From Aristotle to Angela Davis: the best books about debate

This post is by Edith Hall from Books | The Guardian

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Whether it is a dispute between Agamemnon and Achilles or the colonisers and the colonised in Things Fall Apart, we can all learn techniques of persuasion from literature

As the campaign for the White House gears up and the struggle over Brexit becomes ever more intense, we’re inundated with spin, fake news and alternative facts. Techniques of persuasion – which the ancient Greeks called the science of rhetoric – are very much alive.

Homer’s Iliad (8th century BC) opens with the dispute between Agamemnon and Achilles pitching inherited power against proven merit. But systematic studies of rhetoric, and realisations that it empowered immoral people, then emerged with 5th-century democracies. Barry Unsworth’s 2002 novel The Songs of the Kings retold the Iliad and Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis to skewer the sophisticated spin of New Labour, especially Peter Mandelson. Agamemnon’s chief strategist is Odysseus, whose “own fluency betrayed him sometimes, when he ...

Permanent Record by Edward Snowden review – the whistleblower’s memoir

This post is by Nick Hopkins from Books | The Guardian

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The call of duty and a patriotic pedigree are given priority in Snowden’s account of his motivations – and he warns of dangers ahead

Towards the end of Edward Snowden’s memoir, he hands the narrative to his partner, Lindsay Mills, in the form of the diary she was keeping at the time he was “outing” himself as a whistleblower intent on revealing the most cherished secrets, and rampant ambitions, of the American and British spy agencies. “Ed, what have you done?” she wrote. “How can you come back from this?”

Permanent Record is Snowden’s attempt to answer these questions by doing something he finds discomforting and antithetical: breaching his own privacy, opening up what he calls the “empty zone that lies beyond the reach of the state”.

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For the Record: signs of trouble before David Cameron book hits shelves

This post is by Ben Quinn and Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian

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Preorders appear sluggish and some shops in remain-voting areas say they won’t stock memoir

It is the fruit of three years’ work, at least some of which is presumed to have taken place inside a £25,000 shepherd’s hut.

The much-anticipated publication next week of For the Record, David Cameron’s 752-page book promising a candid account of his time in politics, is expected to be the moment a man widely blamed for Britain’s greatest postwar crisis will make a concerted bid for control of his tainted legacy.

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Michael Morpurgo on fighting Brexit: ‘I’ve been spat at. It’s almost civil war’

This post is by Etan Smallman from Books | The Guardian

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The world’s getting nastier, says the writer, and Britain no longer cares. So he’s hitting back – with a Gulliver’s Travels update that targets Trump, Brexit and the refugee crisis

Michael Morpurgo has all the trappings befitting a prolific, bestselling and beloved children’s author. There is the National Theatre production (War Horse, still touring the globe) and its Spielberg movie adaptation; the stint as children’s laureate (a post he helped create); the gold Blue Peter badge and the knighthood. But as a vocal campaigner against Brexit, he is getting used to rather a different kind of reception.

“I’ve been spat at,” Britain’s storyteller-in-chief says nonchalantly over lunch at his local pub in an idyllic Devon village. “I went to Sidmouth folk festival – quite a peaceable part of the world, you would have thought.” The trouble began when he bought one of the “little blue ...

Order, order! Books to help make sense of parliament

This post is by Isabel Hardman from Books | The Guardian

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From Erskine May to The Rise of Political Lying, journalist Isabel Hardman shares the best titles that explain what is happening in UK politics

If you’re confused by the current political scene, you may or may not be reassured to learn that the people paid to understand it, including political journalists, are also struggling to keep up. Many of the twists and turns in parliament are so unprecedented that it’s not clear whether they are supposed to be happening or not.

Everyone is trying to sound better briefed than they actually are. There’s not even a great deal of point in burying yourself in Erskine May, the parliamentary bible of what MPs can and cannot do, because Speaker Bercow has been more than willing to ignore it too. Still, that weighty tome is now online, so at least you don’t have to haul it around with you on public ...

