Sunday, 14 December 2008

Christmas reading

Being a sucker for a 'must read' political book, I have returned from a week away to the welcome sight of a bulky Amazon package containing Team of Rivals, Doris Kearn Goodwin's biography of Lincoln and his Cabinet.

At 750+ pages, it looks a pretty solid insurance policy should everybody fall asleep on Boxing Day. I don't expect to gain too many insights into the Obama model of political leadership, but it will be interesting to learn something about Lincoln the politician. And the recent attention has been good luck for the author of a history which had already won a good deal of critical acclaim on publication.

I also hope to dip into the Hugo Young papers on a truffle hunt, if I manage to recover the review copy which came into the office a couple of weeks ago.

So much for recommending books which I haven't read yet.

Of those which I can recommend by virtue of having read them, David Marquand's Britain since 1918 would be enjoyed by anybody with an interest in political history. There is plenty to argue about and with too: Fabians are often cast as the villains of the piece in contrast to the democratic republican tradition, which Stuart White has been championing on Next Left this past week in his posts on both Milton and Oliver Postgate. I have reviewed the book for the forthcoming Fabian Review, and will write more about this at the end of the holidays.

Two very enjoyable novels which cast light on major social and political themes without being in any way didactic were Rose Tremain's The Road Home, a novel addressing one of the great themes of now with its empathetic account of an East European everyman's experience of coming to London, and Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a short and pacy novella, cleverly using the device of a first person monologue to tell the tale of a young and ambitious Pakistani student's experience of America, Princeton and Wall Street before and after 9/11.

Away from politics, Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr Whicher deserved all of the many plaudits which it received: a fantastic achievement in combining a murder mystery whodunnit, social history particularly on the very modern convulsions of public opinion fed by press sensationalism, and literary criticism on the rise of the detective story.

And I would be interested to hear about your books of the year or recommendations for holiday reads.


donpaskini said...

Hi Sunder,

Team of Rivals is excellent, you should enjoy that.

Two best political books I read this were 'Nixonland' by Rich Perlstein (which covers the eclipse of American liberalism and rise of conservatism between 1964-1972) and 'The Persistence of Poverty' by Charles Karelis, which is short, witty and will change the way that you think about the whole debate around welfare and poverty issues (get 'em on Amazon if they aren't in the shops).

Rachael Jolley said...

I was a bit disappointed with the Kate Summerscale book for some reason, though everyone else I know loved it. Am a bit of a murder mystery addict, so I could see the way it had influenced Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins etc, but still something seemed missing. Try Maud Pember Reeves Round About A Pound A Week, for very interesting insight in early 20th century London life.