My favourite books of the pandemic era

Book open on table with coffee behind it, stack of books to the left

Obviously, the Covid-19 Pandemic is no where close to being over – not worldwide, at least. Here in Canada, we’re fortunate – through decades of (neo-)colonial rule to have been one of the first in line for vaccine doses. That means, that while the pandemic is still raging in (basically every) other parts of the world, we’re on our way to having a form of protection from vaccines – which notably, doesn’t mean a whole lot if we can’t get everyone around the world vaccinated.

I just received my second dose, which means give me two weeks and I’ll be ready to party. And by party, I mean probably do the exact same thing I’ve done throughout this whole pandemic: hang out at home, with a cup of tea and a book.

As such, I present to you my list of my favourite books I’ve read over the last year or so – or what felt like the last ten years, because what is time anymore?

This list isn’t going to be in any specific order, nor is it going to be exclusively new releases. Just books I enjoyed, learned from, and ones that distracted me (with other world problems) from the ongoing virustimes. Enjoy (all these non-fiction books)!

The Jakarta Method (Vincent Bevins)

This book is a tough read – not because it’s not interesting, but because it’s truly tough to read about the Global North’s role in exterminating (read: murdering) thousands of politically left-thinking people around the world, in numerous countries, in order to help institute policies that would benefit the richest members of our society.

It’s worth a read.

Range (David Epstein)

Range was absolutely fantastic, and kind of a sequel to Epstein’s other book, The Sports Gene, which as the title alludes to, is all about sports and what makes athletes great. Range took the lessons from The Sports Gene and applied them to a broader selection of job positions and lives, developing a theory that those people we typically see as being experts or at the top of their field are not necessarily specialists, but instead are generalists – able to bring in a breadth of information across specialities and apply different outlooks/perspectives to different situations.

Humans: A Brief History of How We F***** It All Up (Tom Phillips)

I mean, with a title like this, do I really need to say anything more?

Humans is history written for the average person, but by a comedian. It’s great. It’s funny. It’s the kind of book you read, marveled at human history, laughing out loud at how stupid, ridiculous, and fucked up humans are.

The Gray Rhino (Michelle Wucker)

Part rebuff to The Black Swan, part “how did we miss this?”, The Gray Rhino is an excellent book that asks – and attempts to solve – how we recognize obvious problems and work to solve them before it’s too late (think climate change, pandemics, financial crises, etc.). It’s framed around the idea that many events/occurrences that we deem Black Swans (highly improbable, highly impactful) are truly Gray Rhinos (highly probable, highly impactful) – we just need to learn to come to grips with that, and start working to solve the problem.

In essence, if you see a Gray Rhino running towards you, don’t stop to wonder if it’s truly coming towards you – just recognize that it’s a problem, and start looking for a solution.

Invisible Women (Caroline Criado Perez)

This book was lent to me by a friend – and I’m forever thankful. It opened my eyes as to the way the world, essentially, has a male gender bias in everything – it’s well worth a read.

Survival of the Friendliest (Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods)

You’ve heard of ‘Survival of the Fittest’, but what if that concept of evolution was… incorrect? What if evolution and history are actually factors of friendliness and working within groups? That’s the premise of this book, which expands upon academic work. It’s a bit of a deep read, but it’s well worth it to re-frame thoughts about how the world works.

The Hacker and the State (Ben Buchanan)

Buchanan has written one of the most fascinating, but also easiest to read books about cybersecurity and cyberwarfare that I’ve read to date. While I have other books in this ‘category’ in my queue, I won’t hesitate to say that this one is one of the best if you’re at all intrigued by the concept of critical infrastructure, cybersecurity, and how states (and non-state actors) are using the internet to conduct modern intelligence and warfare operations. It’s thorough, yet laid out in layman’s terms, so no one should feel dissuaded from picking this one up (from your local library).

It’s also a great compliment to my rundown of how to improve your online security.

Humankind (Rutger Bregman)

Here’s the synopsis from bookstores:

If there is one belief that has united the left and the right, psychologists and philosophers, ancient thinkers and modern ones, it is the tacit assumption that humans are bad. It’s a notion that drives newspaper headlines and guides the laws that shape our lives. From Machiavelli to Hobbes, Freud to Pinker, the roots of this belief have sunk deep into Western thought. Human beings, we’re taught, are by nature selfish and governed primarily by self-interest.

But what if it isn’t true?

Humankind draws on Bregman’s former book, ‘Utopia for Realists’, but also on other pieces, such as the aforementioned Survival of the Friendliest. It’s an optimistic read and will change your understanding of many concepts of human nature.

The Miracle Pill (Peter Walker)

The premise of this book is essentially this: what if there was a pill that one could take that would reduce your chance of basically every serious illness (cancer, heart attacks, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.) by upwards of 40%? Well, we’d probably give whomever came up with that pill a Nobel Prize.

Well, that pill exists. But it’s not a medication – it’s movement. It’s active transportation. It’s designing cities to limit the use of cars. It’s limiting the time people spend sitting.

It’s absolutely unfathomable how my lives could be saved annually if we just… moved more. Like hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives. Not only lives saved, but better lives.

This book isn’t a manual of how to necessarily live a healthier live – it’s more an anthropological history of how we became sedentary, and the large systems that need to change to have an impact on all our lives.

Oh, and changing these systems would be cheaper than waiting for the problem to get worse.

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story (Michael Lewis)

I hesitated adding this one, I really did. For one, I just finished it. Second, it’s about something that I highly doubt anymore than a few people reading this will want to read about: the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Now, The Premonition doesn’t take you through all the bad of the past few years – instead, it mostly deals with the decades leading up to the pandemic, looking at the public health institutions and leaders in the United States. This book is entirely focused on the United States, but seeing as they are the ‘world leaders’, it’s a worthy read. It basically picks apart everything that the U.S. did wrong, who was calling it out, and what can be done better next time (because there will be a next time).

The Premonition is a great, quick read. It’s a great social science reflection of the United States’ pandemic response, and it’s an eye-opener.

Honourable Mentions

  • Sinews of War and Trade (Laleh Khalili)
  • A Good War (Seth Klein)
  • An Economist Walks Into A Brothel (Allison Schrager)
  • Canada In The World (Tyler Shipley)
  • Reimagining Capitalism in a World On Fire (Rebecca Henderson)

By Trey

I'm Trey. This is my website. I don't know if you need any more background information, but head to the About page if you do.

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