Books I read in ... December 2017

Books I read in ... December 2017

I spent a good chunk of December on a sun lounger by a pool, so needless to say I got a lot of reading done.  Unusually this month I read more fiction than non-fiction, but then escapism is what being on holiday is all about, isn’t it?

A Dog’s Purpose – W Bruce Cameron

This book is in a similar vein to The Art of Racing in the Rain, in that the dog is the narrator, and it works equally as well.

If you have ever owned a dog, you will recognise within a few pages that the author has that insight that comes from watching a dog’s behaviour and the ability to project that into what might be going on in a dog’s mind, which only those of us who choose to share our lives with these wonderful creatures possess.

The book tells the story of one dog, Bailey, and the various incarnations he experiences on his journey to discover and fulfil his purpose.  Just like us, Bailey struggles with trying to understand his ‘why’ and strives so hard to be a good dog.

I loved this book.  I read it in one sitting (well, lounging), and it made me cry at least four times (I did wonder what the other hotel guests around the pool might have been thinking, had they noticed the tears streaming down my face every hour or so!).  Don’t let that put you off though, it will make you laugh as well.  If you love dogs, you will love this book.

Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany – Norman Ohler

I read 100 books in 2017 (more on that next week) and this one – hands down – was the most bizarre of the lot.

It is an account of the methamphetamine addiction which gripped much of Germany during the period of the Third Reich.  Addiction was rife throughout society – from Hausfraus, through enlisted soldiers to Hitler himself – and the book chronicles in great detail how across the nation hundreds of thousands of people were basically off their faces throughout the 1930s and the period of the Second World War.

This was one of those books which seems almost too preposterous to be true but the depth of Ohler’s research is well-evidenced and documented throughout the book, including many copies of papers he obtained from the US National Archives recording treatment given to Hitler by his personal physician, Dr Theodor Morell, during the war.

That the nation fought a war under these conditions is remarkable enough and when you consider the drug-fuelled backdrop to events it does explain some of the more bizarre decisions which were made by the German high command (and Hitler in particular) – and may go some way to explaining how they ultimately lost the war from what was – at one point- a position of great strength.

It’s a gripping read for anyone with even a passing interest in this period of social or military history – one of the best books I read this year.

Surely you’re joking Mr Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character as told to Ralph Leighton

At last, I understand why Sheldon Cooper plays the bongos.  In fact, I can now see just how much Richard Feynman influenced the writers of The Big Bang Theory.

Widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest theoretical physicists, having been part of the Manhattan Project during World War II, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965, he was also known for being a great storyteller, a practical joker and a safecracker.

This book is a broad transcript of Feynman’s conversations over a period of years with his friend Ralph Leighton.  It reads like a transcript – a bit rambling and disjointed – and I found that took a bit of getting used to.  There’s no common thread running through the book, just a series of anecdotes about his life.

Feynman comes across as a man of huge curiosity, great humour and a fascination with the weird, wonderful and life in general.  Undoubtedly a genius, funny and interesting, I did enjoy this book overall but found one theme which just jarred with me a little throughout the book, which was when he was talking about his interactions with women.  I know it was a different time, attitudes have changed since then and I’m not the sort of person to be looking for misogyny at every turn, but I did find his attitude to women remarkably unenlightened for one so intelligent.  That said, and in his defence, I came across this wonderful love letter to his first wife after I read the book.  He wrote it sixteen months after her death and I must admit, it restored my faith in him a bit.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky – Mark Sullivan

This is a novel, but is based on the true story of a young Italian, Pino Lella, during World War II (can I just say, I did not deliberately set out this month to read a whole load of books which covered WWII!).

Apart from being aware that Italy, under Mussolini, sided with Hitler during the war, I had no knowledge of what the German occupation of Italy was like for ordinary Italians, so this book was quite a revelation.

It is the story of a brave young man who risked his life to become a spy for the Allies – a forgotten hero, although that may change as the film rights to the book were sold last August.

At the end of the book the author recounts what happened to Pino after the war and it is gratifying to know that he lived to see his story told.

The Dry – Jane Harper

The Sunday Times Crime Book of the Year 2017 and a debut novel.

If you like ‘whodunnits’, then I think you’d enjoy this one.  Set in a small, drought-ridden town in the Australian outback, nothing is quite what it seems, including what looks at first like a cut and dried triple murder/suicide.

I enjoyed the twists and turns of the plot but enjoyed Harper’s writing too – spare, precise, evocative.  I could feel the suffocating heat radiating off the pages.  A thoroughly good read.

I hope you have enjoyed my book reviews throughout 2017 and perhaps even been inspired to read one or two.  I’ll be continuing to share the best of what I read with you in 2018 but for now I’ll end with my top ten reads of 2017.

In no particular order:

The Boys in the Boat

Hillbilly Elegy

Shoe Dog


Into Thin Air

Flowers for Algernon

The Great Depression: A Diary

Red Notice

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany

Warm regards