July 2020 reading list
An interesting bunch this month and, for the first time in a while, a book I just could not get along with at all. Here’s the July list.
- What If? by Randall Munroe
- Narco Wars by Tom Chandler
- The Windrush Betrayal by Amelia Gentleman
- Dopesick by Beth Macy
- Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
- Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me by Kate Clanchy
- How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson
- The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth
- Polio. The Odyssey of Eradication by Thomas Abraham
- The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
- Hope in Hell by Jonathon Porritt
Comments and Recommendation of the Month
I typed the initial draft of this post in early July, having read the first couple of books on the list and as I neared the end of The Windrush Betrayal by Amelia Gentleman and Dopesick by Beth Macy. At that point, I’d have been astonished if another book could better Gentleman’s effort and I wrote about it back then.° I was listened to the audiobook, read by Gentleman herself, and it was, by turns, leaving me breathless with rage and often close to tears.
I sometimes wonder what politicians think when they read these books. Do David Cameron, Amber Rudd, Theresa May, feel any sting of shame at all? Most probably not. And, not because I believe they are heartless psychopaths. I try hard not to judge the personal qualities of people on the news and in the media as we can’t really know these people and labelling them as such doesn’t help.
That said, I need to be clear that I am still prone to shouting at the TV, but I know I am just another madman howling at the moon. Yet, as I get older it is impossible to miss the fact that, on a regular basis, the politicians we despised have popped up again in a more human role, having sloughed off the party political skin. Michael Portillo and Ed Balls spring to mind as particularly polarising politicians who have been rehabilitated. No, I suspect Cameron, Rudd and May don’t express any regret because that is, at its heart, how most people behave. We rationalise, we dissemble, we justify and we very rarely admit to ourselves, much less anyone else, that we were mistaken.
Yet Gentleman’s account in The Windrush Betrayal is absolutely damning. The callous behaviour of the politicians, the willingness to de-humanise, is laid bare. At its toxic core, this is, obviously, a book about racism and, importantly, it demonstrates how racism can become systematised. The government machinery, reduced to its heartless efficiencies, exposes the horror of market-driven outsourcing pursuing its sightless, amoral aim. It’s a template for the despots and the malignant. The government created a hostile environment, that could do nothing else but ingrain racist processes. Even worse, they made us all complicit by getting the NHS, GP surgeries, the landlords, and the employers to do the work.
I did read Clanchy as soon as I had heard it won the Orwell Prize° and it is a wonderfully insightful book. It’s more uplifting than The Windrush Betrayal and Clanchy’s background as English teacher, novelist and poet, mean that the literary swirls through it. Which never does any harm, I suspect, when it comes to book prizes. For me, it’s not quite as urgent or as critical as The Windrush Betrayal which I would rate above it.
And, as I mentioned it at the start, I had better follow through and deliver… I could barely muster the strength to finish The Obstacle is the Way which didn’t work for me on any level. I found it superficial and unengaging. I read it shortly after finishing How to Think Like a Roman Emperor — another book following the vogue for Stoic philosophy. In HTTLARE, Robertson weaves in modern psychology and facets of CBT to the story of Marcus Aurelius. I’m happy to recommend it highly if you want to explore that niche.