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Tue, 12 May 2009 02:31
Gabrielle Palmer, author of The Politics of Breastfeeding, is a nutritionist and a campaigner. She was a breastfeeding counsellor in the 1970s and helped establish the UK pressure group Baby Milk Action. In the early 1980s she lived and worked as a volunteer in Mozambique. She has written, taught and campaigned on infant feeding issues, particularly the unethical marketing of baby foods.
The Ragged-trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
I find this book unbearably poignant because it was only published after Tressell's death. He died feeling rejected. He tells a story of the life of a house painter and decorator and describes the humiliations and suffering of underpaid urban working class life in the early 20th century. His political stance is that the purpose of all this exploitation and endurance is to make life comfortable for the rich who benefit from the workers' low waged existence. It is a novel but we know that Tressell speaks from his own experience and that reality shines through. His message is relevant today on a global scale. I based the title of my section on the US state-subsidised infant formula system ('the wet-diapered philanthropists') in my own book (The Politics of Breastfeeding) on his brilliant title. This book is essential reading for anyone who (like me) finds much intellectual political writing a bit turgid.
The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer
This book changed my life. It gave me the confidence to think I could transcend the spoken and unspoken messages from my parents, education and culture which told me that women came second to men.
Poverty and Famine by Amartya Sen
Sen is a Professor of Economics and a Nobel Prize winner. Anyone could read this book and understand it. He describes famines (Irish, Ethiopia, Bengal) and shows how that people die not because there is no food to feed them but because they are not entitled to that food. Like most great ideas, this one is astonishingly simple and robust; when you analyse any famine you see that certain people (like aid workers, journalist and rulers) still eat while people are dying of starvation. His writings and views on economics are brilliant, wise and energised by a true caring for humanity.
On Liberty by John Stuart Mill
I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book. John Stuart Mill (born in 1806) is completely open about the fact that his ideas either came from or were inspired by his close friend Harriet Taylor. Their friendship thrived over 20 years while she was married to Mr Taylor. Everyone loves to speculate about whether JSM and HT were lovers (they later married after Mr Taylor died) but to me that is irrelevant. They had the most amazing intellectual intimacy and obviously sparked each other off to great emotional and intellectual benefit to themselves and to us. This book (and his other writings) has a wonderful emotional, as well as intellectual, integrity. JSM proclaims that he could never have done his work without her. They were a team. His ideas about, for example, freedom of speech, women's rights and education are all as relevant today as in the 19th century.
Long walk to freedom by Nelson Mandela
I took this on a long journey to read, almost out of duty, because I admired Mandela and wanted to know his story. I couldn't put it down because it was so well written, so entertaining and so human. I was working overseas and I used to make excuses to avoid the socialising (and I am very sociable) and race back to my hotel room so that I could eat up more of this delicious book.
Good behaviour by Molly Keane
A magnificent and under-rated novel, told in the first person with immense skill. The reader sees what is happening but the narrator is too innocent to notice the horrible reality. The tale reveals the hypocrisy and brutality towards women behind attitudes to sex. It conjures up the stifling 'blind eye-turning' of Anglo-Irish life in the first part of the 20th century and deals with issues that were never spoken about. Brilliant.
Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
I am a devoted fan of everything Bill Bryson writes but this was the first book I read. He was talking about my country and my era with absolute accuracy, shredding the British to pieces but with great affection. I read this on a plane and shook with laughter so much that my fellow passengers gave me strange looks.
The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuscinski
RK was a Polish journalist who died in 2007. Everything he ever wrote was like mother of pearl. His writing is so simple, so clear and so easy that it is effortless to read and yet he writes about big things: death, war, power-crazed leaders. I picked this book because it describes all the little details of political collapse and the stranglehold of human habits and relationships on power struggles. It's about the collapse of the rule of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia in the 1970s. Whenever you read something by RK you think, 'Ah at last I understand why that place is in such a mess.' For me he is the best non-African writer on Africa ever.
Schindler's Ark Thomas Keneally
Now made famous by the Spielberg film Schindler's List, the book is a far greater testament to the characters involved. Keneally presents the paradox that some unpleasant people do good and some seemingly pleasant ones do evil.
Obedience to Authority by Stanley Milgram
A very important account of why humans do what they do to each other. Very relevant for our time. This book was reissued just when the abuses in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were exposed. This book should be standard reading in all secondary schools.
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