Books - 2024


Edible Economics: A Hungry Economist Explains the World, Ha-Joon Chang

Covers some basic economic ideas in a fun way. It's a bit scatty, but some of the sections were interesting - particularly the impact of Limited companies at the time of the East India Trading Company, and some of the forward looking economic policy at the end of the book.

Sedated: How Modern Capitalism Created Our Mental Health Crisis, James Davies

One of the worst non-fiction books I have read in recent memory, specific critques:

  • Extremely sensationalist writing style, with a clear political opinion underlying the reasonable medical evidence. In particular, he takes issue with all forms of measurement of mental health outcomes under New Labour and the Conservative governments, but doesn't offer any alternative.
  • Bad/lazy mis-representation of the prescription of Thalidomide as an anti-depression/anxiety drug. It was prescribed primarily as a morning sickness medication, and drawing parallels to existing anti-depressants is not a reasonable comparison.
  • Repeatedly makes the argument that situational depression and anxiety is common and resolves itself untreated when people change their situation. This is true, but doesn't make the case for non-medicinal intervention, as a key reason why people cannot navigate their way out of difficult situations is because of either the depression or anxiety they are experiencing. This is a big reason, in my opinion, for the stabilizing effect of medical interventions.

I did find the section on the history of the DSM and the development of the diagnostic criteria for mental health conditions interesting, but it was a small part of the book.

Jews Don't Count, David Baddiel

Good read, surprising light writing style for the subject matter. I think the book is a bit too short, and could have done with a bit more depth in the arguments. The amount of the discussion centered around Twitter is a bit exhausting. Sometimes Baddiel makes some crude references which undermine the core arguments (e.g "being able to tell who was Jewish in a sauna"), but other points, such as the difference in semantics of Jew (descriptive noun, often offensive) vs Jewish (standard adjective), and the distinction between ethnicity and religion are informative.

WALKABLE CITY: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, Jeff Speck

One of my favourite books I've read so far this year. I'm a keen cyclist, public transport user and general pedestrian, but there are several parts of this book that are surprising - for example, the fact that the number one thing that makes pedestrians feel safe is parked cars. It does a great job in not only describing what it means for a city to be walkable, but also placing an emphasis on how to make an area desirable to walk in, and various public policy decisions across the US that have directly impacted this. I also think the book does a good job of noting how public infrastructure can be viewed purely through an investment lens - e.g if a pedestrianised area increases the value of the surrounding properties, or the sales at the shops in the area, then there is actual return on investment for the city in the form of increased tax revenue.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Anthony Bourdain

A guilty pleasure. I've always been interested in food/restaurants, but I was also interested to read this book with a rear view perspective on Bourdain's death. Despite casually mentioning issues with heroin use, the book doesn't really get into his psyche, and I think it's a bit of a missed opportunity. The book is a bit of a time capsule of the late 90s/early 00s, and I think part of the reason it's considered a classic is for that depection of restaurants at the time.