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How games are being harnessed as instruments of exploitation – and what we can do about it

Warehouse workers pack boxes while a virtual dragon races across their screen. If they beat their colleagues, they get an award. If not, they can be fired. Uber presents exhausted drivers with challenges to keep them driving. China scores its citizens so they behave well, and games with in-app purchases use achievements to empty your wallet.

Points, badges and leaderboards are creeping into every aspect of modern life. In You’ve Been Played, game designer Adrian Hon delivers a blistering takedown of how corporations, schools and governments use games and gamification as tools for profit and coercion. These are games that we often have no choice but to play, where losing has heavy penalties. You’ve Been Played is a scathing indictment of a tech-driven world that wants to convince us that misery is fun, and a call to arms for anyone who hopes to preserve their dignity and autonomy.

How many avoidable deaths are there in the NHS every week?

150.

What figure should we aim for?

Zero.

The NHS is the pride of Britain. It’s an army of highly skilled and talented healthcare professionals, armed with the most cutting-edge therapies and medicines, and a budget bigger than the GDP of most countries in the world.

Yet avoidable failures are common. And the result is tragic deaths up and down the country every day.

Jeremy Hunt, the longest-serving Health Secretary in history, knows exactly what the cost is. In the letters he received from bereaved family members, he was constantly confronted by the heart-breaking reality of slip-ups and mistakes.

There is increasing conflict between public pride in the NHS and the exhausted daily reality for many doctors and nurses, now experiencing burnout in record numbers. Waiting lists are up, staffing numbers inadequate, and all the while an ageing population and medical advances increase both demand and expectations. With pressures like these, is it surprising that mistakes start to creep in?

This great British institution is crying out for renewal. In Zero, taking the broadest approach, thinking through everything from staffing to technology, budgets to culture, Hunt presents a manifesto for that renewal.

Mistakes happen. But nobody deserves to become a statistic in an NHS hospital. That’s why we need to aim for zero.

A BARACK OBAMA FAVOURITE BOOK OF 2020

A New York Times best book of 2020

One of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard reveals the hidden lives of her fellow undocumented Americans.

Right after the election of 2016, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio realized the story she’d tried to steer clear of was the only one she wanted to tell. So she wrote her immigration lawyer’s phone number on her hand and embarked on a trip across the country to tell the stories of her fellow undocumented immigrants – and to find the hidden key to her own.

In her incandescent, relentlessly probing voice, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio combines sensitive reporting and powerful personal narratives to bring to light remarkable stories of resilience, madness, and death. She finds the singular, effervescent characters across the nation often reduced in the media to political pawns or nameless laborers.

The stories she tells are not deferential or naively inspirational but show the love, magic, heartbreak, insanity, and vulgarity that infuse the day-to-day lives of her subjects. And through it all we see the author grappling with the biggest questions of love, duty, family, and survival.

Shortlisted for a National Book Award, a National Book Critics’ Circle Award and an L.A. Times Book Prize

A groundbreaking exploration of why we want what we want, and a toolkit for freeing ourselves from chasing unfulfilling desires.

Humans don’t desire anything independently. Human desire is mimetic – we imitate what other people want. This affects the way we choose partners, friends, careers, clothes and travel destinations. Mimetic desire is responsible for the formation of our very identities. It explains the enduring relevancy of Shakespeare’s plays, why Peter Thiel decided to be the first investor in Facebook, and why our world is growing more divided as it becomes more connected.

Drawing on his experience as an entrepreneur, teacher and student of classical philosophy, Luke Burgis shares tactics that help turn blind wanting into intentional wanting – to be more in control of the things we want, and to find more meaning in our work and lives.

‘Fascinating. It blew my mind!’ Malcolm Gladwell

Wonderworks reveals that literature is among the mightiest technologies that humans have ever invented, precision-honed to give us what our brains most want and need.

Literature is a technology like any other. And the writers we revere – from Homer to Shakespeare, Austen to Ferrante – each made a unique technical breakthrough that can be viewed as both a narrative and neuroscientific advancement. But literature’s great invention was to address problems we could not solve: not how to start a fire or build a boat, but how to live and love; how to maintain courage in the face of death; how to account for the fact that we exist at all.

Based on Angus Fletcher’s own research, Wonderworks tells the story of the greatest literary inventions through the ages, from ancient Mesopotamia to modern-day America. It draws on cutting-edge neuroscience to demonstrate that the inventions really work: they enrich our lives with joy, hope, courage and energy, and they help our brains heal from grief, loneliness and even trauma.

From ancient Chinese lyrics to nursery rhymes and fairy tales, from slave narratives to contemporary TV shows, Wonderworks walks us through the evolution of literature’s crucial blueprints, and offers us a new understanding of its power.

Yang Jisheng’s The World Turned Upside Down is the definitive history of the Cultural Revolution, in withering and heartbreaking detail.

