It’s that time of year when all the darling little ones are trudging back to school with their brand new blazers and latest smartphones on display. We’re sure it must have ignited a glimmer of jealousy and nostalgia within you.
But don’t despair as we are sending you back to the classroom in an attempt to get you Thinking Smarter and mastering a subject that piques your interest with our very own School of Penguin. Through our sensational selection of books, which cover a massive array of topics, we hope to cram some essential knowledge somewhere in your cerebellum by completely painless means.
We’re starting with art, but you don’t need to lay down any sheets of newspaper, don a smock and dig out the finger paints just yet. Before you even begin to daub, have you ever considered the worth of art? Why some paintings cost tens of millions while others end up gathering dust in a charity shop?
In Breakfast at Sotheby’s, Phillip Hook investigates the methods by which artworks are valued and how these figures are reached, based on criteria such as the artist’s status, the work’s subject and the health of the marketplace. As Phillip himself states, “Art is something magical, transcendent, and worth paying large amounts of money for precisely because it is priceless and unquantifiable.”
Once you’ve surveyed the economics of art, it’s time to garner some inspiration. Over two volumes, Christopher Simon Sykes has chronicled the life of one of our most notable living artists: David Hockney. While the first book covered Hockney’s roots and early output, this second volume of Hockney: the Biography investigates his most iconic period, covering the celebrated swimming pool pictures of the 1970’s up to his recent work utilising new technologies such as iPads.
And once you’ve created some glorious artwork of your own, you need to convince the world that it’s worth appreciating. Luckily for you, Grayson Perry is on hand to help. The Turner Prize winner and adored art maverick has just released Playing to the Gallery: Helping Contemporary Art in its Struggle to be Understood. Grayson attempts to allay the anxieties people feel when faced with a challenging piece of art and instead simply absorb it.
Now don’t panic, but we are turning to maths. It might not be everyone’s favourite subject, but it can be fun! We promise! Just delve into John D. Barrow’s 100 Essential Things You Didn’t Know About Maths and the Arts, which uses simple sums to solve common mysteries, including why diamonds sparkle and why eggs are egg shaped.
Economics is a field that has many people fearfully hiding in a darkened room. If you’re one of them you obviously haven’t met mathematics maestro Ha-Joon Chang. His Economics: The User’s Guide reminds us that economics is far from an exact science and the perceived wisdom attached to it is anything but. As the great man states, “95% of economics is common sense.”
And no one makes maths more fun than the exceptional Matt Parker. His Things To Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension is essential reading for anyone who wants to tie their shoes faster, slice pizza in a fairer way and do very strange things with 2p pieces. Even the book itself can be drawn on and manipulated, which was completely forbidden with your text books at school.
Next it’s time for science. And your eyebrows should be safe from malfunctioning bunsen burners with Hugh Aldersey-Williams’ romp through the elements: Periodic Tales. You’ll discover that these exciting little metals and noble gases have an astonishing personal life that affects your existence in ways you could never have imagined.
If you’re a fan of family reunions (and who isn’t) you will be entertained and enlightened by Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind which explores why our lot, Homo sapiens, dominated while other human species fell by the wayside. As Yuval explains, “Sapiens rule the world because they are the only animals who can believe in things that exist purely in their own imagination.”
And if you spent your schooldays surreptitiously buried in a sci-fi comic, may we steer you towards Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Future. The eminent theoretical physicist has interviewed hundreds of experts to find out what’s going to happen in the next hundred years and which advances will change our lives. Will there be cyborgs? We can only hope.
After a quick trip to the tuck shop, the bell for Geography has sounded. So take your seat and preorder a copy of London: The Information Capital by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti, out this October. Featuring dazzling visuals and stunning design, it lays out truly amazing data and astonishing facts about The Smoke.
If you’ve ever dreamed of slapping on a loincloth and running into the nearest wooded area, we encourage you to engage with George Monbiot’s Feral. The lyrical and unique writer attempts to reconnect with the environment and ‘rewild’ his existence. As George himself tells us, “In everything we do we must now be mindful of the lives of others, cautious, constrained, meticulous. We may no longer live as if there were no tomorrow.”
Did you know we are entering a new geographical age? You see, you are learning something. Thanks to the changes that mankind has made to the planet, we are drifting from the Holocene period into the Anthropocene, literally the ‘age of man’. In Adventures in the Anthropocene,Gaia Vince travels the globe investigating the changes mankind has wrought to the earth and what it means for future generations.
Just a quick dash through English before you’re all allowed outside for break. John Steinbeck’s immortal Of Mice and Men beautifully intertwines a simple tale of struggling itinerant workers while tackling important questions about loyalty, class and passion. “Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. . . . With us it ain’t like that.”
You may have read Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird as part of your O’ levels or GCSEs, but rediscovering the book as an adult is a true joy. Beneath the drama of the trial and the search for truth is the story of a simple, noble man trying to raise his children in a world impacted with injustice.
And if reacquainting yourself with these classics has inspired you to compose something of your own, you might need some help with the nuts and bolts of writing. Simon Heffer’s Simply English provides an essential and entertaining A to Z of common language errors, ensuring you never infer when you should be implying.
So now you should be well versed in a baffling variety of subjects. And we’re only halfway through the school day! Check back for another batch of School of Penguin subjects and lessons to help you Think Smarter and broaden your educational horizons.