Back to Reading (Non-fiction)
Suggestions for books to read
English Pastoral: An Inheritance, by James Rebanks
The moving story of how, in just three generations, an ancient way of life was lost - as witnessed from the fields of a small Lake District farm As a boy, James Rebanks's grandfather taught him to work the land the old way. Their family farm in the Lake District hills was part of an ancient landscape- a patchwork of crops and meadows, of pastures grazed with livestock, and hedgerows teeming with wildlife. And yet, by the time James inherited the farm, it was barely recognisable. The men and women had vanished from the fields; the old stone barns had crumbled; the skies had emptied of birds and their wind-blown song. English Pastoral is the story of an inheritance- one that affects us all. It tells of how rural landscapes around the world were brought close to collapse, and the age-old rhythms of work, weather, community and wild things were lost. And yet this elegy from the Lake District fells is also a song of hope- how, guided by the past, one farmer began to salvage a tiny corner of England that was now his, doing his best to restore the life that had vanished and to leave a legacy for the future. This is a book about what it means to have love and pride in a place, and how, against all the odds, it may still be possible to build a new pastoral- not a utopia, but somewhere decent for us all.
Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Infidel is the eagerly awaited story of the coming of age of this elegant, distinguished -- and sometimes reviled -- political superstar and champion of free speech. With a gimlet eye and measured, often ironic, voice, Hirsi Ali recounts the evolution of her beliefs, her ironclad will, and her extraordinary resolve to fight injustice done in the name of religion. Raised in a strict Muslim family and extended clan, Hirsi Ali survived civil war, female mutilation, brutal beatings, adolescence as a devout believer during the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, and life in four troubled, unstable countries largely ruled by despots. In her early twenties, she escaped from a forced marriage and sought asylum in the Netherlands, where she earned a college degree in political science, tried to help her tragically depressed sister adjust to the West, and fought for the rights of Muslim immigrant women and the reform of Islam as a member of Parliament. Even though she is under constant threat -- demonized by reactionary Islamists and politicians, disowned by her father, and expelled from her family and clan -- she refuses to be silenced.
Ultimately a celebration of triumph over adversity, Hirsi Ali's story tells how a bright little girl evolved out of dutiful obedience to become an outspoken, pioneering freedom fighter. As Western governments struggle to balance democratic ideals with religious pressures, no story could be timelier or more significant.
The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet, by Michael E. Mann
Recycle. Fly less. Eat less meat. These are some of the ways that we’ve been told we can save the planet. But are individuals really to blame for the climate crisis?
Seventy-one per cent of global emissions come from the same hundred companies, but fossil-fuel companies have taken no responsibility themselves. Instead, they have waged a thirty-year campaign to blame individuals for climate change. The result has been disastrous for our planet.
In The New Climate War, renowned scientist Michael E. Mann argues that all is not lost. He draws the battle lines between the people and the polluters — fossil-fuel companies, right-wing plutocrats, and petro-states — and outlines a plan for forcing our governments and corporations to wake up and make real change.
The Courage to Care: A Call for Compassion, by Christie Watson
Nurses have never been more important.
We benefit from their expertise in our hospitals and beyond: in our schools, on our streets, in prisons, hospices and care homes. When we feel most alone, nurses remind us that we are not alone at all.
In The Courage to Care bestselling author Christie Watson reveals the remarkable extent of nurses' work:
- A community mental-health nurse choreographs support for a man suffering from severe depression
- A teen with stab wounds is treated by the critical-care team; his school nurse visits and he drops the bravado
- A pregnant woman loses frightening amounts of blood following a car accident; it is a military nurse who synchronises the emergency department into immaculate order and focus.
Christie makes a further discovery: that, time and again, it is patients and their families - including her own - who show exceptional strength in the most challenging times. We are all deserving of compassion, and as we share in each other's suffering, Christie Watson shows us how we can find courage too. The courage to care.
