Some reading highlights from 2017

In what is now my traditional first post of the year, I’ve written my usual round-up of my reading for the year here. A fairly eclectic set of books, with perhaps a bit more memoir than normal.

My two favourites were these:

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, and their race to save the world’s most precious manuscripts, by Joshua Hammer

This book was one of my favourites this year, continuing my theme of reading about places in the world which had much more education and science than our Eurocentric history would have you believe. It is the story of the manuscripts of Timbuktu, and one local’s enormous efforts to save them from the Islamic warlords who had taken over his city.

Timbuktu is one of those names of places to conjure with. Sadly, reading about it didn’t make me want to go there. It is seriously unsafe, and the Sahara desert is encroaching. Nevertheless, the story of the 15th century precious manuscripts being saved, and, by implication, the story of the culture centre that Timbuktu once was is a fascinating one.

Highly Recommended


Light and Shadow, Memoirs of a Spy’s Son, by Mark Colvin

Mark Colvin was a foreign correspondent, until he became too sick to travel, when he hosted the ABC’s PM program for 20 years. These memoirs are almost as much about his father, a British Spy, and their secretive relationship, as they are about himself.

Although I’d followed Colvin on twitter, I had resisted these memoirs for a while, as I’m not that into autobiography. But they are a fascinating portrait of two lives, and how they intersected with world history for quite a lot of the 20th century. Colvin is incredibly well read and curious about the world. He wears his knowledge lightly, and weaves it into the narrative, so you don’t even notice how much you are learning as you read it.

Sadly Mark Colvin died last year, not from the kidney disease that had made him an invalid for 20 years, but from melanoma. And I happened to be in the middle of reading this book at the time, which made it especially poignant.

Highly Recommended


With a close runner-up being this feminist tract from one of my absolute favourite feminist authors Catherine Fox.

Stop Fixing Women

Stop Fixing Women, Why building fairer workplaces is everybody’s business, by Catherine Fox

I’ve reviewed her previous books here and here. After many years of writing about women in the workplace, Fox seems to have written the book she was mulling over all along. The fundamental point is that we will never have equality in the workplace without changing the workplace. Women are not the problem, workplaces are. This book came out well before the Harvey Weinstein scandal made the point forcefully about how unfair many workplaces are for women. But even without an additional serving of sexual harassment, the unwritten rules for recruitment, performance reviews and promotion tend to favour behaviours that are regarded as positive in men, and negative in women, such as assertiveness.

Sadly, given the book is really aimed at those in charge of large workplaces, every review I have read of this book has come from a woman, so there is a way to go.

Recommended, highly recommended for senior corporate men


I hope you find a book you haven’t seen before. Happy New Year!

  1 comment for “Some reading highlights from 2017

  1. RuthKeaney
    January 7, 2018 at 8:44 pm

    Insightful reviews, thank you Jen, as always, poignant messages for us all. Cheers Ruth

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