Strike 2.0: how gig economy workers are using tech to fight back

This post is by Jack Shenker from Books | The Guardian

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Up to 10 million people in the UK are in precarious work, juggling low paid jobs as cleaners, Deliveroo riders and Uber drivers. But a movement is under way to rewire the economy from within

Fatima, from Guinea-Bissau, wakes up in the early hours of the morning to be in with a chance of being able to use the bathroom at her small house in Stratford, east London, which she shares with nine strangers – some are Italian, she thinks, and some might be eastern European, but nobody socialises as they are all too busy working, so she can’t really be sure. Almost every possession Fatima owns remains permanently packed in two large suitcases, because she knows what the landlord is capable of: he demands payments in cash and retains a personal key to every room. “When he throws me out on to the street, I’ll be ready,” she explains. ...

No Logo at 20: have we lost the battle against the total branding of our lives?

This post is by Dan Hancox from Books | The Guardian

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It was the bestseller that brilliantly critiqued the political power of the ‘superbrands’ and shot Naomi Klein to fame. Two decades on, we ask her, how does it stand up in our world of tech giants and personal brands?

Some political books capture the zeitgeist with such precision that they seem to blur the lines between the page and the real world and become part of the urgent, rapidly unfolding changes they are describing. On 30 November 1999, mere days before the publication of Naomi Klein’s debut, No Logo, the epochal “Battle of Seattle” began. Tens of thousands turned out to protest against the World Trade Organisation, and the global corporate interests it represented, and were met with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun grenades. Seattle’s mayor declared a state of emergency, and a massive “no protest zone”, as the violence continued, while the chief ...

Stamina, intelligence, ego: which personality traits make the best leaders?

This post is by David Runciman from Books | The Guardian

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Some say a second-class mind makes for a first-class leader, others that madness is an essential feature of the role. From Trump and Obama, to Blair and Boris Johnson, which personalities are born to rule?

There is a story that often gets told about modern presidents and prime ministers, and sometimes gets told by them as well. The politician spends half a lifetime working tirelessly towards the top job, with the goal of making a real difference once he or she gets there. They issue their instructions. Dutiful officials nod along encouragingly. But nothing really changes. Once the door to the Oval Office or No 10 closes behind them, and they settle their feet under the desk, the new president or prime minister finds out that it’s just another room and just another desk. It feels as if true power is still somewhere out of reach.

In politics you should ...

The disinformation age: a revolution in propaganda

This post is by Peter Pomerantsev from Books | The Guardian

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Troll farms, bots, dark ads, fake news ... from Putin’s Russia to Brexit Britain, new methods are being used to change politics and crush dissent. It’s time to fight back

Father came out of the sea and was arrested on the beach: two men in suits standing over his clothes as he returned from his swim. They ordered him to get dressed quickly, pull his trousers over his wet trunks. On the drive the trunks were still wet, shrinking, turning cold, leaving a damp patch on his trousers and the back seat. He had to keep them on during the interrogation. There he was, trying to keep up a dignified facade, but all the time the dank trunks made him squirm. It struck him they had done it on purpose, these mid-ranking KGB men: masters of the small-time humiliation, the micro-mind game.

It was 1976, in Odessa, Soviet Ukraine, and ...

Prose and cons: Boris Johnson’s long history of fictional cameos

This post is by John Dugdale from Books | The Guardian

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The new PM saw literary potential in his career – as did his own father and a string of other writers. So how does he come across?

Long before Boris Johnson began the game of putting himself in fiction, in his much-derided novel Seventy-Two Virgins in 2004, there were already shadowy echoes of him in literature. Recent profiles of the future prime minister have invoked Zaphod Beeblebrox in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the self-obsessed “president of the galaxy”, but not really in charge) and Toad of Toad Hall (comparing the efforts of friends to rein him in to the ill-fated bid in The Wind in the Willows to make a “sensible Toad” of their manic chum). There’s William Boot in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, who rather like the young Boris is mistakenly hired as a reporter but copes by making things up. And the creations of PG Wodehouse, another ...

Less ado: Boris Johnson’s Shakespeare book delayed for ‘foreseeable future’

This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian

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The incoming prime minister’s Shakespeare: The Riddle of Genius was scheduled for October 2016, but has been pushed back multiple times

The riddle of Shakespeare’s genius must remain unsolved, for now at least, after Boris Johnson’s publisher said on Wednesday morning that the new prime minister’s “simple and readable” book exploring the “true British icon” had been indefinitely delayed after his victory in the Conservative leadership vote.