Diary of an MP's Wife: Inside and Outside Power, by Sasha Swire
What is it like to be a wife of a politician in modern-day Britain? Sasha Swire finally lifts the lid.
For more than twenty years she has kept a secret diary detailing the trials and tribulations of being a political plus-one, and gives us a ringside seat at the seismic political events of the last decade. A professional partner and loyal spouse, Swire has strong political opinions herself - sometimes more 'No, Minister' than 'Yes'. She detonates the stereotype of the dutiful wife.
From shenanigans in Budleigh Salterton to state banquets at Buckingham Palace, gun-toting terrorist busters in pizza restaurants to dinners in Downing Street sitting next to Boris Johnson, Devon hedges to partying with City hedgies, she observes the great and the not-so-great at the closest of quarters. The results are painfully revealing and often hilariously funny. Here are the friendships and the fall-outs, the general elections and the leadership contests, the scandals and the rivalries. Swire showed up, shored up and rarely shut up. She also wrote it all down.
The Prime Ministers: Reflections on Leadership from Wilson to Johnson, by Steve Richards
At a time of unprecedented political upheaval, this magisterial history explains who leads us and why. From Harold Wilson to Theresa May, it brilliantly brings to life all nine inhabitants of 10 Downing Street over the past fifty years, vividly outlining their successes and failures - and what made each of them special. Based on unprecedented access and in-depth interviews, and inspired by the author's BBC Radio 4 and television series, Steve Richards expertly examines the men and women who have defined the UK's role in the modern world and sheds new light on the demands of the highest public office in the land.
All Of Us There by Polly Devlin
£8.99 in paperback
Polly Devlin grew up in County Tyrone, on the shores of Lough Neagh, in the fifties -- but it might as well have been another time and place altogether. In this memoir she describes in witty, spontaneous and idiosyncratic prose her life as one of seven siblings in a Catholic family in Northern Ireland.
Freedom at Midnight, by Dominique Lapierre, Larry Collins
The electrifying story of India's struggle for independence, told in this classic account (first published in 1975) by two fine journalists who conducted hundreds of interviews with nearly all the surviving participants - from Mountbatten to the assassins of Mahatma Gandhi.
On 14 August 1947 one-fifth of humanity claimed their independence from the greatest empire history has ever seen. But 400 million people were to find that the immediate price of freedom was partition and war, riot and murder. In this superb reconstruction, Collins and Lapierre recount the eclipse of the fabled British Raj and examine the roles enacted by, among others, Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Mountbatten in its violent transformation into the new India and Pakistan.
This is the India of Jawaharlal Nehru, heart-broken by the tragedy of the country's division; of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a Moslem who drank, ate pork and rarely entered a mosque, yet led 45 million Muslims to nationhood; of Gandhi, who stirred a subcontinent without raising his voice; of the last viceroy, Mountbatten, beseeched by the leaders of an independent India to take back the powers he'd just passed to them.
Lev's Violin: An Italian Adventure, by Helena Attlee
From the moment she hears Lev's violin for the first time, Helena Attlee is captivated. She is told that it is an Italian instrument, named after its former Russian owner. Eager to discover all she can about its ancestry and the stories contained within its delicate wooden body, she sets out for Cremona, birthplace of the Italian violin. This is the beginning of a beguiling journey whose end she could never have anticipated.
Making its way from dusty workshops, through Alpine forests, cool Venetian churches, glittering Florentine courts, and far-flung Russian flea markets, Lev's Violin takes us from the heart of Italian culture to its very furthest reaches. Its story of luthiers and scientists, princes and orphans, musicians, composers, travellers and raconteurs swells to a poignant meditation on the power of objects, stories and music to shape individual lives and to craft entire cultures.
The Camino: A Pilgrimage Of Courage, by Shirley McLaine
Shirley MacLaine is far more than a Hollywood legend - for the last three decades she has continued with her brave and public commitment to chronicling her personal quest for spiritual understanding. A truly inspirational woman, Shirley was prompted to take part in the annual pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain after receiving two anonymous letters imploring her to take the difficult trip. In her mid-sixties, Shirley managed to finish the nearly 500-mile trek in only thirty days - a phenomenal achievement.
Throughout history, many illustrious pilgrims from all over Europe have taken up the trail, from St Francis of Assisi to Dante and Chaucer. Now it is Shirley's turn. With rich insight, humility and her trademark grace, Shirley MacLaine gently leads us through the range of astonishing and liberating visions and revelations that are revealed to her as she walked the pilgrimage. THE CAMINO promises readers the journey of a thousand lifetimes.
How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, by Bill Gates
In this urgent, authoritative book, Bill Gates sets out a wide-ranging, practical - and accessible - plan for how the world can get to zero greenhouse gas emissions in time to avoid a climate catastrophe.
Bill Gates has spent a decade investigating the causes and effects of climate change. With the help of experts in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, political science, and finance, he has focused on what must be done in order to stop the planet's slide toward certain environmental disaster. In this book, he not only explains why we need to work toward net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases, but also details what we need to do to achieve this profoundly important goal.
He gives us a clear-eyed description of the challenges we face. Drawing on his understanding of innovation and what it takes to get new ideas into the market, he describes the areas in which technology is already helping to reduce emissions, where and how the current technology can be made to function more effectively, where breakthrough technologies are needed, and who is working on these essential innovations. Finally, he lays out a concrete, practical plan for achieving the goal of zero emissions-suggesting not only policies that governments should adopt, but what we as individuals can do to keep our government, our employers, and ourselves accountable in this crucial enterprise.
As Bill Gates makes clear, achieving zero emissions will not be simple or easy to do, but if we follow the plan he sets out here, it is a goal firmly within our reach.
Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in an Age of Lies, by The Secret Barrister
Could the courts really order the death of your innocent baby? Was there an illegal immigrant who couldn't be deported because he had a pet cat? Are unelected judges truly enemies of the people?
Most of us think the law is only relevant to criminals, if we even think of it at all. But the law touches every area of our lives: from intimate family matters to the biggest issues in our society.
Our unfamiliarity is dangerous because it makes us vulnerable to media spin, political lies and the kind of misinformation that frequently comes from loud-mouthed amateurs and those with vested interests. This 'fake law' allows the powerful and the ignorant to corrupt justice without our knowledge – worse, we risk letting them make us complicit.
Thankfully, the Secret Barrister is back to reveal the stupidity, malice and incompetence behind many of the biggest legal stories of recent years. In Fake Law, the Secret Barrister debunks the lies and builds a defence against the abuse of our law, our rights and our democracy that is as entertaining as it is vital.
The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet, by Michael E.Mann
A renowned climate scientist shows how fossil fuel companies have waged a thirty-year campaign to deflect blame and responsibility and delay action on climate change, and offers a battle plan for how we can save the planet.
Recycle. Fly less. Eat less meat. These are some of the ways that we've been told can slow climate change. But the inordinate emphasis on individual behavior is the result of a marketing campaign that has succeeded in placing the responsibility for fixing climate change squarely on the shoulders of individuals.
Fossil fuel companies have followed the example of other industries deflecting blame (think "guns don't kill people, people kill people") or greenwashing (think of the beverage industry's "Crying Indian" commercials of the 1970s). Meanwhile,...
In Your Defence: True Stories of Life and Law, by Sarah Langford
'A thoughtful, elegant book. ... often as thrilling as a detective novel. ' - Thomas Grant, QC The Times.
Sarah Langford is a barrister. Her job is to stand in court representing the mad and the bad, the vulnerable, the heartbroken and the hopeful. She must become their voice: weave their story around the black and white of the law and tell it to the courtroom. These stories may not make headlines but they will change the lives of ordinary people in extraordinary ways. They are stories which, but for a twist of luck, might have been yours.
