2014 Reading

As I do every year, this post looks back at my reading for the year.  It is much easier to do now that everything I read is on my kindle, so I don’t even need to remember what I have read. This year I also have a new source – netgalley, which has given me a few free books in return for reviews.

Flash Boys, by Michael Lewis, Four and a half Stars

This book is about the quest for ever and ever faster trading – Michael Lewis in his trademark style looks at whether in the arcane details of executing share trades, banks are ripping off their customers. He convincingly concludes that they are, until you read some of the external commentary, which is not as convinced. I would read anything Michael Lewis read about the financial markets, he has a knack of finding interesting stories that help you understand the whole.

The Hard Sell: The tricks of political advertising, by Dee Madigan, Three and a half stars

I first heard of Dee Madigan from watching the Gruen Transfer, where she has been a regular guest.

Advertiser and true believer, she has worked on a number of Labor campaigns as well as as a creative director and social media specialist. I enjoyed this, but probably would enjoy most of the same points made even more painlessly on Gruen Nation.

Worth reading for true believers.

The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See, by Max H Bazerman, Three and a half stars

I reviewed this one here. I enjoyed this book, it was chatty and the anecdotes were interesting. It’s probably not in the top-tier of management books, for me, though.

It was too betwixt and between – not really a leadership book, and not really a book about thinking, but a bit of both. It had the air, for me, of a book that had been rewritten a bit in an attempt to appeal to the (probably bigger) market for books on leadership.

The Wife Drought, by Annabel Crabb, Five stars

I reviewed this one here.

Annabel Crabb is a funny, impassioned writer, on this and many other topics, and she has backed up her fascinating anecdotes from the famous and not so famous with an impressive array of evidence and statistics.

Many books on this kind of topic are only read by the already convinced; I hope this book is also read by those who haven’t taken much interest in the thorny area of women succeeding at the highest levels of the workplace.

Anyone interested in work life balance, and improving the equality of our society should read this one.

My top pick for 2014.

Class Act, by Maxine McKew, Four stars

Maxine McKew works for Social Ventures Australia, advising on education issues, and is a Vice Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Melbourne.

This book is a fascinating look at all the various things that have worked well in Australia’s education system.

There are plenty of things that haven’t, but those that have had made a big difference to children’s educational opportunities.

Japan and the Shackles of the Past (What Everyone Needs to Know), Four stars

I’ve been on a bit of a Japan kick since holidaying there in April. It’s a fascinating place, with a history quite foreign to those like me who have grown up on Western European history.

This book is quite heavy going, but the last few chapters, on very recent Japanese history really helps the interested foreigner understand what has been going on with Japanese politics in the past few years, and just how long the shadows of the Meiji restoration and before are on current politics.

Navigating the Path to Industry: A Hiring Manager’s Advice for Academics Looking for a Job in Industry, by M R Nelson, Four stars

I reviewed this book here.

I’ve talked to many actuaries thinking about moving into areas like marketing, credit risk management, market risk management; areas where an actuarial skill set is highly relevant, but not well-known. Most strategies involve going via consulting, or else joining the company in another role and trying to move from the inside. This book has some really great advice about how to make the jump direct, if those strategies aren’t available to you.

A short e-book – well worth the read.

The Kimball Group Reader: Relentlessly Practical Tools for Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence,

My team took on some serious data warehousing responsibilities this year.  So I’ve been learning a lot more than I ever used to know about managing data inside a large corporation.

It’s fascinating stuff, particularly in the era of big data. I must admit I haven’t read as much of this book as I would like yet, but I’m going to keep going.

It is a book for dipping into, rather than reading cover to cover.

#GIRLBOSS, by Sophia Amoruso, four stars

I reviewed this book here.

It’s not a long read, and it is an enjoyable one. The target reader is probably the buyer of Nasty Gal fashion (not a coincidence – Amoruso is past master at building online communities to sell more) – a young woman trying to figure out what to do with her life. I enjoyed it more than Lean In, mainly because it is chattier, and doesn’t pull its punches. Amoruso has some strong opinions about the world, and she’s not afraid to let you know what they are.  And she will inspire you along the way.

The Beginner’s Guide to Winning the Nobel Prize: Advice for Young Scientists, by Peter Doherty, three stars

This was reissued in paperback this year, for a new crop of scientists. Although I thought I would love it, as I am quite into science, it is actually quite focused on managing a career in science.

