Reviews

11 December 2020 Milan Rai

Things seemed quiet on the Iran front for a few months, but they might be about to heat up.

US president Donald Trump tweeted on 14 September: ‘Any attack by Iran, in any form, against the United States will be met with an attack on Iran that will be 1,000 times greater in magnitude!’

Whatever happens in the next few days, Iran and the US seem still to be on course for more confrontation.... Here’s a round-up review of books about Iran.

If you want an activist-friendly, easy-to-read backgrounder that will give you a…

11 December 2020 Fiorella Lecoutteux

Penguin, 2019; 416pp; £10.99

This book is the result of a five-month journey Johny Pitts made through Europe investigating the concept of ‘Afropean’ – that is, both African and European – culture. Travelling with a backpack, notebook and camera, Pitts followed in the steps of Caryl Phillips’s 1987 travelogue, The European Tribe, which effectively reversed the black gaze onto white Europeans.

Here, Pitts flips the concept on its head, specifically investigating black Europe in the 21st century. Each chapter focuses on a stopover: Sheffield, Paris,…

11 December 2020 Henrietta Cullinan

Verso, 2019; 272pp; £12.99

The UK immigration debate, an important issue in the Brexit referendum and recent elections, has distinctly altered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Public opinion now realises the huge debt owed to migrant workers keeping us safe, from doctors to bus drivers and shop assistants. In one recent poll, 62 percent of people supported offering automatic British citizenship to care workers and roughly half supported the same offer for supermarket workers, agricultural workers and delivery drivers.

In this book, academic Maya Goodfellow…

11 December 2020 Ian Sinclair

Bloomsbury, 2020; 463pp; £20

The basic argument of this book is very simple. Contrary to the ‘persistent myth that by their very nature humans are selfish’, Dutch author Rutger Bregman argues that ‘most people, deep down, are pretty decent.’

The assumption of human selfishness underpins huge portions of mainstream political and economic thinking, including the influential veneer theory – ‘the notion that civilisation is nothing more than a thin veneer that will crack at the merest provocation’. Bregman believes the opposite to be true: ‘It’s when crisis hits……

9 December 2020 Gabriel Carlyle

Verso, 2019; 368pp; £14.99 / National Film Board of Canada, 2018; 1h 47m; $12.99 from www.tinyurl.com/peacenews3412

Is the pursuit of equality essential to democracy or its mortal enemy? And if democracies are governed (as the preamble to the United States constitution suggests) by ‘we the people’, who gets to be part of that ‘we’? Would choosing our politicians by lot (as happened in Ancient Greece) actually be more democratic than voting?

These are just a few of the questions tackled by the activist and film-maker Astra Taylor in her latest book: ‘an invitation to think about the word democracy from various angles, looking back through…

9 December 2020 Ian Sinclair

OR Books, 2020; 324pp; £18

Currently writing for the Independent and the London Review of Books, Patrick Cockburn is one of the most experienced foreign correspondents working in the Middle East today.

His latest book is largely made up of short-form reportage based on writings and diary entries at the time of the events being covered, alongside some contextualising retrospective explanation.

Covering the first term of the Trump administration, which Cockburn argues has been populated by an unusually high number of dangerous people,…

9 December 2020 Erica Smith

Myriad, 2019; 320pp; £17.99

This chunky 320-page graphic memoir is an absolute treasure trove of LGBTQ+ history.

Kate Charlesworth was born in 1950 and her autobiography reminds us how much has changed over the last seven decades. If anyone is looking for an introduction to queer history, this is the perfect place to start.

The artwork throughout the book is totally engaging. Charlesworth varies her drawing style to suit each ‘chapter’ of her life story and the different graphic techniques convey both the eras she describes and their associated moods.…

8 December 2020 Arkady Johns

Dissent Games, 2019; £29 plus p&p. www.disarmthebase.com; dissentgames [at] gmail.com

From the household copy of Risk to the paintable figurines of Warhammer to the eternal Chess, war is a fixture of many boardgame genres. Why then should it be so surprising when a game designer subverts the expected formula of war games: lots of little men being pushed around a board and then falling over?

