It’s that time of the year. I’ve collated my list for each category (plus podcasts). There’s been some great stuff out this year, and I’m sure I’ve missed much, so let me know what you liked!
The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly. A comprehensive overview of key technological forces. Kelly co-founded Wired magazine and so knows his tech. There is some of the obvious in what he says, but there are lots of nuggets to glean. This includes the value of micro-niches, how the cost of consuming an hour of media has been stable over the decades and the possibility of unbundling books. Well worth the read.
China’s Economy What Everyone Needs to Know by Arthur R. Kroeber. An excellent overview and history of the Chinese economy by long-time China-watcher Kroeber. It throws up some original insights and provides a nice balance to the more common alarmist books on China.
Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudde. The writer has a treasure trove of data from his dating website, OKCupid. He uses it to draw out what we’re really like, especially looking at the gap between what we say and what we do. One observation from the book I have to share: women tend find men their own age look the best. But what about men? Well, a 20-yr old man tends to find 20-yr old women look best to him, a 30-yr old man finds…20-yr old women look best, a 40-yr man finds…um…21-yr old women look best and a 50-yr man finds…yes, you guessed it…22-yr old women look best. A fun, revealing and surprisingly deep book.
Warren Buffet’s Ground Rules by Jeremy Miller. Warren Buffet’s best investment years were before Berkshire Hathaway when he ran a partnership that delivered 24% annual returns after fees. The letters he sent to the partnership chronicled this period and provided a deep insight into how Buffet invested. For the first time, these letters have been accessed and are laid out this book. I’d skip the authors pre-amble to each latter and go straight the letters themselves.
The Girls by Emma Cline. A coming-of-age story from the perspective of a teenage girl, Evie. It vividly depicts the drama of a broken family, but takes it to another level by weaving a story of a cult into the mix. A well-deserved bestseller.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang. The Korean author won the Man Booker International Prize for this novel. It describes the journey of a women who gives up meat. This may seem uneventful to many in Western Europe, but in South Korea vegetarianism is usually the preserve of monks alone. Her family reject her to varying degrees, while an artist accepts her as a piece of art with consequences that reverberate throughout the book.
Icon’s of Men’s Style by Josh Sims. I can’t remember how I got hold of this book, but I’ve already gifted it to many friends. It contains the classics that all men should have in their wardrobe and as worn by the stars.
Dear Data by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec. I’m always on the look out for ways of presenting data. There are the classics like the Edward Tufte’s book, but this is more whimsical and all the better for it. Giorgia and Stefanie are designers and set themselves a challenge of sending each other postcards of their weekly activities expressed through visual data. Inspiring to dip into.
Deadpool. Captain America:Civil War was good, Dr Strange had inventive CGI, Superman vs Batman showed DC is still clueless in the their post-Nolan phase and Suicide Squad was confused, though subversive. Through this mess of superhero movies, Deadpool stood out. It went low-key, grown-up (with the language to match) and funny. A much needed breather from the IMAX 3D juggernaut taking us episodically to the final clash between the Avengers and the big bad purple villain (Thanos) sometime in 2056.
Lobster. One of the most original movies of the year. A quirky low-key movie with the weirdest set-up: in the near future, singles are sent to a hotel, where they have 45 days to find a partner otherwise they will be turned into an animal of their choice! I loved it.
Spotlight. Deservedly won the Oscar for Best Film. The film grippingly re-tells the story of how a group of journalists uncover a child molestation scandal in the Catholic church. Mark Ruffalo, who also played Hulk in the Captain America movie, was excellent. He must be a versatile actor!
Barbershop:Next Cut. A sequel, but much needed entrant into this year’s movie releases. Calvin’s staff are brought together, this time with women added. On top of the joking around, they try to bring harmony to a deteriorating local community. It sensitively sheds light on the pressures on the black community coming from inside and outside.
Captain Fantastic. One of my favourite actors, Viggo Mortensen, stars in this isolationists meet the world movie. Oh, and this not a superhero movie! Ben (Viggo) raises his family in the woods stretching them physically (equipment-less rock climbing) and mentally (Chomsky). Circumstances force him to take the family into the “real” world, where tragedy and comedy ensue.
Mermaid. The biggest grossing movie ever in China with a gross of over $500mn. It tells the story of a mermaid trying to stop a land developer from ruining the ecosystem for mermaids. A comedy mixed with a strong envrionmental message.
Honourable mentions: Love & Friendship (period film based on Jane Austen novel – witty witty script), Night Owls (dark comedy, workaholic has fling with his boss’ ex-mistress in his boss’ house!) and Equity (investment banker uncovers a financial scandal and gets betrayed by everyone).
Luke Cage. The best of street-bound Marvel superheroes. A bullet-proof Cage reluctantly cleans up Harlem. Awesome soundtrack and music set pieces, less action than you’d think (and all the better for it) and healthy social commentary.
