Category Archives: The BOOKS etc. Club

Our fantastic book club! we’ll be putting monthly book reviews on here from our wonderful reviewer Becky.

Book of the Month – Humankind

Humankind: A Hopeful History 

By Rutger Bregman

It’s a belief that unites the left and right, psychologists and philosophers, writers and historians. It drives the headlines that surround us and the laws that touch our lives. From Machiavelli to Hobbes, Freud to Dawkins, the roots of this belief have sunk deep into Western thought. Human beings, we’re taught, are by nature selfish and governed by self-interest.

Humankind makes a new argument: that it is realistic, as well as revolutionary, to assume that people are good. The instinct to cooperate rather than compete, trust rather than distrust, has an evolutionary basis going right back to the beginning of Homo sapiens. By thinking the worst of others, we bring out the worst in our politics and economics too.

In this major book, internationally bestselling author Rutger Bregman takes some of the world’s most famous studies and events and reframes them, providing a new perspective on the last 200,000 years of human history. From the real-life Lord of the Flies to the Blitz, a Siberian fox farm to an infamous New York murder, Stanley Milgram’s Yale shock machine to the Stanford prison experiment, Bregman shows how believing in human kindness and altruism can be a new way to think – and act as the foundation for achieving true change in our society.

It is time for a new view of human nature.


Review

By Becky Hinshelwood

If ever the world needed a positive image of humanity, it’s now. As countries begin to relax their various Covid restrictions, we’re all waiting to see if humans will really build the ‘better world’ that was so talked about in the early days of lockdown. Add to this the murder of George Floyd and subsequent anti-racist and far right protests both in the States and Europe, and Rutger Bregman’s book, Human Kind seems to me to be one of the most important things that you could read right now.

It certainly feels like we’re a vicious species on the brink of self destruction. But, of course, this impression comes from The News. This is the first thing that Bregman takes on. I’ve now limited my news intake and I feel a whole lot better. But this isn’t a lifestyle book, or a self help book (Bregman would shudder at the thought – I like him all the more for this!) It’s about history, anthropology, philosophy and psychology. Daunting? No. It reads as a collection of stories, anecdotes and lessons from your favourite teacher. The one who could always engage you even when you were in the depths of Year 11 cynicism.

I was drawn in from the start of Human Kind by Rutger Bregman’s excellent turn of phrase (he gives a happy nod to his collaborators on the translation, Elizabeth Manton and Erica Moore, in the acknowledgements). The tone manages to be engaging and readable without ever feeling like it was compromising on intellect. The first couple of stories that Bregman cites, one about Blitz-time London and another about the ‘real’ Lord of the Flies, had me unable to put the book down. I only normally feel this addicted when reading a novel!

It’s not all good news. We visit each example of humanity’s dark side over the course of this book. War. Power. Racism. Terrorism. Extremism. Time and time again, Bregman takes a fresh, and well supported, perspective on events to really penetrate and overturn my low expectations of human nature. By looking at real events and exposing influential experiments on human behaviour as flawed, Bregman makes an extremely powerful case. In each example, it is our innate friendliness as a species which somehow lies at the root of terrible things, “it is the best facets of human nature – loyalty, camaraderie, solidarity – that inspire us to take up arms.”

I was left floored by his account of the sociologist whose 1974 report was used to underpin much of the hardline system of policing which exists today in many American states. The press ignored both his subsequent retractions and his eventual suicide. Similarly I was haunted by the account of the 2014 killing of the black Eric Garner by a white police officer. Eric’s last words: “I can’t breathe”. Of course, at the time of writing Bregman could not have known that a huge wave of protest would soon be afoot after a strikingly similar murder. But in the wake of global support for Black Lives Matter, the ideas of human connection are very accurate indeed.

Then we turn to the establishment and institutions. Bregman takes us to innovative learning, working and correctional institutions (Norway do a lot right, it seems) which have not only worked but excelled. At a time when many of us are fretting about the makeshift homeschool that our kids are experiencing, it’s really rather settling.

We end as we begin, with The News. Newspapers, television and social media. That stream of information which we perceive makes us learned and informed. And yet consumed in the quantities most of us ingest, it makes us anxious, fearful, and behave against our natural inclination. When we begin to look at social media as a parallel to the WWI trenches, with people firing only because they can’t see their human victims, maybe we can begin to find a way out of it.

I hope a lot of people read this book!

