With exams over and the summer holidays here, there is no better time to catch up on your reading. The editorial team have come together to recommend some of their favourite political books.
World Order, by Henry Kissinger
Serving as National Security Advisor under President Nixon, and as Secretary of State under President Ford, Kissinger was directly involved in some the events he describes in this book. An expert on the art of diplomacy, he gives an excellent overview of the various international political structures that have waxed and waned over time.
This book teaches you how countries across the world have had (and in some cases continue to have) their own, idiosyncratic ideas about how the world should be governed. It is particularly useful in helping to understand Islamic fundamentalism, and how its terrorism came about as a result of conflicting ideas about world order.
What's Left, by Nick Cohen
Written almost ten years before Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership, Nick Cohen’s What’s Left chastised the worn-out and corrupted ideology to which Jezza and so many on the far-left adhere.
Why does Corbyn go along with so many dodgy movements, from the IRA to Hamas and Hezbollah, while spending time in the company of anti-Semites and other conspiratorial cranks? Cohen, himself a journalist from the left background, explores the history of Corbyn’s politics from the 1930s right up until the Iraq War, in this witty and excoriating examination of just what the hell went wrong.
British Party Leaders Series, by various authors
We politicos love to scrutinise the cast of real-life political characters thrust onto our TV screens and into our social media feeds as though they’d fallen straight out of an episode of House of Cards. Somehow, leaders in particular seem to personify their respective parties during the specific eras in which they led them, and Biteback’s brilliant series of books (British Labour Leaders, British Conservative Leaders and British Liberal Leaders) profiles each one – from popular to pariah, via household names and the barely-heard-of.
Reading these books is both a great way to fill in the blanks in your historical knowledge and to construct your own theories on what makes for good political leadership. And if you get through all three, the good news is they’ve now brought out a Scottish National Party Leaders volume to add to the collection.
1984, by George Orwell
One of the most renowned works of English literature, 1984 is a haunting, bleak dystopia, based on Stalinist Russia.
Written in 1948, the novel ties in with Orwell’s criticism of the ‘moral and emotional shallowness’ of post-war Britain, when Brits were 'all more or less pro-Stalin’. With this context in mind, 1984 acts as a brutal reminder of how a state, when held together by a cult of leader-worship and imperialistic pride, has the ability to demand total submission of independent thought. This is a momentous novel, written with searing clarity. It is a must-read.
Patriarcha, by Robert Filmer
The seventeenth century was a tumultuous period for English society. Sectarian violence, civil war and the imposition of an English Republic destroyed many of the foundations of England’s political establishment. In the melee, Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha was an attempt, amongst many others, to re-establish political consensus through the appeal to England’s history and the divine power of the crown. In a nutshell, Filmer argued against calls for the monarch to become accountable to the Houses of Parliament as well as the English public. Basing himself on legal example, he tried to prove that the crown is an absolute authority answerable only to God and which every subject therefore owed allegiance to.
Where our society’s raison d’etre is commonly believed to be the main protector of its citizens inalienable rights and liberty, a treatise defending the divine right of kings could not be more antithetical. Nonetheless, it is an invaluable work.
Whilst you may find little to agree with, I recommend Filmer’s work to anyone interested in confronting diverse political doctrine.
Everywoman, by Jess Phillips
Published only a few months ago, Everywoman is a feminist masterpiece and all-round refreshing book. It covers a plethora of topics, from internet trolls to motherhood, all which provide insight into the life of a female MP.
Phillips uses stories from her own life as a Labour politician, former Women’s Aid worker, and mother, to illustrate how pervasive sexism still is. In particular, she dispels myths about domestic violence, affirmative action, and politics. Perhaps more importantly, Everywoman dispels the myth that Westminster politicians are hubristic, self-serving fiends.
Letters to a Young Contrarian, by Christopher Hitchens
The late, great Anglo-American journalist wrote many books, all of which you should read, although Letters to a Young Contrarian is the best place to start. Reflecting on decades of experience as a fearless journalist, Hitchens draws on history, literature and culture to produce a series of encouraging letters to anyone who wishes to emulate him. It’s an essential primer for those who consider themselves to be socially-conscious, self-respecting and independent-minded, and wants to know how to put those skills to use in the journalistic realm.
Economics: The User's Guide, by Ha-Joon Chang
If, like me, you’ve ever found yourself worrying that your ignorance on the subject of economics leaves all your carefully thought-through opinions on politics sounding about as articulate as something a drooling toddler might babble from their high-chair, then you’ll appreciate this book.
Written by a professional economist, but relatively accessible to anyone with an average-sized brain, Economics: The User’s Guide is a useful primer on what economics is, how to think about it and how it affects politics. Chang takes a fairly left-wing position, but he’s more concerned with explaining basic concepts and competing schools of economic thought than engaging in polemics. There’s much to learn here whatever your political views – I found a chapter explaining the causes of the 2008 crisis particularly enlightening.
All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class, by Tim Shipman
Brexit has become the defining moment of this political generation, and of the slew of books already produced on the subject, Shipman’s account of the unfolding drama is easily the best.
The Sunday Times journalist reveals the inside story with riveting clarity as David Cameron’s friends Michael Gove and Boris Johnson betray him, and as a referendum he didn’t need to hold, but thought he would win, rebounds on him with all the lineaments of a Classical tragedy. Shipman’s next book, on Theresa May’s strong and stable year as Cameron’s successor, comes out in the autumn.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson
Following on from his investigations into psychopaths and extremists, Jon Ronson turns his insightful eye on the act of public shaming on social media, in particular on Twitter. He looks into personal stories of individuals sending, what they considered to be, innocent tweets, only for others to demonize and terrorise them.
In this fascinating and illuminating read, Ronson discovers how lives have been ruined after people have been hounded by groups of keyboard warriors. You read in shock at both the behaviour online, which can sweep up even the friendliest offline person, and how strong the effects are offline of things that happen online. It is a terrifying and considered study of Twitter behaviour, and the moralistic behaviour of those who carry it out. It is highly recommended reading given the growing amount of political debate being conducted via Twitter.