Stephan Chambers, Institute Director
Every summer I revisit a book I’ve previously failed to understand, either at all or mostly. This summer it will be John Rawls, A Theory of Justice followed by our colleague Daniel Chandler’s Free and Equal. Also on the summer pile are Jenny Erpenbeck’s Kairos, (at the insistence of my daughter), Ferdinand Mount’s Kiss Myself Goodbye, Mick Herron’s Bad Actors and Lorrie Moore’s I am Homeless If This Is Not My Home.
Kerryn Krige, Senior Lecturer in Practice
My local library has turned up two great reads the past few weeks: Bill Bryson’s The Body and Caitlin Moran’s Moranifesto. Written in Bill Bryson’s friendly, conversational style, The Body is filled with informational gems: the evolutionary marvel of being able to sweat, the ‘Zombie’ virus that re-activated after being frozen for 48,500 years in permafrost, the encouragement to sit quietly for 30 seconds, as in this time “your brain churns through more information in thirty seconds than the Hubble Space Telescope has processed in thirty years”. It is the biology textbook you wish you had had at school: an easy-to-read reminder of the science and magic of being human. Filled with memorable facts and quirky information, The Body reminds us to appreciate who and how we are. Moranifesto stitches together a decade of weekly columns in The Times, providing a narrative and social commentary on the highs and lows of UK life. Moran revels in London’s unadulterated pride in hosting the 2012 Olympics (when “being hopeful and unexpectedly excited about being a human, was normal”) and the joy of David Bowie (he is “the sound of mankind giving itself a standing ovation”). This contrasts with stark narratives of inequality, exclusion and deprivation (“if you are in the wrong town, in the wrong job, in the wrong class, the policies of a government can ruin you”); the philosophy of social housing (quoting her father: “a council house is for someone who would not have a house any other way. If you can afford to buy it, you shouldn’t be in it)” and the exclusion of privatisation (“No-one I know can afford to move here. The key to the average flat is made of gold”). This is a read that makes you laugh and question well after you have closed the book and returned it to the library.
Julian LeGrand, Professor of Social Policy
The best book I’ve read this summer is Credible by Amanda Goodall. Full disclosure: Amanda is an ex-student of mine and is now Professor in Leadership at Bayes Business School, City University. She has done a lot of exciting research, detailed in the book, on who is the best person to lead corporations and other large organisations such as hospitals, universities and even sports organisations: general business leaders or experts? Her conclusion runs against conventional business school wisdom: it’s the expert, not the generalist. So, the best hospitals are led by doctors, the best universities by academics, the best F1 Teams by F1 engineers, the best businesses by people in the trade – not high-profile CEOs brought in from outside.
Carl Moldestad, 100x Impact Accelerator Administrator
This summer I’ve been reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I’m a sucker for historically anchored thrillers. This book follows the son of a librarian, who discovers the literary work of a forgotten author and tries to trace the origins of the mysterious novelist. It’s also a fantastically vivid depiction of Barcelona, its people, and the social turmoil of Francoist Spain. I also just started reading Constructing a Nervous System by Margo Jefferson. It’s a brilliant approach to delivering a memoir, that ties together Jefferson’s own memories and her astute abilities in socio-cultural analysis to discuss race, class, family, and art. Lastly, I have enjoyed listening to ‘Blowback’, a three-season podcast series about US neo-imperialism and war efforts in Iraq (S1), Cuba (S2), and Korea (S3).
Aggrey Nyondwa, 100x Impact Accelerator Comms and Events Manager
Not very scholarly, but I have been reading Prince Harry’s Memoir Spare, and I can certainly say that this book has not been given the credit it deserves for its brave attempt to shed light on the harrowing reality of media harassment. The memoir gives insight into the life of a British Prince growing up as a second-class Royal-‘the Spare.’ It delves beyond the glitz and glamour of royalty, unearthing the vulnerability and struggles that come with living in the public eye. It also lays bare the palace drama, jealousy and intrigue that almost blows up in the lead to Harry’s wedding. Despite Prince Harry’s efforts to call out racism in the book, there are still instances where racism and royal entitlement still creep in on his part. The book could also have been more assertive in questioning the legitimacy of the royal institution itself.
My next recommendation is David Olusoga’s Cult of Progress, which debunks the myth that progress and, indeed, civilisation originated from one part of the world and were always meant to be exported elsewhere in the form of colonialism, development, and other imperialist projects.
For a podcast, on my commutes, I am always in the company of two brilliant British political veterans– Rory Stewart and Alastair Campbell, whose impeccable knowledge about almost everything I find incredible! One Labour, the other Tory, the dual wittily enacted a rule to ‘agree to disagree agreeably’ when hosting this sensational podcast —The Rest is Politics.
Corrina Summers, Institute Administrator
Over the past few years I’ve been attempting (not completely successfully) to wean myself away from fast fashion and many of my recent reads centre on this topic. Sofi Thanhauser’s Worn: A People’s History of Clothing takes a sweeping view of the history of five fabrics, charting how the means of their production and consumption have changed from pre-history to the present to the detriment of both the planet and the people involved in their creation. In Consumed: The Need for Collective Change, Aja Barber looks at the same problem through the lens of intersectional feminism, and optimistically concludes that ‘good citizenship’ can fill the void left by overconsumption. Though I’m not convinced that the necessary large-scale mobilisation required to tackle this problem will happen in the near future, I found Rebecca Solnit’s recent essay asking ‘What if climate change meant not doom – but abundance?’ a compelling reimagining of the ‘renunciation’ demanded by individual environmentalist action not as punishment or sacrifice, but as a creative, generative project that can make all our lives more enriching.
Alexander Wright, Programme Delivery Manager
I was given The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes as a present last Christmas and it is by far my favourite book this year. Beautifully written and fascinating in equal measure, Hayes paints a vivid picture of his travels throughout England’s fields and waterways while also guiding us through the meandering social, historical, legal and religious paths which lead to the way we can access the land today. I listed to the audiobook, narrated by Hayes himself, and can certainly recommend it for people who like the format.
I have also been watching Earth on BBC iPlayer. Chris Packham takes us on an eye-opening journey through 5 periods of significant change the Earth has undergone during its 4.5 billion year history and how, despite all the odds, life not only survived but thrived. Ultimately, this is a reminder that the Earth has been through far more than the climate change we are imposing on it, and that, with or without us, life will very likely find a way through again.