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6 August 2009updated 27 Sep 2015 2:59am

Red Reads: 41-50

41-50 in our countdown of 50 books that will change your life including William Blake, Albert Einste

By Staff Blogger

41. Consciencism
Kwame Nkrumah (1964)
The most succinct summary of the political philosophy of this leading figure in Africa’s independence struggle, more complete than Africa Must Unite (1963). Rooted in Marxist analysis and taking a cue from Fanon (see The Wretched of the Earth, number 7), it makes the case for pointing post-colonial countries in a direction determined by social justice, a deep knowledge of how different peoples think and a pragmatic, development-oriented ethos. Nkrumah’s activism and theorising made him an icon for pan-Africanists worldwide.

42. There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack
Paul Gilroy (1987)

Taking its title from a skinhead chant, this book exploded the myth that racial prejudice exists only at the margins of British society. Employing both the ideas of Raymond Williams and the lyrics of the Clash, Gilroy showed how racism in Thatcher’s Britain had grown from an imagined, uniformly white “national culture”, and set his sights on a future Britain that could enjoy “a liberating sense of the banality of inter-mixture”.

43. Tom and Clem
Stephen Churchett (1997)

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It’s perhaps not surprising that Clement Attlee hasn’t featured much in drama – he wasn’t very dramatic – but Churchett’s play sums up the Labour PM’s appeal very well. At the Potsdam Conference, soon after defeating Churchill in the general election, he doesn’t join in the party, but craves rice pudding and a Times crossword while preparing the welfare state and the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. His imagined conversations with the journalist MP Tom Driberg are both serious and comic – he ends up singing “England Arise” while standing on a table. Driberg (notoriously reckless in his sex life and his politics) is, for once, amazed.

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44. Why Socialism?
Albert Einstein (1949)

In May 1949, a month after Nato was founded, the first issue of the influential Marxist journal Monthly Review appeared in New York, and this essay was its lead feature. Why socialism? Because, Einstein argued, a society shattered by the Second World War could not be stabilised by market economics alone. “We should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems,” he wrote. And if Einstein thought so, it would be hard to disagree.

45. South Riding
Winifred Holtby (1936)

South Riding is in fact the East Riding of Yorkshire, the lesser-known areas of God’s own county. But while the action is parochial, the characters reflect the turmoil of the times. Sarah Burton, the adventurous new head of the local school for girls, falls in love with the local Tory squire Robert Carne, whose wife is in an asylum. While Alderwoman Beddows and Councillor Huggins manoeuvre for position, Comrade Joe Astell tries to bring revolution to Kiplington. Buy this before you get to the airport and have to settle for Maeve Binchy.

46. Songs of Innocence and Experience
William Blake (1789/94)

The simple but perfectly crafted lyric form of Blake’s most famous work disguises layers of biting commentary on the social factors that conspire to corrupt the good in human nature, such as organised religion and the exercise of arbitrary or despotic power.

47Culture and Society
Raymond Williams (1958)

“Almost single-handedly, he transformed cultural studies in Britain”, Terry Eagleton has said of his former tutor. This is the book that made Williams’s name: by showing that culture cannot be separated from politics, and arguing that industrialisation was at the heart of British ideas about culture, he presented a seminal challenge to elitism and shifted thought on the left into a new phase.

48. How We Should Rule Ourselves
Alasdair Gray and Adam Tomkins (2005)

Howling through the history of democracy from ancient Athens to New Labour in 54 pages, this pamphlet is a ferocious, persuasive blast against the monarchy. The national convener of the Scottish Socialist Party, Colin Fox, welcomed it in the Scottish Parliament, where another marker of Gray’s politics can be found engraved on an outside wall: “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.”

49. What a Carve Up!
Jonathan Coe (1994)

Coe’s novel about the Thatcher years tells the story of the Winshaws, a family whose main aim in life is to make as much money as possible. Dorothy Winshaw’s brutal treatment of the animals on her farm is a direct comment on some of the more pernicious policies of the Conservative government of the 1980s. Crucially, Coe is satirical rather than cynical, and critics credited the book as being strangely idealistic, its very existence a source of hope.

50. Let us face the Future
Labour Party manifesto (1945)

Described by Margaret Thatcher as “a very left-wing document”, but by its author Michael Young as “nothing very visionary”, this outlined Labour’s ambitious programme for postwar reconstruction, a managed economy, the “cradle-to-grave” welfare state and the National Health Service, and helped secure a surprise landslide victory for Attlee over Churchill. Six decades on, the bold radicalism of the 1945 manifesto remains unrivalled and unsurpassed.

 

We could compile a whole new top 50 made up entirely of books by New Statesman writers, from George Bernard Shaw to Martin Amis and John Pilger-and perhaps, one day, we will. For now, you can find a selection of our favourites here.

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