Jessica Metheringham’s Disarm The Base does just this.

The goal of the game is not to kill people but to disarm warplanes that will be used against civilians (PN readers may recognise the…

8 December 2020 Henrietta Cullinan

Housesparrow Press, 2019; 156pp; £12. https://www.housesparrowpress.com

Over a third of women in the world suffer physical or sexual abuse at some point in their lives, writes one of the contributors to this book.

For some, the resulting trauma leads to homelessness. While society reaches for easy narratives of deprivation and suffering, of the deserving and undeserving poor, the many circumstances that might lead a woman to homelessness are often ignored. These complex – often contradictory – attitudes are the subject of this book.

Firstly, this is an artist’s book, in which the artist Bekki…

8 December 2020 Emily Johns

Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE. Tues — Sun until 8 March. Free.

Play Well is a wonderful, joyful, mind-prodding exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in Central London on the importance of play in child development, in mental healthiness and emotional resilience.

It reaches from Rousseau’s treatise on education to computer gaming. The pedagogies of play shaped Paul Klee’s art, Buckminster Fuller’s design, the Bauhaus movement and Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and from town planning to identity politics toys and psychotherapy.

Above all, through the lens of this innate instinct…

19 November 2020 Pascal Ansell

Verso, 2019; 272pp; £16.99

‘The B Word’. On a recent trip back to the UK from my adopted home of Portugal I was warned-off from using it. For Brexit has become a site of psychic trauma that forces its sufferers into what James Meek terms ‘a horribly demoralising reconfiguration of their sense of themselves.’

It has revealed a side to England that was always there - and that left liberals didn’t listen hard enough to detect. Something that was allowed to happen, more as a failure of the left than a victory of the right.

Brexit's convoluted course across…

18 November 2020 Fiorella Lecoutteux

PM Press, 2018; 128pp; £11.99

The physician and award-winning writer Michael Blumlein, started his career as a medical researcher in San Francisco. Published in 1988, his first science fiction novel, The Movement of Mountains, set the tone for his subsequent work: short stories, essays and novels merging science fiction, fantasy and horror and featuring his own signature perspective on the human species. His stories are imbued with a deep sense of social justice and individual freedom - as well as a good dose of humour.

This collection gives us a…

28 September 2020 Gabriel Carlyle

Granta, 2019; 192pp; £12.99

In the afterword to this, her latest collection of essays, Rebecca Solnit describes her book as ‘in a sense, transcripts of my side of some conversations with the society around me as it undergoes tumultuous changes, with the changemakers winning some remarkable battles against the forces trying to protect the most malevolent parts of the status quo as it crumbles away’. These include both ‘seismic activity in feminism, racial justice, climate action’ (among other movements) and ‘changing the public landscape right down to the street names…

1 June 2020 Gabriel Carlyle

Houghton Mifflin, 2020; 292pp; £30 

Though their names would barely be recognised today, for two decades few months would pass when Rose Pastor Stokes and her husband Graham did not appear in the newspapers. Indeed, according to one newspaper clipping service, for several years Rose’s name ‘was mentioned more often in the press than that of any other woman in the United States’.

The reasons for her (and their) fame are not hard to fathom. A poor Russian immigrant to the US, in 1905, at the age of 26, Rose married a member of one of the country’s richest families – the…

1 June 2020 Penny Stone

No Masters, 2020; 49 mins; £16.75 inc p&p, available at commonerschoir.com

Describing itself as a ‘wondering-about-the-state-of-the-nation album’, this CD does more than just wonder.

Untied Kingdom poses questions to us all, while offering a strong sense of community and camaraderie with which to explore them.

The album opens with the sound of voices arriving to sing together; background chat that makes you feel that you have arrived in the room and are part of it.

Every song has the beautiful, strong Yorkshire voice you would expect to hear, while striding through notions of past,…