Amelia Gentleman writes on social affairs for The Guardian. She was nominated for the Martha Gellhorn journalism award in 2010 as well as the Orwell Prize. Previously she was New Delhi correspondent for the International Herald Tribune. She won first prize for feature and comment writing in the 2007 Amnesty International Hong Kong Human Rights Press Awards. She won the Ramnath Goenka prize 2007 for best foreign correspondent covering India. Formerly Paris and Moscow correspondent for The Guardian.
Jonathan Foreman is an Anglo-American journalist and film critic. He was film critic for the New York Post (before being sent to cover the Iraq War in 2003) and has written for, among many, The New Yorker, The National Review, and the Daily Telegraph. He is Standpoint‘s Writer-at-Large.
Ian Cobain is a senior reporter for The Guardian. He won the Paul Foot Award for Campaigning Journalism 2009 for his investigation into British involvement in torture.
John Arlidge is a freelance journalist who writes for the Sunday Times in London and for Conde Nast in New York.
A gripping account of both an individual caught on the horns of an excruciating moral dilemma and a continent at a turning point.
When Michela Wrong’s Kenyan friend John Githongo appeared one cold February morning on the doorstep of her London flat, carrying a small mountain of luggage, it was clear something had gone very wrong in a country regarded until then as one of Africa’s few budding success stories.Two years earlier, in the wave of euphoria that followed the election defeat of long-serving President Daniel arap Moi, John had been appointed Kenya’s new anti-corruption czar. In choosing this giant of a man, respected as a longstanding anti-corruption crusader, the new government was signalling that it was set on ending the practices that had made Kenya an international by-word for sleaze.Now John was on the run, having realised that the new administration, far from breaking with the past, was using near-identical techniques to pilfer public funds. John’s tale, which has all the elements of a political thriller, is the story of how a brave man came to make a lonely decision with huge ramifications. But his story transcends the personal, touching as it does on the cultural, historical and social themes that lie at the heart of the continent’s continuing crisis.
Tracking this story of an African whistleblower, Michela Wrong seeks answers to the questions that have puzzled outsiders for decades. What is it about African society that makes corruption so hard to eradicate, so sweeping in its scope, so destructive in its impact? Why have so many African presidents found it so easy to reduce all political discussion to the self-serving calculation of which tribe gets to ‘eat’? And at what stage will Africans start placing the wider interests of their nation ahead of the narrow interests of their tribe?
Individual liberty will be the defining issue of the twenty-first century. With fear of terrorism, crime and social chaos putting our ideals of it into retreat in recent years, how do we, as individuals, negotiate the maximum amount of freedom in such a complex world? How can we resist the growth of intrusive authoritarianism without exposing ourselves to those risks?
History provides a guide to answering these questions. In What Price Liberty? Ben Wilson travels through four centuries of British, American and European history, elaborating not just how civil liberties were constructed in the past, but how they were continually re-thought – and re-fought – in response to modernity. The last chapters put into context the controversies of the last decade or so – the threat of terrorism and the rise of the database nation. If liberty is to survive now it must, like it did in the past, adapt to new circumstances. But to do this we need to agree about the value we place on it.
Ben Wilson is the author of The Laughter of Triumph: William Hone and the Fight for the Free Press, Decency and Disorder: The Age of Cant 1789-1837 and has been cited by the Irish Times as ‘one of the rising stars of historical writing’.
It is common knowledge that in rich societies the poor have shorter lives and suffer more from almost every social problem. Large inequalities of income are likewise often regarded as divisive and corrosive.
This groundbreaking book, based on thirty years’ research, goes an important stage beyond either of these ideas: it demonstrates that more unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them – the well-off as well as the poor. The remarkable data the book lays out and the measures it uses are like a spirit level which we can hold up to compare the conditions of different societies. The differences revealed, even between rich market democracies, are striking. Almost every modern social and environmental problem – ill-health, lack of community life, violence, drugs, obesity, mental illness, long working hours, big prison populations – is more likely to occur in a less equal society.
The Spirit Level goes to the heart of the apparent contrast between the material success and social failings of many modern societies, but it does not simply provide a key to diagnosing our ills. It tells us how to shift the balance from self-interested ‘consumerism’ to a friendlier and more collaborative society. It shows a way out of the social and environmental problems which beset us and opens up a major new approach to improving the real quality of life, not just for the poor but for everyone. It is, in its conclusion, an optimistic book, which should revitalise politics and provide a new way of thinking about how we organise human communities.
Smashing through the Arctic Ocean with the crew of a Russian icebreaker, herding reindeer across the tundra with Lapps and shadowing the Trans-Alaskan pipeline with truckers, Sara Wheeler uncovers the beautiful, brutal reality of the Arctic.
