For this issue, we asked selected members of the Demos Advisory Board to recommend their summer reading.

For this issue, we asked selected members of the Demos Advisory Board to recommend their summer reading.

by Wendy Alexander

Summer reading should have a little of everything – light, shade, fiction, non-fiction, something that everyone else is reading and old favourites no one else is reading – a book for every mood.

My business book is The Key by Prof Lynda Gratton which looks at how, in an age of dispersed power, companies can be a force for good; balanced by a much less sanguine assessment from David Marquand, Mammon’s Kingdom: An Essay on Britain, Now critiquing the power of money and marketisation in our society.

My book that everyone is reading is Hillary Clinton’s Tough Choices because books, even ghosted ones, are a window on the author’s soul. Moreover, its worth honouring a politician who makes it to the supermarket shelves these days.

And in recognition of September’s referendum on Scottish independence I will be dipping into Ian Macwhirter’s Road to Referendum and two Scottish novels, Kirsty Wark’s immensely readable The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle and Island: Collected Stories by Alastair Macleod, both at their most atmospheric when read on a Scottish island.

Wendy Alexander is Associate Dean, London Business School, and a former Scottish Cabinet Minister.

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by Peter Bazalgette

Something here, I hope, for every taste. The Broken Road is the third volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s entrancing trilogy, cobbled together after his death by Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper.

It’s the lushly described journey of a teenager through a lost Central Europe in the 1930’s before war destroyed everything. This volume includes a miraculously rediscovered diary of the youthful writer.

Blindfold and Alone is the scholarly story of executed British soldiers in the First World War. Authors Cathryn Corus and John Hughes-Wilson dispassionately explain how most were shot for desertion rather than cowardice.

While still on that anniversary, a relative gave me the beautiful Folio Press’s collection of Edward Thomas’s poems, knowing my mild obsession with Adlestrop.

An Officer and a Spy is Robert Harris’s brilliant fictionalisation of the Dreyfus affair. And if you like detective thrillers, The Cuckoo’s Calling seems to be a good example of the genre, by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling).

Sir Peter Bazalgette is Chair of Arts Council England.

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by Paul Cleal

I’ve recently been asked to join the Management Committee of PwC’s practice in Africa so my summer reading is going to have an African focus, in particular on Nigeria, the country where my father was born.

Chinua Achebe, who died last year, is arguably Africa’s greatest ever author and I plan to read his last book, There Was a Country, about his experience of the brief life of independent Biafra and the consequent Nigerian Civil War.

I’m looking forward to that and hear it’s a good read. For anyone who hasn’t read his first and most famous book, Things Fall Apart, I would recommend that too. It was written in 1958 but is timeless and if I have time I’m going to re-read it.

For something nearer to home and more current, John Lanchester’s Capital is a good fun read about various lives in London.

Paul Cleal is Partner, Government and Public Sector Leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

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by David Goodhart

Summer reading for me is about exerting downward pressure on the rising pile of books beside my bed. The pile is a random collection of titles, both recent and ancient, that I have wanted to read and have laid my hands on over recent months but have not made time to get my nose into.

Top of the list is David Brooks’s The Social Animal (a Christmas present from two years ago) which is said to be full of his usual flair and insight about the human condition as well as a useful compendium of relevant recent science. Next, on the recommendation of my son Arthur, I am going to dip my toe back into the Jeanette Winterson water and read Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Like so many others I was bowled over by her first two novels and have spent the last 25 years being disappointed, this looks like an autobiographical return to form.

My friend the social historian Robert Colls has written a new biography of Orwell – George Orwell: English Radical – which I am sure will have original things to say about the great man and indeed about England. And for the niche market of people who are interested in race and cricket and how they intertwine, most markedly in the history of West Indian cricket, there is a new book by the Canadian academic (originally from Guyana) Frank Birbalsingh, Indian-Caribbean Test Cricketers and the Quest for Identity, which traces the story of the 33 Indian-Caribbean players from Ramadhin to Chanderpaul.