So I found it a bit heavy going for the non scientist. And sadly the scientist market in Australia is small and getting smaller all the time, so I don’t know how many readers this book is likely to have out in the wider market.

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, by Clare Wright, four stars

This book won the Stella prize in 2014,  a major literary award celebrating Australian women’s writing.

It is a history of Eureka written thinking about all the people who were there. The goldfields of country Victoria were not a male only place. They were full of women playing many roles, including, to my surprise, one who died as part of the Eureka stockade, and has subsequently been erased from the history. A fascinating lens on one of Australia’s founding stories.

Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific, by Robert D Kaplan, Four stars

I reviewed this book here.

Robert Kaplan is an American journalist and foreign policy adviser. Although this book is about Asia, he writes this book not so much an Asian expert (although he clearly is), as an American foreign policy expert, and so this book is as much about the implications of what is happening in Asia on US Foreign Policy as it is about Asia itself.

Despite its occasional US-centricity, this book is worth reading for anyone interested in the region, and a good reminder that geography, as well as economics and politics, matters in thinking about the world.

How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough, four stars

This book is about the importance of “character” – perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism and self-control, and various educators’ efforts to instil them in children as part of the education system.  The author argues that for long-term success in life, these attributes are ultimately more important than the more narrow measure of intelligence. Interesting and thought-provoking for any parent.

The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life, by Uri Gneezy and John A List,

I reviewed this book here.

When I discovered this book, I realised it was the perfect book for this blog. A book about behavioural economics, which also examines gender and other discrimination through an economic lens. What could be better?

I didn’t buy this book expecting to get any business lessons from it; I bought it because economics for the general reader interests me. But it is worth reading with businesses in mind; reminding the reader that the best organisations are the ones that are constantly learning from their experiences, and design ways that they can learn as much as possible about their customers and their business.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert, five stars

A book on a topic I’m interested in by a New Yorker writer is always worth a look. Elizabeth Kolbert is one of my favourites on that short list. This book looks at what is happening to species on this planet at the moment, and argues that we are going through a sixth great extinction of species, this one driven totally by humankind.

The great extinction that everyone knows about is the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. And the one that is happening right now is equally dramatic.

Utterly compelling and sobering.


A few of my readers have asked me whether I ever read fiction, as I only ever review non fiction on this blog. And I do, so I thought I’d highlight a few new books or series I read this year. There is some great speculative fiction out there, which is one of my favourite genres.

The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley. If you feel tempted by any of these books, read this one. A plausible fantasy set in our current world with a whole lot of secretive magic stuff going on. My whole family is hanging out for the sequel.

The Martian, by Andy Weir. This one made it to lots of books of the year lists in 2014. An astronaut is stranded on Mars and keeps himself alive through ingenuity and science.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. A first novel (by an Australian) about the last woman to be executed in Iceland in the 19th century. Even though you know the ending, it is utterly gripping. Won a ludicrous number of awards for a first novel.

Charles Stross has been writing for a while. This was the year I discovered his books. Two series – the Laundry Files and the Merchant Princes – are great fun, with the Merchant Princes series getting Paul Krugman‘s vote as great science fiction for economists. Luckily, he writes fast, so I’ve got more things to read from him.

The PC Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch, is a fun fantasy series set in today’s London.

Mr Penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore – a love letter to the history of fonts.

The Inspector Montalblano series, by Andrea Camilleri is a classic detective series set in a fictional town in Sicily. They have such a strong sense of place that they make you want to live and eat there every day.

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion made it to Bill Gates‘ summer reading list.

The Iron Druid chronicles,by Kevin Hearne, is another set of fantasy, this time set in Arizona with an immortal irish druid as the main character.

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got trapped in an Ikea wardrobe, by Romain Puertolas. A one off fable about illegal immigration in Europe. More fun than that makes it sound.

The Bullet catcher’s daughter, by Rod Duncan. Steampunk in an alternative Victorian Britain universe.

The Hidden Academy series, by Jon Rosenberg. More British alternative history fantasy. With some magic.

Flash Gold (A steampunk novella set in the Yukon) by Lindsay Buroker

This is a series of very short books, a clever self publishing marketing method.

The Verlaque and Bonnet Mysteries, by ML Longworth. A series of detective stories set in Aix-en-Provence.

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