Anna Campbell

January 2021

Recent Reads Part 6

If you’ve been a recent visitor to this column, you’ll think it’s turned into a book review site. And because I’ve been powering through the great books lately, I think I might continue as I’ve been going on. Why not?

I’ve got four great nonfiction reads for you today. Something about 2020 inspired me to dive into a lot of nonfiction, and all of these are well worth picking up!

First up was a really fun read, especially if you like old songs. Cover Me by Ray Padgett does what it says on the cover, it gives us “The stories around the greatest cover songs of all time.” This was a great trip down memory lane for me, not least because I didn’t realise a lot of these songs WERE covers. Perhaps because it’s an American publication, though, it missed out on the greatest cover song of all time, “Tainted Love,” which was originally sung as a bluesy number by Gloria Jones but was immortalized as pure 80s synth-pop by Soft Cell.

My next choice is The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis, an American writer who is probably best known for his recounting of the Global Financial Crisis in 2010, The Big Short. This one is the story of a friendship and an academic partnership between two brilliant Israelis who together invented the field of behavioral economics.

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky were both geniuses who managed to spark genius insights in each other over the period of their friendship. Sadly, that friendship ended up going south because of professional jealousies.

Lewis has such a gift for conveying complex information in a comprehensible manner (although bits of The Big Short still managed to escape me!) and he writes about real people with a novelist’s insight. Both Kahneman and Tversky are completely fascinating characters, unusual, clever, surprising, and fatally flawed when it came to their inspirational partnership. I found their story completely compelling. Well worth a look!

My next choice is Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein. I largely picked this up because I’m a generalist – I like knowing a little bit about a lot. I think that interest in everything around me is part of what makes me a writer.

It starts out with a really fascinating comparison between how Tiger Woods was raised and how Roger Federer was raised. Tiger’s father set out to create the world’s greatest golfer and focused his child’s attention purely on that ambition. Roger’s parents let him try things and experiment and find out who he was at his own pace. There are lots more fascinating examples of generalists who succeeded as you read the book.

Generalists, it turns out, are more resilient, more creative and more innovative than specialists – although the world as it is seems to favor specialists. They certainly pay specialists better! A very thought-provoking read.

My last nonfiction recommendation is by the wonderful Scottish nature writer and poet, Kathleen Jamie. Her Sightlines was one of my books of the year in 2018. Surfacing is just as brilliant and is a wonderful ode to the beauties of the natural world.

This is a series of essays written in language as clear and sparkling as spring water. She has the ability to cut straight to your heart with a description so true that it makes your breath catch.

There’s a long piece about her stay in a Yup’ik village in Alaska and others about her native Scotland and how the changes in her own life are leading her to view the world around her through new eyes. Profoundly moving and alight with beauty. A book I’m sure I will re-read.