Book review: Making it Happen by Iain Martin

When the next crisis hits, and it will, that frustrated public is likely to turn, not just on politicians who have been negligently lavish with public funds, or on bankers, but on the market system. What is at stake now may not just be the future of finance, but the future of capitalism.

This quote, by Professor John Hay from 2009, is quoted in the afterword of Iain Martin’s book (full title: Making it Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the men who blew up the British economy). Martin is primarily a political journalist rather than a financial one, and so it is unsurprising he turns towards the political implications of the banking crisis. Continue reading Book review: Making it Happen by Iain Martin


Did a thirty-year-old book about television predict Donald Trump?

Donald Trump Laconia Rally, Laconia, NH 4 by Michael Vadon July 16 2015 03
He has been lauded as prophetic. Trump’s ascent “would not have surprised” him, according to CNN. His son said he foresaw a celebrity president with fascistic tendencies. Google searches for his book spiked at a five-year high on February 3rd, just days after Trump’s inauguration.

Neil Postman published Amusing Ourselves to Death in 1985, a few years after a man with a show business background became a Republican president (a certain Ronald Reagan). Can this book help explain why Americans have now elected Donald Trump? Continue reading Did a thirty-year-old book about television predict Donald Trump?

Falling away

London Mar 15 2008 Stop the War protest AB 8

It is a pretty dire time to be on the centre-left in Britain. The Conservatives won an unexpected outright majority fifteen months ago. Labour was wiped out in Scotland at the hands of the SNP, which, however progressive it seems, is first and foremost about nationalism. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats were reduced to just eight MPs. Continue reading Falling away

Book review: The Wellness Syndrome by Carl Cederström and André Spicer

wellness-955796_1920.jpgFor anyone who has ever harboured doubts about the benefit of wearing a Fitbit or adopting the Paleo diet (where you only eat food eaten by early humans) this is the book for you. Carl Cederström and André Spicer explore the ‘wellness syndrome’. It has become a moral obligation, they argue, to constantly strive towards wellbeing. It is a never-ending task, leading to “anxiety, self-blame and guilt”.

The underlying philosophy of wellness programmes is that the individual has the power to overcome obstacles in their personal and professional life through thinking and acting differently. As examples in the book demonstrate, this is presented as the solution for challenges ranging from dealing with cancer to becoming rich. Continue reading Book review: The Wellness Syndrome by Carl Cederström and André Spicer

Book review: This is London by Ben Judah

UK Border, Heathrow

This article was published on Backbench

The arguments made in the media for and against low-skilled immigration normally come from the well-heeled opinion-forming professions, rather than from immigrants themselves. Thus there is a tendency to romanticise or demonise immigrants and their plight: the benefit scrounger, the job stealer, the self-made chaser of a British version of the American Dream. We rarely hear from those who constitute these supposed categories. The main strength of Ben Judah’s This is London is that it gives them a voice. Each chapter involves meeting one or more immigrant, from all over the world and in all sorts of jobs, from beggars to tube workers to carers. The point hammered home, from the title onwards, is that London is now a city of immigrants (the book tells us in the first few pages that at least 55% of Londoners are not ethnically British and that nearly 40% of Londoners were born abroad). Continue reading Book review: This is London by Ben Judah

Book review: Trigger Warning by Mike Hume

Manifestation Charlie Hebdo Toulouse, 10 janvier 2015 (4)

A shortened version of this article appeared on Backbench

At universities in the States and the UK, those with opinions deemed offensive are banned from speaking, in the name of providing ‘safe spaces’. Language related to trauma has been appropriated by campaigners to police what topics cannot be raised. Instead of university being a place to explore taboos and debate in complete openness, speakers must avoid controversy. In an environment which is supposed to prepare for the real world, a world full of people with reactionary and offensive opinions, students are not taught to deal with attitudes they disagree with: instead they can shut them out.

The aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack represented another backlash against free speech: many implicitly blamed the magazine for bringing the attack upon itself, by publishing cartoons which some found offensive. Instead of championing the right to cause offence, or even using the same standards they would apply to Christianity or an ideology like nationalism, some liberals followed the reasoning of the extremists: that Muslims need to be protected from blasphemous images. In his book “The Fallout: How a Guilty Liberal Lost his Innocence” Andrew Anthony describes certain reactions to the 9/11 attacks. There was “the alternative analysis” for the event; the ‘it’s terrible, but…’ analysis in which the first three words are simply “the decorative part of the equation” before a condemnation of the USA. Fourteen years on, the reaction to the Paris attacks adopted a similar approach, with Western intervention in the Middle East/Islamophobia/Israel/the cartoons at fault. Continue reading Book review: Trigger Warning by Mike Hume

Book review: Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

Barneveld, Wisconsin - 101109

Nickolas Butler started writing Shotgun Lovesongs racked with loneliness in an uninspiring rented room in a woman’s house away from home. It’s exactly how one of the protagonists of the book, musician Leland Sutton, writes his first album, also called Shotgun Lovesongs. The book and the album also share a key motif: the awe the artist has for where he calls home. Butler grew up in a Wisconsin town called Eau Claire, which in the book is next to the fictional town of Little Wing where Leland (or Lee) and his friends come from, and where most of the action is set. (Incidentally, Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon is from Eau Claire and went to school with Butler, and so is perhaps a template for the character of Lee.) Continue reading Book review: Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler