Introducing the new LSEUPR ExCo Book Club: twice a term our five executive committee members will recommend a book each for students and UPR followers to read. The books may be fiction or non-fiction, but will always have some value to those interested in politics.
“Doughnut Economics” by Kate Raworth
Recommended by Jintao Zhu, Editor-in-Chief
Although I am an Editor for a politics journal, I am recommending a book called “Doughnut Economics” rather than “Doughnut Politics”. While the deep interconnectedness between politics and economics is definitely a justification, the more important reason is the innovation and revolutionary thinking proposed in the book. The book has challenged many orthodox assumptions and concepts in economics such as rational individuals and growth-centered development model. I hope young politics scholars can get inspired and start challenging the counterparts in politics. Additionally, the book also highlights many 21st century problems such as global common goods, which require a strong collaboration between economists, political scientists and policy makers. I wish the book can inspire the next generation of scholars and more importantly, change makers for the world.
“Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative” by Mark Fisher
Recommended by Helen Ainsley, Deputy Editor-in-Chief
Mark Fisher’s book works to critique the notion, as most notably referenced by Margaret Thatcher, that ‘there is no alternative’ to capitalism and its reinforcing logics. Capitalist realism, Fisher argues, is the idea that capitalism is not only the most viable political and economic system that we can imagine, but it is impossible to imagine a world without it. This has ramifications for our personal, individual lives, how we view human nature, and how we structure our societies. Capitalism’s maintenance and reinforcement relies upon the dissonance between what we believe we do, and what we actually do. As long as we do not believe ourselves to be agents of capitalism – or that profit is not our primary goal or desire – we are free to justify our own prioritisation of profit above all else.
This is an excellent book that allowed me to cement and form an understanding of critical theory in relation to capitalism. It allowed me to more readily consider capitalist domination as a factor in hierarchical forms of power so often investigated by critical race and gender theory. Given that capitalism is the dominant system globally, this has important ramifications for our conception of what can be known and what are the appropriate ways to be, even if these appear self-evident.
“The Class Ceiling: Why it Pays to be Privileged” by Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison
Recommended by Kitty Thompson, Marketing Director
As an LSE student who has opted to take a sociology outside option each year of my degree, I felt it was only right to represent this within my book recommendation and to do so by choosing a book co-written by LSE’s own Sam Friedman (Associate Professor of Sociology).
Centred on a mixed methods research project that combined in-depth qualitative case studies with larger scale survey data, the book talks through their key findings. The most important and indeed titular idea posited by the authors is that when it comes to class representation in the workplace, there is a problem with “getting on” rather than just “getting in.” In what they term “the class ceiling” the authors identify a clear and persistent issue regarding the ability of British working class people to climb the career ladder, especially within professional industries such as accounting.
As well as being an incredibly interesting book for anyone interested in sociology and/or class, I recommend this book because it is able to illuminate the realities of the workplace. Whether your background is privileged or otherwise, there is value to be found for all in terms of recognising a real problem that exists in the workplace and then choosing to actively promote change.
“The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York” by Robert A. Caro
Recommended by Florian Sichart, Research Director
Technically, this is a biographic account of urban planner Robert Moses, an unelected urban planning official who dominated NYC mayors and governors for decades through sheer force of will and an impeccable understanding of power. For anyone seeking to understand the concept of power — how one gets and uses it and how it can corrupt those who have it — this should be essential reading. Despite its 1300 pages, Caro’s style and wit renders The Power Broker an incredibly readable and entertaining book.
“Memoirs of Hadrian” by Marguerite Yourcenar
Recommended by Vernon Yian, Academic Director
“Just when the gods had ceased to be, and the Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, when man stood alone.” – Gustave Flaubert, The Letters, 1830—1880.
Caught between polytheism and Christianity, this time-period is especially intriguing as a moment where a society was bereft of a major deistic movement. Stoicism instead rose to the fore, which Memoirs of Hadrian illuminates through the triumphs and reversals of Roman emperor Hadrian. Composed as a series of letters to his adoptive grandson Marcus Aurelius, we trace Hadrian’s first obsessions in art and philosophy, his later territorial conquests, and the tragic death of his lover Antinous.
Interestingly, these letters are not transpositions of historic primary texts but rather a wholly fictional reimagining by Marguerite Yourcenar. Over the course of twenty intermittent years of research and travel, Yourcenar retraces Hadrian’s footsteps to divine a persona of the dead emperor through a creative process she terms “half history, half magic”. The Epilogue, a captivating read in itself, sketches this fascinating process. The result is a literary work of remarkable uniqueness, written in a beautifully lyrical prose which hardly kept at bay my bad habit of dog-earing the pages of quotes I’d like to keep. Check out Goodreads for more starry-eyed tributes! For Memoirs of Hadrian, these could be a genre by themselves.
Thank you for taking the time to read these book recommendations, we hope you have found a book you want to read. When you have read one of the books please do leave a comment at the end of this post to let us know your thoughts on it!
LSEUPR Executive Committee 2020/21