Book club: best of 2012

Kieran Corcoran picks five books you should read

The Signal and the Noise

by Nate Silver

Allen Lane, 2012

A prophet to some, a witch to others, Nate Silver is a political pundit who got Obama's re-election absolutely spot on, despite the established US commenteriat maintaining to the last second that it was "too close to call." The newly-deified statistician and New York Times writer has penned this book to provide an insight into his apparent mastery of the future. That said, one of his first steps is to explain that he is not, in fact, omniscient and to outline the dangers of overly confident prediction.

The book is part history of his own life and statistical endeavours, and to an equal degree a rumination on the philosophy and psychology of predicting things in the first place. He's proved himself a person worth listening to, and in a world increasingly deluged by and reliant on data, there's never been a better time to learn how to keep sight of the truth.

Dial M for Murdoch

by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman

Penguin, 2012

The biggest legal story of the year was easily the Leveson Inquiry, which hauled editors, politicians and axe-grinding celebrities up in front of his lordship to put the press in its place. Behind the public scrutiny is News International's supposed institutional corruption, and Dial M for Murdoch is an exploration of the company and its practices from the alliance of Tom Watson, implacable Murdoch critic and deputy chair of the Labour party, and Martin Hickman, a journalist at the Independent.

The book pieces together the phone hacking story from its beginnings, through the "one rogue reporter" defence, and has been updated to include the recent revelations from the public inquiry. Described by a former News of the World reporter as the "only cogent book available on the most important media story since the birth of newspapers", it's vital reading for understanding the state of the media today, and what all the press regulation fuss is about.

Misunderstanding Financial Crises: Why We Don't See Them Coming

by Gary Gorton

OUP, 2012

There's no shortage of books about the financial crisis, but this one looks to be a standout. Author Gary Gorton is a professor of economics at Yale, the favourite economist of the Federal Reserve chairman, and was also an adviser at insurance giant AIG before it went down in 2008 like a financial Hindenburg. He's been roundly praised for marrying an excellent understanding of academic economics with personal experience of the world economy's most sickening lurch in a lifetime.

It's a tale of US financial history, but when the US sneezes we all catch a cold, so if you're serious about understanding the mess we, and the rest of the world, are still emerging from, then reading Gorton's long view is a great way to do so. As well as dealing with the events of the past few years, it covers every major crisis since the banking system began, so will get you well on your way to financial guru-hood.

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution

by Chris Anderson

Random House Business, 2012

Does printing off a bike and cycling to work in the morning, then downloading a chopping board when you get home sound like a crazy, Jetsons-style vision of the future? It could be reality in the next couple of years, says Chris Anderson.

The technology evangelist discusses how advances such as 3D printing and electronic assembly are bringing manufacturing into the home. By taking the means of production away from large companies with factories and production lines, Anderson claims that the surges of progress we've seen in software and internet technology of recent years could repeat themselves in manufacturing and change the world we live in. Whether a yet-unthought-of new product lies in your brain waiting to be unlocked, or if you just want to say "I told you so" when the future arrives, this book could keep you ahead of the game.


by Jessica Ennis

Hodder & Stoughton, 2012

No yearly book round-up would be complete without at least a nod towards the Olympics, the defining political, economic and cultural event of the nation's 2012, and Jessica Ennis's heptathlon victory marks the epicentre of Britain's Games. We know she's pretty good at running, jumping and throwing, but Ennis shows here that she also has a humble personality often absent from top-level sport and a stirring story to tell.

Ennis is not inclined to pose on covers and give lengthy magazine interviews, so her autobiography may be the best way to get to grips with one of the most recognisable "faces of The Games" and, of course, relive an evening of singular sporting triumph. And if you're a practical sort who needs a good reason to pick up a book, perhaps the story of how one woman rose to the absolute pinnacle of her profession, despite inauspicious beginnings and tough competition, could inspire you to do the same.