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Book recommendations thread

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  • #2


    I picked up Robert Fisk's book a few years back but it's a beastly tome and hard reading much of the time:

    The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East

    I also got Simon Sebag-Montefiore's biography of Jerusalem which is very well-written and I would highly recommend:

    Jerusalem: The Biography

    On the humanities front, there is Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind which is on my reading list and looks very good.

    Thanks a lot! Just ordered them!


  • #2


    daenne wrote: »
    Hey. Any easy reads for someone who's not into reading books but is interested in the topics and wants to get into reading? Any suggestions? Ideally I'd love to read something so interesting it would suck me in and I wouldn't be able to put the book down until it's finished. Middle East/Africa/humanitarian themes/crises/development etc. Thanks!

    There is a book called 'The Authoritarians' written by a Canadian professor called Robert Altemeyer.

    You can read the book for free http://theauthoritarians.org/Downloads/TheAuthoritarians.pdf

    It's a lighthearted read presenting his research into how people with authoritarian personalities act on the political landscape, either as the leaders, or the loyal followers who do all the grassroots organising that put their guy in power and keep him there.
    Because this book is called The Authoritarians, you may have thought it dealt with autocrats and despots, the kind of people who would rule their country, or department, or football team like a dictator. That is one meaning of the word, and yes, we shall talk about such people eventually in this book. But we shall begin with a second kind of authoritarian: someone who, because of his personality, submits by leaps and bows to his authorities. It may seem strange, but this is the authoritarian personality that psychology has studied the most.


  • #2


    Working my way through "Citizen Clem: A Biography of Atlee" by John Bew.

    It is a very interesting read, about a period I think many people overlook. We know a lot (or we think we do) about the wartime activities from a military perspective, but the impact of the Labour Party during the war years, and of Atlee and his government in the immediate post-war period is largely overlooked. He also comes across very, very well I think. I'd recommend it.


  • #2


    I think this thread could be quite useful so I am bumping it. Will add some thoughts about books I have read when I get the chance.


  • #2


    Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean who was on Bill Maher sounds interesting. Anyone read it?


  • #2


    Hans Rosling (rip) of GapMinder.org and Ted Talks fame's posthumous book "Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About The World - And Why Things Are Better Than You Think" is certainly worth reading for any and all.

    The incremental (slow but still positive) growth of the world is important in this day of fast-food, immediate reactions and impatience with any sort of consideration given to 'obvious' topics by all elements of the political spectrum.

    Easy book to consume, his writing style (and I assume that of his son and daughter-in-law too) lends itself to that of an experienced teacher, not trying to bludgeon their student to death with information, but coaxing them through the learning process.


