Mindset tips for 2021

This is a speech I gave to Radiocentre’s Tuning In conference in October 2020 (it’s summarised here). It was the first time I’d given a talk to an empty hall! Mildly disconcerting but it turned out OK.

Books I read in 2020

For a slightly incomplete but annotated version of this list, see my Twitter thread.

  • Rings of Saturn, W.G Sebald
  • The Cello Suites, Eric Siblin
  • Handel In London, Jane Glover
  • Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth, Gitta Sereny
  • The Shortest History of Europe, John Hirst
  • The Saturday Caller, Georges Simenon
  • The Sleepwalkers, Arthur Koestler
  • Science and Government, C.P. Snow
  • One Nation Under a Groove: Motown and
    American Culture, Gerald Early
  • Quack This Way: David Foster Wallace and Bryan Garner Talk Language and Writing
  • Believe In People: The Essential Karel Čapek
  • The Driver’s Seat, Muriel Spark
  • Isaac Newton, James Gleick
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Girls of Slender Means, Muriel Spark
  • Lady Sings The Blues, Billie Holiday
  • Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth, John Szwed
  • For Esmé, With Love and Squalor, J.D. Salinger
  • Just Kids, Patti Smith
  • The Evolution of Everything, Matt Ridley
  • A King Condemned: The Trial and Execution of Charles I, C.V. Wedgwood
  • No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, Erin Meyer and Reed Hastings.
  • Flaubert’s Parrot, Julian Barnes.
  • The Undoing Project Michael Lewis
  • The Smile Revolution: In Eighteenth Century Paris, Colin Jones.
  • The Fire of Joy, Clive James
  • The State of Disbelief, Juliet Rosenfeld
  • The Lion and the Unicorn, Richard Aldous
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, John Le Carré.

Introducing CONFLICTED

“The world will be a better place if everyone reads this book, and because it’s so entertaining they probably will.” Philippa Perry.

Dear Ruffians,

For the last three years I’ve been working on a new book and now I’m VERY excited to tell you about it. It’s published in February, in the UK (Faber & Faber, Feb 18) and the US (HarperCollins, Feb 23).


The book is about how to have better disagreements – whether that’s in the public arena, or at work, or at home.

This isn’t a “hey why can’t we all just get along” book. Nor is it a book about how to win an argument or persuade someone you’re right, even if it overlaps with those questions. It’s not about how to stop arguing; it’s about how to disagree and keep disagreeing in a way that advances everyone (‘everyone’ might be you and your partner, or a team at work, or a whole society).

Disagreement is the best way of thinking we have. It weeds out weak arguments, improves decision-making, leads to new ideas, and, counter-intuitively, brings us closer to one another. But only if we do it well – and right now, we’re doing it terribly. We either get into rancorous, futile squabbles or – and this is probably the bigger problem – we avoid it altogether, engaging only with people who already agree with us. That’s bad for our relationships, bad for our workplaces, bad for our politics.

There’s really no reason we should be good at productive disagreement. We don’t get trained in it or taught it. We find it stressful and unpleasant, because it triggers ancient fight-or-flight responses. For most of human history, we haven’t needed to be good at it, because tradition and culture have resolved or suppressed so many potentially contentious questions. But now we’re in a world where everything is open to question – and we have these devices in our hands that mean we get into arguments with strangers any time we want. It’s quite the combo.

So the challenge today isn’t how to put our differences aside, but how to put them to work.

I’ve read some very worthy books about the principles of argumentation, as laid down by philosophers for hundreds of years. But for me they always leave out something crucial – how it feels. Argument is not a bloodless sport, nor should it be. It involves our emotions and our instincts; we feel it in our whole body, not just our brains.

In order to find out how to do it well, I needed to talk to practitioners as well as theorists. I interviewed people who have tough, conflict-ridden conversations for a living: interrogators, hostage negotiators, addiction therapists, divorce mediators, diplomats. These people have an incredible amount of insight to offer that we can apply to our own lives. At the same time, I was talking to scholars – of philosophy, yes, but also of communication science and relationship psychology – and exploring some of the deeper questions. What role does conflict play in a good relationship? (A more important and more positive one than you imagine). When we have a disagreement, are we actually talking about what we think we’re talking about? (Often, no.)

In CONFLICTED I bring all of these fascinating insights together, along with my own observations and reflections, and distill the learnings into ten rules of productive argument. Along the way I tell plenty of stories, including stories about the invention of the aeroplane, the Waco siege, Nelson Mandela and his enemies, and The Beatles.


It will come as no surprise that the main way you can help is by purchasing the book. In particular, I’d love you to pre-order it. I hadn’t fully understood the importance of pre-orders until I asked my publisher to explain it. Amazon (through which so many sales go) orders more stock the more pre-orders it sees; we’re trying to get its algorithms to notice us. And pre-orders through any channel maximise the chance of CONFLICTED hitting bestseller lists, which raises the profile of the book, which leads to more sales and so on. So pre-orders are vital, regardless of where you order from.

In the UK, you can order from Bookshop.orgHiveWaterstonesFoyles, and of course, Amazon.

In the US, you can order from Bookshop.orgBarnes & NobleBooks-A-Million, and Amazon.

(The US will have a different subtitle, although that isn’t reflected in the cover image yet).