Now, I am no literary connoisseur. My reviews will never make it onto Guardian Books and the books I have read are nothing particularly out there. However, today I will endeavour to break down some of my favourite political books that I have read in the last couple of years. I started reading often again before I started university, as before I stopped enjoying fiction and didn’t know what else I’d enjoy. The ‘smart thinking’ section of Waterstones is now my go to, as it’s got loads of books on politics, social science and economics. Here it goes…
- A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia’s War with the West by Luke Harding
This is the complete story of Alexander Litvinenko’s murder, written by Luke Harding who is a journalist at the The Guardian. If anybody doesn’t know the details already – Litvinenko was involved in the Russian FSB (former KGB) and he defected to the UK. He died in London in 2006 from radiation poisoning, which many believe that Vladimir Putin personally approved. Not only is this an important book exposing Russia/West relations and the sheer brutality of the KGB, but it’s also so a political thriller. Everything is so well researched, and the ending was utterly tragic. He was, after all, a man with a wife and children. Harding talks specifically about the struggle of his wife Marina, who has been pressing the UK and European Court of Human Rights for sanctions against Russia.
It’s a hard read content-wise, but it’s written so well that I ripped through it. Overall, it covers all bases, and it covers them well and in an interesting way.
2. Talking to my Daughter about the Economy: A Brief History of Capitalism by Yanis Varoufakis
Whilst being a politics student, I have oddly never properly studied the economy. It’s usually way too dry for me. However, Yanis Varoufakis is THE go-to economist for books about economics which won’t bore you to death. I genuinely think I got a lot out of this book about how governments, banks and people operate, and I think I’ll pick it up again soon (or one of his other books) to refresh my memory. It was short and clever and, to be honest, I never thought I’d be able to get through a book essentially about maths so quickly. My only qualm is that it set me back about £15, but if you shop around you can get it for under a fiver second hand. Definitely recommend it to anybody who, like me, wants to understand basic economics but has never been taught about it academically before.
3. How To Be Right… in a world gone wrong by James O’Brien
In the words of The Sun, James O’Brien is “the epitome of a smug, sanctimonious, condescending, obsessively politically-correct, champagne-socialist public schoolboy Remoaner”. Only The Sun could call somebody condescending so condescendingly. Obviously, you won’t enjoy it if you’re a Brexiteer, but if you’re a fan of James’ radio work it’s a nice read! Probably nowhere near as ‘hard’ as some of my other recommendations, but it’s a nice little treat. James goes through a series of topics including feminism, racism, LGBT issues and Trump, injecting some of the calls he has received during his time at LBC. I can never really work out whether the calls he gets are hilarious or concerning, but nonetheless an entertaining read.
4. Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones
Owen Jones is probably best described as marmitey. He is, what you’d probably term, a massive socialist. However, whatever part of the political spectrum you come from, I think you’d be able to appreciate this book in some way. Although I think I’ve always been predisposed to left wing and centrist politics, this changed my perspective on something I had never properly considered before. I was definitely guilty of looking down at people who I considered ‘chavvy’, but since reading this book I’ve genuinely not used the word since. Without sounding like a middle class asshole looking down on the working classes like they’re from another planet; I never considered how there are so many messed up ideas ingrained into culture and reporting. I’d never heard about the Shannon Matthews story (which is probably very telling in itself), and I’d never stopped to think ‘hey, if people aren’t at university, that’s probably not because they’re inherently lazy and bad people, it’s probably because they haven’t actually had the opportunity (or they just didn’t want to, of course). The book has led me into being really interested in the politics of economic inequality. I went to see Mark Thomas’ recent show on the NHS and he said that statistically speaking the life expectancy in the housing near Grenfell Tower is 22 years shorter than a couple of miles away in Knightsbridge. It’s crazy.
If you want a great insight into class politics and economic inequality, this is a great start. Just like A Very Expensive Poison, Chavs is written by a Guardian journalist so it’s really well written and easy to read.
5. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Like Chavs, this book was just a great eye opener. I’d never read much about racism specifically in the UK, but Eddo-Lodge gives a perfect crash course. It was a big shock to find out that although the US is the most talked about country with regards to racism. I don’t have tons to say about this one, but I just think it’s something everybody should try to read. Mandatory reading so you can appreciate how bad it has been in the UK, and what’s still going on today.
6. Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall
If you’ve been into Waterstones in the last few years and looked on the tables in the Smart Thinking you would have seen Tim’s books. After being a news reporter and presenter for thirty years, he started writing helpful little books about international relations. Geopolitics isn’t usually my jam; I find it a bit dry. I actually found this little book rather helpful. It concisely explains all sorts like why Ukraine is of so much geopolitical importance, why China is emerging as superpower, and talks about the resources in the arctic. A really good way to know a little bit about a lot of different political situations.
At the moment I am reading two books:
- Hired by James Bloodworth
A book recounting a journalist’s experiences doing low-wage jobs in Britain. So far I’ve read part 1 on the Amazon warehouse in Rugeley (can I just say, holy shit Amazon are dick heads) and now I’m reading part II which is based on being a carer in Blackpool. Some proper journalism! Super hands on approach which I think is the best way to approach the topic of economic inequality. Needless to say, I think all politicians need to have a read of this.
2. Everywoman: One Woman’s Truth About Speaking the Truth
This, unlike any of my other recommendations, is by an MP rather than a journalist. Jess Phillips MP (Birmingham Yardley), love her or hate her, is an incredible activist and speaker. I adore her and have done since being a young girl, and the fact I haven’t read this yet is shameful! So far I’m enjoying it tons. I like reading it and feeling all inspired to get up and do something important. Jess Phillips is most definitely my feminist icon.
And finally, here’s what’s waiting on my bookshelf:
- Ctrl Alt Delete: How Politics and the Media Crashed Our Democracy by Tom Baldwin
- Principled Spying: The Ethics of Secret Intelligence by David Omand and Mark Phythian
- No Logo by Naomi Klein (I am a sinner who is still yet to finish a Naomi Klein book)
- The Last London by Iain Sinclair
- The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry
Please comment any recommendations you may have, let’s revel in this love of books together. We could even start a virtual book club.