My top books of 2018

2018 is in the rear-view mirror. It’s time to reflect on the books I read during 2018.

I managed 24 in total. Which isn’t bad. Although one below my soft target of 25 in a year.

I’d put missing my target down to my own inadequacies (as usual) and two books in particular.

First was The Better Angels of Our Nature*. I managed about 400 pages (less than 50% of the book). This was about 350 pages too many. This is definitely one of those books that should have been an essay (maybe it was). And I should definitely have given in earlier (rather than being a stubborn git).

Second was the Qur’an (Rodwell interpretation). It is, like most religious texts, a very challenging read. With the studying around it, it took me an awful long time to read. I don’t regret it though. As I learned a great deal about Islam and Islamic history which I didn’t know before.

My top books of 2018

Three books stood head and shoulders above all the others this year. If I had to give a gold medal it would go to The Secret Barrister* by The Secret Barrister. Closely followed by my last book of 2018, Why We Sleep* by Matthew Walker. In third place is Factfulness* by the late Hans Rosling and Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund.

I thought it’d be worth sharing a few more words about each of these books.

The Secret Barrister

The Secret Barrister (SB) is a pseudonymous blogger. Over time they’ve become one of the go-to legal commentators and journalists (along with, among others, Joshua Rozenberg, David Allen Green, Matthew Scott, Emily Dugan and the sadly passed Sir Henry Brooke).

SB particularly focuses on their area of expertise, criminal law (they being, surprise, a criminal barrister). And in particular, the dire state of our criminal justice system.

This traces back to the LASPO legislation brought by the Government in 2012. This has had the effect of starving our justice system of much need funds. Much more concerning is the drastic cuts to legal aid.

LASPO basically took away legal aid for a range of important legal issues (including many housing, family and benefit issues). In addition, it massively reduced eligibility to legal aid. Unless you earn well below the median wage and have basically no savings, you will be footing the bill for your legal representation.

But for me, the most shocking aspect is what The Secret Barrister terms the ‘Innocence Tax’. I’ll explain by example.

Say you are falsely accused of sexual assault by several ‘victims’ (all claimants of sexual crimes are automatically considered victims, this hasn’t had unintended consequences at all). If you’re earning an average or above average salary, you’ll be footing the bill for your legal representation.

You might have to fork out hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees and experts to help defend you in court from the false claim. You might go all the way to trial.

During court, the ‘victims’ one-by-one, each state they do not consider themselves victims. In fact, they never wanted to complain to the police.

The trial collapses. You are innocent.

You’d think you would get back those hundreds of thousands of pounds you’ve spent defending that false claim.


You will get back a fraction of your costs. You’ll be hundreds of grand out-of-pocket.

Think it won’t happen to you?

Neither did Nigel Evans MP who voted for the legal aid cuts (the example above is a highly summarised version of his case). Mr Evans ended up selling his grandfather’s business, remortgaging his home and spending his life savings. Most people are not so fortunate.

This is only one of several major problems that mean justice is not working in this country. Please read The Secret Barrister*.

Why We Sleep

Maybe something more lighthearted.

Did you know that as a society we are systematically increasing our risk of cancer, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s Disease, hypertension and cardiovascular disease (sorry, did I say something more lighthearted?)

In Why We Sleep* neuroscientist Matthew Walker explores the science behind sleep. In short, sleep is incredibly important and conveys enormous health benefits. Yet we don’t get enough of it.

What’s more, modern society is set-up in a way that makes getting a good night’s sleep (8 hours or more) increasingly difficult.

The evidence Prof. Walker presents is overwhelming and troubling.

Four hours of sleep the night before means you are as cognitively impaired as if you were at the drink-drive limit.

Less than four hours sleep and you are 11.5 times more likely to have a car crash.

Forcing teenagers to wake up early for school (teenagers have a chemically different sleep pattern to adults: 6am for a teenager is the adult equivalent of 3am for an adult), restricts cognitive development.

The evidence is as worrying as it is damning.

But, the good news is that we have proven ways to improve our sleep (not sleeping pills, which are absolutely awful for you). Techniques such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) and Worry Management have been proven to work.

I can personally vouch for what Prof. Walker says. Having recently had sleep therapy, it has absolutely worked for me (something I will write more about down the line). Before therapy, four hours sleep was an average night for me. Six hours a good night.

Why We Sleep* leaves me amazed at how I was able to literally operate as a human for years on such little sleep. I am very glad that I’m now able to take better control of my sleep – and the enormous health benefits that confers. I highly recommend you read this book and learn how important sleep is.


This time I promise a more positive book. Factfulness* by the sadly passed Hans Rosling, his son Ola Rosling and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling Rönnlund.

The premise of the book is simple. We have an overly negative view of the world. That’s because we don’t know the real data about what’s going on and we have a number of unconscious (and sometimes conscious) biases that impair our ability to analyse the numbers.

In short, the world is a much better place than we think. We’ve made huge progress in eliminating poverty, disease and other bad things. The scare stories we read in the news don’t stand up to scrutiny.

But Hans was a ‘realist’ (though he didn’t like that word). He knew things weren’t perfect and there was much to be done. He tirelessly worked trying to make the world a better place until he sadly passed of cancer aged 68 in 2017.

Factfulness* will help you better understand our world and to improve your ability to interpret and analyse data. And if reading isn’t your thing. Just watch any of Hans’ videos on YouTube and enjoy.

Over to you

Did you read any of my top books of 2018? If so, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

I’m always on the lookout for more books to read. What were your top books of 2018?

All the best,

Young FI Guy


An * indicates an Amazon affiliate link. (p.s. If anybody knows how the Amazon thing works, I’d love to know what book links you lovely readers click on the most.)

8 thoughts on “My top books of 2018

  1. I got The Secret Barrister for Xmas – yet to read it.

    I did read one excellent novel: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. Laughed and laughed.

    I read a book on Strings. It was well written, and quite interesting as a bit of scientific history, if you can class as Science a lot of conjecture that can’t be tested by experiment or observation. I fear it may prove to have been a tale of wasted talent, wasted lives.

    “As I learned a great deal about Islam … which I didn’t know before.” Maybe; you presumably learned about Koranic Islam. But how much did you learn about Islam as actually practised? (Just think: if you’d read the New Testament in the 15th century you’d have learned remarkably little about the Roman Catholicism actually practised at that time. Come to think of it, I could say much the same about the 21st century.)

    “As I learned a great deal about … Islamic history which I didn’t know before.” Similarly, much Islamic history as taught to Moslems won’t be found in the Koran. And there’s the further question of whether ‘Islamic history as taught to Moslems’ bears much resemblance to what actually happened. Again, reflect on Christian, and especially Jewish, “history” – on what’s included that is certainly, or probably, untrue, and on what’s excluded.

    Tell me, how did you cope with the incomprehensible passages? Just ignore them?
    (It’s so long since I read it that I can’t point to any in particular, but there was certainly no shortage of them.)

    1. A healthy and happy 2019 to you dearieme.

      I wrote out a long comment (and then lost it, sigh). In abbreviated form:
      – Mainly Koranic Islam. I did not read ahadith (understanding practice and the schools and branches of Islam is well beyond me).
      – I did a lot of reading around the text to aid understanding. This Wikipedia page was very helpful:
      – I used various online resources and guides to help where the Rodwell interpretation left me clueless (the many incomprehensible passages).
      – My level of knowledge has gone from blissfully ignorant to now plain ignorant. I didn’t know about Tawhid (oneness) or historical events like the Battle of the Trench before reading.
      – I tried to read a Juz’ a day (massive fail). After finishing a Juz’ I’d do background reading and revisit.
      – I read in Surah order. I advise not to.
      – Learning the literary devices helped a lot as I got further in. Particularly ‘the ring’ structure.

  2. I’m reading Why We Sleep at the moment and it’s having a huge impact on me. I knew it would as I read so many articles about it and also a few podcasts by Matthew Walker. Sleep is something that I’ve started to actively prioritise for a month or so and It’s making a big difference. Really interested to read your post about sleep therapy – I’m not in need of that at the moment I just need to stick to healthy habits. Talking of which I’m going to turn off my laptop and go to bed right now!

    {oh, also love the Secret Barrister’s twitter so will look to pick up his book!]

  3. Happy New year to you and Mrs YFG.

    I have the Secret Barrister and Factfulness on my to-read list – as usual, will aim to read a few non-fiction this year and I’m planning on avoiding both self-help and finance/investing books so these two fit the bill!

  4. I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve heard about the Secret Barrister. It is on my next to read book! Thanks for the review.

  5. Nice! The secret barrister sounds excellent, and different from what id nornally read. Will dig it out the library.

    Light by M John Harrison is excellent if you like science fiction. I really enjoyed The Reality Frame by Brian Clegg, bit of relativity is always smashing. Quite enjoyed the first half of live work work work die, if you fancy reading about just how horrid silicon valley is. (And in case you are as uncouth as myself, I only just read nineteen eighty-four and thoroughly enjoyed it).

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