3 Books Weekly #27: Featuring design writer Cliff Kuang

09.00, Friday 2 Sep 2016

The following was first posted on the 3 Books Weekly email newsletter and has since been archived here.

Hi folks!

Matt here again. I just want to say THANKS guest editor Lisa for bringing us 3 BOOKS WEEKLY while I’ve been on the road. She found some amazing contributors. Maybe we can have her back again soon :)

Today I’ve asked Cliff Kuang what 3 books I should read this year. Cliff’s one of those people with a birds-eye view of the design and tech world, and in particular its role in culture. He was founding editor of the site Co.Design which really quickly became my go-to site for timely and thoughtful design news and comment. So I’m super intrigued to see what he recommends…

I met up with Cliff for coffee when he was in London over the summer, and we had a pretty brain-buzzy conversation about the various avenues design has explored. It was also at that point I found out he’s working on a book - to be published in the not too distant future - and after our chat, I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Follow him on Twitter at @cliffkuang.

Ok, on with the show. Oh first! If you’d like to pick books for 3 BOOKS WEEKLY, there’s a form right here. Please do share if you feel so inclined.


#1. The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson is a genius, full stop. Before this book, he was best known among literary geeks for his short stories-heartfelt, bittersweet takes on science fiction. But this novel is something else entirely. It’s the story of a North Korean prisoner who manages to find himself at the top of the military ranks and in love with a famous South Korean movie star. They’re both wrapped up in the absurdity of the Kim Jong Il regime, trying to save themselves and their souls. The setting is perfect for Johnson’s gift with the surreal, because there really is nothing more surreal than North Korea. But more than that, it’s a stunning, moving testament to love and sacrifice in the oddest of circumstances.

The Orphan Master’s Son: Amazon / Amazon UK

#2. Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China, by Evan Osnos

I’m a bit of a China addict, having travelled there and been stunned at how strange life there is. All the cliches about its rapid development are true, and gob-smacking regardless. It’s moving, terrifying and inspiring all at once to witness an entire country shift, within 10 years, from subsistence farming to 200mph bullet trains. There is no book written that better captures the human beings living this story every day. Osnos is a brilliant reporter and writer, and his portraits of everyday Chinese pursuing fortune and family and love are unmatched. This is one of those books that just puts you in a world that isn’t your own. What’s better than that?

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China: Amazon / Amazon UK

#3. The Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

It’s an amazing thing when a science book can read like a detective story. Mukherjee is a brilliant writer and doctor and with this book, he tackles the many linked revelations we’ve achieved in genetics over the last 200 years, but more than that, he has an amazingly supple way of conveying the visceral thrill of discovery. And, more than that, he ties those discoveries with some moving stories about his own family and the madness that has been carried across generations by their own chromosomes. Mukherjee’s book about cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies, is also a must-read.

The Gene: An Intimate History: Amazon / Amazon UK

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