As we head into a summer unlike any other, with some of us preparing to go away whilst others opt for a staycation, one thing is without doubt – we’ll all have time to settle down into a good book. With that in mind, we at New Direction have decided to put together a handy summer reading list of sone of the most relevant reading for conservatives and classical liberal to enjoy over the break.
Niall Fergusson has a track record as an author of being able to dissect the most complicated aspects of the world around us, and presenting them in a way that suddenly makes them all the more relevant to us, the readers. His 2008 book the Ascent of Money helped to rationalise the Great Recession of 2007-08 in a historical context, demonstrating that every that had happened in the run up to the crisis was entirely predictable if one simply knew where in history to look.
In Doom Dr Fergusson, presently a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution in Stanford, applies the same rigorous understanding of historical context to the real of disasters – both natural and otherwise. In this excellent new book, which he started researching before the COVID-19 Pandemic swept across the world, Dr Fergusson takes us on a journey through major catastrophes and disasters.
From the plagues of the Middle Ages to the Challenger shuttle disaster, a broad picture is painted of how what truly matters at the heart of a crisis is the reaction of those in key institutions.
His core argument is that disasters are made worse by poor management and randomness. Fergusson’s view is that only by being prepared for the unexpected can we truly avoid a catastrophe. An argument perhaps best articulated by late Donald Rumsfeld in his infamous quote:
“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know.”
For those who are seeking to use the summer to reflect on the events of the last two years, and what it means for the future – then Doom is a strong foundation from which to start.
Viscount Matthew Ridley has long held the reputation of being perhaps one of the most optimistic politicians in Britain today, a fact that he himself would be the first to admit. Originally a student of biology, Ridley has over the years turned his focus more and more towards the area of ideas. His TED talk, ‘When Ideas have Sex’ which covered the notion that innovation does not happen in isolation, has reached hundreds of thousands of people, and his books have become best sellers. His most recent is no exception.
‘How Innovation Works’ continues in the same optimistic tradition as his previous work, building on the simple premise that the freer the society is to develop, the more prosperous it becomes. He points to numerous examples of how the free exchange of ideas in an open marketplace have driven forward the most important, life improving, technologies of the last few centuries.
From the development of the steam engine to the numerous innovations that have taken the internal combustion engine to a point where emissions are lower in a moving car today than they were in an idling one half a century ago. Whilst all the while charting the progress of human wealth, health, and development to demonstrate that today, thanks to freedom, we now live in the most prosperous time in our history.
This book is a must read for those who feel the need to inject a dose of optimism into their thinking after the struggles of the last several months.
Whilst this book may focus on England, it picks up on an interesting point which seems to be common across much of European society today. Namely that the divide between working class communities, and the elites who represent them in the media and in elected office has widened. In this book Daniel Skelton looks at how our societies have become more divided by issues that simply don’t have an impact amongst the so called ‘left behind’ in society.
In this polemic, Skelton analyses everything from the impact of the so called ‘culture war’ to the real problems of slow economic growth, and a lack of opportunities. Much of what is said in this book about the United Kingdom could just as easily be transferred to the contemporary political discourse in Germany, France, or Spain.
Since its release, this book has won the praises of conservative MPs and commentators in the UK for its ability to encapsulate the zeitgeist of contemporary British political life – especially when it comes to the alleged disdain that many in the metropolitan elite have for those who think and vote differently to them in historically working class areas.
Earlier this year, New Direction was pleased to publish a book by the Icelandic scholar and historian Hannes Gissurarson – Twenty-Five Conservative Liberal Thinkers. This book covers the history of the modern conservative movement, looking at it through the prism of the contributions of twenty-five thinkers. From the well-known, such as Edmund Burke and F A Hayek, to the less obvious in Ayn Rand and Snorri Sturluson.
This fantastic book offers something for everyone – for those entering conservative politics for the first time it presents an easy introduction to the movers and shakers of the ideology’s intellectual history. For those with an appreciation for political philosophy, it offers a means to rediscover old favourites, and reignite interest in some of the debates within the movement. But above all – it is an entertaining read that offers fresh perspectives on many of the thinkers. On top of all this, Professor Gissurarson offers delightful personal anecdotes about many of the more recent thinkers on the list, such as Hayek, and Friedman.
The book is available in two volumes, for free, on the New Direction website and is a must read for those with a keen interest in the spread of conservative liberal ideas.
No twelve-month span has been more consequential for the creation of the modern world than that between June 1947 and June 1948 – so argues Jonathan Fenby in his book Crucible. Over the course of the year, covered in detail in the book, India declared independence and split with Pakistan, the state of Israel was born, Stalin reorganised Central-Eastern Europe, the Marshall Plan came into existence, the Soviet Union invades Czechoslovakia, and Mao seized power in China ending a thirty-year civil war.
The book, which is set out in acts as though a play, managed to cover each of these events within the context of what was happening around the globe. What perhaps makes this book so compelling, is that Fenby manages to paint a broad picture of the world over the entire time period, whilst also refusing to skip over the small details – with each act ending with a list of the other innovations and cultural changes taking place in parallel to the main story.
Fenby approaches the topic from a strong position of having written around the topic for years. His other notable books include biographies of Chiang Kai-shek, and Charles De Gaulle, as well as entries on the post-war summits, and histories of modern France, and China.
This is certainly a book for history lovers, but also one for those who want to better understand how the world we live in today was shaped by political accidents, and cynical politics over the course of a faithful twelve month period.