Shadow Foreign Affairs Spokesman Keith Simpson has compiled this reading list for his colleagues this summer, which has been featured in yesterday's Sunday Times and today's Independent. Here's the full list.
The summer recess beckons with “surf and sand” and a chance to catch up on some good reading. Last month the Prime Minister hosted a dinner at No 10 for President Bush with a cross section of British historians to discuss the interaction between history, politics and personalities.
This reading list mainly consists of books published since Easter and I would remind colleagues that it is merely a personal selection (The thrusting young front bencher who emailed last time bewailing the fact that he wouldn’t have time to read them all should relax – the Whips don’t keep a tally of books read).
On Conservative Party politics Norman Fowler’s A Political Suicide The Conservatives Voyage into the Wilderness, gives a former Cabinet Minister’s account of some of the high and low points of the Thatcher, Major and Hague years partly based on his diary. He has some shrewd observations on lessons learnt for the Labour government.
Ferdinand Mount’s Cold Cream My Early Life and Other Mistakes, is an elegant book with some wonderful episodic accounts from his life. His time at No 10 working for Margaret Thatcher is a must-read for any Conservative politician.
Mayor Johnson is now to be studied in theory and practice and Andrew Gimson of the Daily Telegraph has updated his earlier biography, Boris the Rise of Boris Johnson, which should be read in conjunction with Giles Edwards and Jonathan Isaby Boris v Ken How Boris Johnson Won London.
Two political books which will be published during the summer recess and available for the Party conferences. Dylan Jones Cameron on Cameron (18 August), is based on a series of interviews with David Cameron about himself, his family, his political beliefs and the Conservative Party.
Adam Boulton, Sky News Political Correspondent, has used the vehicle of Tony Blair’s last hundred days in office to assess and measure the man who was Prime Minister. Tony’s Ten Years Memories of the Blair Administration, is published on the 6 October.
The politics of Britain and the EU has both inspired and depressed politicians of all parties for half a century. Stephen Wall, a firm advocate of the advantages of UK membership of the EU has written A Stranger in Europe Britain and the EU from Thatcher to Blair. Actually this is a pretty hard nosed analysis and benefits from the fact that the author was private secretary to three foreign secretaries and then worked with Prime Ministers Major and Blair. He has some shrewd observations about the personalities and working methods of these politicians.
Tom Porteous has worked and travelled extensively in Africa as a journalist, UN peace keeping official and UK diplomat. In Britain in Africa he provides a well balanced, crisp but very critical analysis of Britain’s overweening and at times naïve policies towards Africa during the Blair years.
A “stocking filler” is Candida Slater’s Good Manners and Bad Behaviour The Unofficial Rules of Diplomacy. The author has had the inspiration to use the Foreign Office published booklets on “How to Behave Abroad” issued between 1949 and 1974 to highlight the differences between theory and reality. These conventions and stories are of another age, although, I suspect, some will still resonate with today’s diplomats and their families.
History provides us with “a distant mirror,” to use Barbara Tuchman’s phrase, on our own times. Roger Crowley has written some first class narrative history such as Constantinople The Last Great Siege 1453 (2005). Now he has complemented it with Empires of the Sea The Final Battle for the Mediterranean 1521-1580 which explores the bitter struggle for supremacy between the major powers in the Mediterranean.
In Paradise Lost Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of Islam’s City of Tolerance, Giles Milton describes how by the nineteenth century Smyrna had grown into one of the richest and most cosmopolitan cities in the Mediterranean. Between 1919 and 1922 the actions of the Greeks, supported by Lloyd George was to lead to the destruction of Smyrna and the massacre of many of its citizens by the Turkish Army with the full approval of Ataturk.
Tom Wheeler had the original idea of examining the extant telegrams between Lincoln and field commanders in the American Civil war. Mr Lincoln’s T-Mails The Untold Story of How Abraham Lincoln used the Telegraph to win the Civil War (2006 but in paperback today), shows how Lincoln slowly understood how he could gather information and influence his field commanders, almost in real time, with analogies for the age of emails and texting.
Apart from his reputation both as an innovative social reformer and a war leader, Lloyd George’s reputation depends upon his fast and loose relationships with a variety of women. In The Pain and the Privilege The Women in Lloyd George’s Life, Ffion Hague has put his relationship with his wife Margaret front and centre, as a counter balance to Frances Stevenson his long time mistress and eventually second wife.
Mark Mazower has written a comprehensive study of Europe occupied or allied to Nazi Germany. Hitler’s Empire Nazi Life in occupied Europe, reveals that there was no blue-print or master plan except ultimate subjugation and exploitation.
Mayor Boris Johnson should have on his summer reading list Vote for Caesar How the Ancient Greeks and Romans Solved the Problems of Today, by Peter Jones. The author , one of the UK’s leading classicists, has written a stimulating book suggesting that the Romans faced problems not to dissimilar to our own – Caesar solved the problem of vehicle congestion in Rome by banning all vehicles except those involved in building work.
