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 Tor.com 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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Plucked from obscurity: why bluegrass is making a comeback


This post is by Emma John from Books | The Guardian


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It was once derided as hillbilly music. How did bluegrass become the new sound of political protest across the US?

You could tell Punch Brothers didn’t expect to win a Grammy this year – their frontman didn’t even turn up. Bluegrass doesn’t, historically, make much of a splash at the awards, and this year they were up against the renowned Joan Baez in the folk category. But something in their album, All Ashore, had caught the zeitgeist. And it was probably their song about Donald Trump Jr.

Bluegrass has no history of protest music. Or rather, its protest has always been a passive, melancholic one, the sound of displaced workers longing for their home in the Blue Ridge Mountains far away. It is a music whose roots are bedded so deep in its nostalgic view of America that it can seem estranged from the modern world – and vice ...

Guardian Books desk: ‘You can tell a lot about a country by how it treats its libraries’


This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian


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The books site editor on the challenges facing publishers, and who she would invite to her dream dinner party

How long have you had this job? What route did you take to get here?

I came to the Guardian’s books desk in a rather roundabout way. I studied journalism and international relations in Australia, my homeland, then began working as a radio producer for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. But reading has always been my most beloved pastime, so I simultaneously worked as a bookseller for four years. When I moved to the UK, I initially found it very hard to get into the media. It felt as though there were still a lot of closed doors for people taking less conventional paths. I began working as a bookseller again while I hunted for work, writing for free after hours and on days off, and using my holidays to do ...

Jeremy Corbyn on Joyce’s Ulysses: ‘Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t understand it’


This post is by Peter Carty from Books | The Guardian


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Politicians including Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and the Labour leader have lined up to praise the impenetrable novel. Ahead of Bloomsday, Corbyn discusses the power of Joyce’s political vision

In defiance of its reputation for being hard to finishPhilip Roth and Jorge Luis Borges did not manage it, and there is a question mark over Virginia Woolf – James Joyce’s Ulysses has emerged as a favourite of politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. In the US, former vice president Joe Biden has been joined by his fellow 2020 Democrat presidential hopefuls Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke in praising the book. In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn revealed in a 2016 Mumsnet Q&A that it has long been his favourite novel too.

When I spoke to Corbyn in advance of this year’s Bloomsday – 16 June, the day in 1904 on which the events of Joyce’s Dublin mock epic ...

Jeremy Corbyn on Joyce’s Ulysses: ‘Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t understand it’


This post is by Peter Carty from Books | The Guardian


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Politicians including Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and the Labour leader have lined up to praise the impenetrable novel. Ahead of Bloomsday, Corbyn discusses the power of Joyce’s political vision

In defiance of its reputation for being hard to finishPhilip Roth and Jorge Luis Borges did not manage it, and there is a question mark over Virginia Woolf – James Joyce’s Ulysses has emerged as a favourite of politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. In the US, former vice president Joe Biden has been joined by his fellow 2020 Democrat presidential hopefuls Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke in praising the book. In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn revealed in a 2016 Mumsnet Q&A that it has long been his favourite novel too.

When I spoke to Corbyn in advance of this year’s Bloomsday – 16 June, the day in 1904 on which the events of Joyce’s Dublin mock epic ...

Every Tory MP sent This Is Going to Hurt as reminder of Jeremy Hunt’s record


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Adam Kay is sending his exposé of life as a junior doctor during the leadership candidate’s time as health secretary to highlight how he ‘left the NHS in tatters’

Adam Kay is sending a copy of his bestselling memoir about life as a junior doctor, This Is Going to Hurt, to all 330 Conservative MPs ahead of their vote on the new Tory leader, to remind them of how leading contender Jeremy Hunt “left the NHS in tatters” after his stint as health secretary.

Hunt, who is now foreign secretary, has pitched himself as the “serious leader” the UK needs in the Conservative party leadership race, arguing that he is the best negotiator to deliver Brexit. Kay said he was sending his memoirs to MPs because he “wanted to remind those ‘honourable friends’ with any honour quite what those in the health service actually thought of those ‘negotiation skills’ Mr ...

