Tim Marshall's Favourite Reads of 2021
They: What Muslims and Non-Muslims Get Wrong About Each Other by Sarfraz Manzoor
This is a book that needed to be written. It does not hold back in its depiction of the depths of ignorance and prejudice that can exist in today’s society. The author doesn't answer all of the questions he raises, but the important thing is that they are asked.
Manzoor is a son of Pakistani immigrants and grew up in a part of Luton which is majority Muslim. He argues that many negative beliefs about Islam within non-Muslim communities are based on outdated cultural norms imported from Pakistan and that these attitudes, towards women and marriage for example, are not rooted in Islam. Some of the most moving passages in the book are when he writes about how his family disowned him for marrying a white, Scottish, Christian woman. After months of torment, only his mother agrees to go to the wedding. However, in that small act, and with his wife’s family embracing him, he finds hope that ‘they’ can become ‘us’.
China: An Epic Novel by Edward Rutherfurd
It’s big, it’s bold, it’s a barnstormer. We begin in 1839 and the dawn of the First Opium War. Following an array of at-first-unrelated Chinese, British and American characters, we march on through the tides and travails of history, encountering battles, romance, riches and poverty as this captivating and extraordinarily well-researched tale unfolds. The further you delve into the 700-plus pages, the better it gets as the characters’ stories start to cross and deepen, alongside your understanding of the times in which they are set. Rutherford has the knack of painting sometimes-unpleasant characters but imbuing them with enough human fragility that we at least understand their actions. I probably learned more about the Opium Wars, and China in general, from this novel than from many of the history books I’ve read on the subject, but the author hides his learning well and the factual context rarely interferes with the flow of the fiction.
And It Was Beautiful: Marcelo Bielsa and the Rebirth of Leeds United by Phil Hay
A tale of Leeds United's first season back in the Premier League after a 16-year hiatus. Full disclosure – as a Leeds United season ticket holder, I may be biased. Nevertheless, there is something about the enigma that is Marcelo Bielsa that makes him a compelling subject for any reader. He's paid millions but lives in a two-bedroom flat above a shop in Wetherby. He previously managed Argentina, but came to a struggling English championship side. Since then he has not just transformed a football club, but also injected a sense of spirit into the city of Leeds not felt for almost 20 years. The best parts of the book are when Hay examines Bielsa's immense depth of knowledge about football and playing systems, and hints at what drives a man obsessed with playing the game beautifully – even if that sometimes means defeat.
Greater: Britain After the Storm by Penny Mordaunt and Chris Lewis
At a time when we so often see deliberate provocation in debate, it is refreshing to read a book written by two people from opposite sides of the Brexit argument who see the value in finding common ground to work out a way forward. Absent are the lazy jibes about Britain being a cold, windswept, irrelevant island off the coast of Europe, nor are there the overconfident, at times jingoistic, claims of what is achievable outside of the EU. They argue that Britain's institutions are outdated and in need of radical overhaul, including a major injection of new technology. Problems are posed and solutions offered with a lightness of touch too often missing from political books. Mordaunt is an MP with an eye on the future and here burnishes her credentials on both the domestic and foreign policy fronts in collaboration with Lane, an author, entrepreneur and charity worker.
Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation by Julie Bindel
This was recommended to me by a close female friend. For decades now Bindel has been doing magnificent work with concrete demonstrable results in freeing women from prison who have been convicted for killing their violent male partners. She's the co-founder of Justice for Women but also has in-depth knowledge of how to combat the violence and exploitation of women in the porn industry, prostitution, and sex trafficking. Her views can be challenging and uncompromising, especially on gender identity, but the force and passion of her arguments are clear to see. Exploring ideas of gender, hostility towards lesbians, the threat to women-only spaces, and the rise of misogyny, the book is testimony to her lifelong commitment to fighting for women’s rights.
As for which book I might want:
Geopolitics for the End Time: From the Pandemic to the Climate Crisis by Bruno Maçães
I’m interested to see how it frames the effects of Covid-19 in a geopolitical sense, especially its role in helping to define competing models of government.
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