Posts tagged ‘Politics’

May 24, 2022

Welsh Plural: Essays on the Future of Wales – editors Darren Chetty, Grug Muse, Hanan Issa, Iestyn Tyne

by Team Riverside
cover of Welsh Plural

Paperback, Repeater Books, £12.99, out now

The editors of Welsh Plural have gathered some of the most interesting and relevant writers from Wales to consider what Welsh identity means today.  This is anything but niche: for anyone thinking about what identity, belonging and borders mean or could come to mean, this is helpful.  It is no surprise that this anthology has won praise from Nikesh Shukla and Gary Younge.

The book’s cover illustrates a willingness to engage in critical thinking that characterises this collection.  It shows a beautiful section of the Wrexham Quilt, made by a military tailor in the mid-nineteenth century.  “Like this book, it conveys a patchwork of experiences, from religious scenes to tributes to the industrial heritage of Wales.  Other motifs show giraffes, elephants and palm trees – souvenirs of Wales’ part in the conquests of the British Empire, made possible by armies clothed by tailors such as James Williams”.

The range of topics covered and approaches make this a compelling read.  There is a Choose Your Own Adventure style guide to being a Welsh novelist by Gary Raymond.  Charlotte Williams, who is examining outcomes for children of colour in Welsh education for the Welsh Government, discusses this alongside her own experience of being the only child of colour in her Welsh classroom in the 1960s.  Darren Chetty explores Welsh pubs called The Black Boy, both their history and how they handle their name now.  And there is much more.

I felt I had been given a gift of original and challenging thoughts.  Some themes came out strongly for me, particularly the intersection of racialised people and Welshness.  Several writers give valuable and vital accounts related this.  There are also conflicts and disagreements between the pieces, which suggests that the editors intended to allow space for complexity, nuance and difference.  I found this approach invigorating, and helpful.  I was grateful that the book was in English, allowing me as a non-Welsh speaker access.  Diolch yn fawr iawn, pawb.

Reading this on holiday in Wales at the time of the local elections felt important.  I am most envious of anyone who got to attend the related event in Machynlleth (which I heard about from colleagues at the smashing Pen’rallt Gallery Bookshop – it sounded like an excellent evening).  Reading Welsh Plural also brought the small publisher Repeater Books to my attention, whose range looks well worth digging into.

By coincidence, I followed this up by reading Nick Hayes’ The Book of Trespass (paperback, Bloomsbury, £9.99).  Hayes’ investigation into what the idea and law of trespass means in the UK now also engages with the issues of land, walls and identities.  As in Welsh Plural, there are moments of joy and celebration among the sometimes difficult content.  Hayes and his dog see a row of deer appear by magic as they walk through a wood: “This kind of moment is only available off the path.  It is prosaic, but it feels like a miracle, it feels meaningful, and it leaves me with my heart thumping in my throat…  I would swap a hundred nice walks along a pretty Right of Way for this one moment of magic”.

Review by Bethan

August 30, 2021

Penguin Green Ideas series just in

by Team Riverside
Penguin Green Ideas dispaly

The very beautiful and well curated new Penguin Green Ideas series has just arrived. We are delighted with the inclusion of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s work, as she is a Riverside favourite ( see

Immediately added to our booksellers’ personal reading lists are Michael Pollan’s Food Rules (Phoebe) and Wangari Maathai’s The World We Once Lived In (Bethan).

October 8, 2018

Climate Justice – Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future by Mary Robinson

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Bloomsbury, £16.99, out nowMary Robinson CLIMATE JUSTICE

I wanted a book to remind me that climate change can be tackled, and to inspire me to engage with this massive problem without leaving me doom laden and depressed.  This useful book by former Irish President and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson does just that.  Taking a rights and justice approach is natural for her.  “This injustice – that those who had done least to cause the problem were carrying the greatest burden – made clear that to advocate for the rights of the most vulnerable to food, safe water, health, education, and shelter would have no effect without our paying attention to the world’s changing climate”.

Robinson places the stories of people on the frontline of climate change at the heart of this short book, and sees her job as getting their voices heard.  It was the stories of these activists, mainly women, which I found most useful.

