It’s nearly the end of 2016, so I decided to channel my inner Rob Fleming, and do some lists of things I enjoyed this year. May contain some good recommendations for others in 2017.
Rules are that I had to ‘discover’ (i.e. read, see, eat etc) the thing for the first time in 2016, not that it necessarily was produced this year.
A haunting, claustrophobic account of the footballer Robert Enke’s struggles with depression, leading to his ultimate suicide. So good, I devoted an entire post to it.
Another book that I mentioned in a previous post. A brilliantly readable account of how preferences are formed and can be changed – specifically relating to food, but a challenge to naive liberalism of many kinds. Incredibly topical, with debates over childhood obesity stirring arguments about the nanny state once more.
A book about the extraordinary power of big commercial datasets for understanding society, written by an OkCupid founder primarily using data from that site. Lots of cool charts e.g.:
ARTICLES AND ESSAYS
In a flummoxing year, there has been no shortage of digital ink spilt trying to explain how we’ve ended up here. Williams’ account of the mindset of working class Trump voters is the piece I found most helpful and informative, particularly the way they resent professionals and admire the rich.
Theresa May is a cautious Prime Minister who tends to give little away. William Davies’ essay offers a useful interpretation of her approached as being forged in her long stint in the Home Office, the unfashionable ‘Milwall’ of government departments, prizing security above all else.
Moneyball was a great story of how an analytical, data-driven approach could achieve great things in the meat-headed world of professional sports. Yet its ending was somewhat unsatisfying: its hero, Billy Beane, has never won the World Series. Theo Epstein picked up Beane’s baton and won the World Series three times, with two notoriously cursed clubs. Jazayerli describes the coda of moneyball’s ultimate domination and success in baseball.
First place because I can hardly get through a conversation most days without mentioning a piece from TAL. So many great stories, but the double episodes from refugee camps in Greece were a particular highlight, perfectly demonstrating the show’s incredible eye for a story.
Mike Duncan is pretty great at historical podcasting, but his series on the Haitian this year was a highlight of his series. A clear, easy to follow account of a fascinating and understudied chain of events.
2016 might be the craziest US Presidential election ever, and goodness knows what the Trump presidency has in store, but it has been good to put this year’s events in historical context. The episode on the 1964 election is particularly fascinating, to consider the similarities and differences between Trump and Barry Goldwater.
Told a difficult story about a small group of people who predicted and profited from the financial crisis in an entertaining and accessible way.
A genuinely funny comedy about war reporters in Afghanistan that subtly shifts gear to reflect on the psychological toll of such work.
A quirky film ostensibly investigating the origins of General Tso’s chicken, an iconic Chinese-American dish that serves as a more general investigation of the cultural perception and influence of Chinese immigrants in the US.
I am constitutionally allergic to musicals. And yet this is a musical comedy that I binge watch. The songs are funny and propel the plot and characterisation, the rest of the show stands up as a smart and hilarious sitcom in its own right. Continuously inventive and ingenuous.
2. Black Mirror
Responded well to new writers and a bigger budget. Didn’t lose any of the creepiness and imagination of earlier series, but improved visuals and production especially in the lush first episode. Ever thought-provoking: at the end of every episode I wanted to read 100 articles interpreting what we had just seen.
3. Broad City
Shows about self-centred millennial New York women are a Good Thing when they are this funny. Often crude and silly, but frequently hilarious.
Sugary pop-punk riffs, warm Durham accents, whimsical lyrics about anarchists turning crime fighter? My sort of thing.
Lush and lovely Americana.
Ukulele, sweet melody and sharp cynical lyrics.
As a Liverpool fan, I can’t help myself. This is what it is all about. From desolation, 3-1 down, outplayed by one of the top teams in Europe, to the euphoria of scoring three goals in 30 minutes to turn it around. This sort of thing happens once in a lifetime, though perhaps more frequently for Liverpool than other teams.
Given the rapture receiving Liverpool, one of the world’s most successful football teams, winning a quarter final of Europe’s second tier tournament, I can only imagine what it was like to be a Chicago Cubs fan this year. Also coming from 3-1 down to win 4-3, but doing so to win baseball’s world series and break a 108 year drought. And to do so in perhaps the greatest game ever. I could not stay up to watch it, and I will forever curse the MP who scheduled a meeting for the following day (and worse still, didn’t then turn up).
The first two were about drama. But sport is also about excellence. And such historic excellence should be cherished.
PLACES I ATE
Maybe food tastes better when you’re on honeymoon. Or when you get a fresh glass of wine with every course of the tasting menu. Professional, Michelin starred food with an Indian influence. But it was actually the simple bar snacks and lunch dishes that were the most enjoyable.
Somewhat buttoned-up traditional Italian: great food and feels like an occasion.
Bare brick walls? Teeming with people? Too hipster for my tastes, at first glance. But thin, tasty, giant wood-smoked pizzas appeared, and dissolved my qualms.
THINGS I COOKED
Like a thinned out walnut humous, a very different pasta sauce to more standard cheese or tomato based ones, and a definite addition to my everyday repertoire.
Now putting za’atar on everything as a result of this.
New York’s trendiest dish of 2016, apparently. Loved it when I ate it in Rome a couple of years ago, but hadn’t tried it until at home this year. Surprisingly tricky, given it’s only pasta, black pepper and pecorino cheese, but worked out pretty well (and in any case, there’s a limit to how bad you can make those ingredients taste)