As we near the home straight before the Christmas holidays, we asked a few of the WA Communications team for details on which books they were looking forward to curling up with over the break. Expectations were high – perhaps a weighty biography of a political giant, some niche political philosophy or even some hard-hitting political fiction.
The subsequent list, however, is not quite what we expected. Rather than Hobbes, Locke or Marx, colleagues at WA will be delving into an eclectic (some might even say eccentric) but diverse mix of material.
Perhaps understandably so – 2022 has been quite the political year of scandal and crisis, ending with the unexpected appearance of Matt Hancock on ITV’s I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! Politics in 2022 has certainly proved that truth is stranger than fiction.
As the WA team looks forward to the Christmas holidays, it’ll be all about escapism. In the words of one colleague, “I have definitely had enough political drama for one year!”
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe – Max Taylor-McEwan, Senior Research Consultant
Empire of Pain is about the history of the Sackler family, the opioid epidemic in the US and the role of advertisement in the medical profession. Along the way it focuses on greed, corruption and some of the hefty donations aimed at white-washing reputations. The book was recommended by a friend’s stepdad who ran around the house looking for it and is evidently too good not to share. I can’t wait to get stuck into Empire of Pain to understand the backstory to a crisis that has knocked months off the life expectancy of the average American.
Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind by Tom Holland – Lee Findell, Partner & Head of Corporate Communications
I’ve had this book on my bedside table since last Christmas when I first started reading it, but I am now determined to read Dominion in full this time round. It is a tour-de-force on the history of Christianity and its impact on the world. Tom Holland is a superb author of popular history books and a co-host of my favourite podcast, The Rest is History.
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde – Ellie Naismith, Senior Account Director
Shades of Grey is set in a post-apocalyptic world where social standing is determined by your perception of colour and there is a huge black market in illegal spoon trading. The book is a comedy, a romance, a fantasy and a parable on the risks of seeing the world in black and white when the world is really all shades of grey. Fforde has a cracking and surreal sense of humour and is one of my favourite authors. I will be re-reading Shades of Grey ahead of the long-awaited sequel, Red Side Story, due to be published in the new year.
Freezing Order by Bill Browder – James Allan, Research Executive
Browder’s first book, Red Notice, was an easy read but a gripping page turner. Published earlier this year, Freezing Order continues his first-hand account of running a hedge fund and becoming Russia’s largest foreign investor during the early 2000s. Dubbed ‘Putin’s no.1 enemy’ after taking on corrupt officials and the Russian oligarchy, Browder was the driving force behind the Magnitsky Act in the US. Named after his lawyer who was beaten to death in a Moscow jail, the Magnitsky Act became law in many other countries, including the UK, legislating for a sanctions regime against individuals who commit the worst human rights abuses.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov – Jovana Vuletic, Research Executive
The Master and Margarita is unmatched in its weirdness and breath-taking originality of thought, whilst masterfully mixing elements of political satire, dark comedy and magical realism. It symbolises dissidence and was written during Stalin’s reign of the Soviet Union but published 30 years after. It also unpacks the idea that the good and evil of this world are symbiotic, and aren’t necessarily on opposite sides of the spectrum. A really useful and interesting lens through which to view present-day politics.
The Highway Code by HM Government – Lizzie Wills, Partner & Head of Investor Services
I have decided that 2023 is the year I finally learn to drive, so I will be curling up in front of the fire with a copy of The Highway Code. I’m not sure if it is going to be as full of intrigue as some of the political biographies that I could pick, but I have definitely had enough drama for one year!
The Whale Who Wanted More by Rachel Bright – Thea Southwell Reeves, Account Director
Like many parents of young children, I religiously bring my day to a close surrounded by a mountain of children’s books and snuggled up with a bleary-eyed toddler pleading for ‘one more story, mummy’. This Christmas, as my almost-2-year-old starts to understand the festivities and gets overwhelmingly excited about presents, I will be reading him Bright’s stunning undersea tale of friendship and contentment. Humphrey the whale is on a quest: to find the one perfect object that will make him feel complete. He roams far and wide, gathering endless treasure as he goes. Yet, no matter how much he accumulates, Humphrey still isn’t happy. It reminds us that friendship, family and community, not our possessions, is what makes our heart sing. Bright perfectly captures a wonderful message to pass on our little ones at this time of year.
