My favourite reads: Arthur MacMillan

Five books that remind us of what is important in life

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, George Packer, 2014
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Not all of these books changed my life but they are all special. Whether it was the scope of their imagination in fiction, stories of courage under fire or the sheer ability of the writers to make me laugh, all five titles made me think, reflect and consider what is important in life.

The Quick And The Dead: Under Siege in Sarajevo by Janine di Giovanni (1995)

I borrowed this book from a public library when I was a young reporter in northern Scotland in 2003. Di Giovanni, to me, is the best war correspondent I have read, a fearless writer with a vivid eye for detail. This book, chronicling her time in Bosnia, was her first. On finishing it I thought about becoming a foreign correspondent. Four years later I headed to Hong Kong, and became one.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (1994)

I had never – and have not since – read such beautiful prose as I found in this book. Telling a story of wartime and the aftermath through its central character Stephen Wraysford, it felt like I was there and I was moved by the tragedy and loss that occurs during this chronicle of conflict. Faulks captures both the history of the time and the legacy of the war.

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer (2014)

Packer, a writer for The New Yorker, in this book distilled the American rustbelt resentment that ultimately culminated in Donald Trump becoming US president. The stories Packer tells, from decaying or closed factories in middle America to the rise of Walmart, document the end of the post World War II economic age stateside. Packer’s gift – the book was published almost three years before Trump’s election – was his prescience.

Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite by Paul Arden (2006)

This book is an antidote to passive thinking and to anyone who has ever told you: “We’ve always done it this way!”. An advertising genius, Arden has the ability to say something simply but with a clarity of thought that is stimulating and helpfully provocative. For years I carried this in my travel bag and I still pick it up occasionally to remind me how we must take time to think about how we do things.

Four-Iron in the Soul by Lawrence Donegan (2003)

A musician turned sportswriter, this is Donegan’s memoir of a season as a caddie on the European Golf Tour. From the flea pits where caddies stay, while their bosses usually sleep and dine in style, to tales from the fairways, it is possibly the funniest book I have ever read. Whether a golfer or not, this tome will have you roaring with laughter so good is Donegan at telling a story.

Arthur MacMillan is foreign editor of The National


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