When she puts up her tent on the top of the Greenland ice sheet, she experiences climate change at the sharp (and cold) end. The Magnetic North is a spicy confection of history, science and reflection in which Wheeler meditates on the role of the Arctic in public and in private. The fragmented circumpolar lands were a repository of myth long before the scientists and oilmen showed up (not to mention desperado explorers who ate their own shoes), and the hinterland north of the tree line has fed literary imaginations from Dickens to Chekhov. The Magnetic North tells of all this, plus gulag ghosts, old and new Russia, colliding cultures and bioaccumulated toxins in polar bears.
The unowned homogeneity of the Antarctic that enchanted the youthful author in the bestselling Terra Incognita finally finds a counterpart in the embattled polar lands at the other end of the earth. The complex and ambiguous Arctic, Wheeler writes, ‘perfectly captures the elegiac melancholy of middle age.’
Nigeria is a country where petroleum prices and polio are both booming, where small villages challenge giant oil companies, and scooter drivers run their own mini-state. The oil-rich Delta region at the heart of it all is, as Peel shows us, a troublespot as hot as the local pepper soup.
Through a host of characters, from the prostitutes of Port Harcourt to the Area Boys of Lagos, from the militants in their swamp forest hide-outs to the oil company executives in London, Peel tells the story of this extraordinary country, which grows ever more wild and lawless by the day as its crude oil pumps through our cities.
Between 1995 and 2007, the Republic of Ireland was the worldwide model of successful adaptation to economic globalisation. The success story was phenomenal: a doubling of the workforce; a massive growth in exports; a GDP that was substantially above the EU average. Ireland became the world’s largest exporter of software and manufactured the world’s supply of Viagra.
The factors that made it possible for Ireland to become prosperous – progressive social change, solidarity, major State investment in education, and the critical role of the EU – were largely ignored as too sharply at odds with the dominant free market ideology. The Irish boom was shaped instead into a simplistic moral tale of the little country that discovered low taxes and small government and prospered as a result. There were two big problems. Ireland acquired a hyper-capitalist economy on the back of a corrupt, dysfunctional political system. And the business class saw the influx of wealth as an opportunity to make money out of property. Aided by corrupt planning and funded by poorly regulated banks, an unsustainable property-led boom gradually consumed the Celtic Tiger.
This is, as Fintan O’Toole writes, ‘a good old-fashioned jeremiad about the bastards who got us into this mess’. It is an entertaining, passionate story of one of the most ignominious economic reversals in recent history.
Vesna Maric left Bosnia the beginning of the war, at the age of sixteen, on a convoy of coaches carrying refugees to Penrith in the north of England. Bluebird is Vesna’s funny, vivid and immensely readable memoir of the experience, from the beginning of the war through to her eventual return to Bosnia years later.
Unlike many books on Bosnia, and refugees in general, Bluebird is never self-pitying, never grave. It’s refreshing to read an account of these experiences filtered through the eyes of a teenager with attitude – written with brilliant comic timing and a great storytelling gift.
On the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the Rushdie fatwa, From Fatwa to Jihad tells, for the first time, the full story of this defining episode and explores its repercussions and resonance through to contemporary debates about Islam, terrorism, free speech and Western values.
When a thousand Muslim protestors paraded through a British town with a copy of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses before ceremoniously burning the book, it was an act motivated by anger and offence as well as one calculated to shock and offend. It did more than that: the image of the burning book became an icon of the Muslim anger. Sent around the globe by photographers and TV cameras, the image announced a new world. Twenty years later, the questions raised by the Rushdie affair – Islam’s relationship to the West, the meaning of multiculturalism, the limits of tolerance in a liberal society – have become some of the defining issues of our time.
Taking the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa as his starting point, Kenan Malik examines how radical Islamhas gained hold in Muslim communities,how multiculturalism contributed to this, and how the Rushdie affair transformed the very nature of the debate on tolerance and free speech.
Why do so many people around the world appear willing to give up freedoms in return for security or prosperity? For the past 60 years it had been assumed that capitalism was intertwined with liberal democracy. But what happens when both are undermined?
Governments globally have drawn up a new pact with their peoples: repression is confined to the few who openly challenge the status quo. The rest of the population can enjoy freedom to live more or less as they wish, and to make and spend their money. This is the difference between public freedoms and private freedoms. We choose different freedoms we are prepared to cede. We all do it.
Freedom for Sale will set a new agenda. It will crucially ask why so many intelligent and ambitious citizens around the world seemed prepared to sacrifice freedom of the press and freedom of speech in their quest for wealth.
