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
For 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
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
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
Ben Elton’s 2009 book Meltdown is the story of the rise and fall of a City trader and his rich university friends. It is, as becomes apparent quite early on in the book, a story of the New Labour years from the view of the upper-middle class: the easy money, the convenient ability to earn bucket loads of cash while easing liberal guilt by telling yourself you are doing something which helps others, and the expectation that everything inevitably will continue getting better. Continue reading (Short) book review: Meltdown by Ben Elton
The theory behind Nudge, like the best theories, is based on simple truths and common sense. The decisions people make are not always based on logic, but on bias, temptation, inertia and social influence. Essentially, human frailties mean we don’t always make the best decisions for ourselves, especially when the decisions are tough and complex, when some of the implications are far in the future, when we don’t make them often or when we don’t get clear feedback. Unfortunately these particular circumstances often arise when we have to make big decisions: how (and whether) to save for a pension, for example. In such cases, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein argue, we should be given a ‘nudge’: something which gently guides us towards the recommended course of action without forcing. Continue reading Nudge book review
The Culture Code, by Clotaire Rapaille, attempts to determine attitudes of a whole culture. It is interesting, and although I am not an expert, his analysis seems truthful, although by its nature the book is based on generalisations, and he seemingly dislikes the French (“The French are extremely critical, they are pessimistic, they are jealous of what others have, and they put little value on personal success.”). Continue reading The code to Obama’s success later this year?