Mark Perryman provides an inspiring diet of books on politics and culture for Christmas and the New Year
Christmas – a time of giving, receiving, and treating ourselves. For those of us who like nothing more than to curl up with a good book to provoke thoughts and actions around how to change the world, what better opportunity to find the time for such a read? That's if all the eating hasn't sapped our will to do much changing of anything. Never mind, there's always the New Year for that.
Here's my top twelve days’ worth of good reads to get us agitated and inspired over the Christmas period.
1. Andrew Simms and Leo Murray Badvertising: Polluting our Minds and Fuelling Climate Chaos
With his previous book Tescopoly Andrew Simms helped establish a connection between the hours, often involuntarily, we spend each week shopping and a politics that is both rooted in the everyday and transformational. With the ever-increasing imperative of the climate emergency Andrew's new book, co-authored with Leo Murray, extends that connection to the daily bombardment we all have to endure from advertisers promoting the goods that contribute towards this emergency: in particular fossil fuels, cars, budget airlines, and meat. As we struggle under the strain of Christmastime consumerism, it’s an inspirational read of resistance.
Available from Pluto books here
2. Benjamin Kunkel and Lola Seaton (Eds) Who Will Build the Ark? Debates on Climate Strategy from New Left Review
In 1956 the Communist Left was reeling from the fallout from the Soviet invasion to crush the Hungarian democratic revolution. Communist families, former comrades, over Christmas dinner hammers and sickles drawn. In those days the Communist Party of Great Britain could count on some 40,000 members. Repulsed by the sight of Red Army tanks on the streets of Budapest, over 10,000 resigned, and many of them became the basis of the New Left. The 'new' has taken a variety of forms since, with today a new generation carrying forward the tradition. This latest New Left Review collection is testament to both its legacy and currency, most especially Lola Seaton's superb essay 'Green Questions'.
Available from Verso Books here
3. Marios Mantzos The Social One: Why Jürgen Klopp was a Perfect Fit for Liverpool
Who will be top of the Premiership once the seasonal squeeze of games from Boxing Day to New Year's Day have been completed? With Chelsea struggling, Man Utd not doing much better while Spurs and Newcastle flirt with inconsistency, the field of serious contenders is already narrowing. Villa are this season's surprise package; City are losing points that previously they'd almost taken for granted; and Arsenal are repeating last season's excellent form. All three will surely be in the mix come the final whistle on 1st January. But for most neutrals, well apart from any with residual Evertonian sympathies obviously, if it can't be our own club, we'll favour Liverpool to be top. Not since Bill Shankly has there been a Liverpool – or indeed any – manager to attract such near universal approval and affection. The inspired title The Social One says it all, and the case that author Mariso Mantzos makes more than backs it up.
Available from Pitch Publishing here
4. Jack Monroe Thrifty Kitchen
Christmas is a time of over-indulgence at the dining-room table. For a tasty antidote look no further than Jack Monroe, former firefighter, author of best-selling recipe books, and campaigner against food poverty. It’s a near unique combination, in the overcrowded world of 'celebrity chefs'. Meals that save us money, delicious into the bargain, with a constant reminder that food poverty is a phenomenon that is entirely man-made and should have no place in any society that dares to call itself 'civilised'. At 120 recipes, a bumper collection to feed both body and mind.
Available from Pan Macmillan here
5. Gary Younge Dispatches from the Diaspora: From Nelson Mandela to Black Lives Matter
25th December – no newspapers, for news and opinion junkies of a pre-digital disposition it’s an absolute nightmare. But for many Guardian readers, our daily paper is not the daily must-read that it once was. Steve Bell was excluded earlier this year, and Gary Younge left as the 2020s began. For many their combined sharpness of comment and acuteness of opinion is a big absence. Steve's cartoons live on in Philosophy Football mugs, tea towels, tees and prints; Gary's writing still pops up on occasion but a real feast of it is provided by this collection, ranging far and wide, to remind ourselves of how much we miss his weekly column.
Available from Faber & Faber here
6. Lynne Segal Lean on Me: A Politics of Radical Care
Twelve days – for those with young children, elderly relatives, or both, they are days of care. Yet the crisis of care is writ large across our entire society, all year round, from cradle to an early grave. Lynne Segal, co-author of the classic text Beyond the Fragments: Feminism and the Making of Socialism makes the case for a society that sees care and caring as a foundational value. This requires both institutions we can rely upon but also affects the way in which we live our lives. The personal as the complement of, not the alternative to, the political.
