So, welcome back to the regular assembly slots. I am sorry we are not together in the Great Hall, but the same message applies – if you would like to take an assembly at any stage this term, please do get in touch and I will give you the floor, so to speak.
Today I am going to talk about reading, one of life’s great pleasures. I always say that if you like reading, you will always have a friend. It keeps you company. However hard it is to find space to do it in today’s world, you must find space, just as you must for friendships. The summer holidays are always a particularly brilliant time and space in which to read. So here are three book recommendations from my own summer holidays, completely different in style and content, which you might like to pick up at some stage.
Anthony Seldon’s The Fourth Education Revolution. Some books are read because you are particularly interested in a topic – for the Upper Sixth currently, this might involve some reading around their university courses so that you have something to say in your personal statements and any potential interviews. The same choices appear when you are older, and for me that interest is education. For this particular book, I also happen to know the author, which makes it even more personal. However, a good read, too – at once inspiring as challenging and even frightening at stages. Seldon starts by defining the first three educational revolutions – the first as ‘necessary education’, the basic need for survival of homo sapiens thousands, and hundreds of thousands, of years ago; the second as the coming of institutionalised education after the emergence of writing in China, India, Mesopotamia and Egypt and the first places of learning in Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece on either side of the Aegean Sea; the third as the period after the invention of the printing in the 15th Century press brought education to the masses. Seldon sees the development of Artificial Intelligence heralding a revolution on the scale of those previous revolutions, as dramatic in its effect (over time) as that of the printing press. Most of his book describes the potential of Artificial Intelligence as a complete transformer of the way we teach and learn over the next few decades. As I say, at once inspiring, challenging and frightening.
Completely different. A novel by an Australian author called Richard Flanagan: The Narrow Road to the Deep North. I had never read any of his books before, but was recommended this by a friend who knew my favourite ever book was A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. She was right. This is written superbly, and in a similar vein – a story, ostensibly, about one man, which ends up encompassing human life in all its glorious spirit and complexity. Flanagan tells the story of Dorrigo Evans, a young Australian doctor in his mid-twenties, who finds himself in charge of 1,000 Australian captives working on the Burma Death Railway during the Second World War. His job is to liaise with the Japanese and to keep as many of his men as he can alive to tell the tale. Like Rohinton Mistry’s book, or for that matter the Iliad, it makes you wonder how the human spirit and yearning for purpose can be so strong. It also tells you of his whole life, both before and after this pivotal episode, which provides perspective and wonder. Like Rohinton Mistry’s book, it will lead me to read every book this author has written.
Again completely different. This time an autobiography entitled Educated, or perhaps memoir given her young age, written by Tara Westover, who grew up in the US, in rural Idaho, as a Mormon, received no formal education at all until the age of 16, and then decided she must get herself away from a traumatic home experience to be educated. On pure willpower, by her mid-twenties, she had a master’s degree and a doctorate from Cambridge and has been a visiting fellow at Harvard. By her late twenties, she wrote this book about her journey. It is a truly amazing one. Because of her book, Westover was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of 2019. It opens your eyes to the vastly different experiences we all have; it also opens your eyes up to the power of passion, of education and of perseverance.
So, three books, all very different, all stimulating, all exciting to read, all a great friend over the summer. Do, by all means, have a look at one or more of them. Do also consider taking an assembly, maybe with a friend or two, to recommend some of your own.