Gavin Esler, author of How Britain Ends: English Nationalism and the Rebirth of Four Nations, recommends a fantastic range of books! Before jumping into the interview, please check out Gavin's book:
Q. Do you have a favourite smart thinking book (and why that book)?
I don’t have any kind of favourite book - I have different books for different moods and at different times. But in terms of smart thinking I have a whole stack of books which come to mind. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is one. He is a great synthesiser - he takes ideas and events and rearranges them in ways which make me think. Timothy Snyder's The Road To Unfreedom similarly impressed me as does David Edgerton’s The Rise and Fall of the British Nation and Linda Colley’s Britons. Joe Stiglitz also makes me think about the relationships between business, finance and citizens. But we should not under-estimate the smart thinking from novels and poetry. Johnathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is the most provocative account of the downside of following public opinion, for example. My new book How Britain Ends is designed specifically to make people think about what if anything it means to be British in the 21st century. Anything which makes me think - even if I disagree with it - is good. It’s brain food and brain exercise combined.
Q. What's the most recent smart thinking book you've read (and how would you rate it)?
The two most recent smart thinking books I read are Fintan O’Toole’s Heroic Failure and Peter Pomerantsev’s This is Not Propaganda. The are very different, both excellent, and yet both in a way touch on a common theme- how do we know what we think we know; how do we separate fact from convenient fictions. I wrote an earlier book called Lessons From the Top about formulas leaders use to tell stories. Pomerantsev’s account is also about the manufacture of story telling, shaped for modern audiences - a kind of up to date version of Vance Packard’s Hidden Persuaders. Fintan O’Toole impressed me because as an Irishman with a keen but affectionate eye on Britain, he performed a wonderful autopsy on the British body politic.
Q. Do you have a favourite childhood book?
A Favourite Childhood Book - again is hard to say. As a ten year old I adored Richmal Crompton and Just William. At 12 it was Sherlock Holmes and Challenger tales of Arthur Conan Doyle and Gulliver’s Travels which I thought was an adventure story, until as a teenager I started to get the satire. And then in my teenage years I became a big (and undoubtedly deeply boring) fan of Camus and also various short story writers, especially Irish and Russian writers.
Q. Do you prefer reading on paper, Kindle or listening to an audiobook?
I don’t read on Kindle. I spend too much time working on screens, so the idea of enjoying a novel or a book on screen doesn’t work for me. Also, with research books I confess I like to take notes and need to find things, so I often stuff paper in the useful pages. I have recorded an audio book - my own Lessons From The Top - but (another confession) I have never listened to an audio book, except maybe Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter which I listened to with my children. (It was great.)
Q. Do you have a favourite bookshop (and why that shop)?
I love independent bookshops. West End Books in West Hampstead is wonderful. Blackwell’s - especially the one in Edinburgh - is a delight. No Alibis in Belfast is terrific. Waterstone’s staff are always very helpful. I also adore Dussmann’s in Berlin - they have an extraordinary selection of books and music, and are brilliant. So many great bookshops - not enough time.
Many thanks to Gavin for recommending a fantastic range of books! Please don't forget to check out Gavin's book How Britain Ends: English Nationalism and the Rebirth of Four Nations
Image Copyrights: Head of Zeus (How Britain Ends, Heroic Failure), Vintage Publishing (Sapiens, The Road To Unfreedom), Penguin Books Ltd (The Rise and Fall of the British Nation, Gulliver's Travels), Yale University Press (Britons), Faber & Faber (This Is Not Progaganda), Profile Books Ltd (Lessons From The Top), Ig Publishing (The Hidden Persuaders), Pan MacMillan (Just William), Random House (Sherlock Holmes).