Many of the personal reflections of 2016 have been pretty negative. So I wanted to focus on an aspect that was very good for me. It was a good year for reading. I got into a great routine for long periods at a time; reading for an hour before bed helped me steadily get through the things I wanted or felt compelled to read and to turn off from work. This also helped me sleep better.

It’s a bittersweet burden to be in the position of having so much worth reading at my fingertips. I was spoiled to live a short subway ride from The Strand; possibly the best bookshop in the world and a frequent recipient of my cash. In addition, I enjoyed and at times battled with, very ambitious subscriptions to the Economist, New Yorker and New York Times. This was augmented with frequent forays to Washington Post, The Atlantic, Guardian, VICE and Foreign Policy.

Honourable mention goes to a few writers I grew newly attached to, including Laurie Garrett on public health, Zeynep Tufecki on the intersection of technology and society, Sultan Al Qassemi on the Middle East and Glenn Greenwald on Brazil and diplomatic leaks.

Writers that continued to inspire were Steve Coll (on national security and intelligence) and George Monbiot (on the environment and extractive capitalism).

Technologies and platforms that aided this saw Twitter in first place. The dwindling number of faithful practitioners included some fantastic followers; see here for my full list but included the following reliable syndicators

I partially fell back in love with Quora after managing to escape my filter bubble. Pocket was a nice way to save articles from Twitter with a single click for reading later on a long subway journey. Mendeley continued to be the best way to organize my scientific papers and sync highlights. For the 10th year in a row, Reddit still didn’t stick.

Now, in no particular order, here are the books that most stayed with me from 2016. Disclaimer: some, in fact many, are pre-2016 but I only got to them this year.

Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World

A unbelievably angering walk through of the shady world of offshore banking and the current misaligned incentives that lead to the status quo. The main outrage that stuck with me was the estimation, since accurate numbers are hard to come by, that the money that flowed from Africa to offshore bank accounts in 2008 amounted to 10 times the amount of Western aid money that flowed in during the same period ($1.2 trillion vs $100 billion).

The World Without Us

Alan Weisman describes blow by blow, what would happen to the Earth if humans were to disappear from it one day. It’s a book with many facets. In some sense it is a science fiction novel recalling Day of the Triffids or 28 Days Later, that appealed to the part of my brain that idly wonders how long it would take for the Brooklyn Bridge to collapse if not maintained (spoiler: a couple of years as bird droppings fall into the gaps designed to allow expansion in warm weather). A strong underlying theme is entropic; just how and how long it will take for the remarkable things mankind has constructed to decay. From the remarkably fragile (the Panama canal) to the alarmingly robust (plastic carrier bags).

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

The book inspiring the film of the same name describes the cathartic and massively ambitious undertaking of the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. Her complete naivete and lack of preparation is refreshing and I enjoyed visualising her rapid progress to trail veteran. While I hesitate to compare through the prism of gender, I couldn’t help contrast this with another favourite of mine; Into the Wild in which Christopher McCandless marches solo into the Alaska wilderness. Both authors are exercising demons of their own, yet in very different ways. ultimately Strayed’s tale is cathartic and uplifting yet sadly only she was able to emerge stronger and to survive to write the story herself.

The Opposite of Loneliness

Marina Keegan was an astonishingly talented young writer studying at Yale who was destined for great things with a staff writer position at the New Yorker already lined up following graduation,but was tragically killed. These haunting short stories run the gamut from star crossed lover fleeing Iraq’s Green Zone to entombed deep water submarine operatives in the bottom of the Mariana trench.




Data, science, data science and trace amounts of the Middle East and the UN

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Alex Rutherford

Alex Rutherford

Data, science, data science and trace amounts of the Middle East and the UN

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