Here is my annual Summer Political Reading List for 2019. You can find last year’s list here: 2018
I have the hotels and flights booked so it must be time for my annual summer political reading list. Below are some suggested titles along with short reviews of books that should be of interest to those who follow politics.
As with the previous two lists I have done for Broadsheet the books are mainly factual, though this time I have tried to go for less heavy reads than past years. The list is in no particular order, though it does start with books with a more domestic focus. Feel free to disagree with any of my choices in the comments section below and maybe suggest what books you have packed or downloaded for the summer break.
Enda the Road: Nine Days that Toppled a Taoiseach By Gavan Reilly
This first one is no-brainer (I know there’s an obvious joke here, but I am a kindly soul in the summer, so will pass on making it). I simply cannot recommend Gavan’s book highly enough. It is not just superbly well-written, it is also well researched and offers a balanced yet pacey and entertaining telling of the final days of the Kenny leadership. Essential reading for anyone seriously interested in Irish politics, it is also a good intro for those who want to get to know more about it.
Frenzy and Betrayal: The Anatomy of a Political Assassination by Alan Shatter
While the dustjacket blurb describes it as a “compelling, dramatic and unique insight into the most shocking series of corruption scandals to rock the Irish political system in decades” the pages in between the covers tell the story of a smart and savvy politician who perhaps over estimated his skillset and contributed as much to his demise as his detractors. Nevertheless, Irish ministers are not in the habit of writing about their time in office in this level of detail, so this is an important and rare insight into how one of the most important and guarded departments of state operates.
A Shared Home Place by Seamus Mallon
This book is part memoir, part manifesto and written with the help of Andy Pollak. While Seamus Mallon appears to be telling the story of sad and tragic life lived in the most difficult times in Northern Ireland he does this to offer the background to the book’s real intent: a proposal for how both traditions on this island can manage to live together in this shared home place and space. Not for the first time in his political career Mallon takes the less easy road and sets the challenge to those of us in the majority on this island to make the changes necessary to accommodate the other.
The Friends of Harry Perkins by Chris Mullin
One of the few works of fiction to make it on to this list, this sequel to Mullin’s bestselling A Very British Coup could be said to offer a better sense of how political life in post-Brexit Britain might turn out than some non-fiction works.
In the highly entertaining and gripping A Very British Coup, Mullins – a former Labour MP and junior Minister under Blair – chronicled the entrenched institutional opposition faced by his fictional prime minister, the far left Harry Perkins, as Perkins attempts to cope with the economic and industrial chaos that engulfed Britain in the 1980s. Thirty-five years on and with Britain facing another social and economic crisis, Mullin has created a new character, Fred Thompson, a former Perkins aide and his successor as MP, and we get see the difficulties besetting a near-future Britain through his eyes.
Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Published late last year, this book from the doyen of American presidential biographers, Doris Kearns Goodwin, asks whether the leader make the times or do the times make the leader. She does this by considering the backgrounds and life stories of the four US presidents she has written most about: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson and examines how they each came to recognise the leadership qualities within themselves and how they went on to use these in office. It’s a fascinating examination of how political leadership once worked and suggests that it could be that way again. The other reason this is on my list is because I am a fan of Goodwin. I’d happily buy an anthology of her notes to the milkman, if published.
Alarums and Excursions, Improvising Politics on the European Stage by Luuk van Middelaar
The best critique I have read of this book is that it’s “…neither a partisan defence of the European Union nor a pessimistic prophecy of doom, but a cool analysis of the role of European institutional structures and of key personalities.” From what I have read of this so far, it is a far summation of Van Middelaar’s approach. A former adviser to Herman Van Rompuy while he was the EU Council President, Van Middelaar writing is far more vibrant and engaging on paper than his former boss was in person. First published in Dutch and then in French the title comes from an Elizabethan stage direction that prepared actors for an onstage skirmish and to make battle noises. “Alarums and excursions” according to the author, conveys “the feverish mood when action becomes imminent”. Not a light read, but an essential one for anyone interested in EU affairs.
Twitter and Tear Gas, The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest by Zeynep Tufekci
Published about two years back, this book from Zeynep Tufekci of the University of North Carolina, sometimes described as a scholar-activist, has been widely hailed as the definitive work on the power of influence of social media in modern protest movement. In the book Zeynep considers how the social media and the internet both helped demonstrations in places such as Turkey, Mexico and Egypt get off the ground but also makes them harder to sustain. The headline on the Washington Post’s review of her book sums its message up well: “Twitter and Facebook helped spark protest movements then they undermined them.”
The Psychology of Social Media by Dr Ciarán Mc Mahon
The second book on social media on this list is this short and well researched volume from Dublin based psychologist Dr Ciaran MacMahon. It does – to use the hackneyed phrase – exactly what it says on the tin. It explains how and why so much of our daily lives have come to be saturated by popular and absorbing social media platforms.
Ciaran does this by first posing a series of questions and then answers each in precise detail with reference to various examples. The Psychology of Social Media explores how so much of our everyday lives is played out online, and how this can impact our identity, wellbeing and relationships. It looks at how our online profiles, connections, status updates and sharing of photographs can be a way to express ourselves and form connections, but also highlights the pitfalls of social media including privacy issues.
An Act of God by David Javerbaum,
The good news about this book, it that you kind don’t have to buy it to enjoy it. The second fiction book on my list, it is less a book and more a multi-platform experience. It is a book, originally published in 2015, as The Last Testament: A Memoir, which has since been turned into a hilarious stage play. Both of these in turn are anthologies of the best posts from the twitter account: @TheTweetOfGod.
Written by a former head writer at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart it is God’s latest instalment of the Testaments (and Qur’an) based on his experiences of mankind over the last few centuries. Written in biblical verse (how else could God write?) he opines, over 400 pages, on every aspect of universe from updating the Ten Commandments to Simon Cowell and Caitlyn Jenner. You can get a flavour of the style from checking out the currently pinned tweet:
In an ideal scenario the President of the United States and the worst human being in the world would be two different people. https://twitter.com/TheTweetOfGod/status/958104338412355584
Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech by Jamie Susskind,
Possibly the heaviest and most demanding read on the list. It also carries the burden of being reviewed and highly recommended in the Irish Times last December by, Finance Minister, Paschal Donohoe. Notwithstanding this, Susskind’s book follows on from the two other volumes dealing with Social Media and is a must-read for anyone interested in the great political debate of the 21st century: how will digital technology transform society and politics?
Susskind approaches the debate with both the expertise of a lawyer and a deep understanding of the digital world. His analysis is informed by the maxim that “how we govern, store, analyse, and communicate our information is closely related to how we organise our politics”.
As much of our daily lives are governed by algorithms as they are by laws made in parliaments. The issues of data collection, privacy and freedom are so closely intertwined in today’s world that discussion of one has significant consequences for the other, yet these are largely in the hands of private big tech firms. Yet, Susskind’s outlook is not dystopian, not least because challenges policy makers and opinion formers on how free societies can still retain control.