Newest Politics and Society Reviews

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Review of

Signs of Life by Stephen Fabes

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I was brought up on maps and first-person narratives of tales of far away places. I was birth-righted wanderlust and curiosity. Unfortunately, I didn't inherit what Dr. Stephen Fabes clearly had which was the guts to simply go out and do it. I also didn't inherit the kind of steady nerve, ability to talk to strangers and basic practicality that would have meant that I would have survived if I had been gifted with the requisite 'bottle'. In order words I'm not the sort of person who will get on a bike outside a London hospital and not come home for six years. Fabes did precisely that. Full Review

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Review of

Single, Again, and Again, and Again by Louisa Pateman

4.5star.jpg Autobiography

You can't be happy and fulfilled on your own. You are not complete until you find a man.

This was what Louisa Pateman was brought up to believe. It wasn't unkind: it was simply the adults in her life advising her as to what they thought would be best for her. It was reinforced by all those fairy tales where the girl (she's usually fairly young) is rescued by the handsome prince who then marries her so that they can live happily ever after. Few girls are lucky enough to be brought up without the expectation that they will marry and have children. It was a belief and it would be many years before Louisa would conclude that a belief is a choice. Full Review

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Review of

Hunter School by Sakinu Ahronglong

4.5star.jpg Autobiography

The flyleaf to this little collection tells us that it is a work of fiction. That's possibly misleading. I am not sure whether it is "fiction" in the sense that Ahronglong made it all up, or whether it is as the blurb goes on to say recollections, folklore and autobiographical stories. It feels like the latter. It feels like the stories he tells about his experiences as a child, as an adolescent, as an adult are real and true. But memory is a fickle thing, and maybe poetic licence has taken over here and there, and maybe calling it fiction means that its safer and therefore more people will read it. More people should. Full Review

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Review of

A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros

5star.jpg Politics and Society

I confess I picked this one up from the library in my pre-lockdown forage of random stuff. Now I have to go out an buy my own copy so that I can turn down the pages I have marked and return to its varying wisdom when I need to. Some books draw you in slowly. This one had me in the first two pages, wherein Gros explains why walking is not a sport. Full Review

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Review of

Tiananmen 1989: Our Shattered Hopes by Lun Zhang, Adrien Gombeaud, Ameziane and Edward Gauvin (translator)

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I never really followed the events of Tiananmen Square with much attention when it was playing out – someone in the second half of their teens has other priorities, you know. I certainly didn't know of the weeks of protests and hunger strikes from the students before the massacre and the birth of the Tank Man image, I didn't know how the area had long been a venue for political protest, and I didn't know more than a spit about the people involved on either side. This book is practically flawless in giving a general browser's context for the whole season of protests back in 1989. Full Review

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Review of

If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie

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I normally say that you can tell how much a book means to me by how many pages have corners turned down. Perhaps an even greater measure of impact is setting out to buy my own copy before I've finished reading the one I've borrowed. I want to avoid clichés like 'powerful' 'inspiring' 'life-changing' – although it is definitely the first two and only time will tell about the third – but clichés exist for a reason and I'm not sure I can succinctly put it any better. Full Review

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Review of

The Double X Economy by Linda Scott

5star.jpg Politics and Society

Women are economically disadvantaged in every country in the world. It's a bold statement for an opening chapter, but it's far from hyperbole as the following pages explain. This book shines a light on what is happening in different places, and the impact on the local and world economy. What can be learnt from the great strides in gender-equalising legislation in the west? What can be done about the selling of young women into marriage, and what can chimpanzees and bonobos teach us about mothering? Full Review

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Review of

Slowdown by Danny Dorling

4star.jpg Politics and Society

We are living in a time of rapid change, and we're worried about it. Dorling tells us that the latter is normal, natural and probably good for us. We are designed to worry and with the current state of what we're doing in the world we have much to be worried about. However, over the next three-hundred-and-some pages, if you can follow the arguments, it sets out in scientific detail why either we shouldn't be as worried as we are, or in some cases that we're worrying about the wrong things. Mostly. Because mostly, things are not changing as rapidly as we think they are. In fact, the rate of change in many things is slowing down and the direction of change will in some cases go into reverse. Full Review

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Review of

Our House is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis by Malena Ernman, Greta Thunberg, Beata Thunberg and Svante Thunberg

5star.jpg Politics and Society

The Ernman / Thunberg family seemed perfectly normal. Malena Ernman was an opera singer and Svante Thunberg took on most of the parenting of their two daughters. Then eleven-year-old Greta stopped eating and talking and her sister, Beata, then nine years old, struggled with what was happening. In such circumstances, it's natural to seek a solution close to home, but eventually, it became clear to the family that they were burned-out people on a burned-out planet. If they were to find a way to live happily again their solution would need to be radical. Full Review

