A more hopeful view of humankind

Around the world, the vast majority of people believe things are getting worse. But in Humankind: A Hopeful History, Rutger Bregman shows us that “The reality is exactly the opposite. Over the last several decades, extreme poverty, victims of war, child mortality, crime, famine, child labour, deaths in natural disasters and the number of plane crashes have all plummeted. We’re living in the richest, safest, healthiest era ever. So why don’t we realise this? It’s simple. Because the news is about the exceptional.”

Humankind: A Hopeful History: Rutger Bregman: Bloomsbury ...

I raved about Bregman in episode 42 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, and I’m not done. Here are a few of the passages that resonated most with me, though every chapter was vital and fascinating and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

I. “In times when immigration or violence declines, newspapers give them more coverage … There seems to be none, or even a negative, relationship between news and reality.”

II. “When it comes down to it, the presence of bystanders has precisely the opposite effect of what science has long insisted. We’re not alone in the big city, on the subway, on the crowded streets. We have each other.”

III. The 1964 murder of 28-year-old Kitty Genovese became infamous after The New York Times erroneously claimed that none of the 38 witnesses who saw or heard the attack outside their apartment building in Queens called the police or came to her aid. In fact, she died in the arms of a friend. Her story “teaches us three things. One: how out of whack our view of human nature often is. Two: how deftly journalists push those buttons to sell sensational stories. And last but not least: how it’s precisely in emergencies that we can count on one another.”

IV. “A realistic view of human nature can’t help but have major implications for how you interact with other people.”

V. “Cynicism is a theory of everything. The cynic is always right.”

VI. Because Wunsiedel, a town in southern Germany, is home to the grave of Deputy Führer Rudolph Hess, Neo-Nazis gathered every year to march on the anniversary of his death, “hoping to incite riots and violence.” Anti-fascists would come along to clash with the Nazis, which only reinforces their adherents – “it validates them in their worldview, and makes it that much easier to attract new recruits.” So in 2014, the town of Wunsiedel turned the march for Rudolph Hess into a charity walk. “For every metre the Neo-Nazis walked, the townspeople pledged to donate to an NGO that helps people get out of far-right groups.” So the townspeople secretly marked off start and finish lines, and they made banners to say thanks to the marchers. The Neo-Nazis had no idea this was going to happen. They showed up expecting protest and violence, and instead received loud cheers, and they were showered with confetti when they crossed the finish line. The event raised more than 20 thousand euros.”

Wishing you a hopeful week ahead.
xo

2019: The reading year in review

In 2019, for the first time in years, I read more fiction (slightly more) than non-fiction. Perhaps, in this third year of illness, I needed to escape more. ‘Everybody should be reading 20 pages of fiction – from a real book – to open or close each day‘, as a way to  increase our empathy, understanding and compassion. This is according to author Neil Pasricha on The Knowledge Project podcast. But why only fiction? Wouldn’t reading memoir have the same effect?

In 2019, I continued to support Australian authors, women authors and debut authors (being all three of those things myself this year).

I also aimed to read more Indigenous authors, and followed through on that (instead of reading a stack of zombie fiction, like I did in 2018).

2019 reading breakdown
47% nonfiction
70% Australian authors
77% women authors
47% debut authors
7% Indigenous authors

 

2019 reading highlights

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe (NF) 
In this revelatory survey of early European accounts of Australia, Aboriginal author Bruce Pascoe reveals how complex Indigenous agriculture, architecture and society truly was, and so urges us to reconsider our understanding of Aboriginal civilisation. As he concludes, ‘To deny Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander agricultural and spiritual achievement is the single greatest impediment to intercultural understanding and, perhaps, to Australian moral wellbeing and economic prosperity.’

In the Clearing by JP Pomare
Pomare’s new psychological thriller is a compelling and startling exploration of family, control and violence. The story takes its inspiration from The Family, an Australian cult. Led by Anne Hamilton-Byrne in the 1970s and 80s, The Family was accused of imprisoning children and brainwashing them through the use of drugs and physical punishment, as well as forcing them to dress alike and dye their hair blond to better resemble its leader. The novel’s triumph is its surprising climax, and the way Pomare turns the tables on the reader, raising the question of what any one of us would do to protect our own families – however we define them. Read the full review here

Check out the complete list of great reads.

Wishing you a new year full of great books,
Ashley
xo

The latest great reads

A while ago, I started a list of great reads. I’m adding new books as I discover them, as well as books I read years ago and loved.

The list reveals that I’m an eclectic reader, flitting between fiction and non-fiction, literary works and lighter stories. I read different genres for different reasons. I don’t hold all books to the same standard. I might recommend one book because it’s incredibly entertaining, another because the writing is sublime, and another for the fascinating perspectives it explores.

Here are the latest additions.

Author Tamim Ansary cover
I read this book the first time for a clearer sense of world history and today’s geopolitics. But it’s one of the rare books I re-read, and that’s because of Ansary’s wonderful writing, his skill at weaving small details into the broad scope of historical events. At one point, he describes a cannon built for the Ottoman army that could fire a 1200-pound granite stone a mile. The cannon was so inaccurate, it missed the entire city it was aimed at, but this, Ansary notes, was beside the point. (Ansary himself reads the audio version, which really picks up on the humour in his anecdotes.)

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Author Toni Jordan cover

I brought this on writing retreat in rural NSW this year, which was a mistake. I kept telling myself “just one more chapter,” until I eventually had to finish the book so I could get back to work.

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Author Vicki Laveau-Harvie

Rarely do I manage to read prize-winning books in the year that they win their prizes; I’m always a little behind the curve. But I’m so glad I read The Erratics a few months after Laveau-Harvie won the Stella Prize, and attended a talk she gave. A fellow Canadian, she is as direct and wry in person as in her writing.

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Author Walter Mason cover

Anyone who talks to me for five minutes knows I’m a huge fan of Walter Mason. His books are wonderful, and he gives excellent talks on a variety of topics. Walter is one of those rare speakers who can take any topic and make it whimsical and entertaining.

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Author Tara Westover

After hearing many people recommend it, what made me seek this book out was Emily Maguire’s reference to it during the fabulous speech she made at my book launch. The connection she made resonated even more after reading Westover’s story.