Here are some of the books that in the last couple of weeks I have been reading:
Friedrich August von Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, University of Chicago Press 2007
Hayek is one of the two great bogeymen of the New Right (the other being Milton Friedman) and this is Hayek’s most famous and influential book. It is actually a powerful and convincing case against the tyranny of the state and collectivism, and a book whose eloquence and logic was widely recognised when it was first published in 1944 by even left-wingers such as George Orwell. And this despite being completely out of kilter with the times.
National Review – the American right-wing publication – recently published their 100 best non-fiction books of the last century and listed ‘The Road to Serfdom’ at No. 4 stating that it ‘shatters the myth that the totalitarianisms of the left and of the right stem from differing impulses’. The Review list – which is a riveting and challenging counterblast can be found at: http://www.nationalreview.com/100best/100_books.html
Timothy Garton Ash, Facts Are Subversive: Political Writing From A Decade Without Name, Atlantic Books 2009
Garton Ash might be an old fogey and a member of the British Establishment, but he represents the best of these traditions: generous, inquisitive of mind, proudly European and internationalist. This is his third set of collected essays, with no sign of any dropping of quality. An eclectic range from the Blair-Bush relationship, the importance of Orwell, the joy of ‘The Lives of Others’ and lots more.
Peter Kellner, Democracy: 1000 Years in Pursuit of British Liberty, Mainstream 2009
This could not be further removed in attitude from Garton Ash, an insular, arrogant, shockingly partial account of Britain, democracy and liberty. Starting from a point of self-congratulation, Kellner tells a tale which includes in his key texts of liberty Anthony King’s recent complacent account of the British Constitution, and Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail. At the same time, he ignores two of the most historic and influential documents of the last 30 years on liberty: Charter 88 and A Claim of Right. A truly appalling book!
Matthew d’ Ancona with Gordon Brown, Being British: The Search for the Values That Bond the Nation, Mainstream 2009
A strange story this of our hyperactive Prime Minister’s continued addiction to publishing and exploring his ideas and causes. A collection of essays inspired by Brown and edited by the Spectator editor, get us not very far on all things British. What of interest do careerists such as Trevor Philips or New Labour apologists such as Charlie Leadbeater have to say on Britishness? Not very much. An interesting footnote is that until Brown was imminently away to become PM, he had not published a book in over a decade; running the Treasury etc was clearly taking its toll. Since the point in 2006-7 when Blair announced he was going, he has published I think five books (not including this). What would a psychologist say!
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Allen Lane 2009
Wilkinson is the expert on comparative health inequalities and has over the years broadened out his critique to economic and social inequality. This is a good, accessible account of how greater inequality hurts people and societies. However, like most on the centre-left (and thinking right) nowadays his solutions are a bit weak and lame, and the clarion call for a ‘good society’ clearly is now close to a cliché – a bit like a lefty version of the way the Blair era emptied ‘creativity’ of any meaning!
Charlie Leadbeater, We-Think: Mass Innovation, Not Mass Production, Profile Books 2009
Talking of which the creator of the idea for Bridget Jones Diary is back with his latest blockbuster! I bought this for £2.99 remaindered in Borders, and after his shockingly thin in substance ‘Living on Thin Air’ and ‘Up the Down Escalator’ – both of which were in their central arguments wrong, what can we expect from such a shameless plagiariser? This has all the look of some obvious observations dressed up as world shattering gems, and surely, after his role as one of Blair’s favourite gurus, his star must be on the wane. We can but only hope!
Will Hutton, The State We’re In, Jonathan Cape 1995
Published in 1995 at a time of hope, renewal and possibility for the centre-left, as the twilight of the Tories gave way to New Labour, and then it all went wrong. Hutton’s book was of its time, but took a longer timeframe, offering not just a critique of Thatcher and Major’s Britain, but the culture of British capitalism, the gentlemanly codes, rules and governance. Re-reading this now it comes across as a prescient guide to the wasted New Labour decade and the crash; beautifully written and argued and by a mile Hutton’s best book.
Leszek Kolakowski, Freedom, Fame, Lying and Betrayal, Westview Press 1999
A small volume from the Polish philosopher and thinker who recently passed away. This may be a slim book, but it is packed with insight, humour, play and thoughtfulness on the meaning of life and modern times, ranging from the nature of God to fame, power, equality and freedom.