A different perspective….
I have to admit, when I was asked to contribute to this panel, I was a little scared. After all, what, if anything do the views of a mathematician count for in a literary pack of creative writers?....
However, fears melted once I began to read; the theme 'complexity' is uncontroversially universal, in a way that means that everyone from mathematician to musician could be suitably touched by the shortlist. Interestingly enough however, it is not necessarily the musician who might be most moved by Ross' melodic analysis of the 20th century; nor is it the psychologist who might appreciate Appingnanesi's insights most. Something that struck me as a central theme to these books, though it may be seen to be true of most books, is their attempt to touch on humanity in its most raw or "naked" form.
I went into reading the books with a few slightly biased views about what I was to encounter. Being a socialist, I had read Klein's book 'No Logo' years ago when it was first published. Although I agreed with some of her views, I was very put off by the insistence of her words and the didactic tone of authority the book had. However, I have to say that I feel her work under consideration overcomes many of these problems. For a start, her research is far better, and her style of argument, rather than being dully repetitive and angry is more emotionally driven, which really gives the book its character. It is the unjustice done to "the people" that stands out in her account primarily; and through this, secondarily comes her political "message" which is all the more stronger for it. Therefore my experience of "The Shock Doctrine" has definitely (if rudely) surprised me.
The second bias I had with regard to the shortlist is that I was overly excited by Appignanesi's "Mad, Bad and Sad". Studying several modules on the philosophy of mind this year led me to believe that this was the book that would interest me most from an academic perspective - I believed it would enrich my understanding of my subject. My excitement was not disappointed; the book's case studies and analysis are convulsingly gripping. However when I say my bias was uprooted, I mean that my thoughts about what I would enjoy about the book pre-reading it turned out not to be one of my favourite factors. The aspect of the book that I consider to be one of its best factors is the truth with which the author delivers the case studies to the reader: I feel that I am stuck in the heads of the people she describes. I have honestly never been taken away so vividly from my surroundings by a work of non-fiction.
More on the rest of the books later... I'm still recovering from multiple shocks, of different kinds!