Finally two from the archive, books that I have been meaning to read for years, decades even, that I finally intend to get down to this summer. One, prompted by Birbalsingh, is CLR James’s Beyond a Boundary: the famous mix of cricket and social history by the Trinidadian Marxist. The other is Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, describing the emergence of the modern market economy out of millennia of tradition. It is one of Blue Labour’s favourite texts, and as a supporter of that broad strand of politics it’s about time I read the sacred book.

David Goodhart is Chair of the Demos Advisory Group and Editor-in-Chief of Demos Quarterly.

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by Ferdinand Mount

The most brainshifting book I’ve come across so far this year has been Andro Linklater’s Owning the Earth: The Transforming History of Land Ownership.

The subject of who owns the land and how they own it has drifted out of fashion. Linklater, who sadly died just before his book came out in the States, brings it sharply back into focus by demonstrating that land reform and secure title to the possession of land have been behind many if not most of the genuine leaps forward in modern history, in Communist China no less than in the nineteenth-century United States, in Japan and Korea as much as in Canada and Australia. Who knows? In the United Kingdom too, land reform may have some mileage left in her.

Top of my summer fiction list will be Joshua Ferris’s To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. His first book, Then We Came to the End, revived the tradition of American deep comedy pioneered by Peter De Vries, Joseph Heller and the early Philip Roth, and I have great hopes of his latest.

Ferdinand Mount is a writer and novelist.

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by Geoff Mulgan

Summers are times to avoid reading that’s too close to the day job. Better to go for what’s lateral and light, what lifts you up or slows you down.

The Sum of All Fears by David Eagleman provides meditations on the afterlife in bite-sized chunks full of resonance. There’s romance and obsession in Infatuations, Javier Marias’ bestseller, perhaps to be read alongside a good fat Dostoyevsky (I’ve started trying to read one a year).

For big history, The Sea by David Abulafia gives a sweeping account of the Mediterranean to accompany swimming in it, and aid reflections on the turmoil on some of its shores.

And finally, to get even further back, Indo-European Poetry and Myth, by ML West is an accessible academic book that takes you deep into the roots of our own words and thought, the better to see the present in perspective.

Geoff Mulgan is Chief Executive of Nesta and was the founding Director of Demos.

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by Toby Mundy

I’d recommend The Summit, Ed Conway’s gripping account of the Bretton Woods conference, the 21 days in 1944 that led to the creation of the World Bank and the IMF, despite the Soviet Union’s best efforts to the contrary. Totally absorbing, with brilliant details on every page.

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by David Omand

First out of the suitcase will be Tobias Hill’s novel What Was Promised, from an author well established as one of the UK’s most exciting poets and literary figures.

Reading the novel will be accompanied by sadness at the cruel fate that left him hospitalised after a severe stroke, suffered on the eve of the book launch last month, and many wishes for a full recovery.

Next for me, as a member of Carl Bildt’s Commission on internet governance, is a must-read: Laura deNardis on The Global War for Internet Governance. Our economic and social future is dependent upon the internet, yet it only exists through a business model that relies on the massive exploitation of our personal data. Forget Edward Snowden, this is where political and economic power will have its 21st century struggle.

And when the hills are hidden by sheets of rain then it will be time for a fireside read of a fictional account of a very different power struggle, the Dreyfus affair, in the latest Richard Harris spy thriller An Officer and a Spy. To balance that the remarkable memoirs just published of a colleague from the world of the Joint Intelligence Committee: Jack Devine, Good Hunting: An American Spymaster’s Story.

Sir David Omand is a Visiting Professor in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London and at Sciences-Po in Paris.

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by Trevor Phillips

Summer is for reading newly-published books that you don’t want to fall asleep over, veteran titles that you’ve always put aside for ‘next time I’ve got the space’, and page-turners that you want to devour at a rush.

In the first category for me is Alex Pentland’s Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread: The Lessons From A New Science, a new tome from the daddy of Big Data, who created MIT’s Media Lab. It surely ought to be required reading for anyone who dabbles in public policy.

Sadly, it will probably be spurned by most of the UK’s political and media elite, who still think that history and poetry are the true currency of the intellectual, whilst maths and engineering are pointless, vulgar mysteries best left to the artisan classes. And then we wonder why we’re losing out to Germans and Americans. Also John Mickethwait and Adrian Wooldridge’s The Fourth Revolution looks promising; it’s bound to be smart, coming from the Economist stable.

Martin Rees’ apocalyptic Our Final Century: Will the Human Race Survive the Twenty-first Century? is top of my second category. It’s now ten years since the Astronomer Royal wrote the book, but the poverty of big ideas in current public life is such that maybe this is the moment to peek into the future as seen by one of the biggest of Big Brains.

And my top page-turner? John Grisham, obviously. This year I’ll do my best to make Sycamore Row last more than a day. Just don’t ask me to put it down at mealtimes.

Trevor Phillips chairs the Mapping Integration project at Demos. He was the first chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

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by Wendy Piatt

Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends has to be one of my favourite reads of 2014. Gripping, shocking and, at times, infuriating, it charts the repeated mistakes that allowed Philby to perpetrate a devastating betrayal not only of his country but of his loyal friend Elliot.

Indeed it is the portrayal of the relationship between Elliot and Philby which makes MacIntyre’s revisiting of this well-trodden historical ground worthwhile. He deftly captures the chilling indifference of Philby towards both his nearest and dearest and the thousands of communist opponents he sent to their deaths. The piece de resistance is the tense but eccentrically British showdown when Elliot finally confronts Philby with the truth.

The Great Gatsby is surely still one of the greatest ever novels and lends itself particularly well to a summer read – not only because much of the action unfolds in the stifling heat of the East coast high society summer but also because of its almost poetic brevity.

While I’m a fan of the voluminous tomes of Dostoyevsky, I’ve always admired novels like Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Fitzgerald’s masterpiece for succeeding in excelling in all the key characteristics of a brilliant novel within a few rich pages – the language is beautiful, the plot is compelling and the themes are profound. What more could you ask for?

Dr Wendy Piatt is the first Director General and Chief Executive of the Russell Group.

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by Jean Seaton

Packing for holidays in the old pre-Kindle days of scarcity was an anxious business. Shorts and the best summer dress were easy. But which books to take (for the children as well as oneself?) Oh, horror! Might one run out? Supposing they all turned out to be the wrong ones?

Summer reading is scrummy: reading novels in the afternoon, reading in cafes, on boats, on beaches, while other people cook supper, just reading. It is reading as legitimate naughty – after all one is on holiday – but it still tingles with illicit thrill. But as this summer immersion is also profound – it lasts – it matters. Even in the days of Kindle’s inexhaustible supply, summer reading will alter you as well as give pleasure: so it still needs planning.

Earlier I evolved a rule of thumb. Always take something about the art, literature, architecture or history of the places you will (being a Demos Quarterly reader) visit. Actually, any period will do: it just adds depth. Always take an ideas book. Add a whole bundle of novels always including a Victorian.

Of course you could just refer to the Orwell Prize for political writing’s long and short lists and winners – although I will toss in some other books. So this year alongside the buckets and spades I will recommend the winner, Alan Johnson’s compelling memoir of a harsh childhood, This Boy, puts the heart back into politics. It is not just that you can see that politics has to come from somewhere but it also shows that politics works: Britain is a better place in many ways than it was then.

For big history, John Campbell’s Roy Jenkins: a Well-Rounded Life is about a master of politics by a master of biography. Charles Moore on Mrs Thatcher is wickedly sharp and yet humane about the personal Margaret, a little permissive for my taste on the public one, but a tremendous read. Mark Bostridge’s 1914, the most ingenious and perturbing book on the world as the Great War approached, and Frank Dikkoter’s impeccable history of China, The Tragedy of Liberation, an appalling story told with admirable emotional economy.

