1 June 2020 Fiorella Lecoutteux

OR Books, 2019 ; 273pp ; £16; available online here

This is a rich and compelling examination of Daniel Defoe’s 1719 literary classic Robinson Crusoe - the story of a shipwrecked man who survives on a desert island for 28 years, two months and 19 days.

Read in turn as a realistic adventure story, a spiritual pilgrimage and a parable about the rise of the economic capitalist, Crusoe has become ‘one of the most influential [books] in and beyond the Western world… exercising a profound impact not just on literature but also on how succeeding generations debated the…

1 December 2019 Pascal Ansell

Pluto, 2017; 256pp; £16.99

The term ‘austerity’ reminds me of comedian Stewart Lee’s quip that: ‘if political correctness has achieved anything, it’s forced the Conservatives to cloak their inherent racism in more creative language’.

This collection of essays brilliantly and engagingly covers everything from food and fuel poverty to welfare reforms and environmental degradation, reminding us that all spheres of life are affected by austerity measures.

Infant mortality rates have risen for the last four years in England, and we witness the…

1 December 2019 Claire Poyner

Bodley Head, 2019; 448pp; £20

I remember encountering a male brain/female brain questionnaire at a museum and not being surprised to find the results showing that my brain was somewhere in the middle. After all, I do tend to be a bit of a nerd about some things considered typically male.

However, it turns out that there is really is no such thing as a ‘male brain’ or a ‘female brain’.

It’s a myth – one of many myths about gender and the human brain that Gina Rippon explodes in this book, drawing on the latest science. (She’s a neuroscientist,…

1 December 2019 Fiorella Lecoutteux

University of Chicago Press, 2018; 272pp; £17

This is a book about farmed animals: about their exploitation and the complex web of factors that serves to normalise this exploitation. Kathryn Gillespie invites us to re-think our relationship to non-human animals and to how their lives have been co-opted for human consumption.

From the outset, she challenges some common assumptions about the dairy industry.

First and foremost, the myth that cows always produce milk.

Just like other mammals, dairy cows only produce milk to feed their children. However,…

1 December 2019 Henrietta Cullinan

Democratic Thought, 2019; 528pp; £10

In this substantial collection of essays and poems, Daniel Jakopovich proposes a personal philosophy of peace, developed through years of education and intellectual enquiry. It is the work of a courageous writer who consistently asks the awkward questions of peacemaking and pursues them without fear.

The essential ingredients, drawn from sociology, history, and the work of peacemaking men and women, are progressively revealed, as the book explores periods of change in countries such as the former Yugoslavia, South Africa,…

1 December 2019 Gabriel Carlyle

Common Sense for the 21st Century, 2019; 80pp; £6

According to a recent poll, nearly two-thirds of the British public now believe that climate change is ‘the biggest issue facing mankind’ and over half say that the issue will either ‘greatly’ or ‘somewhat’ influence who they are likely to vote for in a general election – a major shift in public opinion.

Much of the credit for this must go to Extinction Rebellion (XR). And much of the credit for XR’s creation must, in turn, go to its co-founder Roger Hallam.

Indeed, much of what XR has been doing over the past 12 months is…

1 December 2019 Ian Sinclair

Pluto Press, 2019; 272pp; £14.99

The headline findings from this new study of the Labour Party’s anti-semitism controversy are astonishing.

Between June 2015 and March 2019 eight national newspapers printed a massive 5,497 stories mentioning Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and anti-semitism.

A Survation poll commissioned by the authors in March 2019 found ‘on average people believed that a third of Labour Party members have been reported for anti-semitism’ when ‘the actual figure was far less than one per cent.’

The two things are connected, of…

1 December 2019 Erica Smith

Matador, 2017; 210pp; £13.99

The sub-title of this book condenses a complex life into a compact haiku.

