Our pick of the 17 top books to read this summer

2011-10-06 12.38.58 SpainThe 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…

Caron Lindsay:

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.”

Nick Thornsby:

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.”

Joe Otten:

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.

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  • Tony Greaves 14th Jul '13 - 4:51pm

    What a tedious holiday most of these would make! I am prepared to believe that Alan Johnson’s book is worth reading thought I don’t think I will do so.

    Of the rest I would settle for Kynaston (wonderful stuff) and Mantel, though I thought that Bring Up the Bodies was curiously disappointing after the wonderful Wolf Hall.

    Tony Greaves

  • The Caro book on Lyndon Johnson is absolutely wonderful. Although I can’t really afford it I will have to buy the Kynaston because I have read the previous volumes and am unlikely to find it in a charity shop. And the three volumes of Chris Mullin’s Diaries are a salutary reminder to those of us who dislike the coalition of how awful New Labour was as well, but in addition how we must redouble our efforts to make sure that the least well off in our society are not impoverished even more by the actions of the government we are part of.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 15th Jul '13 - 11:02am

    So, Tony, what books are you packing in your suitcase for your holidays…?

  • some good old fashioned ursula Le guin and octavia Butler for me. I want to AVOID stuff that might make my blood boil if I’m going on holiday.

  • David Wilkinson 16th Jul '13 - 12:12pm

    No wonder the Lib Dems are on 13%

  • I recently enjoyed What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel.

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