  • #2


    • Poverty Safari (Darren McGarvey). Winner of this year's Orwell prize, McGarvey's text is quite rare in that it is an attempt to analyse the lives of those of the working classes by someone who is of those classes himself. McGarvey details the abuse he received at the hands of his mother, his voluntary work and his projects with the BBC. The other thing which set this book apart for me is that McGarvey eschews blaming the plight of the working classes on the Conservatives, something Owen Jones devotes much of his similar work, Chavs to doing. Instead, he attempts to detail examples of local people taking action themselves instead of just waiting around for the state to fix things for them. I don't think the book contains a single dig at the Tory party. Rather, it is intended as an examination of the left and McGarvey devotes some time to lamenting the left's recent obsession with identity politics and groupthink where it should be embracing diversity and affirmative action.
    • The Lure of Greatness: England’s Brexit and America's Trump (Anthony Barnett). Anthony Barnett, co-founder of the Open Democracy think tank offers this book as a treatise on the exact cause of Brexit and Trump. However, the book is almost entirely devoted to Brexit with only small portions here and there dedicated to Trump. I suspect the book was conceived as an attempt to explain Brexit and may have been altered for marketing reasons to include Trump. Barnett traces the British public's distrust in its own leadership back to the days of Thatcher going on to the Iraq War and the Cameron-Clegg government of 2010-2015. He seems fixated on the idea that the UK needs to break up and that a key driver of the Leave vote was English Nationalism being trapped within the geopolitical construct of the United Kingdom while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can express themselves through their own national Parliaments. He also attempts to argue that the Daily Mail is one of the few remaining insitutions which truly believes in Great Britain whereas Murdoch is a much simpler beast who is driven by profit alone.
      A good read but there is little new here. As an aside, the editing of the Kindle version is dire so buyer beware.
    • Politics: Between the Extremes (Nick Clegg). Published a few months after the UK's EU membership referendum in 2016, this book is not intended as a chronicle of (nor apology for) Clegg's part in the 2010-2015 coalition government. Rather, it is an examination of the rise of populism across Europe, the collapse of centrism and the deep and glaring problems with British democracy. Clegg is a classic English liberal who believes in free markets, limited government and individual liberty. I've long considered Nick Clegg to be one of the finest writers on British politics and he writes beautifully here on populism and the unrepresentative and idiosyncratic nature of British democracy. He also proposes solutions which might help to make democracy both more representative and involving for members of the public. While there may be an obvious bias, I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in the problems with the current British electoral and Parliamentary systems from the perspective of someone who is outside both of the two main political parties.
    • Fall Out: A Year of Political Mayhem (Tim Shipman). Shipman's follow-up to his excellent All Out War of 2016. The subject material is a tad less engrossing this time around being just another general election. However, Shipman does bring his trademark studious research, wide-ranging interviews and highly detailed reporting from each side in the election. Particularly shocking is the extent to which May seemed to outsource herself to Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, "the chiefs". The schisms in both of the main parties are examined in depth. The fact that each party had an effective open goal due to their weak leadership and a disastrous Tory manifesto drafted by Timothy and Ben Gumner is probably the most fascinating party of this story.


  • #2


    Listen, Liberal: Or, What ever happened to the party of the people?
    Thomas Frank

    This is an excellent book in to describe how Donald Trump was elected. What makes it stand out is that it was written prior to Trumps election, while everyone (including myself) believed Trump was a joke candidate and would be easily defeated by Clinton in a landslide. So its written by an author recognising 'contemporary' problems, rather than with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight with an added dose of doom and gloom. It charts the transition of the Democratic party from a blue collar, working class organisation to what it is today: a marriage of neoliberal aristocrats and identity politics, often in opposition to their former blue collar base who turned in enough number to Trump to make the difference in crucial states. He charts a generational shift between Democrats representing the blue collar worker standing up to the capitalist to the present when Democrats champion the capitalists of Silicon Valley and the "innovators" like Uber who simply dodge existing regulations.

    Basically he zeroes in on a modern version of the Democratic Party which is appalled by the idea that there should be a ceiling on how far anyone can rise, but increasingly is indifferent to there being a floor against how far anyone can fall. He is also scathing against the meritocratic aristocracy of the Democratic party, and how this meritocratic aristocracy found common cause between the Democratic party and private interests. He highlights how Neil Barofsky had a light-bulb moment when he met Obama's treasury secretary Geithner to discuss how bailout measures to assist homeowners were not having the desired effect of helping them. Barosky describes how Geithner blurted out that the measures would help the banks, and Barofsky realised this was the point: Geithner was concerned with helping the banks, not the homeowners. It was at that point Barofsky realised he and Geithner had hugely different priorities.

    Its a good read and as I said, its not 20/20 hindsight so its a little different than most commentaries on the Democratic party that emerged in 2017/18.


  • #2


    Finishing Tony Connelly's excellent Brexit & Ireland. Connelly uses a nice mix of case studies and statistics to illustrate the extremely close economic relationship between Ireland and the UK. The book is refreshingly light on emphasizing the risk of violence posed by a hard border, preferring instead to discuss how successful Irish farmers, business-people and fishermen/women have been in selling to the UK market and establishing themselves there. He also provides some nice background on the CAP and fisheries policies. While one can find stats on the Irish agri-food sector, having come from that background myself I found it extremely helpful to have it all collated in a book I thought too niche to be successful. Highly recommended.


  • #2


    emmet02 wrote: »
    Hans Rosling (rip) of GapMinder.org and Ted Talks fame's posthumous book "Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About The World - And Why Things Are Better Than You Think" is certainly worth reading for any and all.

    I finished it recently: it should be required reading. Excellent, excellent book.


  • #2


    Anatom wrote: »
    Working my way through "Citizen Clem: A Biography of Atlee" by John Bew.

