I’ve been on the road in Africa, save for a week’s detour to Hungary, since May 15, and the odyssey will finally wind down in a couple of more weeks.
In the last few days I’ve given a bit of thought to my reading habits on the road and how they may or may not differ from earlier periods in my life as a correspondent and inveterate traveler. My iPad has been my sole source of book reading during these months away and mostly that’s been a very good thing, even if quite recently I’ve found myself longing for the pleasure of a physical book now and then.
I seem to read faster on the iPad, and it’s also great for highlighting and annotation. What is most revolutionary about it, though, is the ability to carry a real library around. I can remember trips in the ’80s and ’90s to far out of the way places, like Yemen and Sudan, to name just two, where I had to pace my reading for fear of being caught out in a lonely place without that best of companions, a good book (by which I do not mean the uninspiring paperback fare that can almost always be found on the road in a pinch).
To give an idea of how the iPad has revolutionized such matters, I thought I’d give a quick rundown of what I’ve read using it since leaving home. With no further ado and in no particular oder:
The Future of Life, Biophilia, and Anthill, all by EO Wilson, who I am profiling.
Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo (excellent, and I’ll come back to this in a future post).
Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars, by Sonia Falerio (excellent, and again I’ll come back to this in a future post).
The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution, by Francis Fukuyama (wonderful on many subjects, notably the comparative political development of China and India, which is illuminating, as is the discussion of political development in the Muslim world, the emergence of individuality, women’s rights and civil society in the West, among many other things).
Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, luminous story telling by Li Yiyun.
Getting Better: Why Global Development is Succeeding and How We Can Improve the World Even More, by Charles Kenney (a fantastic revisionist assessment of the economics and strategy of aid and development that I’ll use in the classroom).
The Fate of Africa: A History of 50 Years of Independence, by Martin Meredith. I’ve owned this for a while and have only now gotten around to completing it. Meredith didn’t inspire me. The book has some interesting moments, especially in vignette form, but it flies at 30,000 feet without giving much sense of any big picture or, what is worse, escaping the most conventional, newspaper-clipping kinds of analysis of Africa’s recent history.
How Rich Countries Got Rich and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor, by Erik S. Reinert (Fascinating if a little dated. I want to come back to this in this space.)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John Le CarrÃ©. (One needs to escape now and then, and this is one of the best ways around. A reread.
Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, by Robert D. Kaplan (Someone get this man an editor. There’s some interesting stuff in here, but it’s highly repetitive and bangs drums on the inevitability of strategic competition annoyingly. Usually in the US publishing industry, the sub-title of a book is little more than a PR lie. Not so with this book. Kaplan would do well to slow down and dwell in fewer places and get to know more ordinary folks, however.)
Famine & Foreigners: Ethiopia Since Live Aid, by Peter Gill (indispensable background to contemporary Ethiopia, superbly informed).
Travels in Siberia, by Ian Frazier (Another form of escape for me. I’ve never been to Russia and have been particularly drawn to it as a subject. That’s why I chose this, and Frazier, whose work I’ve long enjoyed in the New Yorker, was a wonderful, luxuriant guide.)
What’s left? I hope to read John Darnton’s memoir, Almost a Family before I get home.