Friedrich Engels is one of the most attractive and contradictory figures of the nineteenth century. Born to a prosperous mercantile family in west Germany, he spent his career working in the Manchester cotton industry, riding to the Cheshire hounds, and enjoying the comfortable, middle-class life of a Victorian gentleman.
Yet Engels was also the co-founder of international communism – the philosophy which in the 20th century came to control one third of the human race. He was the co-author of The Communist Manifesto, a ruthless party tactician, and the man who sacrificed his best years so Karl Marx could write Das Kapital. Tristram Hunt relishes the diversity and exuberance of Engels’s era: how one of the great bon viveurs of Victorian Britain reconciled his raucous personal life with this uncompromising political philosophy.
As Barack Obama seeks to chart a new course in American foreign policy, one of the English language media’s most respected authorities on the Arab world, David Gardner, addresses the controversial but urgent question: why is the Middle East so dysfunctional? And what can be done about it? Clear-sighted, never flinching from unpalatable truths, Gardner draws on his acute grasp of history and decades of experience covering the region to look at why conflict, despotism and sectarianism continue to flourish in the Arab world whilst as they decline everywhere else. The ‘Middle East exception’ is, he argues, a product of the West’s own making. By supporting tyrants, fueling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and demonizing democratically elected Islamist parties, the West in general but specifically America has incubated a region inherently resistant to economic and political reform, and suppurating with resentment. As the Obama administration plans its Middle East policy, Gardner argues for nothing less than a total reappraisal of what realpolitik means. The traditional shibboleths: support Israel, mollify the Saudis, suppress Islamism, simply will not do in the 21st century, he argues.
Both an introduction to the modern Middle East and an impassioned polemic, Last Chance is essential reading for anyone concerned with the future of the region. ‘This book should be in the hand baggage of every one of President Obama’s Middle East negotiators’ – Jon Snow, Channel 4.
A woman in a township in Zimbabwe is surrounded by throngs of dusty children but longs for a baby of her own; an old man finds that his job making coffins at No Matter Funeral Parlour brings unexpected riches; a politician’s widow quietly stands by at her husband’s funeral watching his colleagues bury an empty coffin. Petina Gappah’s characters may have ordinary hopes and dreams, but they are living in a world where a loaf of bread costs half a million dollars; a country expected to have only four presidents in a hundred years; and a place where people know exactly what will be printed in the one and only daily newspaper because the news is always, always good.
In her spirited debut collection, Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah brings us the resilience and inventiveness of the people who struggle to live under Robert Mugabe’s regime. Despite their circumstances, the characters in An Elegy for Easterly are more than victims; they are all too human, with as much capacity to inflict pain as they have to endure it. They struggle with larger issues common to all people everywhere: failed promises, unfulfilled dreams and the yearning for something to anchor them to life.
The Omagh bomb was the worst massacre in Northern Ireland’s modern history – yet from it came a most extraordinary tale of human resilience, as families of murdered people channelled their grief into action. As the bombers congratulated themselves on escaping justice, the families determined on a civil case against them and their organisation. No one had ever done this before.
It was a very domestic atrocity. In Omagh, on Saturday, 15 August 1998, a massive bomb placed by the so-called Real IRA murdered unborn twins, six men, twelve women and eleven children, of whom two were Spanish and one English: the dead included Protestants, Catholics and a Mormon.
Although the police believed they knew the identities of the killers, there was insufficient evidence to bring charges. Taking as their motto ‘For evil to triumph, all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing’, families of ten of the dead decided to pursue these men through the civil courts, where the burden of proof is lower. This is the remarkable account of how these families – who had no knowledge of the law and no money, and included a cleaner, a mechanic and a bookie – became internationally recognised, formidable campaigners and surmounted countless daunting obstacles to win a famous victory.
How these mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers turned themselves into the scourge of the Real IRA is not just an astonishing story in itself. It is also a universal story of David challenging Goliath, as well as an inspiration to ordinary people anywhere devastated by terrorism.
What is the meaning of love and death in a remote, forgotten, impossibly conflicted part of the world? In Rebel Land the acclaimed author and journalist Christopher de Bellaigue journeys to Turkey’s inhospitable eastern provinces to find out. Immersing himself in the achingly beautiful district of Varto, a place left behind in Turkey’s march to modernity, medieval in its attachment to race and religious sect, he explores the violent history of conflict between Turks, Kurds and Armenians, and the maelstrom, of emotion and memories, that defines its inhabitants even today.
The result is a compellingly personal account of one man’s search into the past, as de Bellaigue, mistrusted by all he meets, and particularly by the secret agents of the State, applies his investigative flair and fluent Turkish to unlock jealously-guarded taboos and hold humanity’s excesses up to the light of a very modern sensibility.