To work at the Bar is to enter a world shrouded by strange clothing, archaic rituals and inaccessible language. So how does it feel to be an instrument of such an unknowable system? And what does it mean to be at its mercy? Our legal system promises us justice, impartiality and fair judgement. Does it, or can it, deliver this?
With remarkable candour, Sarah describes eleven cases which reveal what goes on in our criminal and family courts. She examines how she feels as she defends the person standing in the dock. She tells compelling stories - of domestic fall out, everyday burglary, sexual indiscretion, and children caught up in the law – that are sometimes shocking and often heart-stopping. She shows us how our attitudes and actions can shape not only the outcome of a case, but the legal system itself.
Pandora's Jar: Women in the Greek Myths, by Natalie Haynes
£20 hardback (paperback £9.99 13th May 2021)
The Greek myths are among the world's most important cultural building blocks and they have been retold many times, but rarely do they focus on the remarkable women at the heart of these ancient stories.
Stories of gods and monsters are the mainstay of epic poetry and Greek tragedy, from Homer to Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, from the Trojan War to Jason and the Argonauts. And still, today, a wealth of novels, plays and films draw their inspiration from stories first told almost three thousand years ago. But modern tellers of Greek myth have usually been men, and have routinely shown little interest in telling women’s stories. And when they do, those women are often painted as monstrous, vengeful or just plain evil. But Pandora – the first woman, who according to legend unloosed chaos upon the world – was not a villain, and even Medea and Phaedra have more nuanced stories than generations of retellings might indicate.
Now, in Pandora's Jar: Women in the Greek Myths, Natalie Haynes – broadcaster, writer and passionate classicist – redresses this imbalance. Taking Pandora and her jar (the box came later) as the starting point, she puts the women of the Greek myths on equal footing with the menfolk. After millennia of stories telling of gods and men, be they Zeus or Agamemnon, Paris or Odysseus, Oedipus or Jason, the voices that sing from these pages are those of Hera, Athena and Artemis, and of Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Eurydice and Penelope.
The International Brigades: Fascism, Freedom and the Spanish Civil War, by Giles Tremlett
The Spanish Civil War was the first armed battle in the fight against fascism, and a rallying cry for a generation. Over 35,000 volunteers from sixty-one countries around the world came to defend democracy against the troops of Franco, Hitler and Mussolini.
Ill-equipped and disorderly, yet fuelled by a shared sense of purpose and potential glory, disparate groups of idealistic young men and women banded together to form a volunteer army of a size and kind unseen since the Crusades, known as the International Brigades. These passionate liberal fighters – from across Europe, China, Africa and the Americas – would join the Republican cause, fighting for over two years on the bloody battlegrounds of Madrid, Jarama and Ebro.
Were they heroes or fools? Saints or bloodthirsty adventurers? And what exactly did they achieve?
This is a story rendered vivid in the writings of Orwell and Hemingway, the paintings of Picasso and the photographs of Taro and Capa. But here, in this magisterial history, award-winning historian Giles Tremlett tells – for the first time – the story of the Spanish Civil War through the experiences of this remarkable group of people. Drawing on the Brigades' extensive archives in Moscow, Comintern documents and first-hand accounts, Tremlett captures all the human drama of an historic mission to halt fascist expansion in Europe.
A fascinating history of resistance, The International Brigades shows just how far ordinary people will go to save democracy against overwhelming odds in a tale of European solidarity that resonates just as strongly today.
Truant: Notes from the Slippery Slope, by Horatio Clare
At thirteen Horatio Clare was a boarder at a boy's public school, a privileged member of an apparently blessed generation. A rebel - one of those who detested the system, who thought it not just fun but right to break its laws - he was expelled for smoking dope. He became one of the thousands who gleefully ignored the warnings and set out, in search of experience and intensity, to slalom on the slippery slope.
He was a truant in its original sense: one who beggars himself through choice, not necessity.
