Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen review – the decline of America

Donald Trump’s presidency is the cue for a caustic deconstruction of US history that portrays a country in irrevocable decline

Kurt Andersen’s excoriating attack on the US today is uncomfortable reading, especially after the recent massacre in Las Vegas. Nonetheless, like many polemics, it is charged with enough anger and wit to become necessary reading. Inspired by the unlikely accession of Donald Trump – a man he dismisses as “a pure Fantasyland being, its apotheosis” – to the White House, Andersen looks at the past half-millennium of American history by skilfully deconstructing the myths and fantasies that have evolved since the country’s foundation. Many of the targets are relatively easy ones, not least Trump himself, and there is, throughout, a sense that this able and witty writer is largely preaching to the converted. Yet, as he dissects everything from the Salem witch hunts to Scientology, he manages to present a ...

Glen Newey obituary

My friend, former student and colleague Glen Newey, who has died aged 56 as a result of a boating accident, was one of the most interesting political philosophers of his generation. He was best known for his work on toleration, about which he wrote two seminal books, Virtue, Reason, and Toleration (1999) and Toleration in Political Conflict (2013), and on political morality, being an early progenitor in his book After Politics (2001) of the “realist turn” in political theory.

He also wrote a brilliant guide to Hobbes’s Leviathan and numerous, diverse articles on contemporary political philosophy. Glen was “oppositional” by nature, and most comfortable engaging in invariably penetrating critiques, especially of current liberal political theory. Where he stood, however, could be less easy to pin down, partly because he was more interested in understanding and analysing the complexities and tensions inherent in politics than in telling people what they should ...

Bill Michie obituary

Sheffield city councillor, trade unionist and Labour MP whose lifelong commitment to socialism never wavered

Before his election to the House of Commons in 1983, Bill Michie, who has died aged 81, was a Sheffield city councillor at the time when the authority was a part of what had been nicknamed the “People’s Republic of South Yorkshire”. The ironic title, originally bestowed in criticism of the radical policies pursued by local Labour politicians, was in fact happily embraced by those it was intended to denigrate, including Michie, whose lifelong commitment to the pursuit of socialism never wavered.

The political path he trod was always democratic and he remained loyal to the party he had joined as a young electrician in the steel industry.

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How Amazon reviews became the new battlefield of US politics

In the vexatious realm of online opinion, history has begun to be written not so much by the victors as the customer reviewers

There are stars that twinkle and shine in the firmament and yet others that determine the destiny of authors. In the case of the latter, every author wishes for an Amazon page that is, much like the Coldplay song, “full of stars”. Hillary Clinton, former US presidential candidate, and author of the testily titled What Happened, was not such a fortunate author. A mere day after it was released, Clinton (or, more likely, one of her many publicists) found her book’s Amazon page to be a battleground. Within 24 hours of the book’s release, 1,500 reviews had been posted and – like the American electorate – divided between ardent love and ferocious hatred for the book and its author. The former slathered on five stars, the latter ...

From Roots to Black People in Britain: 10 key political texts on black consciousness

How the lessons of injustice were drawn from centuries of slavery and colonialism

We are living through something of a Baldwin renaissance, in large part thanks to Raoul Peck’s brilliant documentary I Am Not Your Negro. Any number of Baldwin’s books might earn a place on this list, but The Fire Next Time stands out. Consisting of two essays, one addressed to Baldwin’s nephew, it is a passionate and visceral plea to black and white America. It is the only document I know of that expresses the civil rights case as eloquently as the speeches of Martin Luther King.

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From Lloyd George to Brexit: 10 of the best books on British politics

This collection tracks the ideological struggles that have helped form modern British society

This landmark book described how the Liberal party, apparently unassailable after their 1906 landslide, went into decline less than a decade later, never to lead a government again. The reasons, as Dangerfield set out, went far beyond parliamentary arithmetic. This was a ruling class failing to understand the pressures of the new century: suffragism, the trade union movement and Irish nationalism. This depiction of downfall of perhaps the original citizens of nowhere offers a lesson for today’s politicians in how a ruling class can be undone by contemporary events, and how establishment parties can be brought down by failing to change with the times.

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From The Second Sex to The Beauty Myth: 10 of the best feminist texts

Twentieth-century polemical writing that changed the way we think about gender

To ask what influence this book had on gender politics is akin to wondering what the sun ever did for the earth. The answer? Everything. Today, The Second Sex is still hailed as the mothership of feminist philosophy. “One is not born, but rather becomes (a) woman,” muses De Beauvoir (the quote varying, according to the translation). Exploring topics from sex, work and family to prostitution, abortion and the history of female subordination, De Beauvoir challenges the notion of men as the default (the ideal), and women as “other”. For many, The Second Sex represents not just key feminist reading, but rather essential feminist thinking and being.

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