What I’ve been reading

I’ve been too busy to keep up this supposedly regular feature, but I have been reading lots of interesting stuff in the last few months. Over the fold, I’ll list some of them and try to write a sentence or so about each. (I’ll probably keep updating this for a couple of days as I get time). I plan to review some of these, so your suggested priorities would be of interest.

Australia Fair by Hugh Stretton. A renewed statement of the case for social democracy from one of the Grand Old Men among Australian public intellectuals.

“Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation” (Joseph J. Ellis)

Fascinating essays on some of the founders of the US – Hamilton & Burr, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Adams and Madison

“Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics” (Joseph S. Nye)

This is looking pretty forlorn now, with US soft power at its lowest ebb since the Vietnam era. In the foreword to the new edition, Nye is pretty unhappy about this.

The State of the Art by Iain M. Banks, available in Brisbane from Pulp Fiction. A very enjoyable collection of his early short stories

Against a Dark Background by Iain M. Banks, available in Brisbane from Pulp Fiction. Only just got this one. Initially I’m finding it something of a disappointment compared to the Culture novels. But I’ll persevere.


Barons to Bloggers More on bloggers and the media with contributions from Lance Knobel, Jay Rosen, Eric Beecher, Guy Rundle, Margo Kingston and Andrew Clark.

“Blink : The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” (Malcolm Gladwell)

This airport bestseller makes a good pair with James Suriowecka on The Wisdom of Crowds

“What Good Are the Arts?” (John Carey)

I agreed with it just on the basis of the negative reviews, and I agree even more now that I’ve read it. More on this, I expect.

“Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda” (John Keegan)

Greatly over-rated is Keegan’s view, and mine also

“Holy War : The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World” (Karen Armstrong)

The best thing I’ve read on the motivation behind the Crusades and their continuing resonance

11 thoughts on “What I’ve been reading

  1. Yo, Capt. Quiggin, check out Iain Sinclair – Peter Ackroyd meets Martin Amis meets JG Ballard with a dash of the Bills Blake and Burroughs under the armpits ‘cept he’s a much better prose stylist than any of them (well apart from Blake).

    Well OK, that’s my opinion and he polarises the shit out of a lot of people who have read him. But stick your nose into “White Chapell, Scarlet Tracings”, “Downriver”, “Lights Out For The Terrority”, “Slow Chocolate Autopsy”, “Radon Daughters” or “London Orbital” and you’ll certainly admit he is not like other writers. Peter Ackroyd, Iain Banks (and Iain M. Banks) and Alan Moore all cite him as an shamanistic influence.

  2. “Against a Dark Background” was the first Banks SF novel I read and it’s still one of my favourites. I’d be interested in your opinion when you finish it. I think you’ll be pleased you persevered.

  3. Contect, contect, context… “Against a Dark Backgroundâ€? is a Culture novel. Especially enjoyed the short story about Earth in “The State of the Art”.

    Personal fav sci-fi author of the month: Richard Morgan. Make sure you read ‘Market Forces’, Corporate Jungle meets Mad Max.

  4. I can’t entirely work it out, but are your Amazon links ‘sponsored’ ie benefiting you, Pr Q? If they are, I certainly don’t mind, but do you have a duty to disclose that? If not, please just ignore me…

    I thought Against a dark background was a great read, but I’m not much interested in a review of it, if I may put in a request I’d very much like to hear what you have to say about Hugh Stretton’s Australia Fair.

  5. Oh, another comment. Do you consult in time management, or speed reading courses? How on earth do you read so much, have a family, a day job and a blog?

  6. Wilful, I think there’s supposed to be some sort of sponsorship deal attached to the Amazon links, but I’ve never received any money. ecto (my blog posting software) sets them up for me.

    PS I’ve been using DayDoubler ever since it came out – hence my concern with singularities and so on.

  7. Two good books:

    Happiness by Richard Layard

    The Impact of Inequality: how to make sick societies healthier by Richard Wilkenson

    exactly the sorts of books a social democrat economist might find interesting.

  8. John, I’ve glanced through Hugh Stretton’s latest book and I’d be interested to know what you think about it. Any chance of a longer review?

  9. Hugh Stretton did an interview on A.B.C., a little while back, about his new book.
    He was most impressive in my biased eyes and wish I could find a link.

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