Johnson’s biography, Shakespeare: The Riddle of Genius, had originally been scheduled for October 2016, but this was postponed. In April this year, publisher Hodder & Stoughton said the book had been scheduled for April 2020, but admitted it was not yet finished.

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The English Job by Jack Straw review – portrait of Iran’s fixation with Britain

This post is by Andrew Anthony from Books | The Guardian

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The former foreign secretary examines why Iran, for all its domestic flaws, has just cause to fear foreign influence

Almost four years ago, the former foreign secretary Jack Straw went on holiday with his wife and a couple of friends to Iran, where he experienced what he calls a “forced conscription into a thriller”. Visiting the cypress of Abarkuh, a tree estimated to be up to 5,000 years old, the foursome were confronted by a group of men dressed in religiously observant black. They were members of the Basij, the thuggish volunteer offshoot of the Revolutionary Guards, and they handed Straw a leaflet explaining why he was unwelcome in their country.

The document detailed Britain’s perfidious 19th- and 20th-century track record in Iran and claimed that the recently retired Straw was a subversive agent of the British state, using his visit to sow discord. Thereafter the Basij followed the ...

‘Vaccine hesitant’: a gentler label than anti-vaxxer, but just as scary

This post is by Steven Poole from Books | The Guardian

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Reluctant parents who keep their opinions on jabs to themselves have been called a global threat by the World Health Organisation

This week we learned that parents who are unsure whether to have their children vaccinated against dangerous diseases are in the grip of “vaccine hesitancy”, a term that first appeared in print in 2008 but is becoming distressingly more common. It is not clear whether there is a symmetrically opposed group who are “vaccine curious”, but to call such waverers “hesitant” is at least gentler than calling them “deniers”.

The word “hesitant” itself is first recorded in 1647, when the Roman emperor Hadrian was said to be “hesitant, or halting”. It comes from the Latin haesito, meaning to stay in one place, and so to vacillate or remain undecided. But sometimes those who decide fastest are the stupidest, and hesitancy has been described as the sign ...

Michael Gove by Owen Bennett review – did this book end his leadership bid?

This post is by Stephen Bush from Books | The Guardian

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This skilful, if flawed, biography revealed that Gove took cocaine. Can the Tory party’s ‘best rhetorician’ come back yet again?

“Political biographers who choose to write about a figure not yet at the end of their career are taking a gamble,” Owen Bennett writes in his biography of Michael Gove. He is talking not about himself but about Gove’s own entry in the genre, Portillo: The Future of the Right. Weeks after Gove’s study of Michael Portillo hit bookshelves, the Enfield Southgate MP’s putative leadership bid had hit the buffers.

Bennett’s A Man in a Hurry has suffered a similar fate. And unlike The Future of the Right, which was criticised (both at the time and by Bennett) for pulling its punches, this book arguably played a decisive role in the downfall of its subject. It is in these pages that Bennett revealed that Gove took cocaine while working ...

What does Boris Johnson’s terrible novel Seventy-Two Virgins tell us about him?

This post is by Mark Lawson from Books | The Guardian

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It’s sexist, racist fundamentally undiplomatic, and stars a tousled, bicycling Tory MP who believes everything is up for grabs

Boris Johnson’s self-identification as the new Winston Churchill invites widespread scepticism. But, if the member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip forms a government this summer, he will, in one respect, immediately emulate Churchill, and indeed Benjamin Disraeli – as a Conservative prime minister who is also a novelist.

Disraeli had published 14 works of fiction by the time he took the highest office, while Churchill was a one-off novelist – an African adventure yarn, Savrola (1900) – in common with his modern Tory impersonator. Seventy-Two Virgins – A Comedy of Errors came out at the start of September 2004, when Johnson was MP for Henley, shadow arts minister, and simultaneously editor of the Spectator, in contradiction of an apparent undertaking to the then proprietor not to combine the editorship with parliament.


The Great Betrayal by Rod Liddle review – a disingenuous, dishonest Brexit polemic

This post is by Fintan O”Toole from Books | The Guardian

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Assuming a new pose as defender of the people, Liddle rages against liberal remainers and the ‘establishment’ – and is as untroubled by facts as by logic

“Never,” Rod Liddle writes in his jeremiad on the “betrayal” of Brexit, “have so many blameless people in this country been held in such contempt, or been subject to such vilification by an elite.” Really? Who wrote in 2014 of Britain as “a nation of broken families clamouring about their entitlements siring ill-educated and undisciplined kids unfamiliar with the concept of right and wrong”? Who described with relish “the hulking fat tattooed chavmonkey standing in the queue at Burger King”? Who characterised the British masses as inhabiting “a dumbed-down culture”, being in thrall to “the background fugue of idiocy, the moronic inferno, of celebrity fuckstories”, and spending their time “watching TV, masturbating to pornography on the internet, getting drunk”? That would be ...

The Tao of Sir Terry: Pratchett and Political Philosophy

This post is by J.R.H. Lawless from Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content

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“It wasn’t that the city was lawless. It had plenty of laws. It just didn’t offer many opportunities not to break them.” —Night Watch (2002)

In the Discworld series, Ankh-Morpork is the Ur-city, of which all other cities throughout time and space are mere echoes. But politics is, quite literally, the life of the polis, of the city, as Pratchett himself was keenly aware:

“‘Polis’ used to mean ‘city’, said Carrot. That’s what policeman means: ‘a man for the city’. Not many people knew that.” —Men at Arms (1993)

And again, in the finale of the same book: “Have you ever wondered where the word ‘politician’ comes from?” said the Patrician.” It is therefore little wonder that politics, and political philosophy, is a core subject of most, if not all, of Pratchett’s works at some level or another—and this is especially true of ...

From tobacco to milkshakes: where did ‘sin taxes’ come from?

This post is by Steven Poole from Books | The Guardian

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Boris Johnson thinks sin taxes are part of the ‘nanny state’ – but he’s muddling up his authority figures

This week, campaigners were worried that Theresa May’s cherished plans to increase “sin taxes” on tobacco companies and milkshakes would not survive the end of her premiership. Boris Johnson, perhaps a man particularly reluctant to contemplate negative consequences for sin, said that “sin taxes” were part of the “nanny state”. This, however, is to confuse two authority figures. A nanny punishes naughtiness; sin is punished by God.

The phrase “sin tax” is first recorded in 1901, in an article about a young women’s society in the US that fined its members for using slang. (“My sin tax!” exclaimed one as she paid up.) Its political use, to mean state levies on alcohol, tobacco and gambling, is attributed to Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Sherman Adams, during his previous time as ...

Cleaning Up the Mess review – after the expenses scandal

This post is by Chris Mullin from Books | The Guardian

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Ian Kennedy’s account of the parliamentary expenses affair is entertaining and perceptive

“Few members have yet tumbled to the juggernaut heading their way,” remarked the late Robin Cook when the Freedom of Information Act came into force, which, among other things, required the publication of MPs’ expenses three years in arrears.

How right he was. It was another six years before the bombshell exploded, during which time the Commons authorities did everything they could to prevent publication. At one point, the whips on both sides conspired unsuccessfully to wave through an amendment exempting parliament from the provisions of the act. In the end, their hands were forced when the Daily Telegraph purchased a stolen copy of the computer disc containing all the details and began drip-feeding them in detail over a period of weeks.

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The curse of Jeremy Hunt: why his name is hard to say

This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian

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It’s all too easy to call the Conservative leadership hopeful something obscene. Can linguistics explain the slips?

Linguistics experts have been picking over a particularly juicy problem for the last few weeks: why do presenters from James Naughtie to Nicky Campbell keep replacing the first letter of Jeremy Hunt’s surname with a C?

When Victoria Derbyshire became the latest of many broadcasters to use a derogatory term for female genitalia to refer to the Conservative leadership hopeful – there’s even a Viz cartoon about it – experts at the University of Pennysylvania’s Language Log started asking why. “I wonder if the leading K sound is because they expect to say Corbyn then change to Hunt too late,” pondered one. Another wrote: “It seems to me that the similarity between a ‘h’ and a ‘k’ sound (at least when it’s a strongly pronounced ‘h’) is part of the picture.”

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