My favourite books of 2022... so far!

By Simon’s Books

By Simon’s Books

12 Bytes: How artificial intelligence will change the way we live and love

Jeanette Winterson

£16.98 £15.79

This recently published non-fiction book looks at the future of humanity’s relationship with computers generally and artificial intelligence specifically. Winterson draws lessons from the past, in particular from the industrial revolution, and sketches out how our future might look. I learned a lot from this book and found Winterson’s absorbing. Her arguments about how the future might look are compelling. As with any great writing, Winterson brushes by fascinating tangential ideas which cause a lot of thought and reflection. Two of these ideas stood out for me in particular. The first was Winterson’s discussion of effective immortality, or the idea that we could upload our consciousness to a device and continue to think forever. The thought horrifies me: the idea of living forever, of going on and on and on without any sense of progress or completion, totally repulses me. I hadn’t realised how strongly I felt about this until I read this book. And Winterson gently challenges that response, pointing out that it is essentially selfish, denying humanity the benefit of infinite life experience (and perhaps wisdom). A lot to chew on and unpack there! The second was Winterson’s impassioned plea for science to involve writers. Precision, and perhaps even beauty, is essential in scientific communication, and is a dying art. This chimes with my own ideas about the field of medicine, where clinical guidelines are increasingly poorly and imprecisely expressed, often leading to competing interpretations. This ought to be a key lesson of the pandemic, but I strongly suspect it won’t be learned. Additionally, publications in the medical literature are ever-more narrowly targeted as sub-sub-specialities talk to themselves in their own coded language. This has, perhaps, been more broadly recognised, but the response is typically an inelegant press release for public consumption, rather than much-improved writing in the first place. I think you can probably tell that I thought this book was brilliant, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I put it down.

Beneath the White Coat: Doctors, Their Minds and Mental Health

Clare Gerada and Zaid Al-Najjar

£22.99

This is a recently published book about doctors' mental health, edited by the former Chair and current President of the Royal College of GPs and founder of the Practitioner Health Programme. I've had the pleasure of meeting Clare Gerada a couple of times and found her to be inspirational. I read this book and was surprised by how much of myself I recognised in the descriptions of doctors' personalities, and the aspects of their work they find particularly challenging. I found the practical content on "surviving and thriving in medicine" insightful and helpful. The chapter on burnout in doctors, and how most doctors have periods of burnout in their career, was particularly relevant to me right now, after two exceptionally demanding years of pandemic practice. There is much to think about in here, and much of immediate practical value. It is brilliant.

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