    It is a very interesting read, about a period I think many people overlook. We know a lot (or we think we do) about the wartime activities from a military perspective, but the impact of the Labour Party during the war years, and of Atlee and his government in the immediate post-war period is largely overlooked. He also comes across very, very well I think. I'd recommend it.

    I recall Attlee visiting Mayo c, 1947. His secretary Beevor lived in Newport. He visited his friend Mayor Freyer, an author and retired Labour MP who lived ar COrrymore House, Keel. There was little security or fuss about his visit.

    Altho he was a less flamboyant character than Churchill he won that post war election,

    Corrymore had previously been the residence of a landlord's agent, who later moved to manage an estate on the shores of Lough Mask. He was a most oppressive agent. Some of the local fenians wanted to shoot him, but the local priest persuaded the tenants and all in the area to shun him and cease all contact. He had to call on the British Army to protect imported workers to try to harvest his crops. He had to return to England, but did get into the history books and many dictionaries, That was Captain Boycott


  • #2


    oscarBravo wrote: »
    I finished it recently: it should be required reading. Excellent, excellent book.

    Just bought it. In the meantime, I've moved onto David Cay Johnston's The Making of Donald Trump. So far so depressing.


  • #2


    Just bought it. In the meantime, I've moved onto David Cay Johnston's The Making of Donald Trump. So far so depressing.

    This was a fairly bleak read to be honest. I've made no secret of my opinion of Trump and this was a book which portrayed him as being a venal, deceitful, manipulative individual without a shred of kindness or decency. Johnston's Trump could be a supervillain were he not so catastrophically incompetent or able to have normal interactions with people.

    The book describes specific episodes of Trump's business career as opposed to being a chronicle. It opens detailing his cutting off his great nephew's health insurance as a baby due to his parents getting largely cut out of Fred Trump's will and moves onto his sabotage of the USFL, a burgeoning competitor to the NFL, bankruptcies and ruined casinos, deals with shady characters linked to the Genovese and Gambesino crime families, selling his name to anyone willing to stump up the capital regardless of their ability to deliver on property projects and his abuse of the law to silence criticis and punish disloyalty and slights, real or perceived.

    It's a book which will readily conform to many people's confirmation bias, myself included with some unease on my part. David Cay Johnston is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author so his pedigree is in no doubt. That said, he never misses an opportunity to illuminate the reader regarding how his insight enabled him to predict much of the results of Trump's election. I think it would have worked better as a longer work in the form of a detailed history about Trump though it does serve as an excellent series of highlights regarding the subject.


  • #2


    Hi,

    I'm looking for a biography on John Hume, perhaps with a bit of commentary on the general events in the North occurring at the time too.

    What is the best John Hume book out there, or book about the major events in the north focused around John Hume?


  • #2


    Mod: Moved to the book recommendation thread.


  • #2


    oscarBravo wrote: »
    I finished it recently: it should be required reading. Excellent, excellent book.

    Starting it now.
    • The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin (Steven Lee Myers).
    I've had this on my list for years. A holistic treatise on Vladimir Putin, Myers starts from his father's time in the second World War through to the conclusion of the Olympics at Sochi. It begins describing the circumstances Putin's parents found themselves in at his birth, his childhood and fondness for sports before his choice to join the KGB after seeing a spy series called The Shield and the Sword. It chronicles Putin's unremarkable time spent in East Germany before his return to St. Petersburg and his entry into politics where he is eventually made president by a desperate Boris Yeltsin. It seems to be very well researched with quotes from people like Putin's Judo teacher from his childhood (who has since become very wealthy) as well as various journalists and Kremlin sources. Myers does an excellent job of giving the reader a good sense of who Putin is and why he acts the way he does. An excellent read.
    • How to be right:... in a world gone wrong (James O'Brien).
    In a lot of ways, this is exactly what you'd expect. O'Brien is a left leaning liberal and this shows heavily throughout the book. I found myself disagreeing at a few points but he is more lucid that I expected once he swaps the mic for a keyboard.

    O'Brien segments the book into chapters with each one dealing with a different topic such as feminism, LGBT rights, Brexit, Trump, etc... He does an excellent job of explaining his views and the logic behind them. However, I can see how some people might find him a tad patronising based on this book. For example, he espouses the idea that Brexit voters were misled by scheming press barons.

