My pick of 15 top books to read this summer

by Stephen Tall on July 20, 2014

reading summer - photo by hans van der bergThe newspapers are awash with summer best-reads at the moment, as well-known writers pick the books to relax with by the pool. You know the kind of thing: “It’s at this time of year I typically embark on re-reading Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, translating it into Russian (which I’m learning to relax as I prepare for my Grade 8 piano exam) from our rustic cottage in Tuscany.” Or, alternatively: “Here’s a book written by my mate.”

Always eager to copy a trite-and-tested and formula, here’s my list. Some I’ve read; others I’m looking forward to; a couple I doubt I’ll even start. But in a parallel universe, they’re all ones I would make the time to read.

Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain by Robert Ford and Matthew J. Goodwin
How do you explain the Ukip surge? Ford and Goodwin’s book is a must-read for those wanting to understand what has driven this party from the fringes a decade ago to topping a national election this May. Here’s Mark Pack’s review for LDV and my take on it all here.

The Geek Manifesto: Why science matters by Mark Henderson
How do you improve public services like health, education and clean energy? Start with the experimental methods of science (never forgetting to apply your own values – liberal hopefully). Published in 2012, this book is still just as timely.

The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge
Two of the Economist’s senior editors look at the current crisis gripping Western powers – voter disaffection – and argue that we need to look to the emerging economies and embrace their can-do activist reforms if we want liberal democracy to prosper. This may all sound a bit Jeremy Browne for some tastes but Micklethwaite and Wooldridge are always worth reading whether you agree or not.

An Unexpected MP: Confessions of a Political Gossip by Jerry Hayes
If the above all sound a bit hard-going, enjoy dipping into this frothy memoir by one of those things becoming an increasing rarity: a liberal Tory MP with a social conscience. It reads like an after-dinner speech and its anecdotes sound somewhat embellished. But it’s fun stuff.

Power Trip: A Decade of Policy, Plots and Spin by Damian McBride
A fascinating insider’s account of the court of Gordon Brown as Chancellor and then PM. It’s an wholly partial viewpoint – there’s no attempt here to give a rounded picture – from the civil servant turned spin-doctor who was forced to quit in 2009. He says he still loves Gordon, though the Brown who comes across here is comically awkward.

Broke: How to Survive the Middle-Class Crisis by David Boyle
One of our most original current liberal thinkers, Boyle examines how middle-class life has been eroded over the decades such that “today’s middle classes will struggle to enjoy the same privileges of security and comfort that their grandparents did”.

The Blunders of Our Governments by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe
Why do governments of all hues make such big mistakes? It’s a basic question explored here with examples ranging from the Poll Tax to the Child Support Agency to the Millennium Dome to the NHS’s failed IT system. Winner of this year’s Practical Politics Book of the Year.

The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run or Ruin an Economy by Tim Harford
A quite brilliant economics primer, as entertaining as it is accessible – all done in the style of his essential Financial Times Q&As exploring the knottiest of issues fairly and concisely.

The Snowden Operation: Inside the West’s Greatest Intelligence Disaster (Kindle Single) by Edward Lucas
A controversial but highly persuasive account: ‘Drawing on 30 years’ experience observing the world of intelligence, Lucas depicts Edward Snowden as at best reckless and naïve, and at worst a saboteur. He stole far more secrets than were necessary to make his case and did so in a deliberately damaging matter.’ I approached this book expecting to think Snowden’s actions deserved the benefit of the doubt; that’s not how I left it.

The Cruel Victory by Paddy Ashdown
How could I not include Paddy’s new tome? I’ve not read it but Caron Lindsay has, and you can read her review here.

The ‘Too Difficult’ Box: The Big Issues Politicians Can’t Crack by Charles Clarke (ed)
27 chapters by 27 contributors looking at some of the knottiest problems we in the UK face: from our place in the world to the welfare state to public services and immigration, political reform and drugs. A range of contributors from all parties and none. One to dip into and violently (dis)agree with.

A State of Play: British Politics on Screen, Stage and Page, from Anthony Trollope to The Thick of It by Prof. Steven Fielding
How politics is portrayed doesn’t just reflect the reality, argues Fielding, it also shapes it. This is a fascinating overview which ranges well beyond the usual suspects – it starts with the BBC children’s TV show Big Barn Farm – mixing history and politics.

Roy Jenkins by John Campbell
We knew about some of his affairs, but the one with Anthony Crosland came as a bit of a surprise. One of the most important political figures of the C.20th now has a biography that explores his well-rounded life with both honesty and affection.

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark
How did the First World War start? A century on, the question still rages, with Clark arguing the blame needs to be shared around Europe’s statesmen who stumbled chaotically into the conflict.

Oh, and if you just want a good novel, here’s my suggestion:

The Goldfinch by Donna Tart
Deserved winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2014, this is one of the only books about which I can honestly use the blurb-word ‘unputdownable’. It’s a big book in every way, perfect for losing yourself in on holiday, but also immensely readable. I may even read it again myself this summer.

Those are my suggestions – what are yours?

Photo by Hans Van der Berg

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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