Historians warn against soundbite verdicts on Winston Churchill


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Following consternation over shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s judgment, experts have appealed for less simplistic appraisal

The political fallout over John McDonnell’s characterisation of Winston Churchill as a villain continued on Thursday, with Boris Johnson suggesting that the shadow chancellor “should be utterly ashamed of his remarks”. But historians have poured scorn on the idea that Churchill’s legacy can be reduced to one word, arguing that history “should never be reduced to soundbites”.

The row began after McDonnell was asked at an event organised by Politico to answer in one word whether Britain’s wartime prime minister was a hero or a villain. The shadow chancellor replied: “Villain – Tonypandy.” This was a reference to an incident in the south Wales town in 1910, when riots erupted after police attempted to break the miners’ picket line. The then home secretary Churchill sent 200 officers of the Metropolitan police and a detachment ...

Billy Bragg writes first in series of political pamphlets by musicians


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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The Three Dimensions of Freedom, a polemic about accountability by the singer-songwriter, will launch line of similar works from Faber

Singer-songwriter and leftwing activist Billy Bragg is spearheading the launch of a new line of political pamphlets in the tradition of Thomas Paine, taking on the crisis of accountability in western democracies.

Running to 15,000 words, Bragg’s polemic, The Three Dimensions of Freedom, will be published in May and will tackle the battleground that free speech has become. Bragg argues, said publisher Faber & Faber, “that to protect ourselves from encroaching tyranny, we must look beyond this one-dimensional notion of what it means to be free and, by reconnecting liberty to equality and accountability, restore the individual agency engendered by the three dimensions of freedom”.

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Why Nationalism by Yael Tamir – review


This post is by Nick Cohen from Books | The Guardian


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The rise of nationalism – a product of the left’s embrace of globalism – can be a benevolent force, according to this ‘wine-bar’ polemic. Nick Cohen begs to differ

You must have once sat in a bar listening to an apparently informed companion. At first, they beguile you. Then the drink flows, tongues loosen, fingers wag and the evening degenerates. I have been on both sides of the table. I have wagged and been wagged at so often I know the danger signs. Nowhere are they more evident than in today’s lectures on how liberals “just don’t get it”.

Yael Tamir offers an upmarket version of contemporary cliches. She is more wine bar than saloon bar, although, as the glasses are downed, the distinction between the two blurs. Tamir is from the subgenre of former or self-declared liberals and leftists. She was an anti-war activist in the Israeli Peace Now ...

Fightback against the billionaires: the radicals taking on the global elite


This post is by Rutger Bregman, Winnie Byanyima and Anand Giridharadas from Books | The Guardian


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When Rutger Bregman and Winnie Byanyima spoke out about taxes at Davos they went viral. They talk with Winners Take All author Anand Giridharadas about why change is coming

Rutger: Winnie, why did the comments you and I made about billionaires and taxes at Davos go viral? Why do things seem to be changing right now?

Winnie: Why did we go viral? I think we said things that people have wanted to hear, especially on a big stage where powerful politicians and companies are represented. And they are rarely said. People go there and speak in coded words and praise themselves and spin out the stats that suit them, but for once we spoke plainly about the challenges that people face.

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Afraid of public speaking? This is what the experts say


This post is by Sam Leith from Books | The Guardian


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From ‘pitch coaches’ to TED talkers, there’s an industry of self-help books about public speaking. What can we learn from the professionals?

You’ll probably remember reading somewhere that the deepest human fear – more profound even than death or waking up in bed with the 45th president of the United States of America – is the fear of public speaking. That’s nonsense, of course, to be bracketed with other factoids such as the seven spiders we’re all supposed to eat in our sleep, or the impossibility of bumblebee flight. The most recent Chapman University Survey on American Fears last year found public speaking at No 52, well behind sharks (41), death (48) and Obamacare (33). That’s the science.

But there’s no question that for most of us, public speaking is a fear. A big one. It’s one that may not loom front and centre in our lives, since we will ...

The Border by Diarmaid Ferriter review – before the backstop


This post is by Christopher Kissane from Books | The Guardian


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With the Irish border central to Brexit, this is a timely survey of a question always vexed but often wished away in Westminster

The Labour MP Nye Bevan, fed up with the “old-fashioned arguments” and “vested interests” of Northern Irish unionist MPs, told the House of Commons in 1954 that “we ought no longer to be oppressed by their presence and have our legislative process interfered with by their votes”. More than 60 years on, the survival of Theresa May’s government and the future of Brexit lie in the hands of such hardline unionists. The Irish border backstop required by the EU is now at the heart of parliamentary wrangling. That border, created to take “the Irish question” out of British politics, remains one of its deepest and least understood problems, so there could hardly be a more opportune time for Diarmaid Ferriter, one of Ireland’s leading historians, to ...

Where next? How to cope with Brexit uncertainty


This post is by Susie Orbach from Books | The Guardian


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As Brexit debates become ever more fractious, we are trapped in a cycle of anger, disbelief and impotence. Can psychotherapy help us find a way out?

Divorce, which is what Brexit is, takes a long time because it is serious. For divorce to work within a family, mediation is recommended. When a family breaks up with this much hostility its members rarely emerge unscathed.The escaping partner may be buoyed up by the hope of new adventures but the remaining partner is bequeathed with anxiety, insecurity and uncertainty.

On both sides of what we might term our national trauma, there is fury and hurt. It hasn’t gone away. In many ways it has heightened in the last fortnight, as the clock ticks down. There is fear and a sense of fragility, often masked by aggression and even bullying. It is easy for both parties in this traumatic break to exclude ...

Bradford libraries face further £2m cuts


This post is by David Barnett from Books | The Guardian


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Beleaguered service is facing fresh funding squeeze, with budget set to shrink by two-thirds and professional staff under threat

Bradford’s libraries are facing a £2m cut over the next two years, reducing funding by two-thirds and raising fears of widespread job losses, and for the continued provision of the service in the West Yorkshire district.

Plans to turn existing libraries into “community hubs” are due to be put before the council on Tuesday, including proposals to share resources with other local authorities and cut the book-buying budget by 30% in the next financial year.

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Poetry sales soar as political millennials search for clarity


This post is by Donna Ferguson from Books | The Guardian


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Record £12m sales last year were driven by younger readers, with experts saying hunger for nuance amid conflict and disaster were fuelling the boom

A passion for politics, particularly among teenagers and young millennials, is fuelling a dramatic growth in the popularity of poetry, with sales of poetry books hitting an all-time high in 2018.

Statistics from UK book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan show that sales grew by just over 12% last year, for the second year in a row. In total, 1.3m volumes of poetry were sold in 2018, adding up to £12.3m in sales, a rise of £1.3m on 2017. Two-thirds of buyers were younger than 34 and 41% were aged 13 to 22, with teenage girls and young women identified as the biggest consumers last year.

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Was Eric Hobsbawm a dangerous Communist?


This post is by Richard J Evans from Books | The Guardian


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He was branded a Stalinist, and was spied on for decades by MI5, but was the famous historian a hardliner and renegade? His private papers tell a different story

The historian Eric Hobsbawm, who was born in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution, and died in 2012 at the age of 95, was widely regarded as an unrepentant Stalinist, a man who, unlike other Marxist historians such as EP Thompson and Christopher Hill, never resigned his membership of the Communist party, and never expressed any regret for his commitment to the communist cause.

In the later part of his long life he was most probably the world’s best-known historian, his books translated into more than 50 languages and selling millions of copies across the globe (about a million in Brazil alone, for example). Yet when the BBC invited him on to the radio programme Desert Island Discs ...

Fintan O’Toole: ‘Brexit is full of hysterical self-pity’


This post is by Andrew Anthony from Books | The Guardian


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The Irish journalist talks about his new book, which skewers the myths of English nationalism, and finding comfort in Beckett

Fintan O’Toole is one of the most respected columnists and literary journalists working in the English language. He writes for the Irish Times and is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books. His latest book, Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain, is an excoriating cultural analysis of the political ideas behind Brexit.

You argue that English nationalism is the ghost in the Brexit machine. Why do you think that is?
From the turn of the century onwards, you have this extraordinary rise of the idea of England as a political community [ie, a popular desire for England-only legislation voted on by English-only politicians]. All the public opinion surveys show this. It’s very odd and I can’t think of any other parallels where it happens ...

Theresa May wants to ‘empower’ MPs? It sounds like they are in therapy


This post is by Steven Poole from Books | The Guardian


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‘Empower’ has become a key term in counselling. Is that why May used the word when announcing the aims of her latest talks in Brussels?

This week, Theresa May cancelled the “meaningful vote” on her Brexit agreement – as opposed, we must assume, to the meaningless votes that usually stuff the parliamentary calendar – and promised to bring home some words from Brussels that would “empower” MPs. But what sort of thing counts as empowerment?

The original sense of “empower” (or “impower”) in the 17th century was “to invest with legal or formal power or authority” (OED). May can’t have meant this, since having to beg the EU to empower parliament doesn’t sound much like taking back control. The more modern meaning arises with the US civil rights movement in the 1960s and has become a key term in counselling: to empower someone is to give them a ...

If austerity is (almost) over, what was it anyway?


This post is by Steven Poole from Books | The Guardian


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Self-restraint, spiritual virtue, economic necessity – the most bitter medicine in politics is a complex brew

So farewell then, austerity – perhaps. A few weeks ago, Theresa May announced that “austerity is over”, but in this week’s budget speech, Philip Hammond said that “the era of austerity is finally coming to an end”, which means that it isn’t over yet. But what exactly should we be celebrating the maybe incipient finish of?

“Austerity” as self-restraint (Latin: severity) is a spiritual virtue: in 1502, it was said that Jesus’s teachings consisted of “poverty, humility, and austerity”. In 2009, David Cameron enthusiastically promised an “age of austerity”, and in 2010 he happily set about slashing government spending and raising taxes. During the second world war, Britons had enjoyed “austerity buses” and “austerity clothing”. Now, we were expected to agree again that the bitter medicine was good for us.