Constance Okollet is a small scale farmer from Uganda who has organised women in her community to challenge climate change, has given evidence internationally on the direct impact on her region of extreme weather: “in eastern Uganda, there are no seasons any more”.

Through activism, Okollet met Sharon Hanshaw of Biloxi Mississippi (founder of Coastal Women for Change) and other climate witnesses.  Hanshaw, a former beauty salon owner who saw her community devastated by hurricane Katrina, said: “Connecting with women who were facing similar issues across the globe, and standing up and working for solutions, was inspiring.  It is women who bear the brunt of climate change”.  (Read more of Hanshaw’s story here:

The price some of the activists pay for their work is heavy.  Robinson describes a tearful Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim of the Republic of Chad speaking of reporting back to the elders of her region: “I tell them that I will have a solution soon…  They think I am finding a solution, but I know how slowly the fight against climate change is going and that a solution is not coming tomorrow.  The solution for this problem will not be for them.  It will not be for now.”

There has been some criticism of the book for failing to focus sufficiently on failures of states in addressing climate change (see for example Cara Augustenborg in the Irish Times –  Others may notice that Robinson does not for example address population control, or the issue of whether nuclear power should be part of the renewable energy that replaces energy from fossil fuels.  But the book is not intended as a primer on climate change (though it can be read with no specialist knowledge).  It is a call to positive action against despair, and is best summed up by the advice of Hanshaw, citing her civil rights activist father: “pray and believe, and always believe in what you can do instead of can’t do”.

Review by Bethan

September 26, 2015

This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War, by Samanth Subramanian

by Team Riverside

Samanth Subramanian THIS DIVIDED ISLANDAtlantic Books, out now

Just longlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize, this well written account of the Sri Lankan civil war does not take sides. Indian Tamil journalist Subramanian approaches a notoriously tangled and controversial subject through the stories of diverse individuals. These include former combatants from the Tamil Tigers and the army, refugees and other members of the diaspora, journalists, medics and other civilians. We learn some of the human cost of this awful conflict.

He finds that Sri Lanka lends itself to this style: “It never required much to begin a conversation in Sri Lanka. The very air was primed for it. In a country so full of uncertainty, all life, and all death, was rehearsed through conversation. It was a form of art, well honed and practiced with skill.”

No previous knowledge of Sri Lankan history is necessary and so it is a useful primer, but also very revealing for those who know more. The problems facing Sri Lankans at home and abroad now are shown. No easy answers present themselves. The author documents his own, sometimes conflicting, reactions to the stories he is told. This makes the book feel honest, current and engaging.

This Divided Island is a must-read for anyone thinking of visiting this beautiful but troubled place, as well as for those who want to know more about the civil war and its aftermath. In places his reporting is the best kind of travel writing, immediate and vivid in his descriptions of transport, food, and places. Despite the grimness of some of the content, the clarity of the writing and the writer’s affection for the place make this an engaging and swift read.

Review by Bethan

August 19, 2015

Gods of Metal, Eric Schlosser

by Team Riverside

Penguin, paperback out now £1.99Eric Schlosser GODS OF METAL

Somehow I had stopped really thinking about the piles of nuclear weapons placed all over the world: owned, operated and sought by fallible humans. In this substantial and important new piece of reportage, Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation, Executive Producer of There Will be Blood) updates us on the threats posed by nuclear weapons today.

He describes repeated security breaches at US nuclear bases, spending time with anti-nuclear weapons campaigners imprisoned for breaking in. He reflects on their pacifist and radical forerunners.

Looking to the future, he details attempts made by non-state actors to gain access to nuclear weapons and weapons-manufacturing materials: “In October 2009, ten militants entered the central headquarters of the Pakistan Army in broad daylight, wearing military uniforms and carrying fake IDs. They took dozens of hostages, killed high-ranking officers, and maintained control of a building there for eighteen hours. The two leading commanders of Pakistan’s nuclear forces were stationed at the base.” (p. 73).

Published by Penguin 70 years after the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this thoughtful and thorough work is a must read. Get ready to have your consciousness raised: as the author writes when thanking experts for their help, “I’m not sure how they sleep at night”.

