32 Books

There’s always more (and more) to read…

Nour Sidawi
14 min readJan 7, 2023
The ever-wise words of Mr Fables: “An encouragement, perhaps, for other keen readers to add to their own ‘to read’ pile; and a gentle encouragement to add your recommendations to the #57Books ‘must read’ list; ripples flowing out from a ‘pebble in the pond’.

Thinking Outside the Books

Last year, I read 31 books read in the year of my 31st birthday. The encouragement from Mr Fables to read more led to an unexpected adventure! You can read my book reviews here:

This year I’m going to keep going. I love books. I’m very hungry for the good stuff, the “quake books.” The ones that shake you. That knock everything over and turn it upside down. The books to base your life on.

So, over the course of 2023, I will be reading 32 books in the calendar year to mark my 32nd birthday. It’s not quite one a week and a few extras for luck, but close enough.

The List

Here’s my list for 2023 to be guided by, or to lose yourself in. Some old, some new. All important reading, in no particular order.

1 — Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre

This is a remarkable story of a Second World War philanderer and double agent. No task was too dangerous, or ridiculous, for this agent. More thrilling than most spy thrillers and a lot more incredible to read!

2 — Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe

What’s in a name? For the Sackler family, apparently plenty. This is a gripping tale about ingenuity and ruthlessness of people that have profited from disaster while seeking ways to avoid moral opprobrium and accountability. But there seems little chance any of the Sacklers will learn from it, and all the while the shattered lives of those impacted remain.

3 —Babylon’s Ashes (The Expanse #6) by James S.A. Corey

In Babylon’s Ashes, all hell has broken loose. This is part war story, part Firefly-esque caper. With commentaries on culture and society, it depicts dark and frightening events alongside messages of hope, compassion and humanity. My inner sci-fi geek enjoyed the hell out of it!

4 — Persepolis Rising (The Expanse #7) by James S.A. Corey

Persepolis Rising sets the stage for a huge confrontation to finish off the series, with the arrival of an authoritarian force that seeks to dominate the status quo for its own purposes. The urge to draw parallels to recent politics is strong. Clearly there’s room in this series for one last adventure.

5 — Tiatmat’s Wrath (The Expanse #8) by James S.A. Corey

The penultimate novel in the series is without a doubt the grandest in scope: A fight against tyranny, an exploration of the limits of humanity, and how people deal with technologies that are far beyond their understanding. What’s not to love?!

6—Levianthan Falls (The Expanse #9) by James S.A. Corey

Ending a story is always difficult. This is, as it has always been, a human story: the focus is on humanity. So it’s fitting that the final scenes are about relationships and the bonds we make between each other.

7 — White House Warriors: How the National Security Council Transformed the American Way of War by John Gans

Gans puts human faces on an otherwise obscure piece of the national security enterprise, a place dominated by “the best and the brightest.” This is an important read for those seeking to peer behind the curtain of national security decision making and government.

8 — Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers by John Kay and Mervyn King

We do not know what the future will hold. But we must make decisions anyway. It is a call for economists and policymakers to accept “radical uncertainty” and start rethinking their models. But the authors say little about how those exercising such judgments would be held to account.

9 — Holding the Line: Inside Trump’s Pentagon with Secretary Mattis by Guy M. Snodgrass

Snodgrass’s on-the-record, eyewitness candor is a nuanced, not always flattering account of Mattis’s time as defence secretary and waning influence. A must-read — if not a cautionary tale — for anyone who desires access to the biggest levers of power.

10 — Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis

Davis explores a multitude of themes and issues impacting society in this pocket-sized powerhouse book. It allows us all to think about our current world which we live in — and asks: What does equality look like?

11 — Madly, Deeply: The Alan Rickman Diaries by Alan Rickman

The star’s thoughts reveal a man unwilling to suffer fools or mince his words. Spanning 22 years, they’re a glimpse into day-to-day life of Rickman, they colour in the picture of a man who poured much of himself into his work and had a life well lived.

12 — Flying on the Inside: A Memoir of Trauma and Recovery by Rachel Gotto

This is a remarkable true story of tragedy and triumph. Gotto never gives up hope or the fight (though she does come close), she always manages to find something within to keep going and displays sheer tenacity to recover.

13 —Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott

This is an indictment of the shelter system and a dysfunctional welfare state. Elliott’s heartfelt call forces us to look at a strata of society far too often ignored. It’s a story that will live inside you for a long time.

14 — Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good by Adrienne Maree Brown

Feeling good is not frivolous, it is freedom. This book centres on the radical notion that experiencing pleasure is a revolutionary act. Here, the author dares us to get in touch with our needs and reclaim our whole selves. Love what you do, how you do it, and the body you do it in.

15 — Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Became Scapegoats by Maya Goodfellow

Hostile Environment is a thoughtful and eye opening look at the history of immigration policy, the present system, and the scale of the task of changing the conversation and environment.

16 — The Secret Life of Special Advisers by Peter Cardwell

We’re taken on a journey through the day-to-day life of a government special adviser. But the old adage is that special advisers should never become the story. Well, these days advisers are sometimes better known than members of the cabinet.

17 — The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester

The novel is the internal thoughts of Captain Krause — it gets you to feel what it was like to command a warship in the North Atlantic: the crushing responsibility, the loneliness of command, the exertions of fighting an unseen enemy.

18 — All That Remains: A Life in Death by Sue Black

Black’s utterly gripping book is a combination of memoir, case history and polemic. Her life and career as an anatomist and forensic anthropologist manages to be surprisingly life-affirming. We all end up dead — but, in our end is our beginning.

19 — Broken Yard: The Fall of the Metropolitan Police by Tom Harper

This detailed critique — of 30 years of Met policing — asks if the Met is beyond repair. We know many of the stories already, and they’re common to all authorities: navigating a digital world, austerity, and maintaining public trust.

20 — Enough: The Violence Against Women and How to End It by Harriet Johnson

How many more women? Johnson depicts the staggering extent of violence against women and the years of campaigning against it. It is as unsuprising as it is horrifying, and lays bare the the problems in our policing, laws and culture.

21 — Elites: Understanding Power Without Losing Your Soul by Douglas Board

This is a fascinating insight into the world of the ‘elite’, and what it takes to become one. It shows why, paradoxically, meritocracies create glass ceilings. After all this inside knowledge, do we still want to become part of the elite?

22 — SAS: Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre

This book features an ensemble of eccentrics and mavericks — and one visionary who invented an elite commando unit — who find themselves in one harrowing situation after another. It’s a gripping account of wartime adventuring.

23 — The Old Kingdom Collection by Garth Nix

Re-read an absolute favourite series (again). It may have been the magic and adventure that enchanted me as young reader, but the themes hold wisdom that have me coming back for all my life.

24 — Goldenhand by Garth Nix

The stakes are a little smaller and little more personal than previous books. If you haven’t read them, you’re likely to find yourself more than a little at sea in this one.

25 — The Black Door by Richard Aldrich and Rory Cormac

Detailed here is the ever-changing relationship between the Prime Minister and Intelligence Services, and how it’s informed policymaking. This collective history serves as a roadmap to future leaders in what to do and not to do.

26 — Librarian Tales: Funny, Strange, and Inspiring Dispatches from the Stacks by William Ottens

A behind-the-scenes account of the life of librarians, the different roles they fill, the joy they take in their profession, and the unusual problems they face. Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly of working in libraries.

27 — The Right to Rule: Thirteen Years, Five Prime Ministers and the Implosion of the Tories by Ben Riley-Smith

The determination to stay in power is evident in the willingness to shift political position, to pivot policy to where the public is — and that takes some political alchemy.

28 — The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

Montgomery charts her quest to try and know this misunderstood “alien.” With moments of comedy, drama, and tragedy, this book refreshes our wonder for octopuses, so that we may approach our own lives differently. But a fascinating topic does not automatically make for a fascinating book.

29 — Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 by Stella Rimington

Rimington’s memoirs are a reflection on the changing relationship between the security services and the public they exist to serve. Her account of her rise in what was a certain type of man’s world is fascinating.

30 — Nazi Billionaires: The Dark History of Germany’s Wealthiest Dynasties by David de Jong

De Jong underlines the the decisive facilitating role that business interests often play in bringing populist authoritarians to power — and the importance of fully internalising the lessons of a country’s own history.

31 — The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 by Christopher Andrew

MI5 treads a fine line between secrecy and transparency — and this account shines a penetrating light into some of its darkest corners. But an official history can only do so much for an inherently secret organisation, and its revelations do not assuage the worry that we will never know what’s missing.

32 — Spike: The Virus vs. The People — the Inside Story by Jeremy Farrar and Anjana Ahuja

For many, it may be too soon to pick up a no-frills book about the pandemic. This is a very rare, frank account by a scientist about the realities and uneasy relationship between science and politics. There will be a litany of “inside stories” and first-hand accounts of how the pandemic was managed and decisions were taken — this is just the first.

Beyond ‘The List’

33 — Politics On the Edge: A Memoir From Within by Rory Stewart

With blistering frankness, Stewart presents a dissection of the dysfunctional governing system, failings of central government, and the need for serious reform. This is an insider portrait in the most vivid terms.

34 — Everything is Everything: A Memoir of Love, Hate & Hope by Clive Myrie

The man behind the headlines: Myrie offers a poignant exploration of black diasporic life alongside his recollection of frontline reporting. It is a moving, illuminating, and vital read.

35 — The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence on American Business by Duff McDonald

A fascinating, historical view of McKinsey’s birth and evolution. The company has accommodated the needs, aspirations, insecurities, and check books of CEOs of the world’s largest firms — and it will continue to provide that service, in one form or another, for many years to come.

36 — How Britain Broke the World: War, Greed and Blunders from Kosovo to Afghanistan, 1997–2022 by Arthur Snell

Snell offers a sober analysis of UK foreign policy, military interventions, and recent global traumas. It shows how a series of poor choices and errors in executing policies contributed heavily to the breakdown in the global order currently besetting us. So what is our place in the world, and what kind of country do we want to be?

37 — Cameron at 10: The Inside Story 2010–2015 by Anthony Seldon, Peter Snowdon

The book itself is a lively account of Cameron’s first five years as prime minister. It humanises the PM role, showing that nothing can prepare anyone for the job because the spotlight and responsibility are relentless and unforgiving.

38 — Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories by Garth Nix

39 — Terciel and Elinor by Garth Nix

40— The Fall of Boris Johnson: The Award-Winning, Explosive Account of the PM’s Final Days by Sebastian Payne

This is a gripping and timely look at how power is gained, wielded, and lost in Britain today. It is a startling chronicle of all that goes wrong in government, but also shows the perils of rushing to judge the recent past.

41 — A Stranger in Your Own City: Travels in the Middle East’s Long War by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

The author chronicles the past two decades of turmoil, shattering western assumptions about promised change and democracy from the 2003 invasion. It’s an exploration through people’s stories on how Iraqis became strangers in their own homeland.

57 Books: The List — feastsandfables

Mr Fables read and reviewed a list of 57 books in 2022. It’s an eclectic mix, fiction and non-fiction, new and old, some re-reads. All wonderful reading suggestions! #57Books



Nour Sidawi

Reflecting on the complexity of systems and making change in government @UKCivilService . Part of @OneTeamGov