The author was born in London in 1965 to a Colombian mother and a father with Hungarian heritage. Charlie Kiss is his real name, but when he was born, his birth certificate identified him as female. He lived as a lesbian until his early 30s when he realised that he was transgender. It took until 2007 for him to complete his transition.

The early part of Charlie’s life saw him growing up playing with other boys, loving football (before girls were…

1 October 2019 Henrietta Cullinan

Verso, 2019; 96pp; £7.99

This pocket-sized book, in matt rainbow covers, presents itself as a desirable object to read, Instagram and pass on. It also fulfils the serious promise of its subtitle, ‘a manifesto’, as it makes feminism generally applicable and available – and addresses the crisis of capitalism as a feminist issue.

It opens by contrasting two demands. The chief operating officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, has called for women to ‘lean in’ – to project confidence and seize opportunities in the boardroom. The authors contrast that appeal…

1 October 2019 Ian Sinclair

Verso, 2019; 624pp; £25

In this book, Cambridge university academic Priyamvada Gopal confronts the now infamous 2014 YouGov poll which found 59 percent of Britons thought the British empire was ‘something to be proud of’.

Resistance to empire was frequent, she notes, with connections formed between critics of imperialism based in the UK and rebels in the colonies.

Furthermore, Gopal argues that a form of ‘reverse tutelage’ took place, as insurgents and the movements they led helped to shape the discussion back in the UK: ‘the resistance of…

1 October 2019 Erica Smith

Zed, 2019; 256pp; £20

This book was first published 25 years ago as Gay Pride to commemorate what was then the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. This edition has lost the word ‘Gay’ (embracing the wider range of contemporary ‘Pride’) and has gained some additional photographs.

Introductory texts by Peter Tatchell and Hilton Als have been added to essays by Allen Ginsberg and Jill Johnston.

In Tatchell’s foreword, he reminds us of the massive strides made in the last 50 years. ‘Back then, LGBT+ persons could be sacked from their jobs…

1 October 2019 Gabriel Carlyle

New Internationalist, 2019; £11.99; 112pp

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last 10 months, there’s a strong chance you’re aware that this year marks the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo massacre.

On 16 August 1819, an estimated 40–50,000 people assembled peacefully on St Peter’s Field in Manchester to hear the well-known reformer Henry Hunt speak on ‘the most LEGAL and EFFECTUAL means of obtaining a reform in the Common House of Parliament’.

The crowd was attacked, first by the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry Cavalry, a private militia of…

1 October 2019 Gabriel Carlyle

Cambridge University Press, 2019; 288pp; £9.99

Mike Berners-Lee’s 2013 book The Burning Question (TBQ), co-authored with Duncan Clark, provided a fantastic in-depth primer on the urgent need for the world to quit its addiction to fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas) and the forces that continue to prevent us from doing so.

As such, it remains a must-read title for anyone involved in the climate change movement. I personally know of several campaigners who joined the fossil fuel divestment movement directly after reading it. (TBQ, co-authored with Duncan Clark,…

1 August 2019 Claire Poyner

Chatto & Windus, 2019; 432pp; £16.99

Caroline Criado Perez is the one who got a lot of stick for having the audacity to suggest it might be nice to have a famous woman on a UK banknote. Poor menfolk smelt the end of the patriarchy if they allowed this terrible idea to come to fruition, leading to her receiving a tsunami of abuse on social media, including threats of rape and murder.

But this book isn’t about banknotes. Rather, it’s about how the world is designed with men in mind (who knew?) and how women – even when the thing being designed is primarily intended for…

1 August 2019 Emily Johns

Sansom & Co, 2018; 128 pp; £25

This beautifully-illustrated book documents the lives of 44 artists who were conscientious objectors (COs) and pacifists in the two world wars.

In a series of monographs, Gill Clarke gives us a valuable insight into lives lived and shaped by political and spiritual objections to killing and the war machine.

She gives us a very particular record of the development of creative lives: how artists made a living; the political and social communities of artists; and the impact of war resistance on them – such as ruined hands from…