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A Mask Without a Face: The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson


This post is by Niall Alexander from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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Three years on from The Traitor Baru Cormorant, a first novel so clever and subversive that it bore comparison to K. J. Parker’s best and most messed-up efforts, Seth Dickinson is back at last with a book that’s bigger, if not necessarily better, than its imperiously powerful predecessor. Its setting marks a substantial expansion from the several isolated isles explored in these pages before; its dramatis personae takes in a whole new cast of characters in addition to the scant survivors of Dickinson’s devastating debut; and there’s certainly a lot more going on in the story: so much more, as a matter of fact, that the manuscript of The Monster Baru Cormorant had to be cleaved in two. Saying that, size isn’t everything—a sentiment I’m sure The Masquerade’s embattled protagonist would echo if she weren’t so busy bloodily betraying her every belief.

Baru’s betrayals begin from the first chapter ...

Universal credit could silence working-class writers, MPs told


This post is by Danuta Kean from Books | The Guardian


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All-party inquiry into authors’ incomes hears new benefit’s rules could mean only the wealthy will write. Meanwhile booksellers welcomed budget business-rate changes

MPs have been warned that the rollout of universal credit championed in Monday’s budget will further undermine professional writers’ falling incomes. As a result, authors such as 2018 Man Booker prize winner Anna Burns, JK Rowling and Sarah Waters, all of whom relied on benefits to write their breakout bestsellers, would be unable to write full-time unless they had an alternative income.

In the acknowledgments to her winning novel, Milkman, Burns thanked her local food bank, various charities and benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions for support that enabled her to write the book.

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Between Earth and Heaven: Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson


This post is by Niall Alexander from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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I don’t know about you, but I’d go to the moon in a minute. Not necessarily right now, but if, in a few years, the trip was relatively inexpensive, and I could be assured of a safe launch and landing, then that’s a rocket I’d ride! Just to put a booted foot on that “bone-white ball” between Earth and Heaven—so near, yet so far; so familiar, yet so alien—would be the experience of a lifetime, I imagine, for me and for many.

For Fred Fredericks, the point of entry perspective of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Moon, that invigorating voyage—into the black and back at seven times the speed of sound—is no more than a necessary evil. His American employer has sent him skyward simply to deliver a device to one of the moon’s Chinese masters: a secure, quantum-entangled phone that can only communicate with its equivalent on Earth. Fred ...

Ladybird book authors make light work of Brexit


This post is by Mark Brown Arts correspondent from Books | The Guardian


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Last but one in hit series aimed at adults follows works about sheds and mid-life crises

Writers of the hugely popular Ladybird books for grownups are tackling what many would see as their biggest challenge so far. They are going to try to explain Brexit.

The series, which pairs modern jokes with original Ladybird artwork, has become a publishing phenomenon, with combined book sales of around 4.5m copies since it first appeared three years ago.

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How many ‘backstops’ will it take to Brexit?


This post is by Steven Poole from Books | The Guardian


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Fielders behind the wicket were first called ‘back-stops’ in the 19th century, but is the EU’s backstop plan just not cricket?

Brexit this week has been all about the “backstop”, and whether the backstop needs a backstop, though no one yet has suggested the elegant solution of giving the second backstop its own backstop, and so on to an infinite series of backstops, the contemplation of which will unite the UK and EU in awestruck comity. But what, pray, is a backstop?

The term comes from cricket: from 1819 you could say “back-stop” instead of “long-stop” for a fielder placed behind the wicketkeeper to stop the ball at the back. From there the term spread to baseball, and then shooting: a backstop was a pile of earth behind the target to stop stray bullets, of the kind hardline Brexiters wouldn’t mind seeing flying anew. The Irish backstop, too, is ...

Brexit is black cloud for UK arts, says former National Theatre boss


This post is by Mark Brown Arts correspondent from Books | The Guardian


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Sir Nicholas Hytner says council cuts and sidelining of subjects at school add to crisis

Sir Nicholas Hytner has delivered alarming warnings about the health of British arts and culture amid Brexit, council spending cuts and the downgrading of subjects at school.

Hytner, who was the director of the National Theatre for 12 years, expressed publicly views that are shared privately by many people in the arts. The difference, Hytner told the Cheltenham literature festival, was that he no longer worked in the public sector.

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How we roasted Donald Duck, Disney’s agent of imperialism | Ariel Dorfman


This post is by Ariel Dorfman from Books | The Guardian


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When Ariel Dorfman co-wrote a book finding colonialist intent in the actions of a well-loved cartoon character, it got burned in Chile’s streets and earned him death threats. Now it’s back – and newly relevant in the ‘pre-fascist’ Trump era. He explains why

I should not have been entirely surprised when I saw How to Read Donald Duck, a book I had written with the Belgian sociologist Armand Mattelart, being burned on TV by Chilean soldiers. It was mid-September 1973 and a military coup had just toppled Salvador Allende, the country’s president, terminating his remarkable experiment of building socialism through peaceful means.

I was in a safe house when I witnessed my book – along with hundreds of other subversive volumes – being consigned to the inquisitorial pyre. One of the reasons I had gone into hiding, besides my fervent participation in the revolutionary government that had just ...