Monday 1 January 2024

Books I read in 2023

The number of books that I read this year seems awfully low, but there we have it. As always, there are a good number that I start and don't finish. I've been through a phase of these this past month - maybe four that I started, attempted to read for a few nights or even a week, and then discarded.

These are the books that held my attention.

From five of these six, I remember that Loop was about wolves and cruel people (and good people) and V2 was about the V2 rockets. The other three were entertaining fiction reads. The absolute stand-out book was 'Rise of the Rocket Girls', which I listened to as an audiobook. This was superbly researched and written about the women, the first computers, who did that math that got missiles and rockets up and men on the moon. I think there is a film adaptation. Highly, highly recommended.

A fine collection of books here. De Ruyter's 'Truth to Power' is terrifying and astounding - about the electricity and political issues that De Ruyter faces head on during his three years at Eskom.

'Burchell's African Odyssey: Revealing the Return Journey' by Roger Stewart and Marion Whitehead is magnificent. I started it in about October last year and finished it when I was away for a few days in July. I've had an interest in Burchell since I first learned about him from Kevin Davie, a touring mountain biker who spoke at one of my FEAT events. Kevin cycled Burchell's outward journey from Cape Town and into the Northern Cape. Burchell wrote about and documented this journey - and the specimens of plants, animals, reptiles and birds that he collected on the way. But he didn't publish anything about his return journey, which Stewart and Whitehead have pieced together. Burchell travelled along the Garden Route on his way back to Cape Town, stopping in George to make camp where the Botanical Gardens is located. There is a bust of Burchell and his sketch of the mountains, as viewed from his camp, in the Gardens.

I attended a Zoom talk by Roger Stewart, hosted by Kirstenbosch Gardens, about the writing of this book, collecting documents and photographs and drawings, and piecing together Burchell's return journey. The pictures in the book are as fantastic as the content.

'Swell' by Liz Clarke I listened to and thoroughly enjoyed her sailing adventures. The book covers about five years that she spent sailing from when she first set off. The book covers the people that joined her, the places they sailed to, the people she met, the calamities and challenges of living on a yacht, the ocean and environment, and everything in between. Very, very interesting.

I selected an audiobook 'Teasing secrets from the dead' by pathologist Emily Craig, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I've had an interest in pathology for more than two decades. Craig studied and worked under another pathologist whose books I have. This was an excellent and interesting listen.

Then, Ryan Blumenthal was a guest speaker at an Exploration Society (ESSA) talk. I attend these talks on Zoom on the first Tuesday of every month. A friend there got me Ryan's books and sent them down. Very interesting. I really m a nosey parker at hospitals (I like to know what has gone wrong with people medically) and if people die, I'm just as interested in the how. This was a good triple whammy of pathology.

I read the first four books when I was in the Seychelles in November. I hadn't read a Stephen King for ages (I've been a fan since my teens) so that was delicious holiday reading. 'My perfect daughter' was earlier in the year - enjoyable fiction (I can't remember what it was about.

'The History of Scientific Medicine Revealed through Biography' by Sherwin Nuland was superb. This was a free audiobook and it was a superb listen. Interesting, captivating and fascinating. It took me about two months on and off to complete it. A journey well taken.

These two excellent books wrapped up my year. I interrupted the listening of 'A most remarkable creature' to listen to Dan Ariely's 'Misbelief'. I first encountered Ariely maybe 15 years ago through the TED Talks that he presented. He is a behavioural economist and is totally captivating. Because of Dan, I did an online course in Behavioural Economics through an Australian universitya number of years ago (it was brilliant!). I've read two of his other books and I enjoy catching his posts.

'Misbelief' is interesting and eye-opening. Ariely artfully pieced together the puzzle that is misbelief. We can all think back to covid and the surprising beliefs that popped up from people we've known for years and years; and we questioned how they can suddenly believe the untruths they believe and propogate. Ariely goes into all of this, dealing with misbelief and conspiracy theories. Brilliant, brilliant and brilliant.

For me, the only flaw with the audiobook is that Ariely did not narrate it himself. The narrator is excellent but because I know Ariely's voice and accent and intonation, that is what I was expecting an missing. 

'A most remarkable creature' by Jonathan Meiburg (and also narrated by him - superbly!) is about a bird of prey from South America called the caracara. When I saw this book on a 2-for-1 sale list from Audible, I leapt at it. I've seen a Southern Crested Caracara with my own two eyes - back in 2016 when I was in Chile.

My photo from 2016 from the Puerto Varas area of a Crested caracara

Back then, I wrote this "Not far up the road we encountered this bird of prey. He was strutting up and down next to the road. We watched him, took photos and then drove off. He was totally unconcerned. What a great sighting to get such a good look at him. Mane identified him as a Southern Crested Caracara, known as 'Carancho' or called 'Trado' in Argentina. Caracara plancus is his scientific name."

This bird so captured my attention and I've thought of it often. The audiobook is an interesting 10 hours of tales, adventures and discoveries about these intelligent and curious birds, the places where the different species reside and their behaviour. The book is also about history, geography, people, palentology, human interactions and nature. 

This book is beautifully written, superbly narrated by the author and has been captivating; a fine book to round off 2023.

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