My Top 20 Reads of 2018

For the second year running, I’ve compiled a list of my best reads of the year. During 2018, I’ve read hundreds of articles on a range of themes – from culture, to politics, to technology – which have challenged me, and in many cases, shaped my thinking on particular topics. So here goes, in no particular order … my list of 2018’s top 20 reads. Enjoy!

The Profound Presence of Doria Ragland, by Doreen St. Félix (The New Yorker) 
“A millennium of world-shifting encounters — of violence and of romance and of acts in between — produced this scene: the sixty-one-year-old Ragland, an American who teaches yoga and does social work sitting in the opposite and equivalent seat to Queen Elizabeth II. One is a descendant of the enslaved, a child of the Great Migration and Jim Crow and seventies New Age spirituality; the other, the heir to and keeper of empire. Blood had long ago decided what life would be like for both. But love barges in and finds a way.”

LOSING MY RELIGION: The cross, the lynching tree and Kenya’s post-colonial enterprise, by Christine Mungai (The Elephant)
“The fact that white colonisers would use the symbol of a Nazarene anti-colonialist to enforce and entrench the very project of colonisation is a testament to the twisted genius of white supremacy. But Jesus of Nazareth was no coloniser.”

Music’s ‘Moneyball’ moment: why data is the new talent scout, by Michael Hann (FT Magazine) *paywall*
“The Talent AI dashboard enables users to apply a series of filters to either tracks or artists. Eventually you can apply filters so far you can narrow down on any kind of artist you want: if you want unsigned German folk singers on more than 10 playlists with at least 20,000 Spotify followers, you can find them.”

What losing (then winning) an election taught me about God and politics, by Kayode Adeniran (Salt London)
“While politics can be powerful in shaping the environments in which we live, changing our human behaviour and habits, it cannot and never has dealt with the deepest problem that human beings have faced since the beginning of time – ourselves.”

Glencore: an audacious business model in the dock, by Neil Hume, David Sheppard and Henry Sanderson (The Financial Times) *paywall*
“As well as being a major miner, it is the ultimate middleman, moving millions of tonnes of commodities across the globe, linking the suppliers of raw materials — often in developing countries — with consumers in wealthy and fast-growing ones, earning wafer-thin margins on large volumes along the way. But what sets Glencore apart from its peers is its appetite for risk, at times pushing the limits of what is allowed in the modern global economy.”

Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds, by James Clear (James Clear blog)
“It is not difference, but distance that breeds tribalism and hostility. As proximity increases, so does understanding. I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s quote, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” Facts don’t change our minds. Friendship does.”

The post-truth Gospel, by Marcel Theroux (The Times Literary Supplement)
“Like many unverifiable but seductive claims, the theory that Jesus was a Buddhist has thrived in the glassy twilight of the internet and resurfaces in books such as Holger Kersten’s loopy and unreliable Jesus Lived in India. Like Nazca lines and alien sightings, there’s something weirdly compelling about Notovitch’s tale. It answers a need in all of us to smooth the rough edges of our reality: in this case, to turn the biblical Christian Jesus into a more unifying figure.”

A slave in your place, by Rupert Shortt (The Times Literary Supplement)
“Perhaps the most important reference to ideas of atonement in the earliest strands of the New Testament is Mark 10:45 – “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. The Greek word translated as “ransom” is lutron. It designates the payment made to liberate a prisoner or slave. So in indicating that he would make his life a ransom for others, Jesus meant that he was placing himself totally at their disposal – in other words saying “I will be a slave in your place”. There are echoes of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant here, but also of Exodus 30 and 34, which speak of a need to redeem one’s own life or that of one’s firstborn through sacrifice. Something too weighty is owing to God, so a gift is offered in its place.”

Developers’ hoardings deconstructed, by Edwin Heathcote (FT Magazine) *paywall*
“The images used by property companies to promote their developments have been a constant irritant and a needling reminder of the churn, the commodification, gentrification and architectural homogenisation of the city. Swaths of cities and their pavements have been given over to a property-porn reimagining of an idealised, globalised city, but mostly, this is a story about London and its reinvention as a safe-deposit box for the spare change rattling around in the pockets of the global super-rich. Of course, there is always going to be top-end property speculation — the city’s economy, in large part, depends on it — but to push it in peoples’ faces, often those whose families are being displaced, is deeply uncool.”

