2016 was seriously the best year I’ve had for books in ages. Despite it not being a great year for, well, pretty much everything else globally.
But in times like these, you grab what happiness you can get, right? So here are my favourite non-fiction books of 2016.
Roger Penrose is my favourite living physicist. He has had a prolific career to date, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
I first encountered Penrose’s work after reading In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat by John Gribbin. The book sparked my interest in quantum physics, and after a while I stumbled upon The Emperor’s New Mind and then Shadows of the Mind by Penrose.
Fear And Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard is my favourite book. I re-read it every so often, because one can never have too much Kierkegaard.
Here are some of my favourite quotes from one of the times I read it. I’m sure there will be more to revisit at a later date.
Robin Lane Fox, Emeritus Fellow of New College, Oxford and Reader in Ancient History, University of Oxford, has recently released a new book about Augustine. I picked it up the last time I went into Waterstones, because it had a pretty cover and because I find Augustine’s views generally interesting.
Winner of the Wolfson Prize for History 2015, the book charts Augustine’s life up to and including his writing of the Confessions. It compares and contrasts his path with those of other thinkers of his time, including the pagan Libanius.
I am going to tell you two stories about a girl who made a life decision.
They both take place in London in the early 2000s. The girl is nineteen years old, and has been studying a Philosophy & Psychology degree for a year.
A couple of interesting thoughts about human spirituality and the beginnings of religion, from The Beginnings Of Religion by E.O. James.
A couple of weeks ago, two of my friends came over for dinner. One is a committed atheist, the other a vague Christian. And me, a… well, a scar.
The conversation turned to religion at one point, and my atheist friend said that she didn’t understand how anyone intelligent could possibly believe in a god. How she is stunned to see scientists and people like them expressing beliefs in entities whose existence can’t be empirically proven.
Tattoos, I have found, tend to have quite a polarising effect. I have several of them (23 at last count), mostly in places that are openly visible (hands, arms, fingers, neck).
People either love them or hate them: rarely do I meet someone who doesn’t have an opinion on whether I’m “ruining my body” or “making meaningful art”.
Numerosity is the concept of someone being able to look at a group of items and determine the rough size of each. Presented with two pictures, one with five dots and one with five hundred, for example, they should be able to comprehend the five hundred dot image as more numerous than the five dot image.
This is a quality possessed by many animals, from apes to invertebrates. It makes sense for this to be the case: if you’re a sardine, you’re going to want to be able to differentiate between a group of five other sardines, and an entire shoal. This has certain evolutionary advantages, not least because many animals group together for safety.
It is a refrain often heard in my group of girlfriends when we meet up. “He just wouldn’t take no for an answer!”; “He was convinced I was attracted to him even though I wasn’t flirting at all!”
We are definitely not alone in these complaints. And now someone has studied this phenomenon, producing a paper which has perhaps my favourite opening sentence of all time: “Heterosexual men consistently overperceive women’s sexual interest.”
So, what did they find out?