Craig Pickering’s top reads of 2018

I’m an introvert, and so, ever since I was a kid, I’ve been much happier with my nose in a book than taking part in more social behaviors. To this day, I still enjoy reading, and I try to make time to read for around an hour each night before bed, along with added bursts when on holiday or traveling on planes. This year, I “read” 59 books. I started a subscription to an audiobook service, which helped boost my number slightly—although I have to be careful not to zone out when listening—and I also got much better at giving up on books that I didn’t find interesting after around 50 pages. Here, I’ll share with you what I read, and which I enjoyed the most; I do this not to boast, but because I find it interesting to get an idea of what other people read – perhaps you’ll find this equally as interesting!

Can’t miss books

I gave eleven books from my 2018 batch a 5/5 rating on Goodreads. Siege: The Powerful and Uncompromising Story of What Happened Inside the Lindt Cafe and Why the Police Response Went So Tragically Wrong is a look at the Lindt Café siege, which took place in Sydney towards the end of 2014. I’ve long been fascinated with getting a look behind the scenes of big stories, and this book certainly delivered on that, weaving the findings of the coroner’s inquest with witness statements into a gripping narrative. A key aspect that I noticed, and which is often repeated in other “disasters”, are how an early piece of mis-information gets amplified, often with bad consequences. In terms of this story, one of the first police officers on the scene reported that the hostage taker had a backpack with wires attached to it, leading him to report that he likely had a bomb. This information likely affected the police’s tactics, leading them to avoid storming the café for risk of him setting off his explosives. Despite information coming from escaped hostages that the backpack almost certainly did not contain a bomb, the police stuck to their original belief that he did, and so didn’t storm the café until a hostage was killed. This is similar to when the Metropolitan Police shot an unarmed, innocent person on the Underground in 2005; here, the victim was initially mis-identified, and this mis-identification spiraled out of control until the armed response officers who shot him were under the impression that he was an armed suicide bomber. This isn’t a criticism of the police, and certainly not the armed officers who have an incredibly hard job, but it demonstrates the importance of continually questioning your assumptions, especially in fast moving situations where you’re constantly getting new pieces of information.

Another 5/5 book was It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, which I wrote about for HMMRMedia here.

I also enjoyed Martin’s own book, Training Talk, as it provides a valuable insight into how people in the field apply information in real-world situations—as a somewhat theoretical sports scientist, it’s always good to be reminded of this.

Statistics Without Tears: A Primer for Non Mathematicians was, quite honestly, excellent. I have to deal with statistics regularly with my job, and yet I’ve always struggled with the subject, and this has been the case since I was at school. This book does a great job of explaining how null-hypothesis significance testing (i.e., how we arrive at p-values) works, and why we might need it, as well as explaining what a confidence interval is and why it’s important. Having read this book, I have a much stronger understanding of these aspects, so, if you find yourself dealing with statistics or trying to interpret studies, it could well be worthwhile.

A good companion to this is The Truthful Art: Data, Charts, and Maps for Communication by Alberto Cairo, which explores the presentation of data. This book also does a great job at explaining statistics, but goes a step further in giving insight into how to present findings; an important consideration for this involved in sport who have to present data to athletes, parents, or managers.

Catching a Serial Killer: My Hunt For Murderer Christopher Halliwell, The Snowman, and Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town were also 5/5 reads. The latter is especially important, as it explores how a number of college football players committed a series of rapes, and how this was somewhat covered up by their institution. It’s quite a difficult story to read, as in many cases it appears that the football players themselves don’t believe they did anything wrong, but it’s a reminder of the importance of developing your athletes as people, and not just on the sporting field. Bringing Columbia Home: The Untold Story of a Lost Space Shuttle and Her Crew is the story of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, detailing its disintegration upon atmospheric re-entry, how NASA and other agencies worked to collect all the debris, and understand how the accident occurred. It turned out that a fairly “normal” occurrence, with foam hitting the wing during take-off, caused serious structural damage to the shuttle. This had happened on other flights with no ill-effect, leading to false confidence on behalf of people at NASA that this occurrence would also be fine. It wasn’t, and the story was one of the motivations behind this article I wrote for HMMRMedia on the normalization of deviance. The Mixer: The Story of Premier League Tactics, from Route One to False Nines, authored by Michael Cox, is the story of the tactical development of soccer within the Premier League era. It’s a fantastic overview of how certain events have led to a paradigm shift in how teams set themselves up tactically, and I would highly recommend it. Finally, Alex Hutchinson’s Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, which he also talked about on GAINcast 118, is a fantastic look into the causes of fatigue in endurance sports. It is quite simply excellent, and, if you haven’t read it yet, you should.