If Becky’s review has inspired you to read more, then you can buy your copy HERE

Introducing our March Book of the Month

 

H G Wells

A Literary Life

By Adam Roberts

This is the first new complete literary biography of H G Wells for thirty years, and the first to encompass his entire career as a writer, from the science fiction of the 1890s through his fiction and non-fiction writing all the way up to his last publication in 1946. Adam Roberts provides a comprehensive reassessment of Wells’ importance as a novelist, short-story writer, a theorist of social prophecy and utopia, journalist and commentator, offering a nuanced portrait of the man who coined the phrases ‘atom bomb’, ‘League of Nations’ ‘the war to end war’ and ‘time machine’, who wrote the world’s first comprehensive global history and invented the idea of the tank. In these twenty-six chapters, Roberts covers the entirety of Wells’ life and discusses every book and short story he produced, delivering a complete vision of this enduring figure.


Review
By Becky Hinshelwood

Reading this book was a bit like going back to University. I’ve not actually read any H G Wells, familiar though I am with adaptations of titles like The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man. Since my student days I’ve also not read in depth criticism because… well, I haven’t had to. So actually, it was nice to feel like I was learning again!

Adam Roberts’ book is informative and accessible. It’s is far more readable than many texts from my student life. But that’s not to say it’s a walk in the park. And there’s no need for reading to be simple in order to enjoy it. This is a good example of that: a book that takes effort and concentration to read, but it’s worth it.

So, do you have to know the work of H G Wells to appreciate this book? In short, no. Adam Roberts looks at Wells’s life through his work; it’s a fairly chronological literary biography. You’ll be guided through Wells’s massive body of work so that by the end, you’ll feel like you not only know something of the man, but also have a working knowledge of his literature. You’ll certainly be able to bluff your way in a pub quiz!

What really struck me about this tour of Wells’s literary life was how much the man wrote. He was the original content creator! Adam Roberts outlines this in his introduction, but as you go through the stories, articles, analyses and and memoirs it’s still impressively prolific! Roberts clearly admires him, and really loves a lot of his work. But he’s not afraid to be critical when he thinks a piece comes below par. Similarly when Wells’s views, as they seem to have regularly been expressed, were racist and sexist. So as my guide to H G Wells, I found myself pretty amenable to Adam Roberts.

Then there’s all the sex. From the outset, Roberts takes pains to highlight H G Wells’s vivacity. Which I originally thought was a bit farfetched… but then as you move through the works and the biography it all makes a bit more sense. With 2 marriages, 5 long term affairs and numerous dalliances influencing the work, if you’ve absorbed the whole Wells canon it would be hard not to look at each with with a bit of an erotic eye.

Even after this book, though, I struggle with H G Wells the lothario. Mainly because he is such a figurehead of Science Fiction. He’s a God of the Geeks – the man helped to spread the popularity of wargaming for goodness sake! Nowadays a comic-book version of H G Wells crops up often in graphic novels as an alien-fighting superhero. And on the twee side of life, one of his novels, Kipps, supplied the basics for cheesy 60’s musical ‘Half a Sixpence’.

But, of course H G Wells was a man and writer of contradictions. And according to Roberts a trailblazer of contradictory characters, of symbolism and unreliable narrators (including himself). Roberts’s analyses are pretty in depth. He’s actively seeking expressions of Wells’s subconscious and motivations. But that’s the point of analysing literature – it’s about finding layers of meaning.

And if one thing is clear from this book, Wells is rich in meaning! Even his eulogy to his late wife, the ‘Book of Catherine Wells’, is not as straightforward as it may appear. Roberts is critical of the narcissistic and frankly rude tone of Wells’s description of his late wife (‘sturdy’). I appreciated Roberts’s calling out of Wells’s treatment of his wife. Of course he’s balanced, which is fair – we don’t ever know what goes on behind closed doors. When Roberts takes us through Wells’s final major love affair with Moura Budberg and how her infidelities pained him, I thought “good – what goes around…”!

By tracing his work, Roberts adds yet another story to H G Wells’s portfolio. It’s a story with multitudes of meaning, most of which involve knowledge in some form. Maybe his story is essentially a journey from the optimism of future progression to pessimism with how humanity used their knowledge. I can certainly thank Adam Roberts for kick starting my brain again!

If Becky’s review has inspired you to read more, then you can buy your copy HERE