From university campuses to the rooftops of New York; from Brixton basements to fear and loathing in Mid Devon, through psychosis, mania and depression, from sanity to madness and back again, this is a portrait drawn from a generation that turned to drugs. And it is a search for understanding: why do we do these things, and what do they do to us? What were we looking for and what did we find?
Germania: A Personal History of Germans Ancient and Modern, by Simon Wilder
Simon Winder is mesmerized Germany; its cuisine, its architecture, its fairytale landscape. He is equally passionate about the region’s history, its folklore, its monarchs and its changing borders. Winder describes Germany’s past afresh, taking in the story from the shaggy world of the ancient forests right through to the Nazis’ catastrophic rise in the 1930s, in an accessible and startlingly vivid account of a tortured but also brilliant country.
The Ratline: Love, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive, by Phillipe Sands
£20 hardback (paperback £9.99 29th April 2021)
As Governor of Galicia, SS Brigadeführer Otto Freiherr von Wächter presided over an authority on whose territory hundreds of thousands of Jews and Poles were killed, including the family of the author's grandfather. By the time the war ended in May 1945, he was indicted for 'mass murder'. Hunted by the Soviets, the Americans, the Poles and the British, as well as groups of Jews, Wächter went on the run. He spent three years hiding in the Austrian Alps, assisted by his wife Charlotte, before making his way to Rome where he was helped by a Vatican bishop. He remained there for three months. While preparing to travel to Argentina on the 'ratline' he died unexpectedly, in July 1949, a few days after spending a weekend with an 'old comrade'.
In The Ratline Philippe Sands offers a unique account of the daily life of a senior Nazi and fugitive, and of his wife. Drawing on a remarkable archive of family letters and diaries, he unveils a fascinating insight into life before and during the war, on the run, in Rome, and into the Cold War. Eventually the door is unlocked to a mystery that haunts Wächter's youngest son, who continues to believe his father was a good man - what happened to Otto Wächter, and how did he die?
The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, by John Bolton
The result is a White House memoir that is the most comprehensive and substantial account of the Trump Administration, and one of the few to date by a top-level official. With almost daily access to the President, John Bolton has produced a precise rendering of his days in and around the Oval Office. What Bolton saw astonished him: a President for whom getting reelected was the only thing that mattered, even if it meant endangering or weakening the nation. “I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn’t driven by reelection calculations,” he writes. In fact, he argues that the House committed impeachment malpractice by keeping their prosecution focused narrowly on Ukraine when Trump’s Ukraine-like transgressions existed across the full range of his foreign policy—and Bolton documents exactly what those were, and attempts by him and others in the Administration to raise alarms about them.
He shows a President addicted to chaos, who embraced our enemies and spurned our friends, and was deeply suspicious of his own government. In Bolton’s telling, all this helped put Trump on the bizarre road to impeachment. “The differences between this presidency and previous ones I had served were stunning,” writes Bolton, who worked for Reagan, Bush 41, and Bush 43. He discovered a President who thought foreign policy is like closing a real estate deal—about personal relationships, made-for-TV showmanship, and advancing his own interests. As a result, the US lost an opportunity to confront its deepening threats, and in cases like China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea ended up in a more vulnerable place.
Bolton’s account starts with his long march to the West Wing as Trump and others woo him for the National Security job. The minute he lands, he has to deal with Syria’s chemical attack on the city of Douma, and the crises after that never stop. As he writes in the opening pages, “If you don’t like turmoil, uncertainty, and risk—all the while being constantly overwhelmed with information, decisions to be made, and sheer amount of work—and enlivened by international and domestic personality and ego conflicts beyond description, try something else.”
The turmoil, conflicts, and egos are all there—from the upheaval in Venezuela, to the erratic and manipulative moves of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, to the showdowns at the G7 summits, the calculated warmongering by Iran, the crazy plan to bring the Taliban to Camp David, and the placating of an authoritarian China that ultimately exposed the world to its lethal lies. But this seasoned public servant also has a great eye for the Washington inside game, and his story is full of wit and wry humor about how he saw it played.