Welcome to our weekly Books Digest where we round-up what you should, and shouldn’t, be reading. This week features Jessie Ware, Jeremy Lent & Gillian Tett.

For more books take a look through our Books Digest Archive.

Omelette: Food, Love, Chaos and Other Conversations by Jessie Ware (Hodder & Stoughton General Division), £12.99.

Alice Crossley

Jessie Ware is a Brit award-nominated singer, co-host of the chart-topping podcast Table Manners, and a mother of two – soon to be three. For most, this would likely be enough. But not for Ware.

The singer’s debut book is a love letter to friends, first loves, faith and family, but most importantly – to food. The memoir begins with Ware describing herself as “so greedy that I made my mother’s nipples bleed”. She has an appetite for food and life that never quite slows down. 

Her writing borrows its tone from Dolly Alderton’s 2018 memoir, Everything I Know About Love, down to the sporadic half-recipes embedded within the chapters (e.g. “tinned sardines on toast with ketchup”) but with more star-studded anecdotes. Yet it is not the references to mingling with the Beckham’s or dining with Hollywood royalty that make the book; it is the nostalgic references to a life lived out and about in London. 

Ware fills the pages with reference to everywhere from Brixton to Dalston and Blackheath to Wandsworth, and all the dishes she has eaten in restaurants, homes, and at her own house, over the years. This is an ode to the city.

Ware’s attitude towards food is refreshing. She is of the “live to eat not eat to live” mindset. And what a life filled with good food and better memories this has brought her. Omelette is written for fans of Ware or Table Manners, but it might be a gateway to Jessie Ware fandom for the uninitiated. Despite her successful music career and an array of famous friends, Ware comes across as humble and hilarious – a dream dinner party guest in herself.

The Web of Meaning: Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to Find Our Place in the Universe by Jeremy Lent (Profile Books Ltd), £16.79.

Oliver Rhodes

In The Web of Meaning, Jeremy Lent says we must uproot the foundations of our civilisation before we destroy it. Don’t let the new-age aphorisms (“Everything we do, every word we speak, creates li ripples in the fabric of existence”) put you off. This is a sophisticated quest for meaning in a moment of collective soul-searching.

Lent’s basic idea is that the modern world suppresses our true nature. It’s an idea with a long pedigree in Western thought. But Lent prefers Eastern philosophy and the Taoist idea of wu wei or “effortless action”. His first two chapters misfire a little – focusing on trees, the cosmos and whatnot – and it is only in the final four when his personal insights breathe new life into ancient wisdom.

Connectedness, another Taoism, is the thread that sews these chapters together: whether that be the group intelligence of anthills, the “democratic conscience” of the brain’s neural pathways, or the Golden Ratio in sunflowers and sculptures. 

If the idea feels laboured after a while, the work pays off in the conclusion. Returning to Uncle Bob from the start of the book – he who claims, with a shrug of the shoulders, that “there is no alternative” to the status quo – Lent suggests we are entering a “phase transition”.

It’s a transition transforming social thought, from Robert Putnam’s Upswing to Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics to Jordan Peterson’s Twelve Rules for Life. Lent deftly weaves the social, economic and moral threads of these bestsellers into a cosmic tapestry with a sentence for all of us to remember: “What is the sacred and precious strand that you will weave?”

Anthro-Vision: How Anthropology Can Explain Business and Life by Gillian Tett (Cornerstone), £13.79

Caitlin Allen

Anyone who follows Gillian Tett’s work will know what she studied at university. Tett is evangelical about the merits of Anthropology. In her new book, she makes a compelling case for the relevance of this seemingly “wishy-washy” social science in the corporate world. 

Anthropology offers us a distinct way of seeing the world, and an “anthro-vision”, she argues, helps us understand the behaviour of businesses and consumers around the globe. With colourful anecdotes from her fieldwork in Tajikistan, she shows that Anthropology is about immersing oneself in unfamiliar cultures and uncovering hidden rituals that govern how people act.

She is quick to banish a common misconception surrounding the field: that Anthropology entirely revolves around studying remote, “exotic” tribes. Crucially, it also offers an intellectual framework that enables us to look at familiar environments with a fresh pair of eyes and spot what is hidden in plain sight – to identify, for instance, hidden tribes within the office. 

Tett gives illuminating examples of how this “anthro-vision” can be applied. Identifying hierarchies and rituals governing Wall Street bankers helped her to understand what led to the financial crash. Similarly, an anthropological expertise is invaluable in the field of marketing. Popular products move around a globalised world – but they hold different meanings in different places. CocaCola might look the same everywhere, but in Russia, it’s thought to smooth wrinkles, and in Haiti, it’s believed to revive someone from the dead. Those selling products must recognise the importance of cultural context. 

Ultimately, Tett shows that Anthropology is about working at the micro-level, homing in on small details and making “on the ground” observations – but doing so enables us to see the bigger picture. She’s not suggesting that it’s a replacement for stats, surveys and other quantitive data – but, as she argues very convincingly, it’s a valuable complementary tool. 

Look out for more Books Digest each week, until then why not visit our Books Digest archive.