The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics
by Tim Harford
***One of the best books on critical thinking, recommended by Nigel Warburton***
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics," said Benjamin Disraeli (according to Mark Twain, anyway), in what has become one of the most well-known quotations in the English language, and certainly the only one most of us know about statistics. And yet...in practice many of us continue to be misled by them on a daily basis. In The Data Detective (called How to Make the World Add Up in the UK), British economist Tim Harford tries to equip us with tools to take on the latest misinformation.
We've also interviewed Tim, a Financial Times columnist and BBC Radio and TV presenter, about books on two topics: Unexpected Economics (including a comic book) and the best Introductions to Economics.
How to Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education
by Scott Newstok
How to Think Like Shakespeare by Scott Newstok, Professor of English and founding director of the Pearce Shakespeare Endowment at Rhodes College, is a lively attempt to glean what we can learn about teaching by thinking about William Shakespeare (1564-1616). It's part of Princeton University Press's Skills for Scholars series, "books designed to equip scholars, students, and academic leaders with the resources needed to build and communicate knowledge today."
Twilight of Democracy
by Anne Applebaum
Anne Applebaum's latest book, Twilight of Democracy, is part polemic, part memoir, and tracks how and why so many people she knew (eg Viktor Orban, who has been prime minister of Hungary for the past decade) abandoned liberal democracy and became far right populists. Applebaum was a foreign correspondent in eastern Europe at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall and continued to cover the region for many years.
We interviewed Anne Applebaum on the best Memoirs of Communism.
Expert: Understanding the Path to Mastery
by Roger Kneebone
Many of us aspire to mastery in our area of specialism. But how does one get there? It’s not always clear. Roger Kneebone, a former trauma surgeon turned Imperial College London professor and ‘expert on experts’ has spent years joining the dots between various professions to build a model of how one might advance to the levels of skill to become a true master.
Five Books deputy editor Cal Flyn spoke to the author to find out more…
Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul
by Taran Khan
Indian journalist Taran Khan’s wanderings through Kabul offer a rare glimpse of daily life in the city far beyond the glare of headlines and rolling news. From forgotten tombs to hushed libraries that survived the Taliban regime, to the beauty salons and the bright-lit wedding halls where Afghan women shed their inhibitions in privacy, Shadow City wanders the streets of an “amnesiac city” repeatedly remade by war, but still bearing traces of the past should one take the time to notice.
Five Books deputy editor Cal Flyn spoke to the author to find out more.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading
by Leah Price
What We Talk About When We Talk About Books by Leah Price is a must read book for anyone interested in the history of the book and its place in society both in the past and today, according to our review.
Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities
by Vaclav Smil
Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities is the latest book by Vaclav Smil, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Environment and Geography at the University of Manitoba. A lifelong interdisciplinarian, in Growth he examines a wide variety of phenomena, "from microorganisms to megacities”, taking in plants, crops, animals, humans, energy sources, manufactured goods and more along the way, looking at all of them in just one particular dimension – how they grow.
The result is a thought-provoking analysis of some of the challenges facing humanity in the 21st century, such as energy transition and population growth. He also uses this approach to raise questions about cherished economic objectives, such as the quest for constantly high GDP growth. He argues that in a finite material world such growth must, necessarily, have its limits. Smil makes no attempt to cast the implications of this in a positive light. The book is a sobering as well as a fascinating read.
The Math of Life and Death
by Kit Yates
The Math of Life and Death, by Kit Yates, a senior lecturer in mathematical biology at the University of Bath, is an excellent popular math book, demonstrating the many times math plays a critical role in our daily lives—often without us even knowing it.
Kit Yates chose the Best Math Books of 2019 for us. Is math really a matter of life or death? He spoke to us about his book in a Q&A.
Spending Time: The Most Valuable Resource
by Daniel Hamermesh
"Life is hectic," writes labour economist Daniel Hamermesh at the beginning of chapter 13 of Spending Time: The Most Valuable Resource. In the book, he explores why this is so, in what way it is so and what, potentially we could do about it.
How to Think about War: An Ancient Guide to Foreign Policy
by Johanna Hanink & Thucydides
How to Think about War by Johanna Hanink, a classicist at Brown University, is a translation of key speeches from Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War as well as an introduction and explanation of what it's is all about.
Churchill: Walking with Destiny
by Andrew Roberts
If you're looking for just one book about Winston Churchill, and especially about his role in World War II, Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts is the book for you.
Oscar: A Life
by Matthew Sturgis
Oscar: A Life by Matthew Sturgis is an authoritative and highly readable biography of the Irish-born playwright and wit Oscar Wilde (the last biography was published 30 years ago). In 2019, Oscar: A Life was shortlisted for the prestigious Wolfson History Prize.
Infinite Powers: The Story of Calculus
by Steven Strogatz
"I yield freely to the sacred frenzy"—Johannes Kepler, 1619. Infinite Powers: the Story of Calculus is a popular math book, written for a general audience. In it, mathematician Steven Strogatz not only takes us through the history of calculus, from Archimedes to the present day—pointing out its extraordinary contribution to modern life along the way—but also conveys some of the excitement of doing math.
by Jared Diamond
How do countries deal with crisis? In Upheaval the author, geographer and historian Jared Diamond examines how six countries he has lived in have dealt with crisis—and looks at the challenges facing his own country and current home, the United States.
Jared Diamond is one of our most recommended authors on Five Books, with two of his previous books recommended multiple times in our interviews with experts: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005) and, of course, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997).
by Ian McEwan
The Cockroach by distinguished author (and Five Books interviewee) Ian McEwan is a political satire about Brexit, the shorthand used for the decision of the United Kingdom to exit the European Union following a referendum in June, 2016. Critical response to The Cockroach in the UK has been predictable: those who support Brexit hate it and those who oppose Brexit love it.
The audiobook, read by the British comic actor Bill Nighy in his customary lugubrious tone, is very, very funny.
Unelected Power: The Quest for Legitimacy in Central Banking and the Regulatory State
by Paul Tucker
Paul Tucker, former deputy governor of the Bank of England, looks at how unelected bodies can and should be made accountable in a modern democratic society.