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From the fields of espionage through to the history of colonial struggles, the historical reliability of the gospels and a deep dive deep into multicultural 14th-century London, four parliamentarians offer their suggestions for a great holiday book
Lord Cormack, Conservative peer
Like most of us I have done a fair amount of reading during lockdowns. I would like to recommend three recently published books which have given me particular enjoyment. Agent Sonya, Ben Macintyre’s latest exploration into the fields of espionage, is a remarkable story of one of the most extraordinary female spies of the Second World War and subsequent Cold War. Who would have thought that an apparently innocuous cake baker living in the Cotswolds was a highly regarded colonel in the KGB?
Next I would recommend The Story of the Bayeux Tapestry by David Musgrove and Michael Lewis. I have known the story of Bayeux Tapestry, as it seems, all my life. The first time I saw it, on a family holiday in France in 1979, was a moment I will never forget. The story of the tapestry is fascinating not least because it tells us how little we truly know. Exactly when and where it was made and who commissioned it are all still matters of speculation but Musgrove and Lewis come up with some very convincing answers to those questions and provide a commentary on the tapestry which is, in fact, an embroidery.
Agent Sonya is the remarkable story of one of the most extraordinary female spies of the Second World War
Now for something much nearer home: Faithful Witness: The confidential diaries of Alan Don. Alan Don was chaplain to Cosmo Gordon Laing, Archbishop of Canterbury and later chaplain to the House of Commons and Rector of St Margaret’s, Westminster. The diary covers the years from 1931 until 1946, when he became Dean of Westminster. It provides a fascinating insight into the abdication crisis and the events leading up to, and including, the Second World War. There are graphic accounts of the bombing of Westminster.
Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Labour MP for Streatham
For MPs looking for a good read over the summer the first of my three recommendations is Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent, by Priyamvada Gopal. An amazing and authoritative journey through the history of colonial struggles and social justice movements. I’ve read a lot about many different struggles but this is the first time I’ve seen global and national struggles weaved together so eloquently in one text, while constantly signposting why discrimination perseveres in our society today.
Jason Hickel’s book is definitely an eyeopener
The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions by Jason Hickel is definitely an eyeopener. Essential reading for any politician that actually wants to challenge ongoing issues of global inequality. We will not change anything if we don’t accept and understand why poverty exists and look to radical institutional reforms.
Finally, Year One by Nora Roberts: I’m a big fan of science fiction and fantasy novels. Roberts is a beautiful writer and this book, and its series, are that welcomed break we sometimes need from political and historical briefings. By chance it’s set at a time when a deadly pandemic sweeps the globe and sees survivors gain magical powers and fight for justice in a brand-new world.
Tim Farron, Lib Dem MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale
Three cracking non-political books I have read in the last year include: Death and the Chevalier by Robin Blake. Preston’s town coroner, Titus Cragg – with help from his friend Dr Luke Fidelis – seeks to solve murder mysteries and avoid being accused themselves amidst the tumult of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s march south to claim the throne in 1745. Elegant and enjoyable as always.
This is like James Bond, squared, on acid and with booster rockets
I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes: this is like James Bond squared, on acid and with booster rockets just to soup it up a bit more. I didn’t think I’d like it and put off reading it for a year or so, but it’s the best spy novel I’ve ever read. It’s about 900 pages long yet I whizzed through it in three days.
Can We Trust the Gospels? by Peter J. Williams. A slight change of tack here. This book blew me away. I’ve read plenty of very good apologetics over the years, but never anything quite like this. Peter J. Williams makes a compelling and highly readable case for the historical reliability of the gospels. If you thought that the Bible was all legend, hearsay, fiction and fable, this will send a shiver down your spine.
Baroness Bennett, Green peer
With Chaucer: A European Life you can travel with our language’s foundational poet through Italy and Hainault (now northern France and Belgium, where his wife’s family originated), but mostly dive deep into multicultural 14th century London. Marion Turner does a spectacular job of uncovering the growing sumptuousness of the city and political developments, including the poet’s first known use of the word “eleccioun” in its modern sense.
Ann Elias in Coral Empire is by contrast tearing down old certainties, debunking the racist, early 20th-century film charlatans who sold a vision of tropical reefs as colonial products ripe for exploitation, building their reputations on the knowledge and efforts of local communities, and pure fakery. It’s a rich demonstration of how a single moment – the finding of a mislabelled photo – can lead to a rethinking of a whole period, but finishes with a vision of hope, a “crittercam” turtle – the animal in control of what we see.
In a great initiative, the e-book is free: we need more of this in our scholarship
Also entirely redrawing our understanding – reminding me that almost everything I was taught in a science degree 30 years ago was wrong – Thomas Pradeu’s Philosophy of Immunology is a deep but rewarding exploration not just of one bodily system, but our whole identity. Are we really an immunologically unified chimera, and what does that mean for mental health? In a great initiative, the e-book is free: we need more of this in our scholarship.
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