Submitted blogposts published at Too Much to Say For Myself, Comment is Free and Liberal Conspiracy.
I’m Cath Elliott, a freelance writer, blogger and researcher, an unapologetic feminist, and a trade union activist. This is my personal blog.
Former editor of The Specator magazine and the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Dominic Lawson who is noted for his robust and iconoclastic opinions on political and social issue, has been writing a column for The Independent since 2006. He also writes for the Sunday Times.
Rachel Shabi was born in Israel to Iraqi Jews and grew up in England. A journalist, she has written for a variety of national and international newspapers such as The Guardian, the Sunday Times, the New Statesman, the Independent on Sunday, Al-Jazeera English online, the National, Jane’s and Salon.com. For the past five years she has been based in Israel and reporting on the Middle East conflict. Her book, Not the Enemy: Israel’s Jews from Arab Lands, was published by Yale University Press in 2009.
264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them larger than a matchbox: potter Edmund de Waal was entranced when he first encountered the collection in the Tokyo apartment of his great uncle Iggie. Later, when Edmund inherited the ‘netsuke’, they unlocked a story far larger than he could ever have imagined…
The Ephrussis came from Odessa, and at one time were the largest grain exporters in the world; in the 1870s, Charles Ephrussi was part of a wealthy new generation settling in Paris. Charles’s passion was collecting; the netsuke, bought when Japanese objets were all the rage in the salons, were sent as a wedding present to his banker cousin in Vienna.
Later, three children – including a young Ignace – would play with the netsuke as history reverberated around them. The Anschluss and Second World War swept the Ephrussis to the brink of oblivion. Almost all that remained of their vast empire was the netsuke collection, dramatically saved by a loyal maid when their huge Viennese palace was occupied.
In this stunningly original memoir, Edmund de Waal travels the world to stand in the great buildings his forebears once inhabited. He traces the network of a remarkable family against the backdrop of a tumultuous century and tells the story of a unique collection.
The Republic of Ireland, which declared itself in 1949, allowed the Catholic Church to dominate its civil society and education system. Investment by American and European companies, and a welcoming tax regime, created the ‘Celtic Tiger’ of the 1990s. That brief burst of good fortune was destroyed by a corrupt political class which encouraged a wild property boom, leaving the country almost bankrupt.
What Ireland needs now is a programme of real change. It needs to become a fully modern republic in fact as well as name. This disastrous economic collapse also allows us to think through the kind of multiculturalism that Ireland needs, and to build institutions that can accommodate the sudden influx of migrants who have come to Ireland in the past 15 years. The State should take over the entire education system, for which it pays already, and make it fit for the 21st century. The political system is dysfunctional and is one of the main causes of the debacle we have just experienced. Ireland needs constitutional reform.
Politicians have been let get away with murder, and there is a fatalistic sense that nothing can change. The country needs to encourage participation in, and oversight and knowledge of politics, to make people feel that they have a right to challenge the old party machines and to make a difference. It is their country, after all.
Great-grandson of a crofter and son-in-law of a Duke, Harold Macmillan (1894–1986) was both complex as a person and influential as a politician. Marked by terrible experiences in the trenches in the First World War and by his work as an MP during the Depression, he was a Tory rebel – an outspoken backbencher, opposing the economic policies of the 1930s and the appeasement policies of his own government. Churchill gave him responsibility during the Second World War with executive command as ‘Viceroy of the Mediterrranean’. After the War, in opposition, Macmillan overhauled the Conservatives on progressive and radical lines; after 1951, in government, he served as Minister of Housing, Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. He became Prime Minister after the Suez Crisis, and between 1957 and 1963 presided over Great Britain’s transition from the age of austerity to that of affluence. He also proved himself one of the great publishers of his generation.
The culmination of 35 years of research by one of our most respected historians, Supermac gives an unforgettable portrait of a turbulent age. It is a magisterial biography destined to become a classic.
‘I once believed that we only had to put in place the conditions for equality for the remnants of old-fashioned sexism in our culture to wither away. I am ready to admit that I was wrong.’
Empowerment, liberation, choice. Once the watchwords of feminism, these terms have now been co-opted by a society that sells women an airbrushed, highly sexualised and increasingly narrow vision of femininity. While the opportunities available to women may have expanded, the ambitions of many young girls are in reality limited by a culture that sees women’s sexual allure as their only passport to success. At the same time we are encouraged to believe that the inequality we observe all around us is born of innate biological differences rather than social factors.