The Devil You Know by Eileen Horne, Gwen Adshead – Alice Humphreys, Senior Account Manager
Authored by a psychotherapist, The Devil You Know follows Horne’s work at Broadmoor prison and compiles a series of conversations with people labelled ‘monsters’ by society – whatever their crime, she listens to their stories and helps them to better understand their terrible acts of violence. Supposedly, the book will challenge ‘everything I thought I knew about human nature!’
My Fourth Time, We Drowned By Sally Hayden – Bella Wallersteiner, Account Director
With unprecedented access to people currently inside Libyan detention centres, Hayden’s book is based on interviews with hundreds of refugees who attempted to travel to Europe but found themselves trapped in Libya once the EU began funding interceptions in 2017. This book shines a light on the resilience of humans and in times like these, the power of testimony cannot be overstated.
The Blue Lotus by Hergé – Thomas Sharpe, Account Director
Getting in touch with my inner Frenchman (or is that inner Belgian?), I am going to get stuck into Hergé’s The Blue Lotus from the Adventures of Tintin. Tales of courage, daring-do and chasing villains in comic book form are a perfect accompaniment to the Christmas period. Set in Shanghai nearly a hundred years ago, the comic is beautifully illustrated and full of detail – every Chinese character Hergé included has meaning. There’s philosophy too, with mediations on life and friendship. Definitely worth a read!
The Five Giants: a biography of the welfare state by Nicholas Timmins – Jess Prestidge, Director
Timmins charts the emergence of the modern welfare state, organising his analysis around the ‘five giants’ that William Beveridge identified as the necessary targets of post-war welfare policy: want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. With the welfare safety net increasingly strained, I’m hoping that an understanding of its origin story and fitful evolution will shed new light on the choices and trade-offs politicians and electorates face today. At over 700 pages it’s a bit of a tome but given the ground covered I think that it is forgivable!
Box 88 by Charles Cumming – Amy Fisher, Director
Box 88 is a spy thriller novel. Given that I have read every Ian Flemming, Len Deighton, Ian Rankin and Mick Herron I have ever laid my hands on, it is an absolute godsend to find someone in the thriller genre who is also so page-turningly brilliant.
Harry Potter by JK Rowling – Natasha Egan-Sjodin, Associate Director
Call me a creature of habit, but I will be re-reading the Harry Potter series – ALL OF THEM! – in order.
It’s an annual Christmas tradition which started in my first year of university. I start on 1st December and make my way through until the end of the year, and I almost always end up reading the Half Blood Prince after Christmas dinner.
I’d like to opt for a more cultured and sophisticated read next year, so perhaps I’ll take some tips from this blog!
The Founding, A Gaunt’s Ghosts Omnibus by Dan Abnett – Peter Jones, Director
The Founding is a futuristic sci-fi novel set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe and is sort of a rip-off of the Sharp novels. Warhammer is a quite geeky hobby of mine which I picked up over lockdown. It involved building, painting and playing tabletop wargames with (mainly) plastic miniature soldiers. Games Workshop, the company that makes Warhammer, also publish books that go alongside the miniatures to build on the lore of the universe in which the tabletop game is set. It is pure escapism.
The Great Dune Trilogy by Frank Herbert – Marc Woolfson, Partner and Head of Public Affairs
I am reading the second Dune Trilogy (books 4-6). It is about an immortal pharaonic-style god-emperor who is half man half giant sandworm, with the power to see into the future. He has been in power for about 5,000 years and is convinced that benign dictatorship is the most effective form of government. But he is also a bit bored and so encourages rebellion in order to occasionally crush them. The Dune Trilogy is a bit of light relief after the year we’ve had.
The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan – Gary Neale, Partner & Head of Creative
I recently read a great book called The History of the World in 100 Objects and many of the topics that came up related to the importance of the silk road. When The Silk Roads came out I made sure it was locked in for Christmas as my children don’t always know what to buy me these days. The Silk Roads is chronologically ordered and provides insights into our history and the effects of trade. From the early Mesopotamians and Chinese to the two World Wars and the discovery of oil. It features lots of different countries and time periods. By doing so, it really shows the big picture and how historical events in different countries affect each other. If you like history but find reading about it too inaccessible, this could be the book for you, even for the beautiful illustrations which really help to bring history to life. The book poses a few questions: Which Pope was ignored when he told people to stop selling Christians? Which country thought their economy and military would collapse without oil in the early 20th century? You will find the answers to these questions and more in this lovely book.