Politically speaking, we live in interesting times. Here are six topical books that explore modern politics from very different – but equally fascinating – perspectives
In 1996, New Yorker reporter Mark Singer was assigned to write a close-up profile of Donald Trump – then simply a wealthy New York businessman. The reporter wrote a funny, surreal account of the months he spent in Trump’s office, penthouse and private plane that still irritates the President-elect today. In this witty and fascinating book, Singer revisits the former subject who “had aspired to and achieved the ultimate luxury, an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul”, charting the unlikely chain of events that transformed him into the 2016 Republican Presidential nominee.
This is a book for anyone looking around at a world where sudden acts of violence pepper our news schedules, racism and misogyny are rife on social media, and extreme voices are gaining traction in politics, and asking themselves: how did we get here? While it’s easy to think we’re the first generation to face these problems, Pankaj Mishra highlights some surprising parallels with the eighteenth century, when many were left behind by ‘modern’ promises of freedom and prosperity, leading to widespread hatred, violence, nostalgia for an imaginary golden age, and the foundation of militant movements across the world.
If you’ve ever wanted to be a fly on the wall in the Oval Office, reading this book is the next best thing. Based on Daniel Levin’s experience of working with governments and political organisations everywhere from the US to Dubai to Beijing - and even inside the UN - it looks at some of the world’s most powerful people, and the incredible conversations they have behind closed doors. All this adds up to a rare insight into the human thirst for power, and the amazing lengths that those at the top often go to in order to justify their decisions.
Wesley Lowery spent a year travelling across America, interviewing the families of victims of police brutality and the local activists working to stop it. Those conversations informed his book, which examines the scale of the response to Michael Brown’s death, and charts the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. In the process, it uncovers the effects of a long history of racially-biased policing in segregated neighbourhoods where constant discrimination, failing schools, crumbling infrastructure and too few jobs are the norm – and the political failings that have allowed this to happen.
Sinclair Lewis’ novel about liberal complacency, popular fascism and the role of the individual in politics is set in a discontented 1930s America, where charismatic political outsider Buzz Windrip’s uncanny instinct for what the people want to hear suddenly carries him to prominence and wins him the US Presidency. As the new government becomes increasingly authoritarian, a concerned local newspaper editor wonders what one individual can do against an all-powerful state.
This illuminating book by the former BBC Chief Executive is all about how we discuss ideas and events. It argues that social and technological changes, like the emergence of social media and 24-hour news, have altered the way we talk about important issues, making traditional forms of political rhetoric outdated. This, it suggests, is at the root of the widening gap between the public and its political leaders, and the rise of populist figures promising authenticity over ‘spin’. If you’re after a book that’s full of ideas on how we can change things up and make Western democracy fit for the 21st century, then this is it.
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