Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2015 in review: The non-fiction books I read

I've already blogged about the fiction I read in 2015. Here are some short reviews of the non-fiction I read during the year. I've divided them up into sections.

I do read quite a few football books. The joke in book group is that I tend to read books about goalkeepers, particularly German goalkeepers. This year I kept up the tradition...

The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper - Jonathan Wilson
This is the book about goalkeepers and starts from the interesting premise that goalkeepers are different, both in terms of the role they play and psychologically. The historical stuff about the development of goalkeeping as a specialist role is really interesting. Unfortunately it gets bogged down discussing the various goalkeepers produced by different countries. While the research into, say, Cameroonian keepers, or the inheritors of Lev Yashin's spot in the Russian national team, can't be faulted, the material does all get a bit samey. There are also a few occasions when the author references stuff with the assumption the reader will know what he is talking about. I got most of them, but some I had to look up.

The Incredible Adventures of the Unstoppable Keeper - Lars Pfannenstiel
I got sent this to review for When Saturday Comes. Lars Pfannenstiel is a German journeyman keeper who ended up playing on all six continents, although never for anyone particularly good. He seems to regularly ditch everything to follow the gilded promises of agents or club owners, which invariably come to nothing. He cuts a fairly naive figure as a result. My (longer) review for WSC is online here.

An Autobiography - Pat Jennings
When I was a kid I collected football stickers (I still do!) and the first collection my brother and I had was Panini's 'Football 85'. The first team in the album were, of course, Arsenal, and the first player was their goalkeeper, Pat Jennings. So, he is one of those players who I can picture really clearly (at least, his sticker!). This autobiography was from 1983 and it's interesting to a point. He comes across as fairly dull, but some of the things he talks about aren't. For example, the stuff people chucked at him from the terraces. He ended up with a dart (!) in his arm on a couple of occasions. There's also a bit late on in the book which just wouldn't appear in a book by a pro sportsman now, when he worries that players playacting and pretending to be injured would make other people think footballers are "poufs". That's a word that doesn't tend to be used these days. Altogether now, "It was acceptable in the eighties..."

Full Time - Tony Cascarino
Not a goalkeeper, but another footballer from a different era. Cascarino played for a number of top clubs and also the Republic of Ireland in the late 80s and the 90s. This was one of the first truly confessional footballer autobiographies and it is really interesting. The section when he talks about splitting up with his wife is raw and honest and you can tell he feels like an utter shit about the way he treated her. There's a revelation that he might not have ever been eligible to play for Ireland after all, and an interesting accounting of where all the money he made disappeared to. It's hard to read the book and not like Tony Cascarino, mainly because he is being honest about how unlikeable he is. I'd quite like to read an updated version to find out what happened to him after he retired.

Gospel of Freedom - Jonathan Rieder
This is a very scholarly, yet accessible, study of Martin Luther King's 'Letter from Birmingham Jail' that unpicks King's theology of non-violence and liberation to thoroughly explain it. It's rare I would use the term 'life-changing' of any book, but this has really impacted on me. Particularly the challenge of Dr King regarding what kind of 'extremists' we will be. In a world that seems to be dominated by the actions of extremists, the call to be extremists of love and justice, is still powerfully relevant.

Other non-fiction
A Universe from Nothing - Lawrence Krauss
This is trying to make astrophysics simple and it must work because I understood it. Put simply, it proposes that the existence of the universe was inevitable given quantum fluctuations. There is no 'cause' to the universe; it just is. In philosophical terms this means the world is just a 'brute fact' and various cause-related arguments for God's existence are rendered moot.

Too Much Information - Dave Gorman
This is like a book version of Dave Gorman's TV show Modern Life is Goodish. He makes some great points about how spammers ruin Twitter and how bands shouldn't stick new songs on 'Greatest Hits' albums (or release such albums if, in fact, they haven't had many hits!), but generally it's one of those semi-forgettable books you breeze through, chuckle at, and then stick on the shelf to never read again.

So, that's it. All in all I read 22 books in 2015. Not a bad reading rate!

Previous posts:
The Douglas Coupland books I read in 2015
The other non-fiction I read in 2015

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