Welcome to my fourth annual summer political reading list. This year’s list first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on August 10th 2020. It is somewhat later than planned as I have not been able to plan my own summer break until now.
With my previous lists I tried, where possible, to pick books you can download onto your tablet or eBook reader. Who wants to stick 6 or 7 heavy tomes into the suitcase and pay Euros to Willy Walsh or Michael O’Leary for the privilege of flying them with you? So, while this is not as big a concern this year, many of the titles I have picked are, happily, available to download, indeed at least one is available for free download.
As in past years the titles are factual. The list reflects my own tastes and prejudices – though I do genuinely attempt to include some books that challenge them.
The list is in no order, though it does start with books prompted by the sad death of one of the greatest men I have ever been honoured to meet and hear speak: John Hume. Feel free to disagree with any of my choices in the comments section below (as if some of you need a license to disagree with me!) but if you are going to disagree then suggest what books you’d include instead.
John Hume, In his own words Edited by Seán Farren
John Hume, Irish peacemaker Edited by Seán Farren & Denis Haughey
My first entry offers you a choice of two books on the one subject: John Hume.
In the first one: “In His Own Words” Hume’s great ally and colleague, Sean Farren, gathers extracts from some of Hume’s most significant speeches, articles, and interviews. Together they give a comprehensive overview of Hume’s political thoughts on the complexity of relationships within and between our two islands. You see, in Hume’s own words, the origins of his implacable opposition to violence and how he developed his proposals for resolving the Northern Irish conflict. Proposals that underpin the Good Friday Agreement.
Farren adds a contextual narrative that helps chronicle Hume’s career from his work in the 60’s with the credit union, the Derry Housing Association, the civil rights movement through the foundation of the SDLP and culminating in the achievement of agreement across this island.
The companion piece, John Hume, Irish peacemaker is also edited by Sean Farren along with another great Hume contemporary Denis Haughey. This is a collection of themed essays from a good cross section of friends, contemporaries and academics, that assess Hume’s career and contribution. As with In his Own Words the essays span Hume’s career from his entry into public life in 1960s Derry to his role in Europe and the US, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Hume-Adams dialogue and the Good Friday Agreement.
If you have the time, I would also highly re-recommend reading this one from last year’s book list, the late Seamus Mallon’s: A Shared Home Place. Seamus died last January.
Angrynomics by Eric Lonergan and Mark Blyth
This may be one of the most enjoyable reads on my list. Written pre Covid-19, the authors, Mark Blyth and Eric Lonergan tackle the modern paradox of how and why the world most of us experience feels so uncertain, unfair, and ever more expensive while the factual analysis tells us that the vast majority of us have never had it so good.
The authors do this by way of a running dialogue. A dialogue that produces many entertaining and insightful anecdotes, (esp. the Donoghues pub ballad singer one). The model works superbly. It gives the book a pace and flow that helped this reader to easily follow their often-challenging examination of the rising global tide of anger.
The book’s blurb says it is for anyone wondering “where the hell do we go from here” and that authors “propose radical new solutions for an increasingly polarized and confusing world”. It lives up to the claims, though we may quibble about how deliverable their solutions may be.
You’re Fired by Paul Begala
You may already know Begala as one of CNN’s resident political talking heads. The quick-witted American political consultant and pundit was a chief strategist for Bill Clinton and an adviser to the 2012 Obama re-election campaign.
Begala takes the “You’re fired!” catchphrase from Trump’s days on The Apprentice and turns it on the orange one in a practical guide on how Trump can (and must) be defeated next November and be sent packing along with “his industrial-strength spray-on tan machine back to Mar-a-Lago”.
This one sentence offers a flavour of the book’s acerbic tone. It is a genuinely enjoyable read. While it is made lighter by Begala’s neat turn of phrase, it is still a serious piece of work and does not underestimate the challenge facing Biden and the Democrats.
The strategy Begala counsels is pragmatic. He explains how Trump’s capacity to use division to distract voters from his awful record can be turned against him and how Democrats can “drive a wedge—or, rather, a pickup truck—between Trump and many of his supporters, especially blue-collar workers and farmers”.
While many may opt to read Mary Trump’s deliciously salacious exposé of her uncle: Too Much and Never Enough (from the same publisher) I will be rereading my Begala with relish.
A New Ireland A New Union A New Society by Paul Gosling
This entry has a great deal going for it. Not only is it a free download (in PDF format) it has also been recently updated to take account of Brexit and Coronavirus. Gosling, a financial journalist and economic commentator, tackles Northern Ireland’s constitutional future and sets out a ten-year plan for how a New Ireland with an all island economy and healthcare system, all within the European Union, can be achieved.
