Francis Fukuyama: ‘Trump instinctively picks racial themes to drive people on the left crazy’

In 1989, the economist’s essay The End of History? asked whether liberalism had triumphed over ideology. History, however, had other ideas and his new book responds to the return of extremism

Every “thought-leader” needs a catchy leading thought. Francis Fukuyama made his name and fortune with the definitive “one-liner” political meme The End of History?, which in the early 1990s seemed a smart way of describing the collapse of communism, and the “triumph” of the west. Since then, in the years in which history has clearly refused to end, Fukuyama, a senior fellow at Stanford University, has had various stabs at repeating that initial success. His new book, Identity, proposes the term “thymos” as the key to understanding our unnerving political moment.

“Thymos” (it does no harm, for credibility or book sales if the crucial thought-leading term is best understood by Ancient Greeks) comes from Plato’s Republic.It ...

To Obama With Love, Joy, Hate and Despair by Jeanne Marie Laskas – review

The story of Barack Obama’s courteous correspondence with ordinary Americans is a reminder of the statesmanship the country now lacks

In the first week of his presidency, Barack Obama received about 250,000 letters from ordinary Americans. Over the course of the following eight years, the number settled at roughly 10,000 a day. Most of his correspondents had heard that he was in the habit, from his days as senator, and on the campaign trail, of trying to reply to letter writers with a handwritten note. Obviously, the change in scale and responsibility meant that task was impossible to fulfil comprehensively; instead, Obama committed himself to answering 10 letters each day. These were selected by a small and dedicated group of readers in a specially convened mail room; they called themselves “Team Little People”, and they operated with a kind of messianic devotion to the task of sifting and sorting, putting ...

Moneyland: Why Thieves and Crooks Now Rule the World and How to Take It Back – review

Oliver Bullough follows the trail of the filthy rich in this compelling, though not hopeful, study of global wealth and corruption

Along with his friend, the anti-corruption activist Roman Borisovich, the journalist Oliver Bullough has recently been acting as a guide on London “Kleptocracy Tours”. Adapting the open-top bus principle, groups of sightseers are taken on a journey through the capital that showcases the north London mansion complexes owned by Russian oligarchs, the Eaton Square fantasies purchased by Middle Eastern political dynasties, the £100m apartments bought off-plan by corrupt African politicians and others who have extracted their billions in countries that have next to no financial accountability and have found ways to hide them in the luxurious square footage of Kensington and Belgravia.

This meticulously researched and fantastically disturbing book is effectively the global version of that tour. Bullough traces the ways in which, over the last ...

The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela review – one man’s otherworldly patience

Nelson Mandela’s long, thoughtful letters, written during his 27 years in prison, display an unwavering certainty that change would prevail

Nelson Mandela’s letters from prison seem to demand a spoiler alert. We know how this epic turns out – but the uncanny thing about reading this selection of close-written correspondence is the unavoidable sense that its author always knew the ending in advance, too.

Mandela was born a century ago this week. The conviction that his story would make history, that it would have a triumphant last act of truth and reconciliation, hardly ever appears to have faltered within him. Not when the judge sentenced him to life imprisonment at the end of the Rivonia trial in 1964. Not when the door slammed behind him aged 45 as prisoner 466/64 in an 8ft by 7ft cell on Robben Island, his home for 18 years. Not even when, in 1969, his eldest ...

The Stopping Places by Damian Le Bas review – an illuminating history of Travellers

A journey following the horse-drawn wagons of the author’s Gypsy ancestors is a restless quest for authenticity

Every culture has its golden time. For Britain’s Romany community that would appear to have coincided with the girlhood of Damian Le Bas’s great-grandmother, “Nan”, the last days of horse-drawn wagons and “bender tents” and seasonal hop-picking and campfires. Nan has been settled in a bungalow for 70 of her 90-odd years but she is still alive with stories of the road. Those are the stories that prompted Le Bas, the author of this lyrical and keenly researched Traveller’s tale, to set out on his quest.

