The renowned producer and writer John Lloyd shares his castaway picks

by Alice Oswald 

This staggeringly beautiful long-form poem is the most compelling I have ever read. It reconfigures Homer’s Iliad, graphically lamenting the (mostly) ordinary soldiers who died in the Trojan War. Vividly emblazoned with dazzling similes of the natural world, it is haunting, horrific, tragic and shocking, yet deeply uplifting, evocative and thrilling. A masterpiece of concision, compassion and eloquence which I have found endlessly therapeutic and life-enhancing to read aloud to myself alone. 

The Matter With Things
by Iain McGilchrist 

This two-volume magnus opus has the whiff of genius about it, giving one a lurching sensation it’s the manifesto for a paradigm shift. The irresistibly, poetically argued assertion is that the dominance of the tight-focus left hemisphere of the brain has stripped us of all sense of meaning, truth, beauty and goodness and that we face extinction unless we urgently start making use of the other half.

The Trachtenberg System of Basic Mathematics
translated by Ann Cutler & Rudolph McShane 

Jakow Trachtenberg was a brilliant, Russian-born, mathematician and engineer working in Germany. Interned in Nazi concentration camps for most of the war, he kept his sanity by devising a new method of mental arithmetic entirely in his head. This allows a 10-year-old to multiply, say, 5132437201 by 452736502758 and come up with the answer, 2323641669144374104785, in just over a minute. I haven’t mastered that yet, but I can multiply any number by 11 as fast as I can write it down.

The Book of Chuang Tzu
translated by Martin Palmer with Elizabeth Breuilly 

Cuang Tzu, who lived in the 4th century BC, is one of three founders of Taoism, and the only one we definitely know existed. He was Socrates to Confucius’ Aristotle – scruffy, rogueish, and, above all, funny. I first came across this book shortly after it was published, when I had no idea what Taoism even was. There were so many ideas in it, it was like being floored by the wing-mirror of a lorry. Laugh and change your life.

The Boatbuilder's Apprentice – The Ins and Outs of Building Lapstrake, Carvel, Stitch-and-Glue, Strip-Planked, and Other Wooden Boats 
by Greg Rossel

I see my stay on the desert island as a working holiday not a life sentence, and this book will provide my ticket to escape. I’m from a naval family, so I’ve rowed whalers, sailed dinghies and helmed HMS Tiger. But I’ve only ever built one boat: a fibreglass canoe my brother and I put together as teenagers. We launched it in the local stream, only to find it blocked in both directions by barbed wire. Magellan had it easy.

John Lloyd hosts The Museum of Curiosity on BBC Radio 4 and on BBC Sounds. All series of QI are now available on BBCiplayer.