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.
Alastair Reynolds: Redemption Ark (Revelation Space)
The follow up to Reynolds' brilliant 27th century dystopian space opera Revelation Space is, if anything, even darker and weirder. No wonder MJ Harrison compares Reynolds to Dick and Van Vogt.
Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens
Although not without its problems, this is a pretty remarkable achievement, a sweeping history of humankind from its prehistoric origins to its potential post-human future. But it's much more than that, challenging our most basic assumptions in every field from nutrition to ethics, religion to consciousness.
Stephen Batchelor: Buddhism Without Beliefs
One of Batchelor's more controversial works, this is a slim volume with a huge message: that agnosticism of a very profound kind can go hand in hand with mindfulness and compassion. Beautifully written, impeccably argued - and an evening's read!