January's Books - A Retrospective
January is always the easiest month in the 52 books challenge. You head out to the bookshop and grab an armful of interesting-looking stories and devour them in rapid time. Suddenly you;re reading on the train, on the bus, during your lunch break.
It never lasts, and by the time March rolls around you've found a new video game, a new Netflix series, or something else to fill that time. But the challenge lingers and tugs at the back of your mind. Reading is kept to the evenings, where you plough on at speed, eyes flicking from page to page.
This is why January is the best month to start things off, and the best month to try and get ahead of yourself and save your eyes down the line.
With that in mind, let's see what I managed to get through in the first month of 2020.
Flash Boys - Michael Lewis
Flash Boys is about a small group of Wall Street guys who figure out that the U.S. stock market has been rigged for the benefit of insiders and that, post financial crisis, the markets have become not more free but less, and more controlled by the big Wall Street banks.
It's a whistle-stop tour of the world of flash-trading, and at times can feel like it's getting head of itself, so excited is Lewis to tell you this tale of financial mischief. His enthusiasm for the subject is put across in his inimitable style which at times feels almost as if it were fiction playing at fact.
Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates
A bold and beautifully written exploration of America's fraught racial history and its contemporary echoes that will redefine wider understanding of race and the roots of American identity.
I could wax lyrcial about this book for days. It was my favourite read in 2018 and I don't feel like it's cheating to buy it in physical form and read it again. Coates prose flows from the page like water, at times close to poetry. The message those words carry never fail to hit home, either. He never strays, never digresses, from the crucial point of his work - answering the biggest questions about US racial history.
The Shortest History of Germany - James Hawes
How Roman did Germania ever become? Did the Germans destroy the culture of Rome, or inherit it? When did they first drive east, and did they ever truly rule there? How did Germany become, for centuries, a power-vacuum at the heart of Europe? How was Prussia born? Did Bismarck unify Germany or conquer it? Where are the roots of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich?
Hawes attempts to answer all these questions in 240 pages and in more than 100 maps. For the most part he succeeds in laying bare the history of a country so pivotal and central to the future of Europe. A blistering first half falls slightly by the wayside as Hawes attempts to pinpoint the Elbe river as the heart and soul of all Germany's problems.
Exterminate all the Brutes - Sven Lindqvist
Lindqvist argues that the Nazi holocaust had its roots in nineteenth century European thought as he examines the cultural and historical root of Joseph Conrad's Kurtz in Heart of Darkness and the phrase "exterminate all the brutes".
Part history book, part memoir, part ode to a continent almost stripped of its future by Imperialism, Lindqvist has written an engaged and engaging book that the general reader can think along with and does not get lost in footnotes, asides or meandering soliloquy.
From Hobby to Obsession - Darragh MacAnthony
The story of a young millionaire buying a football club stuck in the depths of League Two and turning it into "the most entertaining football club in the country". It stands out a little amongst its company above.
As a fan of Peterborough United, the team in question, I have been meaning to read this book for a long time. It's very obvious within a few pages what Darragh MacAnthony is. He's a salesman, a businessman, and not an author. While he may get wrapped up at points talking of how much money he earned and lost as a young entrepreneur in property, the book is nonetheless a great insight into life behind the doors of a football club.
February beckons now, and I wonder when the first fiction book might appear...