Five books which inspire me: Guest blog by our building surveying programme leader, James Ritson

Posted on: 17 December, 2020

With Christmas fast approaching, you may be seeking inspiration for last-minute gift ideas. If it’s books you’re after, our ‘Five books which inspire me’ blog series may do the trick.


Our third staff member (after Janet Hontoir and Lucy Roper) to select the five books which inspire them is our building surveying programme leader, James Ritson. Take a look at James’s choices below.


James Ritson

  1. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan (2015)

This is a history of the world from the perspective of the nations linked to the silk roads. It shows how we are connected to this region and contains amazing snippets of the words we use which originate from this part of the world.

The most startling thing about the book is that this is the part of the world we need to know more about but don’t. History teaching in England starts off with the Greeks then the Romans then there is a massive gap until 1066 and then another large gap until Henry VIII. Clearly, lots happened in-between but we have created our own mythology through this selective retelling of history.

It’s great to read a history which fills in the gaps and shows the influence of silk roads on the world. I have a family association with Asia so it’s even more relatable for me. The book details the conflicts, languages and religions which began in the region, and how the first great civilisation emanated from the silk roads.

There is also a children’s edition which I have read to my daughter and she loved it so you can share it with your little ones.

  1. Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall (2015)

This is a great book to explain our world. It details why geography is so important to a place’s success or difficulties.

Among the themes explored are: why Tibet is so important to China, why Africa is held back by its climate and why America has never been invaded. Ultimately, as a geographer, it demonstrates why geography is so important.

  1. Constructing Architecture: Materials, Processes, Structures. A Handbook by Andrea Deplazes (Ed) (2004)

This is a wonderful book which is commonly on the reading list of most architecture schools. It teaches you not only how to put a building together but why things are done in certain ways.

It’s beautifully illustrated. It combines teaching with a discussion rather than just being a textbook. It’s still a reference book for me and is a really good read. It asks questions we perhaps don’t think about when we think about architectural technology such as ‘why do we choose wood for some aspects of architecture?’ and ‘why do walls need to be so thick?’.

  1. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman (1999)

Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, and this book is one of the most beautiful books ever written about science. It shows how science can be poetic.

He makes difficult scientific theories easier to understand with the book discussing atoms, why objects keep moving when you have finished pushing them in beautiful and scientific explanations. His influence on science was huge with quotes from his lectures in the 1960s still quoted today in the fields of quantum physics and nanotechnology.

  1. The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees by Robert Penn (2015)

I love this book because it involves all the things I have a professional passion for: the environment, nature, crafts and making of things. The book is based around the author’s journey of cutting down an ash tree and writing about why it is so important. He displays great knowledge of the tree which he found out for this project and sends the timber from the ash tree to artisans and craftsmen to make axe handles, bowls, spoons and furniture for his house.

It demonstrates how valuable our natural resources are and the creative craftsmanship of human beings.

Thanks for sharing your choices, James! Keep an eye out this week on our social media channels for our final staff member’s inspirational book choices tomorrow.