Like all the best quests, this is a journey in search of authenticity. Le Bas first learned the cartography of his Traveller past on weekends and holidays helping out with the family florist business – for several generations they had a pitch in Petersfield market in Hampshire, ...

History of Violence by Édouard Louis – review

The French author follows his acclaimed debut novel with another unflinching dramatisation of personal experience

Édouard Louis published his first novel, En finir avec Eddy Belleguele (published in English as The End of Eddy), four years ago, when he was only 21. The book briefly topped bestseller charts in France and opened up a debate about both the portrayal and the betrayal of the working class. The novel was directly autobiographical – Louis changed his surname from Belleguele as its final act – and documented the brutal realities of his growing up bookish and gay in a family subsisting mainly on welfare in small-town northern France. Through his own fractured and violent adolescence, Louis traced, in looping, interiorised prose, the ways in which the working poor had been marginalised and abandoned by successive governments, leading to a political shift to the populist right (on the eve of the French ...

History of Violence by Édouard Louis – review

The French author follows his acclaimed debut novel with another unflinching dramatisation of personal experience

Édouard Louis published his first novel, En finir avec Eddy Belleguele (published in English as The End of Eddy), four years ago, when he was only 21. The book briefly topped bestseller charts in France and opened up a debate about both the portrayal and the betrayal of the working class. The novel was directly autobiographical – Louis changed his surname from Belleguele as its final act – and documented the brutal realities of his growing up bookish and gay in a family subsisting mainly on welfare in small-town northern France. Through his own fractured and violent adolescence, Louis traced, in looping, interiorised prose, the ways in which the working poor had been marginalised and abandoned by successive governments, leading to a political shift to the populist right (on the eve of the French ...

The Displaced; Migrant Brothers; Lights in the Distance – reviews

Three powerful, conscience-stirring books use personal testimony to help us see the refugee crisis through the eyes of its victims

This September it will be three years since the body of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy in red T-shirt and blue shorts, was washed ashore on a beach in Turkey. The picture that ran on the front pages of newspapers across Europe, and prompted calls for politicians to confront with all urgency what even the Sun called the “biggest crisis since the second world war”, was perhaps the only moment in recent memory in which popular empathy for refugees clearly outweighed disregard or antipathy.

For a month or more, maybe, after the picture ran, and Alan lay face down in all of our consciences, there was a feeling in European capitals that a different approach was desperately needed; several cities saw rallies in which crowds carried banners reading ...

The Road to Unfreedom by Timothy Snyder review – chilling and unignorable

This persuasive book looks at Putin’s favourite Russian political philosopher and the template he set for fake news

Even presidents who don’t believe in history need a historian to rely on. When asked, in 2014, by a delegation of students and history teachers for his chosen chronicler of Russia’s past, Vladimir Putin came up with a single name: Ivan Ilyin. 

Ilyin is a figure who might have been easily lost to history were it not for the posthumous patronage of Russia’s leader. Putin first drew attention to him – Ilyin was a philosopher, not a historian, a Russian who died in exile in Switzerland in 1954 – when he organised the repatriation of Ilyin’s remains for reburial in Moscow in 2005. Ilyin’s personal papers, held in a library in Michigan, were also brought “home” at the president’s request. New editions of Ilyin’s dense books of political philosophy became popular ...

Zen and the art of following in your father’s footsteps

Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, his famous book about a spiritual quest to a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas, is 40 years old. His son, Alex, has recreated the trek

Is it possible to be an armchair Zen Buddhist? That’s one of the questions that Peter Matthiessen’s great quest The Snow Leopard seems to present. No book I’ve read, certainly among those written in my lifetime, gives a more authentic account of a “journey of the heart” than Matthiessen’s celebrated trek to the Dolpo, the high, ancient Tibetan plateau of the Himalayas. I am not alone in that belief. Since it was first published in 1978, The Snow Leopard has no doubt been the inspiration for more hippy trails and backpacker expeditions to Kathmandu and beyond than any other volume (it is unmovable at the top of Amazon’s “Himalayas” chart). I’ve read the book a few times over the years, ...

Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine by Alan Lightman review – at one with the universe

The physicist and novelist’s discursive essays on the mysteries of the physical world are full of wonder and insight

Alan Lightman has made a unique career finding imaginative ways to bridge the “two cultures” of science and humanities. A novelist and physicist, he was the first person to be awarded a joint professorship in literature and astrophysics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His work in the latter discipline has resulted in notable contributions to the theory of astrophysical processes under extreme temperatures; he has helped to map the behaviour of such out-of-this-world concepts as “accretion discs” and “relativistic plasmas”.

He made his name as a writer of fiction, meanwhile, with Einstein’s Dreams in 1993 – a lyrical series of short sketches, each one an attempt at a different understanding of time, and all rooted in the freewheeling mind of Einstein as he grappled with relativity in Berne, Switzerland in ...

Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine by Alan Lightman review – at one with the universe

The physicist and novelist’s discursive essays on the mysteries of the physical world are full of wonder and insight

Alan Lightman has made a unique career finding imaginative ways to bridge the “two cultures” of science and humanities. A novelist and physicist, he was the first person to be awarded a joint professorship in literature and astrophysics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His work in the latter discipline has resulted in notable contributions to the theory of astrophysical processes under extreme temperatures; he has helped to map the behaviour of such out-of-this-world concepts as “accretion discs” and “relativistic plasmas”.

He made his name as a writer of fiction, meanwhile, with Einstein’s Dreams in 1993 – a lyrical series of short sketches, each one an attempt at a different understanding of time, and all rooted in the freewheeling mind of Einstein as he grappled with relativity in Berne, Switzerland in ...

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton with Lara Love Hardin – review

An ex-death row inmate’s account of his decades-long struggle for justice is a tribute to friendship, faith – and a wonderful lawyer

I first came across the name Anthony Ray Hinton when I wrote about the extraordinary civil rights campaigner Bryan Stevenson and his Equal Justice Initiative based in Montgomery, Alabama. Stevenson, a black, Harvard-educated lawyer who grew up in segregated Delaware, is a man of immense personal courage. He has spent his working life practising out of an office over the road from a former slave market, trying to right some of the ingrained injustice of the penal system in the American south; in particular, he has campaigned on behalf of young black men sentenced to death, based on trials of dubious merit. He has saved more than 100 men from the electric chair through forensic re-examination of evidence in this way, as well as successfully campaigning to overturn ...

Andras Forgach: ‘My mother was a Cold War spy’

Thirty years after the fall of communism, the acclaimed Hungarian novelist András Forgách was handed a file of top secret documents. In them he learned that not only had his beloved mother been an agent for the state, she’d also been spying on her own family…

I was once, aged 22, invited for a series of interviews by the British secret service. The interviews, designed to assess my suitability for espionage, took place in a blacked-out room in central London. I was intrigued by the process, somewhat flattered by the approach, but then at the end of the interviews came the moment of truth – or, more exactly, the moment of duplicity. I was invited to sign the Official Secrets Act and thereafter, I was told, no one could know of these meetings – not my family, not my girlfriend (now my wife), not my friends – and that would, ...

Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith review – anyone for a cultural thought experiment?

In her wide-ranging new collection, Zadie Smith’s sharp eye darts from social media to Ella Fitzgerald, from the English seasons to Prince’s dancing

One unavoidable sensation in reading Zadie Smith’s recent essays is that “recent” isn’t what it used to be. Smith is now an insistently transatlantic writer, dividing her life between New York and Queens Park in London. These pieces were written during the eight years of the Obama administration, and therefore largely in the time – which, alarmingly, starts to look like a relatively rational period – of coalition government in the UK. There is only one mention of Donald Trump in the book; Theresa May does not get a look in. Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, has a walk-on as a politician who still looks more a dead-end past than a born-again future, someone who has “profoundly betrayed the youth vote… [and] must go”.

Written before Trump… these essays ...

The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers review – smell the coffee

Dave Eggers’s remarkable tale of a Yemeni immigrant chasing the American dream offers hope in the age of Trump

The culture war dividing the US is being fought over the relevance of empathy. On the one hand a president and a ruling party that denies the imaginative possibility – or importance – of trying to walk in another’s shoes; on the other, a liberal tradition that celebrates America as the all-born-equal nation and believes understanding is synonymous with compassion.

Some of the recent writing of Dave Eggers is a kind of thought-experiment in that latter position. Since the success of his fortune-making memoir about bringing up his kid brother, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, he has been moving as far as he can from the notion of an insistent “I” in his books. Instead, he is on a mission to use the platform he has created as a ...

Daniel Mallory: ‘Without Gone Girl I’d never have written this book’

Having written his debut novel in total secrecy and published it under a pseudonym, Daniel Mallory has been astounded that The Woman in the Window has created a worldwide bidding frenzy. Tim Adams meets novelist as he steps out of the shadows

Last year, Daniel Mallory had one of those weeks that all first-time novelists fantasise about. Through an agent he had submitted his manuscript to several publishers and was about to take a short holiday. The excitement started when he arrived at Newark airport in New York to take a plane to Palm Springs. That was when the first offer to publish his book came in.

After that, Mallory says: “It was the full dream.” His phone lit up with offers and messages like in the movies. “I was going on holiday with someone and he was taking a separate flight and he texted me in mid-air, and ...

Colm Toíbín: Brexit expats, Trump’s Irish influence – and the right way to gouge an eye

If you’re having lunch with the Booker-shortlisted novelist, expect a wide-ranging discussion If you were to go in search of a prime example of the genus “writer”, Colm Toíbín would have strong claims as exhibit A. There’s the face to begin with: meaty, heavy browed, quick-eyed, both grave and wickedly animated, the head and neck invariably rising, as today, out of a white shirt and a black coat. And then the voice, with the inflection of his native Co Wexford, low tones moving easily to lightness, erudite and conspiratorial. Seeing Toíbín advancing toward you across the restaurant is the equivalent of hearing a memorable opening line: “Call me Ishmael”, or – his own favourite this (from Anthony Burgess’s Earthly Powers) – “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced the archbishop had come to see me.” You ...

Colm Toíbín: Brexit expats, Trump’s Irish influence – and the right way to gouge an eye

If you’re having lunch with the Booker-shortlisted novelist, expect a wide-ranging discussion If you were to go in search of a prime example of the genus “writer”, Colm Toíbín would have strong claims as exhibit A. There’s the face to begin with: meaty, heavy browed, quick-eyed, both grave and wickedly animated, the head and neck invariably rising, as today, out of a white shirt and a black coat. And then the voice, with the inflection of his native Co Wexford, low tones moving easily to lightness, erudite and conspiratorial. Seeing Toíbín advancing toward you across the restaurant is the equivalent of hearing a memorable opening line: “Call me Ishmael”, or – his own favourite this (from Anthony Burgess’s Earthly Powers) – “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced the archbishop had come to see me.” You ...

That’s the Way It Crumbles: The American Conquest of English by Matthew Engel – review

Matthew Engel urges us to hang tough against Americanisms in this entertaining history of linguistic imperialismI worked for a few years in my 20s at the literary quarterly Granta. The magazine had been a very English institution, based in Cambridge, until it was successfully hijacked by a bullish and bearded American graduate student, Bill Buford, who had arrived at the university via Louisiana and California to help edit Shakespeare, and was looking for an excuse to stay on. I became his deputy. As a former linebacker in American college football, Buford was not always the easiest man to argue with, but when it came to questions of written style the British contingent in the office attempted to mount occasional rearguard actions. Mostly, we followed English linguistic conventions and spelling in the magazine, but on a few issues Buford was entirely intransigent. One of these, our Rorke’s Drift, was ...