As I am going to have a holiday in Aberystwyth, I will take and recommend the catalogue to the Kenneth Clark exhibition at Tate Britain. The nation’s art was stored in caves in Aberystwyth during the Second World War. Several of the essays in it explore Clark’s view, and contribution to, the idea of Britishness as he put the National Gallery and its art at the epicentre of the nation’s struggle for survival. Of course the exhibition at the Tate Britain is thoughtful and lovely (a good trip for the hols?).

Ideas? The most important ideas book of the year, The British Dream, is by Demos’s own David Goodhart. He strips away pre-conceptions and polite shibboleths that impede clear-sightedness about how the nation makes a democratic deal made with its citizens. A toxic debate about ‘immigration’ has been stoked and demonised by politicians, when it ought to have been an argument about the fundamental compact that the nation and its people agree to. One mark of its power is the way in which it has polarised opinion. We have never had more animated rows about any single book than this around my dinner table: with opinion divided in unexpected ways. So it would make for smashing rumbustious inter-generational holiday suppers. Read it. It won’t bite, but it will make you think.

Novels? I long for Sarah Mosse to write more and Bodies of Light is satisfyingly interwoven with her earlier (equally marvelous) Night Walking. Sebastian Barry’s The Temporary Gentleman (also part of a longer set of novels) begins with a stunning bravura piece of writing – and is as ever, so illuminating, and although tragic, the writing just pushes one on.
Then you have to read James Meek’s The Heart Broke In. A dystopia based in the malignant contemporary press power – with a widget at the centre of the plot which is so evil and so plausible that one hopes no one in the red tops has read it. For Victorians – have you re-read Middlemarch lately? It’s a lot sexier and funnier than you remember.

But there is a melancholy challenge this possibly poignant last summer: read Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, read Scott’s Heart of Midlothian, read Kidnapped, or better, read it to your 9-year-olds, read Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, read any Ian Rankin. Read them as a free and mature British mind – as a part of a sinuous, flexible and grand union that makes us all larger, wiser, and more complex. This deep cultural affection and mutual ties of creativity and the powerful bonds of shared beliefs and shared destiny have not been part of a dispiriting and largely mean-minded debate.

This summer may be your last chance to read your heritage – unfettered by the chains of a narrow, cramped notion of nationalism. People seem to think that independence is a one-off thing, but we may be about to spend the next 50 years bloodily unpicking a thing that works and is a good in itself. So read Scottish books in the arcadia that is now.

Professor Jean Seaton is Professor of Media History at the University of Westminster.

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by Allen Simpson

My summer reading doesn’t tend to be particularly edifying, but with a potentially seismic election less than a year away I will be re-reading two books.

Sidney Blumenthal’s Rise of the Counter-Establishment is a wonderful history of the context to what we now recognise as the US culture wars, and the complicity of Republican leadership in creating the dividing lines which begat the Tea Party. The lessons in the book are entirely relevant for the Right in the UK as it faces its own golem in UKIP.

The more abstract Political Hypocrisy by David Runciman reaches back to Hobbes and Bentham to argue that we should accept hypocrisy as a necessary part of politics. Leaders know they cannot get their parties elected without it; the challenge for voters is to identify its harmful varieties.

As the world becomes more complex and more technical, the more we respond to leaders whose solutions are felt rather than thought. These books are contrasting analyses of what that implies.

Allen Simpson is a financial policy expert and the Labour Party PPC for Maidstone and the Weald in the 2015 General Election.

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by David Wild

Firstly a new writer, to me at least, and a novel: The Lair by Norman Manea – a Romanian writer of immigrants and love and disorientation in an alien West.

Then an old chestnut, Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy: I take every year, and start to get into it, but have never finished…

Finally Lucretius (96BC-55BC), On the Nature of Things, again a perennial of summer holidays. I especially like the prayer to Venus at the start, and get a little further every year. The clear-headed approach to life I find constantly stimulating and reassuring. I can see why it has been part of the mental furniture of Western culture for so long. I also love the story of the manuscripts and their survival and transmission through the ages. It reminds us of the fragility of civilisation.

David Wild is Chairman of Lodestone Communications.

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