Review by Bethan

January 19, 2014

Margaret Thatcher & Tony Benn

by Andre

Tony Benn A BLAZE OF AUTUMN SUNSHINE - THE LAST DIARIESCharles Moore MARGARET THATCHER THE AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY vol 1Thatcher and Benn were both born in 1925 into separate strata of the class system, and ended up on opposite sides of post-war politics. On the right and the left, they each achieved an enduring political legacy, which ensures these contrasting volumes should avoid the remainder shop of doom, where most politicians end up. Charles Moore’s official guide to the grocer’s daughter from Grantham is a masterpiece of biography; sympathetic yet revealing about her failures, foibles and triumphs. His account of the Falklands War is like a labyrinthine thriller: the US diplomatic manoeuvring, the hapless chicanery of the Argentinian junta and the internal cabinet divisions, all going on while British troops wanted to prosecute a war before winter arrived in the South Atlantic.

Her failings included a lack of strategic vision and abysmal man-management – it was always men – that ultimately led to her downfall. She also had no discernible sense of humour and needed the jokes in her speeches to be explained. Thatcher cut a lonely figure early on, surrounded by patrician Tory Wets, but was sustained by a coterie of admirers and the blimpish, boozy Denis Thatcher. This curious cast of true believers makes for a surprisingly funny biography, especially the footnote revealing the amorous efforts of one of the PM’s fans.

Following Thatcher’s death, Tony Benn writes with admiration from across the political divide in The Last Diaries, describing her as a “signpost not a weather vane”. The former Viscount Stansgate comes across as a steadfast figure himself: marching against war in his eighties, attending picket lines and railing against Tony Blair. As his health fails, his powers as a diarist wane a little: Hazel Blears didn’t actually go on TV with “a large mock-up of a cheque” to announce she was paying back her expenses, although it’s a pleasingly surreal image. Amidst the name-dropping (Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Natasha Kaplinsky) his curiosity about ordinary lives shines through. And while his arguments may have been defeated at the ballot box, Benn’s career is not the forgettable failure of so many politicians. His volumes of diaries will be read, studied and enjoyed for many years to come.

November 17, 2013

Live From Downing Street: Nick Robinson

by Andre

Updated paperback out now – £8.99

Nick Robinson LIVE FROM DOWNING STREETThe BBC political editor is one of TV’s most familiar faces – and one of the most annoying if you accept Alastair Campbell’s assessment of Nick Robinson (“a jerk”). Well, I’d rather read Robinson’s engaging, witty history and insightful memoir than Campbell’s obsessive, late-night scribbling. It’s not an autobiography but it does begin – after a perfectly worthy, BBC-style introduction – with a revealing chapter on his youthful fascination with current affairs (Today presenter Brian Redhead was a neighbour) and his dogged research as BBC producer for a Dimbleby. Even when he switches to reporting, Robinson still seems to write a lot of memos and happily describes himself as a “pointy head” in contrast to BBC Rottweiler interviewers (Paxman, Humphrys, Neil).

Nevertheless, he’s a tenacious reporter who was bloodied early in the Blair years when, he claims, Mandelson tried to get him sacked, as well as being – for the most part – a staunch defender of his trade. While he acknowledges the soundbite culture’s gone too far, he reminds us of Draconian restrictions on reporting parliament from the 1600s to the 1950s. Politicians wouldn’t even deign to be interviewed. (In 1955, Clement Attlee was asked if there was “anything else you’d care to say about the coming election?” His answer in full: “No.”)

Robinson draws perfect sketches of the political pas de deux between each prime minister and the Beeb. Churchill loathed the BBC, which had (wrongly) denied him a platform in the 1930s; Wilson was a paranoiac who preferred ITV; Thatcher was positively hostile. He gets angry about propaganda during the Falklands War and regrets his failure to give Robin Cook’s opposition to the Iraq war airtime when employed by ITV (Robinson avoided the Blair-BBC death duel). Of course, this impartial correspondent’s candour becomes cloudier the closer he gets to the present but his profound questions about the future shape of British broadcasting make this essential reading for students of politics and the media.