Drawing on a wealth of research and personal interviews, Natasha Walter, author of the groundbreaking The New Feminism and one of Britain’s most incisive cultural commentators, gives us a straight-talking, passionate and important book that makes us look afresh at women and girls, at sexism and femininity, today.
Why does the West rule? Eminent Stanford polymath Ian Morris answers this provocative question, drawing uniquely on 20,000 years of history and archaeology, and the methods of social science. Why did British boats shoot their way up the Yangzi in 1842, rather than Chinese ones up the Thames? Why do Easterners use English more than Europeans speak in Mandarin or Japanese? To put it bluntly, why does the West rule?
There are two schools of thought: the ‘Long-Term Lock In’ theory, suggesting some sort of inevitability, and the ‘Short-Term Accident’ theory. But both approaches have misunderstood the shape of history.
Ian Morris presents a startling new theory. He explains with flair and authority why the paths of development differed in the East and West and – analysing a vicious twist in trajectories just ahead of us – predicts when the West’s lead will come to an end.
For many years Sierra Leone and Liberia have been too dangerous to travel through, bedevilled by a uniquely brutal form of violence from which sprang many of Africa’s cruellest contemporary icons – child soldiers, prisoner mutilation, blood diamonds. With their wars officially over, Tim Butcher sets out on a journey across both countries, trekking for 350 miles through remote rainforest and malarial swamps. Just as he followed H M Stanley through the Congo – a journey described in his bestseller Blood River – this time he pursues a trail blazed by Graham Greene in 1935 and immortalised in the travel classic Journey Without Maps. Greene took 26 bearers, a case of scotch, and hammocks in which he and his cousin Barbara were carried. Tim walks every blistering inch to gain an extraordinary ground-level view of a troubled and overlooked region.
As a journalist in Africa, Tim came to know both countries well although the wars made trips to the jungle hinterland far too risky. This is where he now heads, exploring how rebel groups thrived in the bush for so long and whether the devil of war has truly been chased away. He encounters other ‘devils’, masked figures guarding the spiritual secrets of jungle communities. Some are no more threatening than schoolmasters but others are much more sinister, relying on ritual cannibalism as a source of their magical power. Tim encounters these devils on an epic journey that demands courage, doggedness and good fortune.
Chasing the Devil is a dramatic travel book touching on one of the most fraught parts of the globe at a unique moment in its history. Weaving history and anthropology with personal narrative – as well as new discoveries about Greene – it is as exciting as it is enlightening.
For Zaiba Malik, growing up in Bradford in the ‘70s and ‘80s certainly has its moments – staying up all night during Ramadan with her father; watching mad Mr Aziz searching for his goat during Eid; dancing along to Top of the Pops (so long as no-one’s watching). And, of course, there’s her mother – whether she’s writing another ingratiating letter to the Queen or repeatedly referring to Tom Jones as ‘Thumb Jone’.
But Zaiba’s story is also one of anxiety and seemingly irreconcilable opposites. Growing up she is constantly torn between two identities: ‘British’ and ‘Muslim’. Alienated at school and confused at home, the racism she encounters as a child mirrors the horrors she experiences at the hands of Bangladeshi interrogators
as a journalist years later.
We Are A Muslim, Please is a stirring and enchanting memoir. We see, through Zaiba’s childhood eyes, the poignancy of growing up in a world whose prejudices, contradictions and ambiguities are at once distressing and utterly captivating.
Over the last thirty years, Christopher Hitchens has established himself as one of the world’s most influential public intellectuals. His originality, bravery, range, and wit made him first a leading iconoclast of the political left and then, later in his career, a formidable advocate of secular liberalism. When the Twin Towers were attacked in September 2001, Hitchens was re-energised again, quickly emerging as one of the fiercest and most influential advocates of war on Iraq.
In this long-awaited and candid memoir, Hitchens re-traces the footsteps of his life to date, from his childhood in Portsmouth, with his adoring, tragic mother and reserved Naval officer father; to his life in Washington DC, the base from which from he would launch fierce attacks on tyranny of all kinds. Along the way, he recalls the girls, boys and booze; the friendships and the feuds; the grand struggles and lost causes; and the mistakes and misgivings that have characterised his life.
