Subtitle: Imagination taking power

All the books I read over the summer

Hi folks. I’m back. I thought I might share my summer booklist, in case you’re looking for some inspiring late-summer reading. I think this might be what they call a ‘shelfie’? So, in micro-review format, here are the books that currently lie by my bed, well-thumbed, with sand and bits of vegetation in the binding, and with pencil marks in the margins. I hope they might give you as much joy as they gave me.  Anything you’ve read that you’d recommend?  Please use the comments box below:

Rebecca Solnit: Men Explain Things to Me: Great collection of essays by the ever-brilliant Solnit – ‘Woolf’s Darkness’ is particularly excellent.  Solnit is such a powerful and skilful writer, it’s amazing how much she packs into one short story.

Jay Griffiths: Kith: A passionate defence of childhood, and lament for its undermining and erosion in the West today. What does childhood look like elsewhere in the world, and how might we do it better? Brilliant. Loved it.

Tony Schwartz: The Way we’re working isn’t working: Didn’t blow my socks off, but has some great bits about attention, and how to start to rebuild your attention span.

Boel Westin: Tove Jansson – Life, Art, Words: a tender and beautiful biography of Tove Jansson, author of the Moomin books, painter, novelist, illustrator, remarkable and extraordinary person. This book held me entranced from start to finish, and is a powerful example of how a childhood surrounded by creative people, books, paper, paints and love can produce remarkably imaginative people.  Also a moving story of her struggle to be taken seriously as an artist, not just as the author of the Moomin books, and of her life as a gay woman when such a thing was far harder than it is today.

Rob Young & Irmin Schmidt: Can: All Gates Open – the story of Can: wonderful new biography of one of my very favourite bands of all time, Can.  Late ‘60s, early 70s pioneers and experimenters, remarkable musicians who worked in remarkable ways to make music that hasn’t aged and still inspires.  Loved it.

Leonard Mlodinow: Elastic: flexible thinking in a constantly changing world: pretty good book on neuroelasticity, but not as good as Norman Doige’s ‘The Brain that Changes Itself’.

Simon Baron-Cohen: Zero Degrees of Empathy: a fascinating exploration of empathy, and the writer’s own take on what it is and how we might boost it in our culture.

Joan Lindsay: The Secret of Hanging Rock: whether you enjoyed the film, or the recent BBC adaptation, or the book of ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’, you were almost certainly left pondering, often for many years, as to what happened to the girls who disappeared on the Rock.  When Lindsay originally wrote the book, she also wrote a lost chapter, ‘Chapter 18’, which  gave an account of what happened.  Her editor suggested removing it, as the book would have more impact without it.  This small volume includes that chapter, plus essays on its significance by ‘Picnic’ scholars.  Intriguing…

James Bridle: New Dark Age: technology and the end of the future: I had loved a lot of his journalism about the impacts of the web and smart technologies on our daily life and on our brains, and was really looking forward to it.  While there were parts of it I loved, I found it as a whole a bit rambly and its many parts quite disconnected, and struggled to keep the whole narrative of what he was trying to say.  But as I said, parts of it are brilliant.

Ben Goldfarb: Eager: the surprising secret life of beavers and why they matter: I never knew beavers were so fascinating.  Goldfarb’s book is a delicious immersion in the world of the beaver, their history, their current precarious state, the impact they have on the world.  Every page is fascinating, and I now see and admire these remarkable creatures in a way I would never have imagined before I picked this book up.

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett: The Inner Level: how more equal societies reduce stress, restore sanity and improve everyone’s well-being.  Last but by no means least, I would actually say that this is the most important and fascinating out of all of these books, and the one I would most recommend.  The sequel to ‘The Spirit Level’, it is packed with research and data showing how the more unequal a society is, the more depressed, stressed, mentally ill and divided it is.  My underlining pencil worked overtime with this one.  Left me seeing deliberate policies of austerity as an attack not just on the poor, but also an attack on the collective imagination, astonishingly self-defeating at a time that calls us to be at our most imaginative.  Essential reading.


  1. Chris Bird
    September 3, 2018

    Hi Rob
    I’m reading Eager at the moment and, like you, find it fascinating. Particularly pleased to learn that there is now a beaver colony here in Cornwall near Ladock and I’m seeing new potential for the overgrown stream that runs along the bottom of our valley…

Join the discussion

© Rob Hopkins 2017-2024