Three books that changed the way I think

I like to read, and usually have both a non-fiction and fiction book on the go at the same time. What I love about non-fiction books in particular is discovering new things that might just say with you for the rest for your life. Here are three books that months, years, and in some cases, decades on, I still think back to on a regular basis.

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) – Tom Vanderbilt

Have you ever wondered about the psychology of road users, including yourselves? Doing so will make you a better driver. Facts I still remember a decade on:

  • Merging late is better for everyone overall, but people find it annoying when people merge in front of them because our brain feels although our personal progress is being inhibited.
  • The lane you chose probably feels like the slowest since we spend more time looking forward when driving, and so notice people passing us much more so than we notice people we pass.
  • One of the reasons people buy fancy cars is to make themselves feel important, because unlike many other aspects of live, on the road all drivers get equal priority, no matter their job title or bank balance.
  • Tailgaters can only keep it up for a few minutes because driving so close to someone requires a lot of attention.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari

Widely noticed as one of the most eye-opening books of the century so far, the cover of this book had quotes from both Barack Obama and Chris Evens (yes, the radio presenter) – quite a variation in gravitas. Some amazing facts or at least theories I learnt were:

  • What differentiates Humans from other animals is not our brain power, but our ability to hold a collective imagination together, which in turn allows us to cooperate in the millions, unlike any other animal.
  • Money, companies, countries and even football exist solely in our collective imaginations. They literally do not exist outside of it.
  • Prehistoric humans had the same brains we we did, and were as intelligent as we were. What changed was our ability to pass on information through generations.
  • Many diseases that have plagued humans throughout history were only passed to humans after we starting manipulating the environment and living in close quarters to other animals (e.g. started farming).

The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life? – Paul Davies

Ever wondered why life exists? It turns out that if the laws of physics were changed ever so slightly, life probably wouldn’t exist. This books attempts to explain why this might be. Some interesting takeaways I recall were:

  • The basics of the “standard model” – how each of the forces interaction with each other to create the world we live in. We all know about gravity and electromagnetic, but I’d never heard of the strong or weak forces before.
  • Religion cannot explain how the universe started, if the answer is ‘God made it” then it simply pushes the question to “well, who made God then?”
  • There is a surprising number of serious consideration given to everything existing inside inside a simulation.

Do people really feel their books?

The BBC have been running a story this afternoon about e-book sales vs printed book sales. I was surprised when a majority of the people they (unscientifically) surveyed said they preferred printed books. This was not because they can be purchased second hand for next to nothing, not because they make a great gift or because they can be passed along to a friend, but because of the way they 'feel' – really?

I have never finished a great book and been absorbed for days by the texture of the book in my hand – a satisfying plot, however has made me do just that – and digital advances can improve the reading experience by offering custom fonts, synchronsiation, character profiles, built in lights, and being easier to hold. I've probably converted about 4 people I know who said they loved the smell and feel of printed books to e-readers, because good story is what makes a good book, after all.

Peter V Brett Book Signing


I have never been to a book signing before, so I didn’t know what exactly to expect from last Tuesday’s event in London. It was so great to meet your favourite author (Peter V Brett is tied with Stephen King as far as my favourite authors go) – of course it was brief, there were many people with books waiting to be signed – but it was great to have even just a brief chat – kind of amazing to think to yourself – “You know that awesome fantasy world that you’ve spent who knows how many hours of your life reading about, pondering, imagining, and discussing – well this is the guy who penned it all, right here!” – part of me wanted to jump up and down with excitement like a lunatic, the other part of me (the part that thankfully, usually wins these internal mind-battles) thought I should just act polite and ask a few questions about the books.

So well worth it, if you ever get the chance to meet your favourite author (even just for a couple of minutes) DO IT!



Queue, the Stephen King section (AKA horror section, where they put King’s non horror books too)


More queuing, lots of people talking about the books


The books

Death of a Polaroid

I was lucky enough to be bought “Death of a Polaroid” for Christmas. This magnificent photo album documents many of Nicky Wire’s Polaroid snaps throughout the history of the band. With many people (especially technology bloggers) wishing away printed books, it made me realise how electronic books will never be able to replace some things, despite what they might hope for.

More Stephen King

Under the Dome

IMG_3967Look what Santa brought me for Christmas… weighing in at 1074 pages it looks like one mighty read. If it’s anything like Cell or Salem’s Lot then I am in for a treat. The only King book of this size I’ve read before was Dreamcatcher, which while good, seemed way too long.

I’ll let you know in a few months…


The Painted Man–by Peter V Brett

image_thumb[1]I don’t usually read fantasy books, in fact before I read The Painted Man I’d never read a fantasy book. Not that I am one for boxing things into genres – I am far more likely to pick up a book on the merit of its author’s previous work or by reading reviews. Luckily my brother recommended me this book, and so I took it on holiday with me to Greece. Having just finished Stephen King’s Salam’s Lot, the pace style of this book was difficult to get used to. Once you get going however, this book comes into its own. The author takes his time to build a realistic, plausible world, one that is plagued monsters that arise from the core of the earth whenever the sun sets. The book follows three characters over a number of years, and by the time the story climaxes you really feel you are inside their heads and can fully empathise with them and their actions.

Along the way there is of course plenty of action, heartbreak and surprises – but what really makes this book so good is the fascinating world it exists in and the characters than inhabit it.

I was sad when I finished this book, not because the ending was bad (it’s not) but because I knew I would be leaving that world behind. Luckily there is a second book, and I’ve just started that. So far so good.

I highly recommend this book.

Cell by Stephen King

A couple of months back I finished reading Cell by Stephen King.

The hardback original cover

What can I say? What an amazing book. Despite the inevitable of label “Horror”, I’d classify this as more of a psychological thriller. Yes there are many gory scenes, but the meat of this book is not in the action sequences, but in the constant feeling of fear, fear of the unknown experienced by a group of people who find themselves unaffected by the “Pulse” sent out through the mobile phone network, a pulse that resets the human brain to its most primitive form and eventually takes those affected by it (most people), know as  the “phone crazies” on a different evolutional path. What could have been?

The book could be described as a zombie apocalyptic story, but rather than the usual approach of “virus hits earth, chaos ensues, lead character finds a big gun, shoots zombies, makes their way to safety” the author gives the zombies original abilities and strange behaviours that just  cry out to be explained and will keep you reading.  All of the characters feel well written and believable, meaning you as the reader care about them, making the goodbyes sad and the dangerous moments tense.

Much has been said about the ending of this book, with many readers disappointed that it didn’t answer all their questions. While I won’t give anything away, all I will say is I liked the ending, it suited the tone of the book. If anyone has ever seen the original cut of Blade Runner, and then the Director’s Cut you’ll know what I mean – sometimes what is not said can be so much more powerful, in the same way the ending to the first Matrix film was ruined by the two subsequent sequels.

So I highly recommend this book, don’t be put off if “horror” isn’t usually your thing.