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Review of

Clara Colby: The International Suffragist by John Holliday

4star.jpg Biography

The path of Clara Dorothy Bewick's life was probably determined when her family emigrated to the USA. At the time she was just three-years-old but because of some childhood ailment, she wasn't allowed to sail with her parents and three brothers. Instead, she remained with her grandparents, who doted on her and saw that she received a good education, both in and out of school. She was the only child in the household and her childhood was glorious. By contrast, her family had become pioneer farmers in the mid-west of the United States and life was hard, as Clara was to find out when she and her grandparents eventually went to join the family. Clara would only know her mother for a few months: she was married for fifteen years, had ten pregnancies, seven surviving children and died in childbirth not long after Clara arrived. As the eldest girl, a heavy burden would fall on Clara and Wisconsin was a rude awakening. Full Review

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Review of

A Bit of a Stretch: The Diaries of a Prisoner by Chris Atkins

5star.jpg Politics and Society

Documentary filmmakers don't usually get the run of establishments within the Mountbatten-Windsor Hotel Group, but after getting involved in an illegal tax scheme to fund his latest film, Chris Atkins was invited for a five-year stay. The first nine months were spent in HMP Wandsworth, which is probably the oldest, largest and most dysfunctional prison in Europe. Full Review

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Review of

Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris

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This is not the book I was expecting it to be. For some reason I expected it to be another self-help manual on how to find calm, how to step outside the mainstream, but it is not that at all. Instead of telling us how it is more about the why. Harries examines how we're eroding solitude, which used to be a natural part of our human life, and why that matters. Of course, he talks about how some people have found solitude and what has come of that, and eventually in the final chapter he talks about his own experience of having deliberately sought it out, but mostly he wanders down the alleys and by-ways that his thinking about this lost art led him. Full Review

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Review of

This Golden Fleece: A Journey Through Britain's Knitted History by Esther Rutter

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It was December and Esther Rutter was stuck in her office job, writing to people she'd never met and preparing spreadsheets. The job frustrated her and even her knitting did not soothe her mind. January was going to be a time for making changes and she decided that she would travel the length and breadth of the British Isles with occasional forays abroad, discovering and telling the story of wool's history and how it had made and changed the landscape. She'd grown up on a sheep farm in Suffolk - a free-range child on the farm - and learned to spin, knit and weave from her mother and her mother's friend. This was in her blood. Full Review

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Review of

How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship by Ece Temelkuran

4.5star.jpg Autobiography

A little while ago a friend asked me if I thought that we were living through what in years to come would be discussed by A level history students when faced with the question Discuss the factors which led to... I agreed that she was right and wasn't certain whether it was a good or bad thing that we didn't know what all 'this' was leading to. I think now that I do know. We are in danger of losing democracy and whilst it's a flawed system I can't think of a better one, particularly as the 'benevolent dictator' is as rare as hen's teeth. Full Review

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Review of

The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri

4.5star.jpg Biography

Here in the West, we see news reports about immigrants on a regular basis – some media welcoming them, some scaremongering about them. But all of those stories are written by journalists – almost always western, and almost always, no matter how deep the investigative journalism they carry out, outsiders to the world and the situations that refugees find themselves in. It's rare that we find out the journeys from the refugees themselves – and this is a rare opportunity to do that, in this intelligent, powerful and moving work by Dina Nayeri -someone who was born in the middle of a revolution in Iran, fleeing to America as a ten-year-old. Full Review

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Review of

Walks In The Wild by Peter Wohlleben and Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp (Translator)

4star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

An instruction manual for the forest is how Wohlleben's publisher described the idea for this book, and that's basically what it is – although right at the end the author says that it is not intended to be a reference book, but an appetiser. Full Review

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Review of

Hard Pushed: A Midwife's Story by Leah Hazard

4star.jpg Lifestyle

Over the past few years, we've had a rash (sorry - no pun intended) of books by medical practitioners. Doctors have been at the forefront, but Hard Pushed is the first book I've seen by a midwife. It's an unusual profession in that it's one of the few callings within the medical system where most of the patients are healthy and the only one where one person comes into the system and (for the most part) more than one goes out. It's an amazing thing to be able to do - to escort new life into the world - and an enormous responsibility. Leah Hazard came to it after a career in television and Hard Pushed is the story of her career as a midwife - and the title tells more than one story. Full Review

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Review of

Confessions of a Recovering MP by Nick de Bois

4star.jpg Politics and Society

I should warn you in advance: this may not be the best time for me to review the memoir of a Tory MP. Not only am I a left-of-centre - to put it mildly - voter and so probably have next to no points of political agreement with Nick de Bois, but I, along with everyone else, am currently subject to the debacle of parliament, government and Brexit, a dog and pony show currently revealing in hideous technicolour the absolute dearth of competent leadership among our political classes. And yes, opposition parties: I'm looking at you as well. You're just as useless.

Sigh.

Desperate cry into the void over. Sorry about that.

At least Nick de Bois made me laugh! Full Review

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