Richard Fisher, author of The Long View: Why We Need to Transform How the World Sees Time recommends a stellar set of books! Before jumping into the interview, please check out Richard's book:
Q. Do you have a favourite smart thinking book (and why that book)?
This is a bit of a meta answer to a question about smart thinking...but the one I find myself returning to, time and again, is David Robson's The Intelligence Trap. It's about the blindspots of smart people – how a certain level of intelligence can hide biases, habits and behaviours that are irrational, unadvisable or even stupid. Basically, Robson argues that smart people are able to come up with all sorts of complex justifications for their choices, which can be difficult to unpick even for themselves. It can explain why seemingly well-educated people become climate deniers or enchanted by conspiracies, for instance. But Robson's book also offers a reminder of humility in regards to your own self. You're not as smart as you might like to believe.
Q. What's the most recent smart thinking book you've read (and how would you rate it)?
I'm currently reading Lewis Dartnell's Being Human: How our biology shaped world history, out in June. It's a wonderful book about how human biology shaped history. I've always loved 'what if' alternate histories, and from the first pages, Dartnell invites this reflection through the lens of our bodies and minds...if you think about it, evolution could have taken us down different paths: we have a certain number of fingers on our hands, we thrive by cooperating not competing, we we are susceptible to certain diseases, biases...alcohol – all these things that make us human could have been different, but they're not, and they explain why the world is the way it is, how civilisations rose and fell, and what might lie in our future.
Q. Do you have a favourite childhood book?
I loved Choose Your Own adventure books as a child - the ability to plot your own path. Looking back, that probably infIuenced my path to be a writer - preferring to have agency over where the plot goes! I also was heavily influenced by reading Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton as a teenager. It wasn't just the dinosaurs that fascinated me; it was the sense of what science can do, and how in human hands, it can often go astray. I think that influenced my path into science journalism: to explore all the discoveries that are out there, but also to question scientists and their work.
Q. Do you prefer reading on paper, Kindle or listening to an audiobook?
It depends what for. For pleasure reading, paper. For work reading, Kindle, because it's searchable and highlightable. Also Kindle on my phone is frankly easier to access while waiting in a shop queue. I do find that having a book on the same device as my social media accounts is not conducive to focused longform reading though. I haven't solved that problem. I tried experimenting recently with a text-to-audio app – Evie – that converted books into audio that aren't on Audible etc, but it didn't stick as a habit...it's still better to be read to by a human being, or to read yourself.
Q. Do you have a favourite bookshop (and why that shop)?
One that represents a happy memory is the Harvard Coop bookshop, near the university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was somewhere my family and I would visit often in 2019-20, when I was completing a research fellowship, down the street at MIT. At the front, it features all the books written by Harvard and MIT faculty, so every time I'd visit, would remind me how lucky we were to spend a year there, auditing classes, meeting interesting people, amid a culture of learning and knowledge. In Cambridge, almost everyone you meet is doing something fascinating. One example: I remember chatting once to one of the mothers as we waited for our daughters to pick them up from Girl Scouts. We did the usual small-talk. I asked her what she did. She said: "Oh, I make exoskeletons."
Many thanks to Richard for recommending a stellar set of books! Please don't forget to check out The Long View: Why We Need to Transform How the World Sees Time.
Image Copyrights: Headline Publishing Group (The Long View), Hodder & Stoughton (The Intelligence Trap), Vintage Publishing (Being Human), Cornerstone (Jurassic Park)