Archives: Political writing entriesTTTT

Orwell’s Roses

Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening – George Orwell

Inspired by her encounter with the surviving roses that Orwell is said to have planted in his cottage in Hertfordshire, Rebecca Solnit explores how his involvement with plants, particularly flowers, illuminates his other commitments as a writer and antifascist, and the intertwined politics of nature and power.

Following his journey from the coal mines of England to taking up arms in the Spanish Civil War; from his prescient critique of Stalin to his analysis of the relationship between lies and authoritarianism, Solnit finds a more hopeful Orwell, whose love of nature pulses through his work and actions. And in her dialogue with the author, she makes fascinating forays into colonial legacies in the flower garden, discovers photographer Tina Modotti’s roses, reveals Stalin’s obsession with growing lemons in impossibly cold conditions, and exposes the brutal rose industry in Colombia.

A fresh reading of a towering figure of the 20th century which finds solace and solutions for the political and environmental challenges we face today, Orwell’s Roses is a remarkable reflection on pleasure, beauty, and joy as acts of resistance.”

Spike

“Did the UK government really ‘follow the science’ throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, as it claims?

As head of the Wellcome Trust, Jeremy Farrar was one of the first people in the world to hear about a mysterious new disease in China – and to learn it could readily spread between people. A member of the SAGE emergency committee, Farrar was a key figure in both the UK and the World Health Organization at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic amid great uncertainty, fast-moving situations and missed opportunities. Spike is his widely acclaimed inside story. His account casts light on the UK government’s claims to be ‘following the science’ and is informed not just by Farrar’s views but by interviews with other top scientists and political figures.”

Do Not Disturb

Do Not Disturb is a dramatic recasting of the modern history of Africa’s Great Lakes region, an area blighted by the greatest genocide of the twentieth century. This bold retelling, vividly sourced by direct testimony from key participants, tears up the traditional script.

In the old version, an idealistic group of young rebels overthrows a genocidal regime in Kigali, ushering in an era of peace and stability that makes Rwanda the donor darling of the West, winning comparisons with Switzerland and Singapore. The new version examines afresh questions which dog the recent past: Why do so many ex-rebels scoff at official explanations of who fired the missile that killed the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi? Why didn’t the mass killings end when the rebels took control? Why did those same rebels, victory secured, turn so ruthlessly on one another?

Michela Wrong uses the story of Patrick Karegeya, once Rwanda’s head of external intelligence and a quicksilver operator of supple charm, to paint the portrait of a modern African dictatorship created in the chilling likeness of Paul Kagame, the president who sanctioned his former friend’s murder.”

Shutdown

“When the news first began to trickle out of China about a new virus in December 2019, risk-averse financial markets were alert to its potential for disruption. Yet they could never have predicted the total economic collapse that would follow in COVID-19’s wake, as stock markets fell faster and harder than at any time since 1929, currencies across the world plunged, investors panicked, and even gold was sold.

In a matter of weeks, the world’s economy was brought to an abrupt halt by governments trying to contain a spiralling public health catastrophe. Flights were grounded; supply chains broken; industries from tourism to oil to hospitality collapsed overnight, leaving hundreds of millions of people unemployed. Central banks responded with unprecedented interventions, just to keep their economies on life-support. For the first time since the second world war, the entire global economic system contracted.

This book tells the story of that shutdown. We do not yet know how this story ends, or what new world we will find on the other side. In this fast-paced, compelling and at times shocking analysis, Adam Tooze surveys the wreckage, and looks at where we might be headed next.”

The Right to Sex

“How should we talk about sex? It is a thing we have and also a thing we do; a supposedly private act laden with public meaning; a personal preference shaped by outside forces; a place where pleasure and ethics can pull wildly apart.

Since #MeToo many have fixed on consent as the key framework for achieving sexual justice. Yet consent is a blunt tool. To grasp sex in all its complexity – its deep ambivalences, its relationship to gender, class, race and power – we need to move beyond ‘yes and no’, wanted and unwanted.

We need to interrogate the fraught relationships between discrimination and preference, pornography and freedom, rape and racial injustice, punishment and accountability, pleasure and power, capitalism and liberation. We need to rethink sex as a political phenomenon.

Searching, trenchant and extraordinarily original, The Right to Sex is a landmark examination of the politics and ethics of sex in this world, animated by the hope of a different one.”

Things I Have Withheld

In this astonishing collection of essays, the award-winning poet and novelist Kei Miller explores the silence in which so many important things are kept. He examines the experience of discrimination through this silence and what it means to breach it: to risk words, to risk truths. And he considers the histories our bodies inherit – the crimes that haunt them, and how meaning can shift as we move throughout the world, variously assuming privilege or victimhood.

Through letters to James Baldwin, encounters with Liam Neeson, Soca, Carnival, family secrets, love affairs, white women’s tears, questions of aesthetics and more, Miller powerfully and imaginatively recounts everyday acts of racism and prejudice.

With both the epigrammatic concision and conversational cadence of his poetry and novels, Things I Have Withheld is a great artistic achievement: a work of beauty which challenges us to interrogate what seems unsayable and why – our actions, defence mechanisms, imaginations and interactions – and those of the world around us.

Uncommon Wealth

Britain didn’t just put the empire back the way it had found it.

In Uncommon Wealth, Kojo Koram traces the tale of how after the end of the British empire an interconnected group of well-heeled British intellectuals, politicians, accountants and lawyers offshored their capital, seized assets and saddled debt in former ‘dependencies’. This enabled horrific inequality across the globe as ruthless capitalists profited and ordinary people across Britain’s former territories in colonial Africa, Asia and the Caribbean were trapped in poverty. However, the reinforcement of capitalist power across the world also ricocheted back home. Now it has left many Britons wondering where their own sovereignty and prosperity has gone…

Decolonisation was not just a trendy buzzword. It was one of the great global changes of the past hundred years, yet Britain – the protagonist in the whole, messy drama – has forgotten it was ever even there. A blistering uncovering of the scandal of Britain’s disastrous treatment of independent countries after empire, Uncommon Wealth shows the decisions of decades past are contributing to the forces that are breaking Britain today.”

My Fourth Time, We Drowned

The Western world has turned its back on refugees, fuelling one of the most devastating human rights disasters in history.

In August 2018, Sally Hayden received a Facebook message. ‘Hi sister Sally, we need your help,’ it read. ‘We are under bad condition in Libya prison. If you have time, I will tell you all the story.’ More messages followed from more refugees. From there began a staggering investigation into the migrant crisis across North Africa.

My Fourth Time, We Drowned follows the shocking experiences of refugees seeking sanctuary, but it also surveys the bigger picture: the negligence of NGOs and corruption within the United Nations; the economics of the twenty-first-century slave trade and the EU’s bankrolling of Libyan militias; the trials of people smugglers; the frustrations of aid workers; the loopholes refugees seek out and the role of social media in crowdfunding ransoms. Who was accountable for the abuse? Where were the people finding solutions? Why wasn’t it being widely reported?

David Edgerton, the Chair of Judges for The Orwell Prize for Political Writing 2022, commented:

The Dawn of Everything

For generations, our remote ancestors have been cast as primitive and childlike – either free and equal, or thuggish and warlike. Civilization, we are told, could be achieved only by sacrificing those original freedoms or, alternatively, by taming our baser instincts. David Graeber and David Wengrow show how such theories first emerged in the eighteenth century as a reaction to indigenous critiques of European society, and why they are wrong. In doing so, they overturn our view of human history, including the origins of farming, property, cities, democracy, slavery and civilization itself.

Drawing on path-breaking research in archaeology and anthropology, the authors show how history becomes a far more interesting place once we begin to see what’s really there. If humans did not spend 95 per cent of their evolutionary past in tiny bands of hunter-gatherers, what were they doing all that time? If agriculture, and cities, did not mean a plunge into hierarchy and domination, then what kinds of social and economic organization did they lead to? The answers are often unexpected, and suggest that the course of history may be less set in stone, and more full of playful possibilities than we tend to assume.