    Ultimately though, this is a book which feels like a companion to his LBC talkshow. If you dislike James O'Brien, this is unlikely to convince you otherwise so you may not enjoy this. If you like James O'Brien, it's one which you'll no doubt enjoy immensely. Caveat Emptor.


  • #2


    Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think (Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling & Anna Rosling Rönnlund).
    Hans Rosling presents and debunks various myths about how we perceive the world using personal anecdotes and data. It's an excellent, highly readable little book with some great plots and Rosling argues his points with great passion and rigour.


  • #2


    Not a recommendation - it hasn't been published yet - but Open Borders could be an interesting read when it comes out.

    I found Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter interesting. I don't agree with everything he says, but certainly with enough of it to be prepared to read more.

    And, of course, Zach Weinersmith is awesome.


  • #2


    The English & Their History (Robert Tombs).

    This one might be controversial. It was published in 2014 and so just before 2016 Brexit referendum.

    First, the positive. Tombs rights eloquently as one might expect from a Professor of History at the University of Cambridge. The book appears to be well researched and I certainly enjoyed learning about the origins of various English institutions like Parliament and the Monarchy. There's also some dry wit here which helps as this is certainly a tome at just over 1,000 pages.

    However, there are a few issues. I purchased this hoping to get a better appreciation of the history of the country I'm living in. While I certainly got that, much of the book is focused on the past century. The Romans, the Saxons, the Angles, Picts, Scots, Celts, etc are dispensed with in the first few pages of the book. Tombs defines "England" as beginning in 1066 with the Norman Conquest. As time progresses, the book offers more and more detail which leads me to the next issue. It becomes clear before going too far in that Tombs is of a certain... highly enthusiastic and patriotic pro-British mindset. He has a tendency to compare Medieval England with, say present day Nigeria and this something which occurs multiple times. The other thing I found a tad irksome was his borderline obsession with seemingly skimming over certain events such as the famines in Ireland and India during the Empire or the 40,000 people who died in concentration camps. They tend to be glossed over on the basis that nothing much could have been done anyway. In terms of things like the abolition of slavery, Magna Carta, Parliament, Democracy and so on, we're given hefty expositions of English Exceptionalism and how England was always ahead of its European neighbours, especially France.

    I certainly don't regret reading this book and consider it important that I try and read opinions I'll disagree with so I think that it's worth reading in that regard. The preceding paragraph is simply meant as a caveat empor as the book is quite large and meaty. It isn't easy to distill a thousand years of history of one of the world's most influential nations into a thousand pages in fairness to Tombs. If you're averse to Toryist bordering on Jingoistic interpretations of history, you may wish to avoid this. Otherwise, it makes for an excellent primer on England's endlessly fascinating history.


  • #2


    The Border: The Legacy of a Century of Anglo-Irish Politics (Diarmaid Ferriter)

    I only recently finished this.

    I would consider it a reasonable primer to anyone who might be confused about the Irish border. Note that the book's primary focus is the history of the border. People like Ian Paisley, Gerry Adams, John Hume, etc are barely mentioned and aren't introduced properly at all. Ferriter is clearly well read as one might expect and cites from an eclectic array of sources. He livens up the narrative of life in the border communities in the decades following the Partition of Ireland with trivia (such as the border running through one family's house for instance).

    It's towards the end of the book that the flaws become apparent. This has clearly been rushed out due to Brexit. Not necessarily a bad thing but if you don't know who Gerry Adams is, you won't find out here. There is very little detail on the drafting of the Good Friday Agreement. Mo Mowlam is never mentioned if I recall correctly. It's a shame but a look at the author's other work shows that his books tend to be over three times the size as this. I felt another few hundred pages to flesh out the likes of Paisley, Adams, McGuinness, etc would have been very welcome and constructive.

    It's does a serviceable job of providing a background of how the border came to be and how communities there have been affected by it. Anyone looking for a deeper understanding of Northern Irish and Irish politics might be better off looking elsewhere.