Hitch-22 is, by turns, moving and funny, charming and infuriating, enraging and inspiring. It is an indispensable companion to the life and thought of our pre-eminent political writer.
Christopher Hitchens died on 15 December 2011.
In 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism the award-winning Ha-Joon Chang dispels the myths and prejudices that have come to dominate our understanding of how the world works. He succeeds in both setting the historical record straight (‘the washing machine has changed the world more than the internet’; ‘the US does not have the highest living standard in the world’; ‘people in poor countries are more entrepreneurial than people in rich countries’) and persuading us of the consequences of his analysis (‘making rich people richer doesn’t make the rest of us richer’; ‘companies should not be run in the interest of their owners’; ‘financial markets need to become less, not more, efficient’).
As Chang shows above all else, all economic choices are political ones, and it is time we started to be honest about them.
Leningrad, 1952. Andrei, a young hospital doctor, and Anna, a nursery school teacher, are forging a life together in the postwar, postsiege wreckage. But their happiness is precarious, like that of millions of Russians who must avoid the claws of Stalin’s merciless Ministry of State Security. So when Andrei is asked to treat the seriously ill child of a senior secret police officer, he and Anna are fearful. Trapped in an impossible, maybe unwinnable game, can they avoid the whispers and watchful eyes of those who will say or do anything to save themselves?
The Betrayal is a powerful and touching novel of ordinary people in the grip of a terrible and sinister regime, and a moving portrait of a love that will not be extinguished.
The definitive account of New Labour’s rise and fall.
On 11 May 2010 Gordon Brown resigned as Prime Minister; it marked the end of thirteen dramatic years of Labour government. When he finally released his grip on power, many questions remained about the most intriguing and complex political figure of modern times and co-architect of New Labour. Leading commentator Steve Richards watched every step of the stormy political journey from 1992, when Brown became shadow chancellor, to the day he left Number Ten, and narrates it here for the first time. Steve Richards has gained access to all levels of Westminster to explain this complex party and its leadership, reflecting on the outcome of the 2010 general election and what the fall of New Labour means for our nation’s political future.
Once upon a time in the Soviet Union…
Strange as it may seem, the grey, oppressive USSR was founded on a fairytale. It was built on the 20th-century magic called ‘the planned economy’, which was going to gush forth an abundance of good things that the lands of capitalism could never match. And just for a little while, in the heady years of the late 1950s, the magic seemed to be working.
Red Plenty is about that moment in history, and how it came, and how it went away; about the brief era when, under the rash leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union looked forward to a future of rich communists and envious capitalists, when Moscow would out-glitter Manhattan, and every Lada would be better engineered than a Porsche. It’s about the scientists who did their genuinely brilliant best to make the dream come true, to give the tyranny its happy ending. It’s history, it’s fiction. It’s a comedy of ideas, and a novel about the cost of ideas.
By the award-winning (and famously unpredictable) author of The Child That Books Built and Backroom Boys, Red Plenty is as ambitious as Sputnik, as uncompromising as an Aeroflot flight attendant – and as different from what you were expecting as a glass of Soviet champagne.
For much of the world, Iran’s 2009 summer of upheaval was an epic piece of theatre distantly observed. As citizens took to the streets in their millions to protest a stolen election and the regime that made it possible, and later, in smaller numbers, did battle with the shock troops of the Islamic Republic, so the country became effectively off limits for the world’s media. This dramatic confrontation – and the deep divisions that opened among Iran’s rulers as a result – have yet to be convincingly described for a Western audience.
Afsaneh Moqadam observed and took part in the momentous events of that summer. Here, through the eyes of Mohsen, one of Tehran’s young, courageous protesters, Moqadam tells the story of these historic months, from the mass marches that greeted the disputed election results to their brutal suppression by the hated Basij militia – and a dark aftermath of imprisonment, torture and a show trial worthy of Stalinist Russia.
The result is an inspiring account of a confrontation that has signalled the fragility of the Islamic Republic and given pause to those Western leaders, notably President Barack Obama, who must grapple diplomatically with what may become the world’s next nuclear power. Above all, Death to the Dictator! is testament to the resilience of the human spirit, and its ability to strike fear in the hearts of despots.