The 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. I almost certainly won’t read them all, or even start some of them. But in a parallel universe, they’re all ones I would make the time to read. My LDV colleagues, Caron Lindsay, Nick Thornsby and Joe Otten, offer their own recommendations below. Why not highlight your favourite summer reading in the comments section?
The End of Politics by Douglas Carswell
I’m not sure whether I’ll like, loathe or end up feeling indifferent to this book. Carswell’s an independent-minded Tory MP, with an interesting outlook on how party politics needs to re-invent itself. At other times, though, his views are strikingly mainstream Tory.
The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford
I’m a big fan of Tim Harford’s FT columns, exploring the big topical issues in an accessible Q&A format. The book itself is now a few years’ old, originally published in 2006, but the fact that it pre-dates The Crash makes it even more interesting (to me).
An English Affair Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo by Richard Davenport-Hines
The seedy glamour of ’60s’ politics, the Kennedys’ Camelot and Astor’s Cliveden, remains compelling. It’s not the most important book on my list, but in all honesty it’s probably the one I’ll finish most readily.
This Boy: A Memoir of Childhood by Alan Johnson
A rare thing: a pre-political memoir, stopping when Alan reaches 18. Everyone I know who’s read this book raves about it.
Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-1959 by David Kynaston
This is the fifth in Kynaston’s series, charting Britain’s social and political history between 1945 and 1979. This is a people’s history, the narrative driven forward by the glimpses of real life that the author has unearthed from a vast array of sources, from official records to intimate diaries.
Capital by John Lanchester
If any author has enjoyed a good financial crisis, it’s John Lanchester: his journey into the financial world these past five years has been fascinating.
Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel
I’ll be honest: I started but failed to finish Wolf Hall, the first volume of Mantel’s fictionalised but impeccably researched account of Thomas Cromwell’s life. So vivid, so detailed, I found it lacked momentum. I’m finding the same true of its sequel. But I think it’s a book you may just have to lose yourself in for hours at a time to really enjoy. I’m hoping.
Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Vol 1: Not for Turning by Charles Moore
I loved John Campbell’s two-volume biography (here) but Charles Moore’s tome is supposed to be The Last Word, and quite brilliantly written. At 900+ pages, you may not need any other books… for the rest of the year.
The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction by Nate Silver
NB: though Silver has made his reputation through his astute modelling of the outcomes of US elections, this book isn’t actually about politics. It’s about predictions, and why we tend to be very bad at assessing them. If you’ve never heard of Bayesian theory and quite how important it is in every walk of life, this book’s a fantastic starting point.
NW by Zadie Smith
I loved White Teeth, enjoyed The Autograph Man, haven’t yet read On Beauty. Some of the reviews have complained NW is a triumph of style over plot; her books always have been, and none the worse for that: it’s the characters that shimmer which I love so much.
Bang! A History of Britain in the 1980s by Graham Stewart
I blame Maggie: her death left me feeling wistful for the decade I grew up in, and when politics still seemed so vital. Stewart is a fantastic historian (I heartily recommend his Burying Caesar: Churchill, Chamberlain And The Battle For The Tory Party) so I’m looking forward to seeing what he made of the divisive decade which concluded with the collapse of Communism.
And here are six more recommendations from…
Climbing The Bookshelves by Shirley Williams
“the things she went through, separation from her parents for 3 years and being sent to the US during the war, escaping an attempted gang rape and not feeling confident to tell anyone about it, living with two other families to share housing costs and childcare which might be the thing for now, anyway, all of this might explain some of the things she’s coming out with now.”
Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter
” lots of research on how the way we force gender roles on our girls causes harm to the whole of society.”
The Bankers’ New Clothes: : What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It by Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig
“dispels some of the myths in the debate on banking reform, while acting as an excellent primer on banking generally”
Free Lunch: Easily Digestible Economics by David Smith
“not new, but the best economics primer I know of”
The Passage to Power by Robert Caro
“Caro’s fourth book in his biography of Lyndon Johnson. Astonishingly good.”
The Righteous Mind: : Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonothan Haidt
“Challenging, but good for understanding conservatives, if you can stomach doing that.”
Which must-read books have we missed out? Let us know below…
* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.