  • #2


    Could someone kindly recommend me a book which explains different political systems/voting systems/electoral systems etc for a total layperson? There's so many when I go looking that I don't know where to start. I'm reasonably intelligent (I swear! :P) and don't mind how long/short the book is, I have just never bothered to learn a thing about them before and feel it's high time I should...

    Thanks


  • #2


    The New Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins. If you want to learn all about how nasty underhanded and imperialist the US is in its foreign policy then read this book. It shows just how self serving they are with the author being involved for many years himself. In particular one chapter describes how the US's cozy relationship with the authoritarian regime in Saudi Arabia came into being.
    For a country that claims to be a democracy and about defending freedom around the world this book is a real eye opener into who and what the US really is.


  • #2


    Naydy wrote: »
    Could someone kindly recommend me a book which explains different political systems/voting systems/electoral systems etc for a total layperson? There's so many when I go looking that I don't know where to start. I'm reasonably intelligent (I swear! :P) and don't mind how long/short the book is, I have just never bothered to learn a thing about them before and feel it's high time I should...

    Thanks

    The Politics Book by DK


  • #2


    Yes to Europe! (Robert Saunders).

    For all of the posts I have on the subject, I was surprised when it occurred to me that I actually knew very little about the original 1975 referendum where the UK voted to remain in the EU.

    Enter Robert Saunders' wonderful new book. I came across the author when he guest-starred on the Remainiacs podcast. I found him quite impressive and so picked this up fairly sharpish. Saunders is a senior lecturer in modern British History at QMUL so his academic credentials are sound.

    The book opens by painting a picture of early seventies Britain. Trade with the Commonwealth was decreasing while the European Community was increasing in size and importance. The Heath Tory government took Britain into the then EEC. It describes the process which led the divided Labour party under Harold Wilson to call the referendum and the reasons offered by both parties both for and against it from arguments like a referendum being necessary since both major parties agreed on the EEC so there was no opportunity for the electorate to vote against membership to Margaret Thatcher's abrasive dismissal of the concept of referenda as a "device of dictators and demagogues".

    The author then goes on to describe the two campaigns, Britain in Europe and the National Referendum Campaign. The elites, the artisans, the media, businesses and tycoons were very much on the Remain side of the referendum while the leave side exhibited queer bedfellows such as paramilitaries in Northern Ireland opposing membership.

    In addition to providing a historical overview of the referendum campaign, Saunders also tries to portray life in seventies Britain for various demographics and how they interacted with the referendum campaigns along with their opinions of the common market. This was the highlight of the book IMO. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each get a chapter devoted to them as do women, ethnic minorities, the Churches and employers. Soverignty and the British Empire also receive special attention from the author.

    This is a superb primer to anyone wishing to understand why Britain voted to remain in 1975. The main issues were security of food supply, national security in the cold war, food prices and job. Sovereignty and immigration barely featured for most people. However, once the referendum was won, Britain in Europe, largely comprised of various apparatus from the Conservative party disbanded while the NRC remained and evolved, playing a huge part in the rise of Euroscepticism over the following decades.


  • #2


    bottle of lies : Katherine Eban . great book about the rise of generic drugs the whole drug industry , patents, money and the battle for integrity when cheating is always an option.


  • #2


    Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History, by Kurt Andersen.

    A fascinating, amusing look at how the USA is basically built on delusion, which made the rise of Trump - or someone like him - pretty much inevitable.


  • #2


    Could anyone recommend me a decent book on World War 1 please?:o


  • #2


    My girlfriend was saying she would love to know more about the history of NI and would love to read up on it - what would be a good book to give her a background to NI and where we are today?


  • #2


    Rjd2 wrote: »
    Could anyone recommend me a decent book on World War 1 please?:o

    Hew Strachan wrote a good account, John Keegan is always good and Norman Stone has a book on the entire war as well as one focusing on the Eastern Front which usually doesn't get much love from western authors who are drawn more to the trenches than the more fluid East.


  • #2


    oscarBravo wrote: »
    Not a recommendation - it hasn't been published yet - but Open Borders could be an interesting read when it comes out.

    I found Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter interesting. I don't agree with everything he says, but certainly with enough of it to be prepared to read more.

    And, of course, Zach Weinersmith is awesome.

    Updated to a recommendation. Very interesting book, and makes its case very well.


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