Newest Politics and Society Reviews

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Don't Let My Past Be Your Future: A Call to Arms by Harry Leslie Smith

5star.jpg Politics and Society

Don't Let My Past Be Your Future: A Call to Arms is part biography and part rallying call for society to tackle the systemic, endemic and debilitating inequality faced by the people of the United Kingdom, particularly in the North. Through reflecting on his own experiences during his childhood, Harry Leslie Smith has painted a frank and uncompromising picture of the grim, appallingly miserable childhood he had to endure due to the poverty faced by his family contrasted with the, shamefully still, grim and miserable lives many people endure today in a country ravaged by cuts, austerity and political turmoil. Full review...

China in Drag: Travels with a Cross-dresser by Michael Bristow

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Having worked for nine years in Bejing as a journalist for the BBC, author Michael Bristow decided to write about Chinese history. Having been learning the local language for several years, Bristow asked his language teacher for guidance - the language teacher, born in the early fifties, offered Bristow a compelling picture of life in Communist China - but added to that, Bristow was greatly surprised to find that his language teacher also enjoyed spending his spare time in ladies clothing. It soon becomes clear that the tale told here is immensely personal - yet also paints a fascinating portrait of one of the world's most intriguing nations. Full review...

Forgetfulness: Making the Modern Culture of Amnesia by Francis O'Gorman

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After a glut of books about mindfulness it came as something of a relief to encounter Forgetfulness, Francis O'Gorman's thinking on why the twenty-first century is losing touch with the past, on why what is likely - or could be made - to happen is so much more important than what has gone before. The book is supremely intelligent, but with the knowledge worn lightly and it's eminently readable, regardless of how you feel about the conclusions he draws. Full review...

Long Road From Jarrow by Stuart Maconie

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I cancelled my Country Walking magazine subscription about a year ago and the only thing I miss is Stuart Maconie's column. His down-to-earth approach and sharp wit belie an equally sharp intellect and a soul more sensitive than he might be willing to admit. Let's be honest, though, I picked this one up because of someone else's review, in which I spotted names like Ferryhill and Newton Aycliffe. Places I grew up in. Like Maconie I have no connection (that I know of) to the Jarrow Crusade but when he talks about it being a whole matrix of events reducible to one word like Aberfan, Hillsborough, or Orgreave then somehow it does become part of my history too. Tangentially, at least. Full review...

Culture and Society 1780-1950 by Raymond Williams

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From the last decades of the eighteenth century to the final words of modernism, this book tracks societal changes through exploring five key words: industry, democracy, class, art and culture. The meanings of such things, their essence, changes as per their use and the era in which their implications were considered. Full review...

Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche for our times by Patrick West

1star.jpg Politics and Society

Get Over Yourself considers Nietzsche's imagined perceptions of modern society and uses our society to explain his philosophy. I'm sorry if that sounds vague but it's the best I can do from the blurb on the back. After reading Get Over Yourself from cover to cover, I am still none the wiser about the purpose of this book. It appears to be a series of personal opinions held together with quotes, which don't always appear relevant, from Nietzsche, Chumbawumba and newspaper articles. Full review...

Swell by Jenny Landreth

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I love Jenny's own description of her book as a waterbiography and I love her encouragement that we should each write our own. This is more than just (I say just!) a recollection of the author's own encounters with water; it's also a history of women's fight for the right to swim. That sounds absurd until you start reading about it, then it becomes serious. Not too serious though – because Jenny Landreth is clearly a lover of the absurd. Not a lover of book blurbs myself, I do always seek to give a shout-out to those who get it dead right: in this case I'm definitely with Alexandra Heminsley's giggles-on-the-commute funny. Full review...

The Exile by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy

4star.jpg Politics and Society

An account of the fate of Al Qaeda and the Bin Laden family since the events of 9/11, The Exile plunges into the murky waters of international terrorism, espionage and politics. Detailed and meticulous, the book tackles the subject from all angles, providing a panoramic view of the subject and acting to enlighten and inform the reader. Full review...

Can I Speak to Someone in Charge? by Emily Clarkson

4.5star.jpg Politics and Society

Can I Speak to Someone in Charge?, blogger Emily Clarkson's debut book, is a fierce, witty and laugh-out-loud funny ode to feminism. In a series of open letters, she addresses the issues faced by every modern woman, discussing everything from dealing with body hair to being made to feel uncomfortable in the gym, as well as more personal issues, like her experiences of being 'catfished' and sent abuse online. This is a vital read for any girl born in the 1990s, tackling some very serious social injustices beneath its fun exterior. Full review...

Flaneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London by Lauren Elkin

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Lauren Elkin is down on suburbs: they're places where you can't or shouldn't be seen walking; places where, in fiction, women who transgress boundaries are punished (thinking of everything from Madame Bovary to Revolutionary Road). When she imagines to herself what the female version of that well-known historical figure, the carefree flâneur, might be, she thinks about women who freely wandered the world's great cities without having the more insalubrious connotation of the word 'streetwalker' applied to them. Full review...

Surgery on the Shoulders of Giants: Letters from a doctor abroad by Saqib Noor

4star.jpg Autobiography

The letters begin much in the fashion of any young man away from home, perhaps in a quite exciting country, writing back to family and friends to tell them of his experiences, the sights he's seen and the people he's met. It's just a little different in Surgery on the Shoulders of Giants though: Saqib Noor is a junior doctor, training to be an orthopaedic surgeon and over a period of ten years he visited six countries, not as a tourist but to give medical assistance. They're countries which Noor describes as fourth world - third world with added disaster - and their need is desperate. Full review...

Man Up by Rebecca Asher

5star.jpg Politics and Society

When a couple of years ago my university introduced compulsory consent workshops along with an option of 'good lad' sessions for boys, all debate broke loose. Shouldn't consent be self-evident for everyone? Would the workshops reinforce the stereotype of 'laddish' boys? Would it all be about pointing fingers at boys and victimizing girls? What about non-binary people? In short, how could these workshops be anything else than a mission doomed to failure? Full review...

Outskirts by John Grindrod

4star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

Outskirts is an interesting take on a phenomenon of the modern age: the introduction of the green belt of countryside surrounding inner city housing estates. John Grindrod grew up on the edge of one such estate in the 1960's and '70's, as he puts it, I grew up on the last road in London. Grindrod explores the introduction of the green belt, and the various fights and developments it has gone through over the subsequent decades, as environmental and political arguments have affected planning decisions. Within this topic, he has somehow managed to wind around his personal memories of childhood, producing a memoir with a lot of heart. Full review...

Radical Hope by Carolina de Robertis

4star.jpg Politics and Society

On 8th November 2016, Donald Trump was elected as the 46th President of the United States. Since then many Americans have been overcome with fear, worrying about what will become of American society during Trump's administration. Carolina de Robertis was no exception to this fear and in response to the newly elected President and his policies she put out a call for action. Radical Hope is the outcome to this call. De Robertis reached out to fellow writers and activists asking for letters, predominantly letters of love, addressed to the citizens of today and those of past and future generations in order to help spread hope during times of uncertainty. Full review...

Post-Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back by Matthew d'Ancona

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Our own post-truth era is what happens when society relaxes its defence of values that underpin cohesion, namely veracity, honesty and accountability.

I'm old enough or perhaps naive enough to believe that when making a decision about political voting, you should be able to rely absolutely on what the candidate tells you. I've been suspicious for a decade or more, but it's become difficult to ignore the change in political attitudes since Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. With regard to the latter, when Trump was challenged on a statement he'd made which was subsequently found to be incorrect, his response was Who cares if I got it wrong? He was able to tap to the fading concept of 'the American Dream' - those Americans who were used to waiting patiently in line and who had found themselves overtaken by women, immigrants and public sector workers. Full review...

Wild Kingdom: Bringing Back Britain's Wildlife by Stephen Moss

4star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

Wildlife has been declining in Britain over the last few decades; it is an unfortunate by-product of human population growth, which in the modern world has increased significantly. Through this book Moss suggests a few ways in which we can start to bring back some of Britain's wildlife without compromising the human way of life: we can co-exist with nature. Full review...

Politics: Between the Extremes by Nick Clegg

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The political landscape is changing rapidly at the moment. A little more than two years ago we were facing the end of the UK's first coalition government since World War II and fully expecting that we would see another. Instead we saw a Conservative government elected with a workable majority. Brexit saw the end of one Prime Minister and another elected by a few members of parliament. As I write we're facing another general election, with a Conservative landslide predicted. In two years we've seen the Liberal Democrats collapse from being part of the ruling coalition to a party whose MPs could hold a meeting in a decent-sized car. Full review...

Everywoman: One Woman's Truth About Speaking the Truth by Jess Phillips

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Everywoman announces itself proudly, with a chapter named The Truth about Speaking up. Jess Phillips, the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, tells us many times that she is gobby and that she has a loud voice. Her voice does come through, clear and urgent. Using her journey to Westminster and her experiences in Parliament, Phillips teaches the reader the truths she's learned on her journey. Full review...

Ethics for a Full World or, Can Animal-Lovers Save the World? by Tormod V Burkey

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Burkey argues that man's current practices are outside the realms of nature. He is no longer part of the ecosystem, but instead exists above it through his dominating ways. He is himself distanced even further by advancement in technologies, industry, money and all the pollution that comes with them. The natural world, Burkey argues, no longer exists for man because he has altered it by such things. Indeed, global warming has caused climate change, which, if it continues, will make the world unrecognisable. For the world to become fuller, for it to be a world that seeks to provide for the needs of every living thing, then it needs to change. Full review...

The Future of Violence - Robots and Germs, Hackers and Drones: Confronting the New Age of Threat by Benjamin Wittes and Gabriella Blum

4star.jpg Politics and Society

Looking back over this month, April 2017, the news has been full of terrorist attacks perpetrated by lone individuals. A suicide bombing on the St Petersburg Metro killed 15 people and injured 64 more. In Stockholm, Sweden, a hijacked truck steered into a pedestrian shopping area and department store. Most recently, a shooting in Paris just two days ago, claimed the life of a police officer and injured several others. Whilst it is true that governments have access to impressive, cutting-edge technology to combat terrorism, it is also a fact that these resources are becoming increasingly available to individuals. At what cost? Full review...