While the book’s narrative is unashamedly pro-reunification, Gosling does ensure that Unionist voices feature throughout and includes considered and thoughtful contributions from former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt (who Micheál Martin should have appointed to The Seanad), independent MLA Claire Sugden and DUP MLA Mervyn Storey.
Most importantly Gosling’s book argues the unification case on its own merits, rather than as the only alternative as the Tories slowly dismantle the UK. (Micheál Martin take note).
It is a thoroughly good read which leaves the reader far better informed by adding far more dimensions to the unity discussion than Mary Lou or Gerry ever offer. This is a book about logic and persuasion, not coercion and does not require you read it wrapped in the tricolour. Most importantly it argues the unification case on its own merits, rather than as the only alternative as the Tories slowly dismantle the UK. (Micheál Martin take note).
It is available for sale in hardcopy but can also be downloaded from the author’s website.
Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics by Peter Geoghegan
Written by a Longford man, Peter Geoghegan, now based in London and Glasgow, Democracy for Sale is the story of how money, vested interests and digital skulduggery are eroding trust in democracy. I am such an admirer of Geoghegan’s writing (and tweeting) that even a frontpage recommendation from the sainted Fintan O’Toole could drive me away.
Democracy for Sale is a well written and researched account that looks at how the Brexit Leave campaign was funded and structured but also goes much further afield to look at how populists from Johnson to Trump to Bolsonaro operate in a murky world of dark money and digital disinformation.
A Bloody Summer: The Irish at the Battle of Britain by Dan Harvey
The sixth title in the ‘Bloody Battles’ series that looks at the part played by Irish born soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars, Arnhem and D-Day. This latest instalment from the excellent Dan Harvey, a retired Lt-Col, offers a strategic analysis of one of the greatest air battles in history while telling the personal stories of those Irishmen involved in it.
Though I include this book on this year’s list, Dan’s 2018 book, Soldiering Against Subversion: The Irish Defence Forces and Internal Security During the Troubles, 1969–1998, is also a must read.
Capitalism, Alone – The Future of the System That Rules the World by Branko Milanović
Easily the heaviest read on my list, it earns its place by being the most challenging. Billed by the publishers as “a provocative account of capitalism’s rise to global dominance and, as different models of capitalism vie for world leadership, a look into what the future may hold” it does what it is says on the tin, even if it leaves you wanting to kick that tin further down the road.
In Capitalism Alone, economist Branko Milanović argues that capitalism is the only game in town. He says that capitalism has triumphed because it works, but that the prosperity and autonomy it has delivered has come at a heavy moral price. He describes the West’s liberal capitalism as creaking under the strains of inequality and excess, while the competing Chinese model, political capitalism, as shows itself even more vulnerable to corruption and prone to cause greater social unrest when progress slows.
It is not a perfect book. One of the best critiques I read of it beforehand said that Milanović seems to end the book in mid-argument as if his conversation was brought suddenly to an end by the arrival of the taxi home. Strong on analysis, though overly western-centric and with gaps when it comes to the problems in the southern hemisphere (he suggests large-scale migration), it is still an important analysis of where the global system now stands from an old school Serbian pubic intellectual hailed for brilliant analysis of inequality.
Steps along the road, the evolution of a slow learner – The Writings of Ivor Browne
This is very personal choice was prompted by a recent Sunday Independent interview with the great Professor Ivor Browne. Published in 2013, the book is an anthology of papers and essays charting five decades of clinical research and reflections from one of Ireland’s greatest experts and champions of mental health.
My personal interest in Ivor Browne stems from the fact that my mother, a psychiatric nurse, worked with him for many years and remains in awe of him to this day. My mother even features alongside Prof Browne, as a character on page 14 of John Waters’ 2010 book Beyond Consolation. There Waters mentions Ketamine Carmel the nurse who administered hallucinogenics during Prof Browne’s therapy sessions at St Brendan’s hospital. (BTW no, she never took any of it home to us!)
My mum had to quit her nursing job upon getting married, courtesy of the public service marriage ban and only returned to working in St Brendan’s in the late 1970s. Thereafter when anyone would ask how my mother was keeping, I would reply, “oh, she’s grand, she’s back in St Brendan’s”. An answer that caused much confusion, almost none of it unintentional.
N.B. I have not included the latest book by Stephen Collins and Ciara Meehan entitled: Saving the State, Fine Gael from Collins to Varadkar on this list for two reasons.
- It has yet to be published and thus cannot be read over the Summer and
- I tend not to include works of fiction – Collins was never leader of Fine Gael and W T Cosgrave was not Fine Gael Leader while he served as President of the Executive Council (The office which preceded that of Taoiseach)
Enjoy what remains of the Summer and keep safe.
See you in mid September.