Available from Verso books here
7. Daniel Rachel Too Much Too Young: The 2 Tone Records Story
The Specials can count two number ones, Too Much Too Young and Ghost Town, but neither topped the charts to grab that much cherished title 'Christmas Number One.' Fellow ska band Madness came closest in Christmas 1981, when It Must Be Love reached number five. Number One? The Human League's Don't You Want Me. Author Daniel Rachel has become highly skilled at compiling popular oral histories of musical moments and movements. Previously with Walls Come Tumbling Down he brilliantly chronicled what was for me a formative period of music and politics – Rock against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge. And now he brilliantly revisits the middle part of that trilogy, 2 Tone in glorious detail. Read, remember, enjoy, then stick some ska on the Christmas household soundtrack.
Available from White Rabbit here
8. Henry Bell & Joey Simons (Eds) Now's The Day, Now's The Hour: Poems for John Maclean
For those north of the border, Christmas is simply a staging post before getting down to the serious partying of Hogmanay closely followed by Burns Night. Anyone not yet convinced Scotland and England are two independent nations – the long overdue recognition of which is required so we can get on with co-existing as neighbours on one small island – a visit to Scotland on 31st December or 25th January will be more than suffice to persuade. John Maclean remains a towering figure of the Scottish Left, deeply committed to both the internationalism of the 1917 Revolution and Scotland's own particular road to revolution. To mark the centenary of his death, or more accurately his murder by the British state, this collection of poems will lift Scottish and English spirits high.
Available from Tapsalteerie here
And for those unfamiliar with John Maclean, check out co-editor Henry Bell's John Maclean biography too. From Pluto Books here
9. Nic Watts and Sakina Karimjee Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History
Christmas is supposed to be a time of 'peace and goodwill'. Not much evidence of the former in Israel and Palestine, nor the latter for those trapped by the cost-of-living crisis. There's always hope – however even that's not enough without the ideas, principles and movements to turn that into change. Christmas 1823 – who would have ever imagined back then that the scourge of empire and slavery would ever come to an end? But it largely has. Nic Watts and Sakina Karimjee's brilliant graphic novelisation of CLR James’ own stage adaptation of his book The Black Jacobins will both inspire and convince that, whatever the circumstances, change is possible.
Available from Verso Books here
10. Naomi Klein Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World
Ghosts of Christmas, past, present and future. A classic Christmas tale, but for materialists who scoff at the supernatural, nothing to do with the real world, surely? When Naomi Klein found herself ghosted by a real-life 'doppelganger' with the same first name, she assumed Naomi Wolf had similar politics, and as a fellow campaigning feminist at first she thought nothing of it. Prominent political women are quite used to being confused with other women. But then the 'other Naomi descends into conspiracism, and threatens to drag Naomi Klein, via association, down with her. Not quite the book we might expect from the author of No Logo and Shock Doctrine, yet the surprise is richly rewarded with a narrative that is part-thriller and part-investigation – a combination in Naomi (Klein's!) hands that doesn't disappoint.
Available from Penguin here
11. David Horspool More than a Game: A History of How Sport Made Britain
Next Christmas it will be 30 years since the very first Philosophy Football T-shirt. Name and number on the back, quote on the front, 'All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football'. Albert Camus, first obligatory product placement, is still proudly available. With that as our founding philosophy how could we possibly resist David Horspool's More than a Game? A thoughtfully constructed narrative combines chapter-by-chapter accounts of individual sports and the broader theme each serve to highlight.
Available from John Murray here
12. Verso 2024 Radical Diary & Weekly Planner
And then before we know it the twelfth day cometh and 2024 proper begins. A year of almost certainly a general election, and equally almost certainly the end of 14 years of Tory governments (second obligatory product placement, yes in anticipation - no refunds available - we have the Steve Bell mug to mark 14 years of Tory 'progress' here). Though whether Labour can deliver the change on the scale required remains depressingly unclear. The year also begins with two centenaries, 100 years since the death of Lenin and the descent into Stalinism, 100 years since the first Labour Government and the descent into Ramsay Macdonald's 'National Labour' and a Lab-Con pact. There's the 40th anniversary of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike too and of Orwell's fateful '1984'. While the sport to look forward to includes Euro 2024 and the Paris Olympics.
So what else do we need for the start of the New Year? A diary of course! For those not entirely digitalised, Verso's Radical Diary is an annual must have of effortlessly stylish design, packed with monthly and weekly reminders of struggles past with plenty of space to write in the daily details of struggles present, nearest and dearests' birthdays, home and away fixtures, meetings, General Election canvassing days, whatever and whenever 2024 holds.
Available from Verso Books here
Note: No links in this review are to tax-dodging websites owned by multi-billionaires. Best to buy from a local, independent bookshop.