Eva Hoffman: How to be Bored
A somewhat disappointing read, this. There's lots of good - though hardly original - observation about the dangers of digital distraction and addiction, but the mitigation strategies, while solid (walk, listen to music, read etc,) are hardly ways to be "bored" at all - rather more like middle class distractions.
Viktor E. Frankl: Man's Search for Meaning
This extraordinarily little book is widely regarded as classic but had passed my by until a Tim Ferriss recommendation. In it, Auschwitz survivor and psychiatrist Frankl details his own time in the death camps and extrapolates from the experience the importance of finding meaning in one's life - to survive and to thrive.
John Powell: How Music Works
Not to be confused with the David Byrne book of the same name, this is a more down to earth, but hugely useful introduction to a whole range of topics from the physics of pitch and volume to why no-one is "not musical". British composer and musician Powell writes in an open, engaging way and is at times very funny.
Sam Harris: Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion
Neuroscientist, philosopher and polemicist Sam Harris asks what it means to lead a "spiritual" life as a rationalist/sceptic/atheist. As you'd expect, it's cogently argued and highly persuasive and genuinely offers a practical path for those of us who reject, er, voodoo.
Scott Timberg: Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class
This is an essential (and rather overlooked) read for anyone involved in the creative industries, arguing that a perfect storm of tech disruption, celebrity obsession, post-crash economics and cultural philistinism possibly spells the end to any meaningful career in the the arts and culture.
Paul Kildea: Benjamin Britten: A Life In The Twentieth Century
Kildea's lengthy exhaustive portrait of Britten and his art is genuinely an extraordinary achievement. Highly detailed and acute in its musical observations, it's also a great account of classical music in the UK during the 20th century, and a balanced, humane account of a truly complex individual. Moreover, it's beautifully written and at times very funny.
Jaron Lanier: Who Owns the Future?
It's taken me some time to finish Lanier's follow up to You Are Not A Gadget, but not because I don't love it; rather because it's so dense with ideas (not to mention poetic in its expression) that a single page can take a long time to digest. It is, of course, brilliant, but also terrifying, describing a world in which technological determinism creates a tiny global elite and destroys the middle class. Lanier proposes a "humanistic" economic solution but even he seems unsure that it - or any variant - will succeed. The 21st century could be very bleak indeed.
Jared Diamond: Why Is Sex Fun?
File under "not what you think" - this is Diamond at his best, examining the "evolution of human sexuality" in all its forms. It's provocative, of course, but always fascinating at at times very funny indeed.
Matthew B. Crawford: The World Beyond Your Head
Possibly my favourite book of the year. I picked this up because my interest in digital distraction, but this is so much more: it's a paean to the joys - and importance - of having an embodied, skills-based engagement with the world. Sometimes highly academic, sometimes gritty and colloquial, it's always fascinating and inspiring.
David Hendy: Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening
A highly accessible, non-academic history of sound and its role in human history, from the caves of Chauvet to the favelas of Rio.