Conservative activist, Stephen McKenzie, casts his eye over the good, the bad and the ugly of political literature of late.
The Establishment: And how they got away with it
Owen Jones, Penguin Books
It’s hard to know where to start with reviewing this book, the writing style is poor and disjointed making it difficult to decipher. However, this is just as well because the content reads like an unhinged and unsubstantiated rant in a student newspaper. No evidence is offered for any of Jones’ assertions, most of which seem to suggest that every wealthy or privileged person deliberately seeks to almost colonially subjugate the lower classes. The idea that there might be wealthy people who actually do care about others at no point features in this book which paints only broad black and white strokes with no nuances. There is a significant lack of any insider knowledge which might give this book credibility in suggesting that the privileged are evil. If you are interested in reading a ‘populist’ political book, I’d suggest Revolution by Russell Brand, which, somewhat, surprisingly is based on more sound political radicalism than that advocated by Jones.
George Osborne: The Austerity Chancellor
Janan Ganesh, Biteback Publishing
Rating: * * * *
Another fantastically well researched book, this biography goes deep into the conscience of the most influential chancellor of the modern era, whose policies, for better or worse, have impacted the global economic consensus. Frankly, this book won’t be finished for many years but it’s worth reading now in its current form. Regardless of your opinions of the man, the book is a powerful story of a politician aware of his own limitations and overcoming them to becoming arguably the most powerful man in the land. The highlight of this book is the intricacies of how Osborne used various internal leadership campaigns to grow close to influential people in the party and rise far more rapidly than might be expected normally.
In It Together: The Inside Story of the Coalition Government
Matthew d’Ancona, Penguin Books
Rating: * * * * *
Let’s start with what is, without doubt, the very best book written about the coalition and the politicians involved. I managed to read the second edition of In It Together by d’Ancona, a Guardian columnist, which I’ve found to be one of the most thoroughly researched pieces of political analysis I’ve ever read. It tells an inside story of the majority of the coalition; I’d imagine another edition is due soon covering the end of the period, with hundreds of quotes from people within the political parties and government, putting the entire geopolitical scene into context allowing the decisions of the period to be properly understood. Even for a well-connected journalist this book really does stand out for the level of research that went into it and the lack of pretentiousness; it seems as if d’Ancona has managed to harness sources from across all levels of politics and government giving this book a depth that makes it stand out from the rest of the list. It’s one of the more balanced books out of my list of favourites, showing the nuances of decision making and putting roughly equal emphasis on both the perceived successes and failures of the coalition as well as the processes underpinning them.
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
John Crace, Corgi Books
Rating: * *
This book is short and overpriced. The quality of the analysis is poor and the book lacks focus; for its length it tries to cover too much ground surrounding the coalition and thus fails to look into the most interesting aspects with the depth required to gain any significant insight into modern politics. My most significant gripe is that the author takes significant short cuts, skipping what other accounts of the time have shown to be important moments, in order to tell the overriding story in as short form as possible. The only saving grace is that the book reads without significant political bias, however, it does take a sneering tone towards politicians of all ilk. Save your money.
The Second World War Series
Winston Churchill, W&N
Rating: * * * *
I’m lucky to own a copy of original first editions of this series, which due to their size, had always daunted me, until I summoned up the courage to take them off the bookshelf. This series is purported to be about the Second World War but is also a unique insight into a turbulent and never repeated period of British politics where much political animosity was suspended, at least publicly, with the aim of achieving the public good. It’s hard to summarise the series overall but I certainly enjoyed the depth and breadth of the series; if you’re reading modern accounts of WWII, it quickly becomes clear that most have drawn heavily from this original account and sometimes it’s worth skipping out the middle man and coming straight to the source. The tone of the book has to be taken with a pinch of salt; Churchill obviously tends to glorify his own role and it is a tremendous amount of reading to do for a single topic; it does begin to drag at points where intricacies of diplomacy or battles are dwelled upon, but without doubt, it is the most reliable account of the inner workings of government throughout the war.
The Audacity of Hope
Barack Obama, Random House
Rating: * * * *
Obama’s first book, Dreams from my Father, was a shameless attempt to build his public profile as he sought to run for the Illinois Senate and reading it does in fact read exactly as you would expect an author’s first book to – the writing style is poor and the book overall comes across as very sanctimonious. However, the same cannot be said for The Audacity of Hope which is a triumph of Obama’s early brand of the politics of hope. The theme of hope is expanded upon with the ideas that would later become his trademark ideals, including the broadening of aspiration through basic government intervention but also significant economic liberalism. It does read slightly like a political speech at points but captures the key points of what the American dream means and how politicians can help ordinary people to achieve it.
Bill Clinton, Arrow Books
Rating: * *
For a man who lived such an interesting life, Bill Clinton does a fantastic job in slowly making you loathe him as you read this book. This book was recommended to me by someone who suggested that it was interesting because it reads rather honestly and it gives you an insight into Clinton’s thinking. It does. He seems to believe he is one of the world’s greatest people without any particular moments of objectivity. Clinton, without directly saying so, puts himself in the league of presidents such as Roosevelt and Reagan as popular and generation defining leaders. It’s very hard to read this book without thinking that maybe that it should be up to someone else or the passage of time to decide that. This book helped turn me off autobiographies for many months.
Anthony Seldon, Peter Snowden & Daniel Collings, Pocket Books
Rating: * * * * *
There simply isn’t a better book about the rise and leadership of Tony Blair, and his importance in dragging the Labour Party into the modern era. This book offers insights into what it took Blair to be a one-of-a-kind leader whose popularity as a leader is unlikely to be surpassed for at least a generation. His mastery of the mood of the country and ability to project a vote winning charisma that convinced previously staunch Conservative voters to support him is focused on throughout the book and is the most interesting theme throughout the book and Blair’s life. It also offers lessons to leaders across the political spectrum of how they can improve their electability.
There’s a plethora of books out there; I’m currently about to embark on a series of books that look at socialism and military rule across South America, so hopefully my suggestions are some help as a suggestion of where to start. Yet there are many great political books I haven’t yet managed to read so please use the comments below to recommend more books that I should have a look at.