Monday, 26 July 2010

Seasonal bibliophilia

There's a good selection of 'summer reading' recommendations at New Left Project. Like John Newsinger, one of the contributors, I loved Stieg Larsson's 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo', part one in Larsson's magnificent Millennium trilogy.

I recently finished the final installment in the Swedish crime trilogy, and am happy to add parts 2 and 3 to the recommended list. The whole compelling saga is a remarkable achievement - do believe the hype. Both critically lauded and commercially successful, the series has the bonus for lefties of being underpinned by the anti-corporate and progressive politics that derive from the late author's commitment to socialism and human liberation.

In the last few months I've read three non-fiction books that I can especially recommend. Nina Power is a contibutor to the NLP selection, which reminded me how impressed I was by her short book 'One Dimensional Woman'. I read it after hearing Nina speak at May's Counterforum, when she shared a platform with Lindsey German to discuss 21st century feminism.

As might be expected of a release from the first-rate Zero Books, the writing is lively and engaging throughout, combining perceptive political analysis with wit and polemical flair. It's a surprisingly wide-ranging book, considering its brevity.

I bought 'The Guantanamo Files' when its author, Andy Worthington, visited Newcasle to introduce a Stop the War showing of his 'Outside the Law' film. It was the evening when the ConDem coalition was announced: British politics was in limbo when I set off to see the film, and I returned home to learn we had a new government.

In between I watched a powerful documentary exposing the raw truth of Guantanamo. Andy Worthington's book is equally strong, fitting the detaineees' human stories into an overarching political narrative. It is appalling that Obama still hasn't closed Guantanamo, but it's also a scandal that British politicans have - for nearly a decade - been culpable in systematic abuses of human rights.

Finally, The Spirit Level. The praise it has received is entirely justified. In forensic detail, the book outlines the data supporting its big idea: that inequality is closely associated with a wide range of social ills, including mental illness, crime and poor health.

Some of its fans are reluctant to draw the radical conclusions it prompts - Will Hutton is quoted on the back of the paprback edition - but it is obvious that only massive social change can make a difference. Pleasingly, it's become more than 'just' a book, with a campaigning website, organisation, and countless talks up and down the country by authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.

In the new age of austerity, The Spirit Level's wealth of evidence revealing the social costs of inequality is extremely pertinent. We can expect an increase in the gap between rich and poor as a result of savage cuts to public services, freezing of child benefit, the rise in VAT, and other regressive measures. Wilkinson and Pickett provide numerous reminders of the human impact of living in a grossly unequal society.


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