Short Cuts: Cambridge Analytica, by William Davies (The London Review of Books)
“Just as environmentalists demand that the fossil fuel industry ‘leave it in the ground,’ the ultimate demand to be levelled at Silicon Valley should be ‘leave it in our heads.’ The real villain here is an expansionary economic logic that insists on inspecting ever more of our thoughts, feelings and relationships. The best way to thwart this is the one Silicon Valley fears the most: anti-trust laws.”

How the BBC Lost the Plot on Brexit, by Nick Cohen (The New York Review of Books)
The BBC’s reporting of the scandals around the Brexit referendum is not biased or unbalanced: it barely exists.”

The Global Financial Crisis: Bait and Switch, by Simon Wren-Lewis (The London Review of Books)
“The implementation of austerity in the wake of the global financial crisis involved denying help to millions of people. To carry that off required politicians and influential parts of the media to ignore or actively suppress expert consensus (as well as the overwhelming evidence on which it is based) that austerity is harmful and unnecessary. In other words, a political deceit with huge costs to the economy was enacted in order to achieve a political or ideological goal.”

Grenfell Tower, June, 2017: a poem, by Ben Okri (FT Weekend Life & Arts) *paywall*
“Those who were living now are dead, those who were breathing are from the living earth fled. If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower. See the tower, and let a world-changing dream flower.”

The dark light of the Presidents Club, by Nick Spencer (Theos Think Tank blog)
“The default argument today is that it’s fine for people to be objectified, groped, abused, hit, dominated, enslaved – just as long as they are OK with it. The view effectively empties any and every act of its moral content, relocating the ethical weight to the realm of personal judgement. Nothing is good or bad.”

Uber is Headed for a Crash, by Yves Smith (New York Magazine)
“Uber is a taxi company with an app attached. It has never presented a case as to why it will ever be profitable, let alone earn an adequate return on capital. Investors are pinning their hopes on a successful IPO, which means finding greater fools in sufficient numbers.”

The Unseeables, by Tariq Ali (The London Review of Books)
“Contrary to the radical slogans of the late 1940s, India’s wasn’t a ‘fake independence’. Self-rule was achieved at a high price and it meant something, but it incorporated many colonial practices. The new masters benefited, but for the untouchables, tribals and others conditions remained the same or got worse. According to recent estimates by India’s National Crime Records Bureau, every 16 minutes a crime is committed by caste Hindus against an untouchable – or Dalit.”

America’s New Religions, by Andrew Sullivan (New York Magazine)
“So what happens when this religious rampart of the entire system is removed? I think what happens is illiberal politics. The need for meaning hasn’t gone away, but without Christianity, this yearning looks to politics for satisfaction. And religious impulses, once anchored in and tamed by Christianity, find expression in various political cults.”

Bristol, the slave trade and a reckoning with the past, by Judith Evans (FT Magazine) *paywall*
“As for the statue of Colston, Rees, the mayor, is firm that something must change. “He can’t sit there labelled as ‘one of the most virtuous and wise sons of the city’. That’s poor.” But for now, campaigners who want Colston toppled do not look set to get their way. Instead, the council has commissioned Dresser [a local historian] to write the text of a new plaque for the statue’s base. The plaque “will definitely talk about [Colston’s] involvement in the slave trade and profiting from slave-produced goods”, Dresser says. “But it will try to be balanced and pose the conundrum [that] he was also a philanthropist, although a sectarian one. And how do we balance these out, and can we balance these out? And to what extent are we ourselves free of moral contradictions?””

Can history help?, by Linda Colley (The London Review of Books)
“Over the centuries both the UK and the US have indeed been almost too successful in their recourse to war, and this has had mixed repercussions for their political systems and democracy. As a result, in the UK even more than in the US, old structures of politics were able to persist. […] Could it be that Britain’s political stability has become too pronounced? That, by not having to adjust and alter its political system as so many other countries have had to do, the UK has stored up unaddressed problems and unhelpful stagnancies? The convulsions and divisions over Brexit might have some tonic effect on Britain. This bitterly divisive and presumably long-lasting change might turn out to be the painful moderniser that military defeats and invasions have sometimes proved to be for other countries.”

How Restaurants Got So Loud, by Kate Wagner (The Atlantic)
“According to Architectural Digest, mid-century modern and minimalism are both here to stay. That means sparse, modern decor; high, exposed ceilings; and almost no soft goods, such as curtains, upholstery, or carpets. These design features are a feast for the eyes, but a nightmare for the ears. No soft goods and tall ceilings mean nothing is absorbing sound energy, and a room full of hard surfaces serves as a big sonic mirror, reflecting sound around the room.”

That’s it friends!

Best wishes for the New Year!

Chipo.

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