Thursday, December 16, 2010

Books for Christmas

I was asked to do something on 'books for socialists', and I'd like to, but that sort of thing takes me a very long time and I'm never happy with the result because you're bound to miss something or other.

However, as a prequel to that as yet unwritten post I thought I'd highlight
a few books slightly off the beaten track that are well worth a read.

My first pick is The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates by Adrienne Mayor.

I have a semi-secret obsession with the history of the Roman Empire and in particular its dissenters and opponents. Mithradates was arguably Rome's greatest enemy who not only relied upon the wealth and size of his own Empire against Rome he also used propaganda, insurrection and ideas of liberation.

Mithradates was at the height of his power during the most turbulent of times in Roman history with revolution in Spain, a mighty civil war with it's Italian allies and then, famously, the Spartacus revolt - all of whom were either directly funded or abetted by Mithradates and found his presence an inspiration.

Indeed many of Mithradates' top military advisers were Romans and the anti-Roman uprisings in the East saw the Poison King as a liberating force against imperialism itself. This book is a brilliant account of the man, the politics of the time and the unprecedented decades of opposition to Roman rule that Mithradates provided.

Next up I'm choosing Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences by Cordelia Fine

Fine's book is a exceptionally well researched book examining how science has been put to work trying to justify existing gender divisions in society. It's thoroughness is extra-ordinary, but for all the rigour I found Fine's book surprisingly readable.

For those who have a liking for Ben Goldacre's pursuit of 'Bad Science' Fine's book should feel like familiar terrain. How a combination of lazy journalists, biased funding and wrong headed thinking allows it become a 'scientific fact' that woman are genetically predisposed for ironing, low pay and doing the washing up.

For those, like me, who are interested in the subject of gender it's a vital tool in understanding the ins and outs of how the scientific explanations for gender difference are often fatally flawed.

Next we have Tiny Acts of Rebellion: 97 Almost-Legal Ways To Stick It To The Man by Rich Fulcher (of the Mighty Boosh)

You've got to have a bit of light relief at this time of year, but why not combine the chuckling with this little handbook of the social civil war.

There's nothing I like better than surreal, highly negative, ways of gaining your revenge upon the class enemy and, while Fulcher's book may not stand up to a rigorous Marxist analysis, it certainly makes a very valid contribution to the world.

Talking of humorous books anyone that would like to donate to this blogger a seasonal gift of Stewart Lee's How I Escaped My Certain Fate it would be most appreciated.

For a bit of a change of pace You Cannot Be Serious!: The 101 Most Infuriating Things in Sport by Matthew Norman looks extremely interesting.

Any hate list where Hitler comes in at place 99 does make you curious what on Earth could fill the first 98 places in front of the most evil man of the twentieth century.

There's nothing more delightful than reading the pet hates of an obsessive in any field - sport in particular. You can read the authors explanation here of why he wrote the book, but I think that he's found an acceptable outlet for making barely concealed political points by writing about sport is wonderful.

Lastly I think it would be remiss of me to miss out two of the most talked about economics books of the year. Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth by Ed Howker and Shiv Malik and The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

The Spirit Level in particular has been extremely successful at popularising the economic case for social justice, or is that the social case for economic justice? Probably the latter. Both books are free of the outdated and dogmatic language that so often holds the left back, but are rooted in a very serious left economic analysis.

One of the things I particularly like about these books, apart from the fact that lots of people have read them, is that they have provided such accessible and modern accounts of why we can't aim to just get back to business as normal. That there has to be a fundamental shift in how we view the economy and what it's for.

Obviously this is not an attempt to define a book of the year, in fact it basically reflects the kind of things that gets onto my reading list. But they all come highly recommended from me anyway. Feel free to suggest your own, or tell us what you'll be reading this Winterval.


modernity said...


Nothing on composting, kitting your own jumpers or making your own shoes?

Not very Green, that's all I can say!

But seriously, have you heard from the GRC on the statement on antisemitism? It seems to have vanished, we were promised that it would be updated, etc yet nothing.

Has it been brushed under the carpet?

Jim Jepps said...

The spirit Level's pretty green...

GPRC are having a meeting in Jan I think (or poss Feb) where they will have further discussion on this. Part of the 'problem' has been that there has been no clarity over what the statement is.

GPRC does have the power to create interim policy but it could be guidance notes or just a statement. Certainly the mid-Feb conference will be discussing this.