Our Books of the Year: part 1

29 December 2008 at 7:00 am Leave a comment


Marjorie Goldstein, New York
Parallel Lives, written by Phyllis Rose, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1983. I picked up my copy in a second-hand bookstore in Vermont, and once started I couldn’t put it down. The book, sub-titled ‘Five Victorian Marriages,’ is an extremely well-done account of the machinations, intrigues, infidelities and happinesses (as defined by the protagonists and fairly rare) of five very well-known literary couples: Jane Welsh and Thomas Carlyle; Effie Gray and John Ruskin (fairly shocking); Harriet Taylor and John Stuart Mill; Catherine Hogarth and Charles Dickens (quite a guy!) and George Eliot and George Henry Lewes. In some ways the lives we lead now are extremely different; in others quite the same. It reminded me of the French expression, ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose’


Andy Stubbings, London
Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely, is another pop-economics book and the latest in a line of books debunking ‘Traditional Economics’. Ariely takes us through various experiments that demonstrate that people act in much less rational ways than we might expect, with results that are intuitive but illuminatory. For instance, it is easier to get lawyers to provide their services for needy causes for free than it is for $30 an hour, because they will assess the deal in terms of social norms and not market norms (i.e. “I’m worth much more than $30” vs “it’s good to volunteer). The book is stuffed with anecdotes and factoids like that, which is why it makes for great reading.


Andrew Curry, London
We live on the blue planet, and 60% of our bodies are water. But one of the great conundrums of the future is whether we’ll have enough water – or too much. Poets sometimes have an antenna for such things, and the first poems in Sean O’Brien’s The Drowned Book are suffused with water. In ‘The Water Gardens’, for example, he writes, ‘Water looked up through the lawn/ Like a half-buried mirror/ Left out by the people before’. The language captures a sense of water as a deep history – and a deep sense of foreboding.

Entry filed under: books.

Wishing you… Our Books of the Year: part 2

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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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