The Button Box by Lynn Knight

4star.jpg History

Buttons are the underdogs of the clothing world: dismissed as functional elements of clothing, falling into the same dustbin category with zips and shoe laces, they tend to be seen as necessary for keeping clothes on, rather than contributors to style. But Lynn Knight is set to prove that the opposite is true. We think nothing of lacing discussions about clothing and feminism with headscarves, bikinis, and underweight models – and buttons deserve a place on the pedestal of gender discussion, too. Full review...

Good As You: From Prejudice to Pride - 30 Years of Gay Britain by Paul Flynn

5star.jpg History

The last 30 years have seen a tidal wave of change sweep the country with regards to how gay people are perceived and accepted. In 1984, the pulsing electronic beats of Smalltown Boy became an anthem to unite Gay Men, but just a month later, a virus called HIV would be identified, spreading a climate of panic and fear across the nation, and marginalising a community who were already ostracised. 30 years later though, the long road to gay equality would reach a climax with the legalistion of gay marriage. Journalist Paul Flynn charts this remarkable journey via the cultural milestones that affected this change - with interviews with such protagonists as Kylie, Russell T Davies, Will Young, Holly Johnson and Lord Chris Smith. This is the story of Britain's brothers, sons, cousins, fathers and husbands. Of public outrage and personal loss, the (not always legal) highs and desperate lows, and the final collective victory as Gay Men were finally recognised to be as Good As You. Full review...

Blades of Grass by Mark Aylwin Thomas

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Any book that has me in tears at the end has been worth my time. Any book that has me hoping it will end differently to the way I know it must is worth the reading. Any book that convinces me that maybe there is still hope in the world – that for all the mistakes made thus far, still being made right now, there is a common humanity which ultimately, eventually, must do some good – that is worth the writing and the reading and the time. Blades of Grass is one such book. It's a forgotten story, an unknown story to most people. It is one that should be told – and reflected upon. Full review...

A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment by John Preston

5star.jpg True Crime

Jeremy Thorpe was the sort of person who was generally liked by others. He was flamboyant and gregarious but could give the impression that meeting someone had made his day. He never seemed to forget a name and he was witty, charismatic and very charming. He appeared to be a decent man, with views with which I would have agreed on race, capital punishment and membership of the Common Market, as the European Union was then known. For this was the nineteen sixties and Thorpe had entered Parliament at the age of thirty and by 1967 he would be party leader. On the surface he was a man who had everything going for him. Full review...

At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell

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You know that old saying about judging books by their cover? Ignore it! I have found that by judging a book by its cover and getting it completely wrong is a great way to find yourself committed to reading a book that you'd never have picked in a million years and yet, somehow, being amazingly glad you did. Full review...

The Benn Diaries: The Definitive Collection by Tony Benn and Ruth Winstone (editor)

5star.jpg Biography

Tony Benn must be one of the most famous diarists of the modern age. He kept a diary from his schooldays in the nineteen forties until he made his last entry in 2009, five years before his death. Benn was also a particularly charismatic politician: since my teens I've found myself listening to him believing that I disagreed with what he was saying and then realising that perhaps we weren't so far apart after all. Whatever he spoke about always gave food for thought. Of course the ideal way to enjoy the diaries would be to read the individual volumes, beginning with Years Of Hope: Diaries,Letters and Papers 1940-1962, but that's a lengthy undertaking and The Benn Diaries: The Definitive Collection edited by Ruth Winstone gives you the opportunity to sample the best of the diaries in a mere seven hundred or so pages. Be warned though: there has been a previous composite volume, also called The Benn Diaries and published in 1996. The current volume goes to 2009. Full review...

Quicksand by Henning Mankell

5star.jpg Autobiography

How do you judge a book? Not by its cover, we're told. In my case, often by the number of turned down corners or post-it-note-marked pages by the time I've finished reading it. Sometimes, by whether I worry about leaving its characters to fend for themselves while I take a break…or by how much of it stays with me afterwards or for how long. In this case, it doesn't matter. However, I judge Quicksand the judgement comes up the same. This collection of vignettes from an ageing, possibly dying, writer looking back on his own life is as powerful as it is simple, as easy to read as it is impossible to forget. Full review...

Morse Code Wrens of Station X by Anne Glyn-Jones

4.5star.jpg History

Bletchley Park is probably now the least secret of all the secret ops that went on during World War II. I for one am pleased about that: technology has moved on so far that there can't be anything that happened back then on the communications front that is worth continuing to shroud in mystery. With most of the participants either departed or at least in the departure lounge, the more recollections we can still gather the better. What remained secret far longer however, is the work of the telegraphers that served Station X: those posted to the Y-stations. There are few of them left to tell their tales, so I applaud those who finally saw fit (a) to release them from their life-long bonds of secrecy and (b) encourage them to write it down, tell us what it was really like. Full review...