Worth the read

Other books that I enjoyed (3-4 out of 5) included Inequality and the 1% by Danny Dorling, which is a surprising look at just how unequal our society is, and the implications this has for us all. I remain convinced that being poor is the single biggest risk factor for many of the chronic diseases we see increasing in the modern world, and that by addressing this inequality, we could go a long way to decreasing the health burden we all feel. I am somewhat left wing, however, so if you’re more right leaning, this book probably isn’t for you. Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet was surprisingly good fun, although not especially insightful; it was a good read whilst on train journeys to and from London when I was back in the UK. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker was a really enjoyable look at the importance of sleep, why we need it, and how we can get more of it. I bang on about sleep a lot in my writings, so I won’t belabor the point, but sleep is crucial, and yet most of us don’t get enough.

I thought Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which is one of the most recommended books of all time, was fine, but not great, although perhaps this was due to my high expectations. I much preferred A Short History of Nearly Everything, which I read years ago. Similarly, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups was an enjoyable read about traits seen in high performing teams, but I wouldn’t say I necessarily learned anything new. Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty Kick, Ben Lyttleton’s exploration of the penalty kick in soccer, had some really interesting aspects that I think have a huge potential transfer to all sports, so much so that I wrote about them here. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer is a book about the Original Night Stalker/East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer/whatever else you want to call him, which was gripping, and, a week after I finished it, the perpetrator was finally caught.

I read two books which were spin-offs from The Edge’s annual questions: What Have You Changed Your Mind About?: Today’s Leading Minds Rethink Everything and This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking (Edge Question Series). Both were fine, but the short essay format often leads to an idea not being fully developed. I also enjoyed The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why, and wrote about it here.

As you might have guessed from some of my 5/5 books, I’m trying to get a better handle on data, both in its analysis and presentation. The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect was a pretty good introduction into the science of causality, although I often found it became too technical for me, so I gave it 3/5. Dataclysm: Love, Sex, Race, and Identity–What Our Online Lives Tell Us about Our Offline Selves was a really interesting and insightful read from one of the co-founders of OK Cupid, who explored online dating through a data-driven approach. Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data was another great and highly readable introduction into statistics, although perhaps not quite as good as Statistics Without Tears: A Primer for Non Mathematicians and Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals was a decent look into graphical and presentation design principles.

Innate: How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are by Kevin Mitchell explores the nature-nurture false dichotomy in terms of intelligence and psychological traits. It has by far the best explanation of what heritability estimates are and how genetics research is carried out that I’ve come across, and I’d recommend it just for that (provided you’re interested in that field). Believe it or not, I really enjoy modern day re-tellings of Shakespearean classics, so Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth was an enjoyable read. What They Teach You at Harvard Business School: My Two Years Inside the Cauldron of Capitalism (4/5) was an interesting story of one students two year stint there, and was much better than What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School: Notes from a Street-smart Executive (2/5); having read both, I’m fairly confident that I now know everything.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win was decent, although I think I’m about 4 years too late to that party. The HMMR Podcast covered the book on an episode last year. In short: Take ownership of what happens, and don’t blame other people. I’m trying to live by this, but it is genuinely difficult. Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine was, again, fine; it was a fairly interesting look at alternative medicine and a telling of the scientific method, but I don’t feel like it added anything above what I already know. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was also OK; it has made me tempted to start meetings by disclosing that I’m an introvert, but I think I’ll hold off for now. It does, however, make you feel better for being introverted. The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden by Mark Bowden was good, but not as good as Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War or Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam, or even No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden, which deals with the same mission.

Other 3/5 books were Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of Our Capacity, A Season in the Red: Managing Man UTD in the shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson, Ubiquity: Why Catastrophes Happen, Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think, Mission Control Management, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, Unplugged: Evolve from Technology to Upgrade Your Fitness, Performance, & Consciousness, The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential, and Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days.

Save your time

There were some books that were a disappointment. Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio has gotten a lot of hype and was reviewed on HMMR Media, but I didn’t enjoy it at all, and gave up after around 100 pages. Similarly, The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph was hard work, and remains unfinished. What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude, and Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength, which takes a look at the Wim Hoff method, was a bit ridiculous, and Braving the Wilderness, one of the Peak Performance recommended books, was given up on after 30 pages. I tried to read Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Taleb, but I really don’t like his writing style. I also don’t particularly like him as a person, but one thing I’ve been working on is trying to separate the message from the messenger; so, I listened to it as an audiobook, and found it much better.

Up next

There’s still a couple of weeks left in the year. I’m part way through Rework and Unsafe Thinking: How to be Nimble and Bold When You Need It Most, both of which are enjoyable, and I’m hoping to fit in a Robert Greene book before the year is out. Next year, I hope to increase my data science understanding, so there will hopefully be some books on that topic, and I’ve amassed a huge sports science library, so I should probably start chipping away at that. First stop, Supertraining.