The Dawn of Everything fundamentally transforms our understanding of the human past and offers a path toward imagining new forms of freedom, new ways of organizing society. This is a monumental book of formidable intellectual range, animated by curiosity, moral vision and faith in the power of direct action.

Behind Closed Doors

“Meet the mother whose children were taken away, and the father who fought for his son. Listen to the radical social worker, the judge, the lawyer. See inside the homes of foster carers, adoptive parents and children in care. Because behind closed doors, a scandal is ongoing.

We now remove more children from their parents than ever before, more than any other western country. Not because of a rise in physical or sexual abuse, but because of complex factors that are overlooked and misunderstood.

Children’s Care is a system where fathers are ignored, and mothers are punished for experiencing abuse. Rife with prejudices about race, ableism and class, determined by a postcode lottery. Blind to poverty and its effects on family life. And, at its very worst, an exercise in social engineering that can never replace parental love.

This is not a soft issue. Not a ‘women and children’ problem. It is a prism through which we can understand the deepest issues at play in politics, economics and society today, and it is happening behind closed doors.

Because of legal restrictions against reporting in family courts, the uneasy work of social care and the shame poured on parents, these problems remain out of our sight. They are the subject of horror headlines or stale statistics. But family life is at the heart of who we are as people, and it is they who can help us understand.

From North to South, rich and poor, Black and white, these are the people who know, first-hand, what is going wrong – and how we can fix it.

These are their stories.”

Why the Germans Do it Better: Notes from a Grown-Up Country

Journalist John Kampfner offers an illuminating and gripping personal take on Germany since the first world war. Its struggle to transform itself from a pariah state has turned it into a nation that represents the best hope in contemporary Europe for the future of liberal democracy. Described by one reader as “a love letter to Angela Merkel,” this is an engagingly pacey and reflective analysis that highlights where Germany excels – and where others might take heed – while also recognising areas where the country falls short of its own high ideals.”

The Interest: How the British Establishment Resisted the Abolition of Slavery

The Interest is exactly the kind of history book Britain needs now, putting into sober context the back-slapping idea Britain did everything it could to wipe out slavery in the nineteenth century. Exhaustive and unflinching, Taylor’s book shows that, in reality, many British institutions and individuals desperately tried to keep it alive, motivated by greed.”

English Pastoral: An Inheritance

Cumbrian shepherd James Rebanks’s memoir recalls his family’s farming days, from his grandfather and father, to his own young children, who are already learning his trade. Vividly and movingly written, with sometimes painful honesty, this is part tribute to his forebears and a declaration of love for the English countryside. Equally, it is an impassioned plea for a return to more sustainable and environmentally friendly ways of farming, that allow livestock, the land and all its wildlife to thrive even as they support us.”

Our Bodies, Their Battlefield: What War Does to Women

In 1919, rape was declared an international war crime, yet since then the International Criminal Court has prosecuted no-one. In a harrowing but clear-eyed account, journalist Christina Lamb reveals the extent to which women and girls have been, and continue to be, raped as a deliberate tactic of war. From the killing fields of Rwanda and Kosovo, to war-time Berlin and Southeast Asia, to 1970s Argentina and present-day Nigeria, Lamb speaks to survivors, witnesses, and those who hold the memory of unspeakable atrocities. These crimes have never before been recorded and compiled in this way, making this a landmark work.”

The Hitler Conspiracies: The Third Reich and the Paranoid Imagination

Richard Evans’ comprehensive investigations into the most powerful and persistent conspiracy theories surrounding the Third Reich have striking resonance in the twenty-first century. His book serves as a reminder of how alert we must be for those who seek to cherry-pick historical details to suit their ideologies, particularly on the right, but also on the left.”

Labours of Love: The Crisis of Care

A fascinating, deeply compassionate book that, while telling the stories of those charged with caring in its myriad forms, serves too as a pungent critique of the consumerism and policies of austerity that have heled engender our current crisis of care.”