The author goes on to demonstrate how the same forces can be used to explain the spread of things as disparate as gun violence, misinformation, memes and computer viruses.

Radical Uncertainty: Decision-making for an unknowable future, John Kay and Mervyn King

Another well-timed book release by two economists, John Kay and Mervyn King, who have both had long and interesting careers. King was the Governor of the Bank of England during the Financial Crisis while Kay is well known, among other things, for his books and articles on the investment industry. The authors’ central premise is that, in many spheres of life, we simply do not know what the future holds and that those who purport to describe (and quantify in probabilistic terms) possible outcomes are, in effect, charlatans. You may not agree with all of the authors’ conclusions, but the book covers a huge amount of ground including, for instance, a thought-provoking critique of behavioural economics.

Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Rivalry That Unravelled the Middle East, Kim Ghattas

Written by the Lebanese-born journalist, Kim Ghattas, Black Wave is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand why the region now seems dominated by religious extremism and conflict. Ghattas argues that the turning point in the modern history of the Middle East can be found in the confluence of three events in 1979: the Iranian Revolution, the siege of the Holy Mosque in Mecca and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As a result, two of the major regional powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, who had previously been allies, became locked in a power struggle, marked by religious sectarianism and proxy wars. In this way, the previously multi-cultural, and often, religiously diverse traditions in the region were squeezed with ongoing repercussions.

Richmond Unchained, Luke G. Williams

Given the current dearth of sporting events during the lockdown, sports fans have had to rely on TV repeats including the boxing contests between Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Joe Frazier. What you might be surprised to learn, if you read this book, is that 200 years ago, one of the most famous celebrities in Britain was the black boxer, Bill Richmond. Born into slavery in Staten Island, Richmond won his freedom as a young boy and carved a new life for himself in England, initially as a cabinet maker and later a renowned fighter. His fame was such that he fulfilled an official role at the coronation of King George IV in 1821. The author, Luke Williams, meticulously chronicles Richmond’s life against an historical background that included the American War of Independence, the fight for black emancipation and the Napoleonic Wars.

I Drink Therefore I am, Roger Scruton

With pubs and bars shut across the country, people have been drinking more at home as well as experimenting with virtual parties via video conferencing apps.  Sales of wine have risen by 20% or more, according to newspaper reports. The distinguished English philosopher, Roger Scruton, passed away in January this year, just before the coronavirus epidemic took off. Although trained in analytical philosophy, Scruton is best known for his writings in support of conservatism. In this good-humoured book, Scruton uncorks his extensive knowledge of wine and mingles this together with some philosophical musings. In vino veritas.

Simon Jaffé