Book Notes, 2022


  1. Manchester: Mapping the City by Terry Wyke, Brian Robson and Martin Dodge — Tells the history of Manchester through cartography, which makes for a compelling and visually interesting way of storytelling. Especially if you love maps, and I do.

  2. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir — Enjoyable for me in the same way The Martian was as a light, problem-solving epic with care taken over scientific realism. This ones heads a bit further into the future and into sci-fi.

  3. Pole to Pole by Michael Palin — Palin heads from north to south along the 30°E line of longitude as best he can on icebreaking ships and trains.

  4. Built by Roma Agrawal — A run through the world of civil engineering. Agrawal is a structural engineer and describes the history and science of bridges, tunnels, sewers and skyscrapers like the Shard, which she helped design.

  5. The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre — A riveting nonfiction tale of Cold War spycraft focused on Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB officer who became a double agent for British intelligence. The narrative digs into Gordievsky’s disillusionment with the Soviet regime, his recruitment as a spy for MI6 and the dangerous operation to smuggle him across the border to Finland when his betrayal was uncovered.

  6. Metropolis by Ben Wilson — This book chronicles the evolution of cities over 5,000 years from ancient Uruk, Athens, Alexandria and Rome through 12th century Baghdad, 18th century London, 19th century Manchester, and 20th century New York and Tokyo. Wilson covers their importance to the progress of civilisation in serving as hubs of culture, trade, innovation and political power.

  7. The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carré — The second book in the Karla trilogy after Tinker Tailor. Smiley wants to restore the reputation of the Circus. Jerry Westerby, journalist turned spy, is sent to Southeast Asia to uncover a money laundering operation linked to Karla. Espionage, political intrigue and a study on identity, loyalty and duty. I enjoyed the scene setting across Hong Kong, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia in this one.

  8. The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett — Vimes is sent across the disc as an ambassador to Überwald, where the coronation of the new Dwarf King is about to take place if the missing Scone of Stone can be found.

  9. The Two Penny Bar by George Simonen — Maigret is back in Paris to investigate a couple of murders at a riverside bar with wealthy, boozy clientele.

  10. The Black Echo by Michael Connelly — the first of the Hieronymus Bosch LA detective novels.

  11. Northerners by Brian Groom — A history of Nothern England and its people including the Roman emperors who ruled from York, Anglo-Saxon Northumbria, Viking invasion, the Industrial Revolution and recent decades. I would argue against the case that there is any overarching Northern English identity but an interesting and informative read nonetheless.

  12. Night Watch by Terry Pratchett — There’s the fun of time travel paradoxes in this one as Vimes is sent back to his past to help his younger self while dealing with a psychopathic killer.

  13. Spies in Canaan by David Park — Took a while to build for a short book I thought but the imagery both in Saigon and the US was great. A concise, introspective allegory of guilt and atonement.

  14. Time on Rock by Anna Fleming — I loved this both for how good Fleming is at describing the feeling of climbing on rock and of the landscapes, and with nostalgia because these are scenes I know well from my own days learning to climb in the Lakes, north Wales, the Cairngorms and the Peak District. Made me want to get out in the mountains immediately.

  15. Rogues by Patrick Radden Keefe — A collection of twelve of Keefe’s articles from The New Yorker on arms dealers, druglords, fraudsters and more. All deeply engaging.

  16. The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett — I thought at this point I’d start from the beginning, partly because I wanted to start collecting the newish Gollancz clothbound editions.

  17. Smiley’s People by John le Carré — The final installment in the Karla trilogy. Smiley is retired but heads back to the Circus for one last mission after ‘The Estonian’, a former agent, tries to contact him and then turns up dead. It leads back to Karla of course and we land on the showdown between the two battlescarred grandmasters of the spy game.