Two books to be published this summer should be added to the reading list. David Faber, a former colleague who has written a very good study of the Amery brothers, will have his Munich The 1938 Appeasement Crisis, published on the 1st September to coincide who the seventieth anniversary of the Munich Agreement. Andrew Robert’s Masters and Commanders How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Alanbrooke Won the War in the West 1941-45, (25 September) describes the evolution of the Second World War “Special Relationship”.
Iraq and the Middle East still provide ample opportunities for authors to express their views or prejudices. Benny Morris has written 1948 The First Arab Israeli War, which may make uncomfortable reading for some Israelies. This is an account of the 1948 war based upon formidable scholarship and concludes that it was a contest between two national movements over a piece of territory.
Laurence Freedman has a distinguished academic career including having been the Head of the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, a prolific writer on defence and security, and an advisor to Prime Ministers and Secretaries of State for Defence. His latest book, A Choice of Enemies America Confronts the Middle East, analyses the US approach to the Middle East and the pressures influencing the administration and Congress.
The rise of Muqtada al-Sadr had been one of the great surprises in the internal war in Iraq. At first underestimated by the Coalition he became a crucial player and a threat to the Iraqi government. The journalist Patrick Cockburn who has considerable experience working in Iraq has now written Muqtada al-Sadr and the Fall of Iraq.
Attitudes and perceptions of the conflict in Afghanistan swings between extremes of outright pessimism to cautious optimism. In A Million Bullets The Real Diary of the British Army in Afghanistan, James Fergusson offers a short account of British military operations in Helmand in 2006-2007 and doesn’t pull his punches in his critique of both political and military miscalculations. A carefully balanced assessment based on interviews with both the British Army and the Taleban. A must read.
In any attempt to comprehend what is happening in Afghanistan it is necessary to look at Pakistan. Ahmed Rashid is the foremost chronicler of modern Afghan and Pakistani history and his latest book Descent into Chaos How the war against Islamic extremism is being lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, lays the blame equally between the Bush administration, the international community and the government of President Musharraf.
Philip Bobbitt is an American “applied” academic – a lawyer, a research fellow, an advisor to the White House, Senate and State Department. In 2002 he published The Shield of Achilles, and now has turned his formidable intellect and experience into writing Terror and Consent The War for the Twenty –first Century. Full of ideas and suggestions, Bobbitt’s central thesis is that if we don’t rethink what wars are, how we fight them and what victory looks like, we will never be able to successfully manage, rather than defeat the terrorists whom he believes threaten to alter our various ways of life.
Bill Emmott’s Rivals How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan will Shape our Next Decade, explores the legacy of history, the likely future development of China, India and Japan, and how this will impact on the world balance of power and economy.
Robert Kagan has formidable American conservative credentials and is a foreign policy adviser to Senator John McCain. His latest book The Return of History and the End of Dreams rejects the world divided between civilisations and instead argues that the real division is between democracies and autocracies. Critical of the UN in tolerating autocracies Kagan advocates the establishment of a “League of Democracies”.
Samantha Power is an Irish American journalist and academic and was a senior foreign policy adviser to Senator Barack Obama until she resigned following critical remarks she made about Senator Hilary Clinton. But it would be safe to say she still has influence with Obama. Her book A Problem from Hell America and the Age of Genocide, won the Pulitzer prize in 2003. It is damning critique of the failure of successive US administrations in the last century to prevent a series of genocides. She argues passionately that the US has the power, authority and moral duty to prevent future genocides.
Fareed Zakaria is a distinguished American journalist and his latest book The Post American World is not about America’s decline but about “the rise of the rest” and how the US should respond.
Zimbabwe and the future of President Robert Mugabe has been much on the minds of parliamentarians and officials. Understanding Mugabe and what “makes him tick” is helped by Heidi Holland’s Dinner with Mugabe The Untold Story of a freedom fighter who became a tyrant.
How to help poor countries some of which are failed states is addressed by Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart in Fixing Failed States A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World. Ghani is a former Afghan finance minister and Lockhart a lawyer with experience of trying to build Afghan institutions.
Learning lessons from history is never easy and can lead to learning the wrong ones, as Eden did at Suez, believing Nasser was another Mussolini. Nearly twenty five years ago the American academic Richard E Neudstadt and Ernest R May ran a series of seminars with active participants in government to consider how decisions were made in foreign policy which eventually formed the basis for Thinking in Time The Uses of History for Decision Makers which is still in print and looks at a series of US foreign policy decisions between 1945 and 1979. Absolutely fascinating, and highlights the need for a similar study of British foreign policy decisions.
David Runciman’s Political Hypocrisy The Mask of Power from Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond, has rightly been praised by David Willetts. Runciman argues persuasively and with elegance that by hypocritical deception is necessarily embedded in political life and language.
Two books that have enjoyed great popularity and success in the United States and are now required reading for thrusting Conservative front benchers are Robert Cialdini’s Influence The Psychology of Persuasion, and Richard H Thaler and Cass R Sunstein’s Nudge Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness.