Books I read in...March 2018

Books I read in...March 2018

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

I seemed to power through quite a few books this month – but then it feels as though it has been an incredibly long month.

Here’s the best of what I read.

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It – Chris Voss

Chris is a former FBI hostage negotiator who now runs a consultancy firm teaching the negotiation techniques he learned to companies around the world.  He also lectures at several US universities.

The book breaks down the main five techniques used by FBI hostage negotiators and provides examples of both real-life hostage situations and the business world to demonstrate how each technique can be used effectively.

I found the stories about the hostage situations the most interesting part of the book – some of the examples of using the techniques within the business world seemed a little contrived to me.

He covers the need for empathy in some detail and explains why it can be so important when in a tense situation where lives are potentially at risk.  Being able to demonstrate to the hostage taker that you understand – and can sympathise with – their situation, which has led them to take the drastic step of taking people hostage can open up the lines of communication, and moves the scenario from two people face to face at odds with one another, to two people side by side trying to work out a solution that works for everyone.  I think empathy is something we should all strive to have, in all situations, but he does clearly evidence how it can make a huge difference where hostages are involved.

I think if you really wanted to employ any of the techniques used in the book you’d need to read it several times, and practice a lot, as they are unlikely to come naturally.

Shortly after finishing the book I listened to a podcast interview with Chris, which I very much enjoyed.

I Wish I Could Say I Was Sorry – Susie Kelly

Susie was born in post war Britain, where life was grey but happy.  Then, when she was eight years old, her father took a job in Kenya and so began a life which veered between utter joy and desperate sadness.  It is both funny and heartbreakingly sad.  Her family is truly monstrous and yet – as the title implies – Susie seems to feel in some way responsible for the many injustices various members of her family heaped upon her, starting when her parents announced that they were getting divorced and she was forced (at the age of 10) to choose between them.  To say her family was dysfunctional is an understatement – there was never any physical abuse but they seemed almost without exception to lack any empathy or understanding of the emotional needs of a child and young adult.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  To have experienced what she did and still emerge as a pretty normal person demonstrates huge courage and strength.  I really don’t see that she has anything to apologise for – it’s her family who should be apologising to her!

The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way – Bill Bryson

This book has been sitting on my bookshelf, unread, for nearly 20 years.  I don’t know what made me pick it up at long last this month, but I’m glad that I did.  It’s a fascinating exploration of the English language.

I learned a ton of new facts from this book, for example:

  • To be bored to death, in French, is ‘être de Birmingham’ – literally ‘to be from Birmingham’ (which, as Bill points out, is actually about right );
  • Cro-Magnon people were the first species who could choke on food – because an evolutionary change pushed man’s larynx deeper into his throat. All other mammals can swallow food and breathe at the same time;
  • Irish Gaelic possesses no equivalent of yes and no;
  • Japanese has no future tense;
  • St Patrick was not Irish, but Welsh. He only ended up in Ireland after having been kidnapped by Irish pirates at the age of 16 and taken there (quite why Irish pirates would want to have kidnapped him is not explained);
  • If you have a morbid fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth, there’s a word for it – arachibutyrophobia.


I could go on – for pages – but I hope you get the drift.  This is a fascinating book which manages to be both humorous and highly educational.  I’m only sorry I waited nearly 20 years to read it!

The Lessons of History – Will & Ariel Durant

At only 102 pages, this was the shortest book I read this month but was hands down the most thought provoking.  Will Durant spent 50 years writing ‘The Story of Civilisation’ (ten volumes) and this book is a series of short essays which condense many of the lessons learned by the author.

Published in 1968, it is as fascinating for the views expressed about the possible future course of history – which we, with the benefit of living in that future, can reflect on as to the accuracy of their predictions (some very apposite, others a bit wide of the mark) – as it is for the insight into our past, and the remarkable number of patterns.  It has been said that history does not repeat itself but it does rhyme.  This book is proof of that.

I made copious notes reading this book and it is covered in highlighted sections.  Short as it may be, this is a book which requires time to digest.  Utterly brilliant.

I hope my comments will inspire you to pick up one or two of these books.