The beginning of 2021 is shaping up to look just as bad, if not worse, than the early autumn of 2020. This should be of little surprise given the relaxation of the rules allowed the Coronavirus to spread further around vulnerable populations. As a result, many countries are implementing new national lockdowns – so many people will now once again find themselves house bound. Optimistically, this means that means more time to curl up and avoid the bleakness of winter with a good book. Given this, here are my suggestions for a lockdown reading list for conservatives.
Unfree Speech – Joshua Wong, Penguin Books (2020)
In December 2020 Joshua Wong was imprisoned for the second time in his life, quite an achievement for a man who’s only 24 years old. His crime? Standing up for freedom and democracy in his home of Hong Kong. Unfree Speech is his first-hand account of the 2014 protests – the so called ‘Umbrella Movement’ – and the ongoing struggle to defend democracy in Hong Kong.
It covers a great deal of the background to how we have ended up in the current situation in Hong Kong, and what it is that the current protests in the region are all about. As well as telling the story of how a precocious student from a middle class family goes on to become a leading figurehead in the fight against Communist China.
The book is an incredibly powerful account of what is going on in Hong Kong, and I challenge anyone not to feel moved to action after reading it. Least of all because it is written by someone who rather than sitting by, has himself taken up the mantle of defending democracy in Hong Kong at such an early age.
The Madness of Crowds – Douglas Murray, Bloomsbury (2020)
Douglas Murray has long been a vocal critic of the rising tide of political correctness and how it gets in the way of sensible policy making. He started this crusade whilst he was the Director of the neo-conservative Henry Jackson Society think tank in London, before moving on to become the associate editor of the Spectator. In 2019 he took his message to a mass market with the publication of his book ‘The Strange Death of Europe’ which has now been translated into dozens of languages.
His newer book, The Madness of Crowds, takes the same message further by going after the rise of so called ‘woke politics’ and the way in which every day issues have been politicised to an extent that they have had a radicalising effect. In the book he breaks down each of these areas, from feminism, to the LGBT+ movement to the debate over trans identity.
The Madness of Crowds serves as a great introduction to the problem that identity politics has created in our society. In particular in its ability to shut down honest debate, and its effect on marginalising large numbers of people who are led to believe they have done something wrong.
Last Witnesses: Unchildlike Stories – Svetlana Alexievich, Penguin (Translated 2019)
Svetlana Alexievich became the first and only Belarusian to win a Nobel Prize in 2015 when she won the prize for literature. She won it for her unique style of writing, which is journalism from the first person. All her books, which were originally published in Russian, are interviews of ordinary people asked to remember a certain point in their life. These include works such as Chernobyl Prayer in which she interviewed the first responders about their experiences and The Boys in Zinc about the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. However, the book I have chosen to pick is Last Witnesses.
The book, which was written in the mid-eighties, is a series of interviews with ordinary people who grew up during the Second World War, offering a child’s-eye-view of the Nazi invasion of Belarus (then part of the Soviet Union) and the war that followed. It is a powerful set of accounts about the brutality, first of life under German occupation, but then under Stalin as well.
Many of these stories are incredibly moving – of children separated from their families, of life in foster care, or life internally displaced in the Soviet Union, and of life during war. With every page you can feel the trauma of what these people went through as children, and how confusing war must be for a child.
Alexievich’s approach to journalism offers a unique glimpse of a world that no longer exists in Eastern Europe. She does not just write about history, but rather lets other people tell their stories about living it. More recently she has risen to prominence again in Belarus, this time as a vocal supporter of the pro-democracy movement. Her works are important for conservatives to read as they are both a warning from history about the dangers of a closed socialist society, and the accounts of those brave enough to stand up to it.
The Books Smugglers of Timbuktu – Charlie English, Harper Collins (2017)
The great thing about this book is that in effect it tells two stories for the price of one. On the one hand it is the story of how a group of librarians in a city under siege managed to save their written cultural heritage from jihadists by smuggling them out across the desert in cars and boats. On the other hand, it is the story of an ancient city that was a centre of learning for hundreds of years, and only ‘discovered’ by the West in the late 19th century.
These two stories combined become an important parable about how fragile our cultural heritage is, and how it only takes a few ordinary people who care enough to do something to protect it. It carries the message that what may be something we take for granted, could one day be gone forever. However, it’s thanks to the subject of this book that the world can be assured that centuries-old scriptures and texts are now safe and being looked after – igniting a renaissance in Western understanding about the history of West Africa.
Dominion – Tom Holland, Little Brown (2019)
Setting out to write the history of Christianity sounds like an arduous task, and yet Tom Holland has produced a fantastic book that reads far more like a novel than a history. His narrative way of following the story of the world’s largest religion from before the birth of Christ to the present day makes for a very engaging read.
In each stage of Christian history, Holland picks at more than just the theological thread, but also the cultural, military and economic reasons that the faith has developed the way it has. Telling the story behind the people who brought about major changes to not only Christianity, but also to the Western world.
It is fair to say that Dominion is a fantastic new way of telling the story that some of us may already vaguely know. But there are, of course, those more arcane parts of Christian history that we may not know as well, and those are where the book really delivers. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to better understand the complexity of western civilisation and its roots.