As a major political event and a crucial turning point in the history of the People’s Republic of China, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) marked the zenith as well as the nadir of Mao Zedong’s ultra-leftist politics. Reacting in part to the Soviet Union’s “revisionism” that he regarded as a threat to the future of socialism, Mao mobilized the masses in a battle against what he called “bourgeois” forces within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This ten-year-long class struggle on a massive scale devastated traditional Chinese culture as well as the nation’s economy.

Following his groundbreaking and award-winning history of the Great Famine, Tombstone, Yang Jisheng here presents the only history of the Cultural Revolution by an independent scholar based in mainland China, and makes a crucial contribution to understanding those years’ lasting influence today.

The World Turned Upside Down puts every political incident, major and minor, of those ten years under extraordinary and withering scrutiny, and arrives in English at a moment when contemporary Chinese governance is leaning once more toward a highly centralized power structure and Mao-style cult of personality.

‘A masterful introduction to the state of the art in managerial decision-making. Surprisingly, it is also a pleasure to read’ – Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow

A lively, research-based tour of nine common decision-making traps – and practical tools for avoiding them – from a professor of strategic thinking We make decisions all the time. It’s so natural that we hardly stop to think about it. Yet even the smartest and most experienced among us make frequent and predictable errors. So, what makes a good decision? Should we trust our intuitions, and if so, when? How can we avoid being tripped up by cognitive biases when we are not even aware of them?

You’re About to Make a Terrible Mistake! offers clear and practical advice that distils the latest developments in behavioural economics and cognitive psychology into actionable tools for making clever, effective decisions in business and beyond.

‘The most important book in social science for many years’ Paul Collier, TLS Books of the Year

The Upswing is Robert D. Putnam’s brilliant analysis of economic, social, cultural and political trends from the Gilded Age to the present, showing how America went from an individualistic ‘I’ society to a more communitarian ‘We’ society and then back again, and how we can all learn from that experience.

In the late nineteenth century, America was highly individualistic, starkly unequal, fiercely polarised and deeply fragmented, just as it is today. However, as the twentieth century dawned, America became – slowly, unevenly, but steadily – more egalitarian, more cooperative, more generous; a society ‘on the upswing,’ more focused on responsibilities to each other and less focused on narrow self-interest. Over the course of the 1960s, however, these trends reversed once again, leading to today’s disarray.

In a sweeping overview of more than a century of history, Putnam and Romney Garrett draw on inspiring lessons for our time from an earlier era, when a dedicated group of reformers righted the ship, creating once again a society based on community. Engaging, revelatory and timely, this is Putnam’s most ambitious work yet, with a relevance right across the anglophone world. It is an unmissable contribution to the debate about where we want society to go.

Meet the pioneering women who changed the medical landscape for us all

For fans of Hidden Figures and Radium Girls comes the remarkable story of three Victorian women who broke down barriers in the medical field to become the first women doctors, revolutionising the way women receive health care.

In the early 1800s, women were dying in large numbers from treatable diseases because they avoided receiving medical care. Examinations performed by male doctors were often demeaning and even painful. In addition, women faced stigma from illness–a diagnosis could greatly limit their ability to find husbands, jobs or be received in polite society.

Motivated by personal loss and frustration over inadequate medical care, Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex-Blake fought for a woman’s place in the male-dominated medical field. For the first time ever, Women in White Coats tells the complete history of these three pioneering women who, despite countless obstacles, earned medical degrees and paved the way for other women to do the same. Though very different in personality and circumstance, together these women built women-run hospitals and teaching colleges – creating for the first time medical care for women by women.

With gripping storytelling based on extensive research and access to archival documents, Women in White Coats tells the courageous history these women made by becoming doctors, detailing the boundaries they broke of gender and science to reshape how we receive medical care today.

Time to Think goes behind the headlines to reveal the truth about the NHS’s flagship gender service for children.

The Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), based at the Tavistock and Portman Trust in North London, was set up initially to provide — for the most part — talking therapies to young people who were questioning their gender identity. But in the last decade GIDS has referred more than a thousand children, some as young as nine years old, for medication to block their puberty. In the same period, the number of referrals has exploded, increasing twenty-five fold, while the profile of the patients has changed, from largely pre-pubescent boys to mostly adolescent girls, who are often contending with other difficulties.

Why had the patients changed so dramatically? Were all these distressed young people actually best served by taking puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones? While some young people appeared to thrive after taking the blocker, many seemed to become worse. Was there enough clinical evidence to justify such profound medical interventions in the lives of young people who had so much else to contend with?

This urgent, scrupulous and dramatic book explains how, in the words of some former staff, GIDS has been the site of a serious medical scandal, in which ideological concerns took priority over clinical practice. Award-winning journalist Hannah Barnes has had unprecedented access to thousands of pages of documents, including internal emails and unpublished reports, and over a hundred hours of personal testimony, to write a disturbing and gripping parable of our times.