Science fiction and fantasy

Nine Political Books That Change The Conversation

30th December 2016

Simon And Schuster, who already publish Donald Trump, have announced that they will be publishing a certain so-called "Alt-Right" commentator in March 2017. I won't give the author in question the oxygen of publicity, but suffice to say this person is considered not merely incendiary but as someone who holds extremist views that make life more dangerous for minority groups. It's someone beyond the pale.

The decision has alienated many readers and authors, a group who aren't known for holding right-wing views on the whole. The publisher will be actively promoting this author, and that means by extension that they will be funding the promotion of a racist message. So a call to boycott Simon and Schuster was predictable, and has happened. #BoycottSimonandSchuster is the hashtag to monitor on social media to monitor the public reaction.

The right not to buy goods we don't like for whatever reason is fundamental, and doesn't impact on anyone's freedom of speech. However, the calls for a boycott have raised concerns for the authors and staff of Simon and Schuster imprints (they have a lot of them) that had nothing to do with this decision, and who will be impacted by it if people go ahead and boycott the publisher. Although it's never been easier for an author to jump ship and self-publish, it isn't always the soundest business decision for a newly-established author, and it's impossible for any authors who are locked in by predatory non-compete clauses on their book contracts. So a boycott runs the risk of causing collateral damage to people who may well have signed contracts years before this book was commissioned.

I'm not going to tell anyone whether or not to join a boycott, because it's an individual decision that's not morally black or white. However, it is time to change the conversation when it comes to political books. It's time to talk about people who make a well-researched and valuable contribution to political discourse: to buy their books, read them, and recommend them to others.

With that in mind, here are nine influential political books that deserve a wider audience.

Austerity by Kerry-Anne Mendoza (New Internationalist)

This is a cracking book by the editor of The Canary which looks at the growth of austerity and what it means for politics in Britain. It's at times depressing, but it is at least very clear on what the causes of many of the country's problems have been.

And the Weak Suffer What They Must? by Yanis Varoufakis (Nation Books)

This is another condemnation austerity, this time by the economics professor who rose briefly to become Greece's finance minister. The book looks at the history of European monetary union, international involvement in the Greek economic crisis, and why it matters.

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein (Penguin)

This is one book I've found difficult to read for emotional reasons, and it's one I keep returning to only in small doses. Subtitled The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism, it deals with the way certain disasters have been exploited to further the political agendas of the rich, to the detriment of poor people who sometimes lose their lives and liberty as well as their wealth. It's a disturbing book.

The Prostitute State - How Britain's Democracy Has Been Bought by Donnachadh McCarthy

This is a book by a former political insider to the Lib-Dem party who left his position as a result of the lobbying he saw. McCarthy condemns the media, academia, the tax haven system, and the effect of lobbying on the government. It's damning, and is a must-read for anyone within government or outside of it.

Hack Attack by Nick Davies (Random House)

It's astonishing how many political books tie together threads that confirm what each of them are saying. Hack Attack is a remarkably thorough book that looks at the phone hacking scandal, and by extension the outrageous political influence of powerful media groups, and in particular News International. This will cause you to question not only how news is gathered, but also how it is being used to exert political pressure.

Dial M For Murdoch by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman (Penguin)

This is a lighter, shorter version of the story of phone hacking and the Leveson inquiry. It explores the issue from a slightly different angle, but is also worth reading to get another perspective on a vital problem for our democracy.

The Internet Is Not The Answer by Andrew Keen (Atlantic Books)

There is a sense that a lot of what goes wrong in the world could be put right by the information revolution due to the way it brings people together and allows instant sharing of information. Written before the phrase "post-truth" was even coined, this book outlines some of the many ways that we aren't as free as we think we are, even though technology has brought about great leaps forward in convenience.

Postcapitalism by Paul Mason (Penguin)

This is a dense book that requires a good understanding of economic theory and history to get the most out of it. Mason looks at how the technological revolution means we need to move beyond capitalism to a system that is fairer and more sustainable for all.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (Bloomsbury)

I have included one book that's more specifically about science, because this is an area with huge political repercussions that often get pushed to the back of the agenda. We're talking about nothing less than the extinction of countless species, much of it caused by climate change (but not all). With that in mind, the climate change denial that's so prevalent amongst many right wing parties and pundits is inexcusable. My full review is here.

Data And Goliath by Bruce Schneier (W. W. Norton & Company)

I still haven't finished reading the tenth book on my list, so it's not yet a recommendation. But the topic of corporate and governmental data gathering has serious implications for privacy and civil liberties, and it's largely hidden, so this book is well worth considering.

Everything is political

All writing is political, even if it isn't overtly so. And so are all purchasing decisions. So even if you're not into overtly political writing and prefer fiction, there are choices to make about diversity and representation that can have a profound political impact. For instance, if you choose to read women who are self- or indie-publishing speculative fiction it's a decision with an ethical dimension. The same is true if you want to give a voice to non-white authors, or those with disabilities. Who you buy is who gets to make a living and have a voice.


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