Sue Palmer, 21st Century Boys: How Modern Life is Driving Them Off The Rails and How We Can Get Them Back on Track

Sue Palmer is the one-woman force that brought us ‘Toxic Childhood’, a powerful and wonderful polemic about how we relieve the modern pressures piling up on parents and children. 21st Century Boys sees her bring her mixture of good old-fashioned ‘commonsense’, impatience and radicalism to what has gone wrong with boys and how they are portrayed. Palmer believes in the power of play, but ‘free play’, not the ‘structured play’ of policy-makers and is damning of the pervasive influence of marketing.

Neal Lawson, All Consuming: How Shopping Got Us Into This Mess and How We Can Find Our Way Out

A savaging of our consumerist, individualised society by political activist, entrepreneur and Chair of Compass. This goes with the grain of much centre-left post-socialist thinking in the UK – ala ‘Affluenza’ and ‘Happiness’ – and thus I think misses something about the complexities of modern life. There is for a start a profound pessimism about the present day which is only part of the story, and Lawson resorts too easily to prescriptions such as restricting and banning things without acknowledging that neo-liberalism has remade the notion of ‘the self’.

Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

An over-whelming tour de force of a book by an amazing music writer with a vast knowledge and turn of phrase. With a major focus on the great classical composers of the last century, Ross is also very good on jazz and music in dictatorships and the uses and abuses of music under Hitler and Stalin. Refreshingly the epoch of ‘pop music’ plays a small part in this narrative.

James Mitchell, Devolution in the UK

A fascinating and original book on the nature of the UK, the background to the constitutional change of the last decade, where it leaves us and the implications for the future. This account deserves a wider audience and debate with Mitchell who popularised the idea that the UK was a ‘union state’ rather than a unitary state, now revising the ideas and stating that it is a ‘union of states’. Am currently reviewing this – along with the Vernon Bogdanor tome – for Open Democracy.

Todd Gitlin, Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives

An analysis of the media revolution of speed and round the clock coverage shows the consequences which flow: an age of superficiality and lack of analysis with a reverence for celebrity and froth, which is remaking our relationships, politics and society.