The Night Of. Breathtaking. This takes TV to a cinematic level. A man wakes up after partying with a girl to find her dead. He’s then charged with murder and we are taken through his journey in the system. The eight-parter has awesome acting, brilliant cinematography and compelling story.
Billions. The best finance movie/TV show around. A battle of wills: the top hedge fund manager vs the top attorney general. Brings out the stereo-types in the best way and with some nice touches (like the attorney’s “hobby”)
The Night Manager. This got Tom Hiddleston talked about as the next James Bond and you’ll see why. He plays a hotel night manager recruited to infiltrate an arms dealer’s circle.
Planet Earth II. I love David Attenborough – I would vote for him as world leader. He returned this year with a follow-up to the first Planet Earth. Stunning visuals showing you animals as never seen before in habitats never seen before.
Honourable mentions: Veep, Modern Family, Master of None, Americans, Sherlock, Narcos
Your Best American Girl , Mitski – I’ve been following Mitski for a while and this song shows why she is so good. Haunting sounds and great lyrics about a relationship that won’t work because of the word “American”. She sings “you’re an all-American boy / I guess I couldn’t help trying to be your best American girl….Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me / But I do, I finally do,”
Cake By The Ocean , DNCE – Hard to think that former member of the Jonas brothers has emerged as a member of one the best pop-funk groups. But anyway, this song just means fun, fun, fun to me and beach party!
Safari , J Balvin feat. BIA and Pharrell- a reggae infused Colombian song which you can listen to on repeat. Oh, and you get to hear Pharrell sing in spanish.
Drone Bomb Me, Anohni – Her voice, the depth; how does she do it? Then she sings about putting herself at the centre of the world worse problems.
Panda, Desiigner – a wacky song with some great beats and tough-to-decipher lyrics. I think you can call it music. Original at the very least.
Cheap Thrills Sia featuring Sean Paul – I loved this bouncy synth-pop song from the singer who doesn’t show her face.
Bret Easton Ellis Podcast. Ellis is opinionated, passionate about films and intelligent. He starts his podcast with a ten minute monologue on whatever on his mind before interviewing someone from the film world.
Sinica. This podcast covers everything China related. It regularly demystifies China in a balanced and involved manner. The episode to start with would be “Calming the waters of the South China Sea and beyond”. It goes through the military capabilities of China (for example China now has anti-ship ballistic missiles, which the US does not) and how the US needs to consider a co-operative spiral with China.
Vox’s The Weeds. One of the best weekly podcasts on US politics.
Girlboss Radio. Sophia Amoruso (Nasty Gal founder) interviews top girl bosses every week. Always insightful.
Bill Burr. I love stand-up and Burr is one of the best. He also has this podcast where he riffs on life every week. Always funny.
Others I regularly listen to: The Tim Ferris Show, In Our Time, How Did This Get Made, 99%Invisible, NYT book review, Radiolab
Dark Sky – I live in London, so knowing when it will rain is very very important. This app provides the most detailed localised information on rain by the hour. (Oh, it works in any country)
Twizoo – there are loads of restaurant recommendation apps from curated ones like Time Out to user generated lists like Foursquare. This is completely different – at least visually. It generates bubbles of local restaurants/cafes. The size of the bubble shows how much Twitter traffic (or buzz) there is about the place and the colour represents how good the place is based on the content of the tweets. Green is good, yellow middling and red is bad.
Waze – I’ve ditched my TomTom and now use this free SatNav app when driving. It’s great for accurately measuring traffic. Just make sure you have an in-car phone charger or your phone will be dead by the time you get to your destination.
Soon– one of those apps that you wonder wasn’t invented sooner! It allows you to create lists of stuff you’d like to see/visit/read. The categories includes books, films and restaurants. For example, I hear about a good restaurant, so rather than scribbling it down in Notepad or Evernotes, I can input it in “Soon”.It will then locate the restaurant, find the address and put it on your list. You then have a record of the places you want to visit “Soon” (get it!). After visiting it, you can rate it and it goes into your “Done” list. Brilliant.
StumbleUpon – there is so much good content on the web, and so much terrible content. Finding ways to filter the good stuff is therefore the big challenge. There’s bunch of apps that I like that do this (Clipboard, Digg, Feedly), but this is my favourite. It uses a Tinder-style swipe mechanism to through/rate articles and you can select a wide of categories from business to movies.
Prisma – a cool app that allows you to turn your photos into styles of art.
RealizD – an ironic app in some ways as I got this to manage my phone addiction. I’ve noticed I check my phone very often. This app actually tracks how often you pick up your phone and for how long. You can then track your addiction. At the moment I’m picking up my phone every 17 minutes. Gosh.
For more apps click here