Journalist and author Shiv Aroor chooses his favourite books of 2016 — from a vivid graphic view of poverty in today’s America to an action-packed military thriller:
Days Of Destruction, Days Of Revolt
Chris Hedges & Joe Sacco
This is easily one of the most arresting books I’ve ever read. A gritty first-hand view of the pockets of poverty, slavery (like the devastating chapter on the tomato fields of Florida) and utter hopelessness in today’s America. Former journalist Chris Hedges’ describes the time he spends with some of America’s most wretched and dispossessed, his words elevated by Joe Sacco’s stunning, miss-nothing comics journalism style. This is a book that’s become even more relevant with America’s new transition.
The Undisputed Truth
Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman
A book by and about one of my favourite sportspersons of all time. I hadn’t for a moment imagined it would be as much of an assault as it was. Brutally humorous, self-deprecating and arrogant in equal measure, the book is a violently elegant account of Tyson’s rise from the ghettos of Brooklyn to worldwide stardom and notoriety. With deep accounts of defeat, distress, godlike hubris, post-fight orgies, drugs and crime, the book is written entirely in Tyson’s own ghetto style. It takes no prisoners and is a tell-all about a world that’s never visible from the inside. There is culture and history in this book that goes way beyond the boxing ring.
Scarecrow and The Army Of Thieves
One of a handful of authors whose books I devour as soon as they’re out. This one slipped through the cracks for some reason. It was written in 2011, but I only managed to read it this year. Typical breathtaking special forces action that’s typical of Reilly (a huge inspiration to me personally), it features his flagship character, US Marine Corp Captain Shane Schofield (callsign Scarecrow) and his band of brutal renegade soldiers chasing an insidious group of foes on a deserted former Soviet island near the Arctic. Like his other thrillers, this one is full of rip-roaring, suspenseful military action that begins on the first page and doesn’t quite slow down till the end.
The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science
and What Comes Next
A book I’ve wanted to read for years and finally got down to doing so this year, Lee Smolin’s work is a terrific meditation on the state of modern physics. Holding his reader’s hand, Smolin takes you on a wonderful curiosity-driven journey down 20th century physics, the tempests that gave birth to theories like relativity and the like, all along gamely upturning assumptions or planting questions that spark a head-slap. A wonderfully wise book for anyone even remotely interested in science and how it has shaped even the immediate world around us.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
In September this year, weeks after reading this book, I saw a pair of Panamanian golden frogs at the Baltimore Aquarium — a once-plentiful species that mysteriously died out and is now alive only in captivity by a string of institutions fighting to keep them from total extinction. Kolbert’s book is a fine account of what has been a dawning nightmare for naturalists for years — that the Earth is currently undergoing a sixth great extinction, the first that’s entirely human driven. A truly apocalyptic tale told gently and with superb first-hand scientific insight, Kolbert’s book still offers hope that humanity can dig itself out of this unending hole.