Here’s to bandit country: the Irish border, writing’s new frontier


This post is by James Patterson from Books | The Guardian


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Once overshadowed by Dublin and Belfast, the border regions are finally being recognised for inspiring some of Ireland’s best writing – and it’s not all about Brexit

Ask anyone where they think about when they think about Irish writing and they’ll probably say Dublin or Belfast. When it comes to writers from the border regions, they may mention Brian Friel or Seamus Heaney, but for most people, the border between the republic and Northern Ireland is usually regarded as an area whose existence is contentious, where terms are unfavourable and the writing is characteristically unfeminine. It is an area that Labour’s former secretary of state for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees referred to as “bandit country” in 1974, and perceptions have been slow to shift.

Yet the region has catalysed some of the country’s finest writing and never more so than today. Since the Good Friday agreement, the border region ...

Here’s to bandit country: the Irish border, writing’s new frontier


This post is by James Patterson from Books | The Guardian


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Once overshadowed by Dublin and Belfast, the border regions are finally being recognised for inspiring some of Ireland’s best writing – and it’s not all about Brexit

Ask anyone where they think about when they think about Irish writing and they’ll probably say Dublin or Belfast. When it comes to writers from the border regions, they may mention Brian Friel or Seamus Heaney, but for most people, the border between the republic and Northern Ireland is usually regarded as an area whose existence is contentious, where terms are unfavourable and the writing is characteristically unfeminine. It is an area that Labour’s former secretary of state for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees referred to as “bandit country” in 1974, and perceptions have been slow to shift.

Yet the region has catalysed some of the country’s finest writing and never more so than today. Since the Good Friday agreement, the border region ...

Words of power: the best books on leadership


This post is by Eliane Glaser from Books | The Guardian


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As Theresa May steps aside, Eliane Glaser selects books examining authority from Machiavelli to Daphne du Maurier

Despite our supposedly post-deferential era, we still seem rather wedded to strong leaders. We can only hope that whoever wins the race to be the next British prime minister will know the difference between authoritarianism and authority.

For Max Weber, the key is legitimacy. But how do you define that in an age when leaders bow to ‘the will of the people’?

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The Patient Assassin by Anita Anand review – massacre, revenge and the Raj


This post is by Ian Jack from Books | The Guardian


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The true tale of a flamboyant Sikh who killed an imperial die-hard to avenge the Amritsar massacre’s victims

On the afternoon of 13 March 1940 a gunman entered a public meeting at Caxton Hall, Westminster, and assassinated Sir Michael O’Dwyer, a former lieutenant governor of Punjab. That primary job done, he took aim at other members of the platform party and wounded Lord Zetland, the secretary of state for India, Sir Louis Dane, who had been O’Dwyer’s predecessor, and Lord Lamington, a former governor of Bombay.

This grand assembly of old India hands had just finished their discussion of Afghanistan and the threat posed to it by Germany’s then ally, the Soviet Union. They were relaxed and unaware of any danger; a better-equipped assassin would have made a clean sweep of all four. But the gunman, Udham Singh, had somehow managed to acquire the wrong calibre bullets for his Smith ...

Rebecca Solnit: ‘Every protest shifts the world’s balance’


This post is by Rebecca Solnit from Books | The Guardian


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Two hundred years after the Peterloo massacre, which led to the founding of the Manchester Guardian, protest is shaping our political moment. Where do we go from here?

Scale it up and it’s revolution; scale it down and it’s individual non-cooperation that may be seen as nothing more than obstinacy or malingering or not seen at all. What we call protest identifies one aspect of popular power and resistance, a force so woven into history and everyday life that you miss a lot of its impact if you focus only on groups of people taking stands in public places. But people taking such stands have changed the world over and over, toppled regimes, won rights, terrified tyrants, stopped pipelines and deforestation and dams. They go far further back than the Peterloo protests and massacre 200 years ago, to the great revolutions of France and then of Haiti against France and ...

Arundhati Roy: ‘I don’t want to become an interpreter of the east to the west’


This post is by Gary Younge from Books | The Guardian


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After The God of Small Things made her a global star, the novelist turned to political writing and activism. Gary Younge finds out why

Gary Younge: One of the things I’m intrigued by at this moment is the way that we keep getting shocked by elections. Modi in India, the Australian elections – these hard-right people who don’t just win, they win again. It’s possible that Trump could win again. It’s possible we could have Boris Johnson as a UK prime minister, and each time we get shocked.

Arundhati Roy: I was in the US just now and it was very interesting to see, with someone who was mocked and laughed at like Trump has been, that there’s a very real possibility that he’ll come back. But there is a big difference between Modi and Trump. Modi has a 95-year-old organisation behind ...