Sun, Sea and Socialism: Beach Reads 2022

Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football makes a personal selection of ten books (and a T-shirt) to add bright thinking to any holiday

August: England basking in Euro-winning glory. A Wembley victory, where England last won a tournament in the 1966 World Cup. 56 years of hurt ended by England women. How cool is that? 

August, traditionally the height of the British holiday season.  And with the climate now in full emergency mode, bright sunshine and hot weather pretty much guaranteed. That’s how most of the front pages treat his deadly prospect. Rising summer death rates amongst the old and vulnerable, bush fires, drought – pretty much a footnote.

Beaches along the Kent and Sussex coast transformed from holiday favourites to the frontline in arguments and actions over asylum, migration and race. 

Meanwhile cosmopolitan cities and large towns, while sweltering in the sun, get on with a daily life that showcases what a multicultural society looks like. No, not the same as what an anti-racist society looks like, but without this crucial starting point in our daily lives that ambition will remain forever forlorn.     

Holidays: a time of nostalgia, what it was like when we were kids, teenagers, students and twenty somethings. For those now pensionable and of a certain musical, and political disposition, the late seventies’ summers will always be the era of rocking against racism with TRB, X-Ray Spex, Steel Pulse, but most of all The Clash. 

Packing some holiday reading? Despite all manner of digital media the written word remains a hugely influential space for ideas. How we read forms our ideas: what is read forms the ideas of other.  With the rush towards vision-free Starmerism, a politics of critique, which for many begins with questioning what we read, see and hear, is more necessary than ever. 

Stand and fight, yes: enough to win, no. A new generation of left intellectuals are developing the kind of ideas that serve to highlight the absolute lack of any kind of vision from Keir Starmer’s Labour. In the 1980s a similar role was performed by writers in and around the magazine Marxism Today. It isn’t simply nostalgia to observe how much this kind of thinking is needed today. Revisit, review, rewrite.

If all of this adds up to the kind of beach reads worth finding some space in the holiday luggage, here are ten top reads for starters.  

1. Suzy Wrack, A Woman’s Game: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Women’s Football  

On the beach. England European Champions. A blissful summertime mix. And to add depth, context and brilliant ideas to the feel-good factor there’s none better than one of the pioneers of the new (women’s) football writing, Suzy Wrack, in her debut and most timely book.

2. Adrienne Buller, The Value of a Whale: On The Illusions of Green Capitalism

Adrienne Buller is part of a new wave of economists producing radical ideas in stark contrast to Keir Starmer’s mantra that

“Labour’s mission in government will be economic growth.” With the climate emergency already upon us, The Value of a Whale expertly explains why ‘growth’ isn’t enough, not nearly.

3. Chris Armstrong,  A Blue New Deal: Why We Need a New Politics for the Ocean

For the lucky ones there’s no better place to spend August hols than on a beach in the sunshine. Thoughts of what rising sea levels will do to devastate coastal communities, and rising summer heat as a threat to our health and environment, are not the nicest, but a necessary way to break up the sunbathing and swimming. A Blue Deal is the antidote, an incredible read on how by reversing climate change coastal communities could be regenerated.

4. Tariq Ali, Winston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes          

“We shall fight on the beaches” was amongst many great Churchill lines a million miles away from the sound-bitery of modern politics. But there’s Churchillian myth-making too on an industrial scale. Tariq Ali provides a demolition job that some will disagree with but none should entirely ignore.

5. Vron Ware, Return of a Native: Learning from the Land

For those who prefer a rural spot away from the sand and the sea Return of a Native is an insightful read of how the particularities of the English countryside have become key to constructing Englishness. Combining the ecological and the political, this is a book to provoke rethinking well beyond a holiday read.

6.  Gerry Hassan and Simon Barrow, Eds, A Better Nation: The Challenges of Scottish Independence   

The near-perfect summertime city break is surely the Edinburgh Festival.  Edinburgh is also where the re-established Scottish Parliament is located. Since then, the momentum towards independence has been in fits and starts but it will come. Gerry Hassan and Simon Barrow’s edited collection of essays is the best possible survey of a shift – a tad more important than fretting over whether future festival visitors from the rest of the UK (sic) will need to pack their passports. 

7. Panikos Panayi, Migrant City: A New History of London

London – it could be Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds too, cosmopolitan cities, large towns as well. Places built on a history of invasion and migration. A past that isn’t another country but intimately connected to the present, and future.  Migrant City is a book that makes those connections to create a compelling read.  Whether London is a summertime city-break destination or where to return to after the holidays my advice is: pack this book.   

8. Gregor Gall The Punk Rock Politics of Joe Strummer

As summer draws to a close, September 2022 will mark the 40th anniversary of the break-up of Joe, Mick, Paul and Topper AKA The Clash. For those of a certain age and inclination it was this foursome who provided, and still do, the soundtrack to our lives. Gregor Gall brilliantly locates the music Joe Strummer provided for the band in what he calls “punk rock politics”, a mix of radicalism, resistance and rebellion, and to dance too.

9. Eric Rauchway, Why The New Deal Matters

Atlee’s ‘Spirit of ’45’ and Roosevelt’s New Deal, in their different ways, established a broadly social-democratic consensus that lasted until the era of Thatcher and Reagan. It’s a consensus that remains broken despite the partial efforts of Blair, Brown, Clinton, Obama and Biden to restore it.  Is looking to this past enough? No, but if the basis of post-war social democracy is confined to the history books, how will we ever restore and reinvent its much-needed core principles? Author Eric Rauchway has written a book which is pretty much a manual for such a restoration and reinvention for the New Deal. Now all we need is the same for 1945 Labour.          

10. Doreen Massey, Selected Political Writings; Stuart Hall  Selected Political Writings; and Robin Murray  Selected Political Writings

If room in the suitcase or rucksack is at a premium, this is the book to pack, or if possible three books. Publishers Lawrence and Wishart have produced the perfect reads to take us away from the next-to-no-ideas Keir Starmer Labour Party to an ideological place where ideas are positively overflowing.  These are posthumous collections of three writers central to the magazine Marxism Today in the 1980s. Doreen Massey’s, Stuart Hall’s and Robin Murray’s political writings: there’s no better preparation for, after a summer of discontent, the change that must follow.

And a T-shirt

On the beach and ever after, wear the incredible memories of an unforgettable July 2022. Philosophy Football’s unique T-shirt with England’s victories with full match details: Austria, Norway, Northern Ireland, Spain, Sweden. And then after 120 minutes England 2 Germany 1 added and ‘Lionesses’ switched to CHAMPIONS. From here 

Note No links in this review are to Amazon. If buying books from corporate tax dodgers can be avoided, please do so.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction aka Philosophy Football       

Image: Reading a book on the beach, Nikon D3200 10/1600s, f 14.0, ISO 100, 35 mm, License: CC0 Public Domain

Subscribe to the blog for email notifications of new posts