Top five political reads for students

Top five political reads for students

4th May 2018 By James Cashman

Composing political lists, of any description, is always a hazardous process. You will inevitably get called too ‘right-’ or ‘left wing’ by various people, cursing you for neglecting the interests of the global proletariat or for forgetting the glorious Thatcherite revolution. It is also a perilous enterprise since it is based on the breadth and depth of the writer’s reading. I have tried to include slightly more unusual choices because I’m sure you’re all bored to death of hearing about Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Communist Manifesto; of course, those works are important, so do read or re-read them! However, here is a small collection of some of my favourite political books, which you can either whizz through to provide a distraction from revision or perhaps mull over during the long vac:


Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
When I first heard about this novel, I assumed it would be a fiercely anti-colonial polemic. Not so, however. Achebe in fact writes a tale which delves not just into the basic, underlying patterns of the political process but also human psychology. He writes about the Igbo tribe of Umuofia, exploring the village’s inner political and social workings, its relations with other tribes and, eventually, its encounter with European Christian missionaries. The novel’s main themes include masculinity, superstition, the role of tradition and the law, social status and the tolerance and treatment of those who think differently, and it is certainly a rich and intriguing read.


To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
I apologise if you read this for GCSE (I was in the Lord of the Flies class). Harper Lee’s stunning book showcases blatant racial prejudice and makes a folly out of it by writing the story from a little girl’s perspective. The novel’s themes of advocating the triumph of the law and justice over lies and discrimination and the uniting of divided communities would be apt in whichever era it was written. However, that it was published in 1960, as the Civil Rights movement was gathering pace, adds extra poignancy and reflects the desire of that generation to build a world where, as Dr King would say so beautifully three years later, people would be judged ‘not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character’.


A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
One could argue that all Dickens’s works are political, in their highlighting of the terrible conditions of the poor in mid-nineteenth century England. However, this historical novel is especially so, portraying so vividly the raw power of the French Revolution. One feels literally transported into the poor, downtrodden district of Saint Antoine in Paris and seethes with rage at the wealthy’s excess and disregard for those ‘below’ them, quite literally as their carriages scream through the narrow streets. The real magic though is saved for the latter half, in Dickens’s terrifying depiction of the events of 1789 and the Terror in the years that followed. In my most humble opinion, it is one of the greatest novels ever written.


Diaries – Tony Benn
Tony Benn is still a political idol of mine, even if my politics have moved away from the left-wing, Corbynite ground on which they previously stood! His bravery, candour and intellect are captivating and his diaries are a fascinating insight into the inner workings the British government, in an age when the Cabinet wasn’t just a pointless rubber stamp for whatever stupid decision the No 10 policy unit chooses to make but a place for serious discussion and deliberation. Even better, they showcase his radical approach to politics and his innovative ideas.


Animal Farm – George Orwell
Now, you may be asking yourself, why is he including such an obvious choice, after saying that he was picking ‘unusual’ choices? Well, for several reasons. Firstly, it’s very short! Secondly, its witty satire is very amusing. And, thirdly, because it is an easily comprehensible presentation of the dangers of injustice, authoritarianism, ideology, propaganda and corruption. If you are feeling weighed down by your revision, reading this will help light a fire in your belly once again. And I daresay, PPE-ists, this probably provides a clearer and better written example of the political process in action than any textbook you’re likely to read.


Five on Brexit Island – Enid Blyton (Bruno Vincent)
Because why not! A fun read for Remainers and Leavers alike. I confess to not having yet read this book’s sequel, Five Escape Brexit Island, but going back to basics, the sort of which John Major would approve, seems a better form of escapism at this exam-heavy time. George, a Remoaner, seeks to make Kirrin Island independent from the clutches of soon-to-be non-EU Britain but Julian, arch-Brexiteer, is intent on stopping this and insists the two islands are better together. What might the next book in the series be, Five Sign A Transition Deal? Five Hold Another Referendum? Time will tell…