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Autumn Books for the Corbyn Effect

16.11.2015

Mark Perryman from Philosophy Football provides a rundown of new books for the #jezewecan majority

It would have taken a forecaster of the most extraordinary power to predict in the early days after the General Election when the Labour Right were rampant explaining Labour’s defeat on being too left wing, not Blairist-Brownite enough, that in September Jeremy Corbyn would be Labour leader.

By this time next year there will no doubt be an avalanche of books, some sympathetic, some not, seeking to explain The Corbyn Insurgency. But that doesn’t mean there’s not already an awful lot of decent reads to help shape thinking about this late flowering of Labour as Britain’s new radical left party.  One of the best places to start is with an understanding of the widespread disaffection with Westminster Bubble politics. This is what #jezwecan connected to in and around Labour and will need to extend that connection far wider if electoral success is to follow, especially next year in London and Scotland where key elections will be held. Peter Mair’s superb short book Ruling the Void is rightly regarded as the essential text on the subject.  It is a tad early to identify where the new thinkingwill come from to provide the basis for the open-ended radicalism that Corbyn promises to become the new face of Labour. But one thing is for sure sticking to good principles isn’t the same as being restricted to old certainties. The brilliant Inventing the Future is testament to that, a post capitalist politics that understands social, economic and cultural change without being seduced by it. But for a single volume to provide both a compelling read and more than enough newl thinking to write the next Labour Manifesto look no further than Paul Mason’s outstanding Postcapitalism: A Guide To Our Future.

Inequality and the 1 percentBut of course its not enough for a Corbynist Labour Party to promise a better tomorrow, the radical appeal needs to be rooted in improving the here and now too. No writer has done more than Danny Dorling to develop our understanding of the consequences for us all of the inequality that affects some more than others. Two of his classic works of recent years have now been fully revised as post-election editions. Injustice: Why Social Inequality Still Persists and Inequality and the 1% are two essential reads for a politics to make a difference. Nobody likes a tax dodger, closing down tax avoidance is not only the right thing but is just the kind of populist leftism that suits Corbyn's Labour. Gabriel Zucman’s new book The Hidden Wealth of Nations is set to be a key text on one aspect of this, tax havens. More broadly the closest thing yet to what is already being dubbed ‘Corbynomics’ are the ideas of Richard Murphy, prominent campaigner for tax justice. Handily his new, and very accessible for non-economists, book is out with surely the best title of the quarter The Joy of Tax.

None of this breathless forward-thinking denies the need to learn from recent efforts towards radical change of varying degrees of success.  Andy Beckett’s Promised You A Miracle charts the Left’s failure not only to combat Thatcherism but even to begin to comprehend the challenge its brutal originality posed. Kevin Ovenden provides radical reportage with a style that fizzes with excitement. His first book Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth reveals an important new voice and leaves the reader wanting to know when his next book will be out.

How to be EnglishIn Scotland a Corbyn effect has already happened, its called the SNP and reduced Scottish Labour to a rump party. There may be some kind of recovery at the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections but unlikely enough to make more than a small dent in Nicola Sturgeon’s hegemonic position representing Scots progressivism. Labour will be forced therefore, willingly or unwillingly, to address ‘The English Question’. Don’t be fooled by the lighthearted tone David Boyle adopts in his magnificent book How To Be English this is a richly incisive book to help address what kind of mix a hegemonic English progressivism might end up looking like. Satnam Virdee’s Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider is that rare thing nowadays, an academic book that not only engaes with a wider public but also provides a sharp campaigning edge to the analysis. Historical and broad in its coverage this is one of the best accounts of contemporary racisms published in a good long time.  If Corbynite Labour is to really challenge the mainstream consensus on immigration Satman provides the kind of thinking necessary fo that vital project.

Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider. Satnam VirdeeIt was no accident that the first ‘test’ Jeremy Corbyn faced was the singing of the National Anthem (sic) at a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. There will be many more such so-called ‘tests’ for him to face between now and a 2020 General Election. More than almost any country English national identity is warped by too close a relationship with both the martial and the imperial. In that mix how WWII is defined is of particular significance. Robert Gildea’s gargantuan account Fighters in the Shadows is one very useful way of appreciating that conflict as an anti-fascist war in which popular resistance played a not inconsiderable role, and the politics of that resistance, in France as well as elsewhere, would often be communism. Not quite how the British Establishment marks these commemorations is it? Fighting On All Fronts edited by Donny Gluckstein magnificently extends this critical point to champion resistance movements of Algeria, Slovakia, Burma and the Philppines as well as internal oppositions in Ireland, Australia, Japan and elsewhere to subvert the traditional means of understanding World War Two without ever losing sight of the essential cause of anti-fascism, then and now.

Corbynite Labour at its best will combine both a politics framed by new social movements and  a process of reclaiming and remaking old traditions and principles of socialist Labour. The recently re-issued From Serfdom to Socialism by Keir Hardie is an excellent starting point for the latter while John Newsinger’s Them and Us is an excellent pocket guide to the momentous period, 1910-1939, in which the British Labour tradition was more or less founded.

But of course the history of the British, and international left, is not restricted to Labourism. It seems more than likely, given his past record, that Jeremy Corbyn will be considerably more open to drawing on these other contributions than any Labour leader of recent times.  It will be up to others to choose to creatively reciprocate. The Leadership Election ‘purge’ of thousands who had applied as Labour supporters to vote suggests however that plenty remain prepared to block any such dialogue by means, fair or foul, at their disposal. The journal Twentieth Century Communism provides a regular digest of all that could be good in such a relationship, its latest edition chronicling the imaginative diversity of a political culture framed by communist ideals from France in the 1930s to Germany in the 1960s via music , Eurocommunism and street-fighting protest. From Kirstin Ross Communal Luxury adds to a growing literature which seeks to explore and explain the founding ideals of the Communist vision. Kirstin recounts both the impetus behind the Paris Commune of 1871, a key part of an idealised version of early pre-Soviet communism but also its enduring inspiration today. The towering majesty of what the Communist ideal was once  capable of inspiring is superbly captured by Owen Hatherley’s Landscapes of Communism. His book is subtitled as ‘ a history through buildings’ but this is too modest, Owen has pioneered a style of writing that borders on the unique combining well-written travelogue, incisive design commentary and bold politics. A captivatingly unusual mix.

Gramsci Political ThoughtNo single thinker has done more than the Italian theorist and writer Antonio Gramsci to influence the case for the continuing relevance of at least parts of an early twentieth century revolutionary tradition. A welcome new edition of  Roger Simon’s Gramsci’s Political Thought has just been published, without much doubt the best introduction to Gramsci and excellent timing for the Left revival. Of course support for Corbyn cannot be characterised as crypto-communist, though elements of the media lunatic front will do their worst with such labelling. But the scale of his support and the unique nature of his politics as an elected Labour Leader means the idealistic impulse that he represents to all intents and purposes now occupies a space on the Left so definitively no other formation of any significance is likely to get a look in. So musing over the communist tradition in these circumstances does have some merit. Nicholas Deakin has edited a most interesting collection in this regard, Radiant Illusion? traces the history and experience of middle class recruits to the British Communist Party in the 1930s, a period when Communism, just like Corbyn today, had no serious rivals in terms of radical appeal, and as a result enjoyed significant cross-class support. Not quite the same as the Blairist-Brownite futile hunt for the middle ground still peddled today by the likes of Tristram Hunt and Liz Kendall. Geoff Andrews’ magnificent The Shadow Man covers similar ground while focussing on a single individual, James Klugmann, a key figure in the British Communist Party’s political development both in the inter-war years and post-war too. This is political biography at its best, weaving the individual and the movement they were part of together into a single compelling narrative. 

Radiant IllusionMuch of the Marxist Left has never really reoriented since ’89. Battered by fundamental challenges to its most basic principles – Blairism, an Islam of varying versions of militancy, the precariat, civic nationalism, climate change and more – not only losing its appeal but its way too. It is refreshing therefore to read the latest from Neil Davidson, We Cannot Escape From History a writer never shy to polemicise, yet with a turn of political phrase that has the capacity to persuade too. Richly historical, splendidly accessible, this is what good Marxist writing should read like.

It is the regular contention of these quarterly reviews that the prerequisite of a radical renewal is the remaking of the political. The success or failure of Jeremy Corbyn won’t be judged by most using this measure yet its long-term viability, and radicalism, will in large part nevertheless depend on its ambition towards this direction. For a model of how the utilitarianism of fast food needn’t be an excuse for poor nutritional value the pocket-sized edition of Leon Lunchbox is an excellent starting point. Of course class is a key determining factor in shaping a nation’s eating patterns  but an effective political movement would embrace what we eat and why as a central issue, its too important to be left to the foodies. Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite gives readers an idea of the potential that nutritional recipes can save to inspire in and out of the kitchen. 

Remaking the political begins for many by placing parenthood and children at the centre of politics unlike the fringes at best where they, and the issues they are most concerned with, too often find themselves.  Jessica Lahey’s The Gift of Failure carefully and sensitively seeks to deconstruct the modern cult of over-parenting towards a childhood founded on the right to take risks and make mistakes. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweller and The Secrets of the Wild Wood are two childrens’s books from the ever impressive Pushkin Press who positively celebrate risk-taking, magical or real, as they weave the most marvellous tales around urban and rural wonderlands.

Don't Mention the Children - Michael RosenOf course the best, and most radical, political cultures encourage and empower risk-taking by adults too. Perhaps more than anything else this is what the victory of #jezwecan will enable in and around the Labour Party. There are precious few better symbols of such a practice than the huge growth and popularity of political graffiti, Banksy has a capacity for an exciting intervention around an issue few individual politicians can come close to matching. The reissuing and updating of Roger Berry’s The Writing on the Wall originally published in 1976 is therefore most welcome to give some kind of backhistory. A book of great photos of 1970s political graffiti and the environment out of which it emerged.  Michael Rosen’s poetry is perhaps best known for children and young adults, his latest collection Don’t Mention the Children reminds us that whatever the age-group Michael’s combination of wit, passion and idealism is absolutely captivating.

Rock Against RacismThe late 1970s and early 1980s  were a kind of high-point for the clash of politics and pop. Elvis Costello, headliner at the second Rock against Racism Carnival in ’78 is an artist whose music has absolutely stood the test of time, his musical journey beautifully recorded via prose just as good as his tunes in his autobiography Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink. Elvis Costello, The Clash, Steel Pulse, X-Ray Spex, Misty and Roots, Tom Robinson Band, The Ruts, Sham 69, and more, these were the stalwarts of Rock against Racism, and now given a superb visual history via the Rock against Racism book featuring the work of photographer Syd Shelton. Jeremy Corbyn has already attracted the support of a 2015 range of artists, musicians, poets, film-makers to match the ’78 vintage, the key will be whether such support can be turned into a politics that effortlessly mixes the cultural with the political.

Inklings of what this might look like are provided by two novels. Bernard Wolfe manages to turn the minutiae of Trotsky’s assassination into a powerfully written thriller, The Great Prince Died. Linda Grant revisits more recent history for her novel Upstairs at the Party, the student radicalism of the 1970s.

How to make politics fun? Passion and idealism are not sufficient in themselves to reach much beyond the already committed. A politics that is a pleasure to be a part of, enjoyable and entertaining, the value of a good laugh. There are precious few spaces that combine all that. Any time spent with Mark Thomas certainly will, on TV, live or by reading his new book 100 Acts of Minor Dissent.

A Book for Her - Bridget ChristieOur book of the quarter combines a similar mix. The most important new voice of comedy and writing of the past few years Bridget Christie, never lets up on her anger while refusing to give ground either to those who cannot bear to see satire be used for committed ends. This is explosive stuff, given an extra edge by an unapologetic feminism still rare in the mainstream. The future face of a political culture worth being a part of? Bridget Christie is absolutely that, her new book A Book For Her a riot of a good read.

Note: No links in this review are to Amazon, if you can avoid purchasing from tax-dodgers please do so.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’, aka Philosophy Football

 

 

After 15 Years Philosophyfootball.com Properly Enters the 21st Century

26/10/2015

OK, you can take the clinging to traditional values too far. Philosophy Football began in ’94 founded by two thirtysomethings, Hugh and Mark, already struggling to cope with the rapid march towards all things information-technological. Plus there was no business grand-plan, still isn’t. The idea was simply a Camus T-shirt for family, friends and work mates’ Christmas presents.

So any orders we received were by post with cheque and post order (do they still exist?). Mark’s one-bedroom Tottenham flat was office and store room, the cat leaving footprints on some of the tees, in busy times the bath was turned into extra storage space. Meantime assorted types would help to pack and process the ever-increasing piles of cheques. One has gone on to become a bestselling author, another heads up a well-respected Think Tank and another is now a Professor. 

The cheques? There were so many of the damn things to count we single-handedly kept open the TSB Bruce Grove branch for several years, helping to defy British Banking’s policy of closure of non city and town centre branches. 

Credit or Debit cards? Yes eventually, that will do nicely. You could phone to order but the web? That just all seemed a bit new but as thirtysomething turned to early forties we thought we should at least give it a go. We let a number of online sites sell the shirts to see how they would sell, and with this all working out decided to take the big step, well it was for us, and set up our own.  

Pre-hipsters (neither Hugh or Mark have, or have ever had a beard) we were at the time based in Shoreditch. An old friend of ours was running a social enterprise and introduced us to two exceptionally bright young things , Phil and Paul, who blinded us with geekery but within the space of a few weeks had come up with a site to suit our spec. The ‘look’ was all Hugh’s, how to organise it mainly Mark’s ideas, the technology all down to Phil and Paul.

We wanted it to look ‘clean’, easy to find the shirt you wanted and make a no-frills purchase. And for around a decade it worked, really well, we wouldn’t still be in business if it hadn’t. But around five years ago we realised it was becoming outdated. It didn’t stop people ordering, and the business growing but the site was clunky, lacking even the most basic features, user-unfriendly as we’ve been taught to say.

Philosophy Football prides itself on being small and perfectly-formed. There’s only the three of us, a vast casual workforce on zero-hour contracts do not apply. All there of us are hands-on, if you call or email us one of us will reply not a faceless machine or standardised response. But that has its downside too, what seemed like a major project, a site redesign, kept being put off plus we lacked the skills and knowledge to do it ourselves.  

The wonderful people at Clooti Web Design, Elaine and Rachael, came eventually to our rescue. Like us, a small company, they guided us through the process, showing extreme patience with our woeful ignorance of most things technical. And the end result is what you’re now visiting. It’s still our site, clean and simple, advert and pop-up free. We’ve just made it easier to use, with categories, search button, zoom, pictures of related products and the like. 

We’ve expanded the editorial content too. This news page will be updated weekly (do come back and visit us again) for daily updates follow us on twitter. You can find out about us, see FAQs asked, contacts us as well.  Further afield there’s our youtube page and a flckr page as well.  Blimey, it’s 2015 and we’re twenty-first century already!

Here comes the 2015 Summer of Sport

22/06/2015

Mark Perryman reviews the best of this Summer's Sports Books.

English football's Premiership (sic), the best league in the world? The same 4 clubs, well give or take one perhaps, could be jotted down on a scrap of paper every August with a cast-iron guarantee they will fill the Champions League places, year in, year out. Tedium, its the brand value the Premiership has become past masters at providing, yet barely a word of dissent ever breaks through the breathless excitement football's boosterists provide across the print, TV and radio media. 

Meantime despite the sportification of society levels of participation in scarcely any form of physical activity continue to rocket downwards. Football, the richest and most high profile of all sports has amongst the sharpest rates of decline in numbers taking part, unless of course we count watching it from the comfort of our own sofa. 

Cutting through sport-hype takes a combination of a love for and understanding of sport with a critique of all that it threatens to become. Jules Boykoff is a renowned expert at precisely this kind of combination, his latest book Activism and the Olympics provides a chronicle of activist opposition to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and London 2012. Andrew Zimbalist does something similar over a longer timeframe, and taking in both the Olympics and Football World Cups. His conclusions in his book Circus Maximus are devastating, the socio-economic benefits of hosting are next to negligible and more often than not actually negative. Yet despite almost every pledge made by London 2012 remaining unfulfilled as Rio 2016 approaches the self-satisfied bandwagon that the Olympics has turned into will steamroll almost all critical voices into the margins. Perhaps what is needed to resist is the kind of ideological rigour that features amongst those profiled in the pioneering collection Sport and Revolutionaries edited by John Nauright and David Wiggins. Lenin and Che Guevara, who would have imagined the centrality they both gave sport and physical culture in the cause of human liberation? Or likewise social movements spanning Irish Republicanism, the overthrow of colonial regimes, anti-racism and civil rights. Each in their own ways , as essays in this excellent book recount, saw the importance of sport towards their ends. Two pleas though to an otherwise excellent publisher, Routledge. Why only the high-priced hardback edition limiting the sale to libraries? And why the standard, one-design-fits-all cover ? Both factors will seriously reduce the potential popular impact of what is an important book. 

Getting to grips with the enduring absence of a social, economic, political and cultural dimension of too much mainstream sportswriting is vital to any kind of appreciation of how sport is consumed. If is only via this kind of project that recreation and leisure will become framed by the contribution it makes towards human liberation rather than simply consumed as a big screen extravaganza. Roger Domenghetti's superlative From the Back Page to the Front Room provides an unrivalled account of the evolution of football's monopoly of the sports media, with interviews and insights that are both informative and compelling. Jamie Cleland provides something similar, if more wide-ranging, in A Sociology of Football in a Global Context. This is a textbook study of the new football, ranging over almost every subject the serious student of the game might want to consider. Same publishers as Sport and Revolutionaries so same two pleas apply! Hugo Borst's O, Louis is a supreme example of how sportswriting can capture the cultural and the social at its best without any negative impact on its ability to reach and engage with a mass audience. Van Gaal, despite his modest first season at Man Utd, remains set to be one of the great characters of English football for some time to come. His foreignness, his Dutchness, every bit as intriguing as Wenger and Mourinho's otherness, if not yet framed by the same degree of success. 

A Matter of Life and Death by Jim White is an alternative history of football told via 100 quotations' from 'There is Great Noise in the City' describing 1314 street football to World Cup 2014. Jim White is a great sportswriter, he has chosen his quotes carefully while providing his own informative yet idiosyncratic narrative. Brilliant! But words alone, however well-written, can never entirely capture the appeal of football. Edited by Reuel Golden Age of Innocence is a combination of the very best world photography of football in the 1970s with a skilfully written set of introductory commentaries about the decade. Age of Innocence? This is domestic football both before the Premiership but also prior to the Bradford Fire, Heysel and Hillsborough too. Three very different events but each in their own way defining football in the 1980s. A book of global reach too, the world of football depicted as much less of a corporate enterprise than it is now. 

But how to push at the boundaries of the limited meaning that modern corporatised football has become? Firstly breakdown its gendering. A process that has accelerated in the twenty-first century, from lets say the near non-existent to the painfully slow. Events recorded very well in the new book by Carrie Dunn and Joanna Welford, Football and the FA Women's Super League (Oh dear though another academic publisher producing books with a standard and boring cover design, and high-priced hardback library edition, why?). Second, confront and expose the corruption in the administration of the global game. Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert's The Ugly Game investigates in breathtaking detail the sheer magnitude of the corruption at the highest levels of FIFA. Third, provide practical examples of what an alternative might look like. Rather confusingly also titled The Ugly Game Martin Calladine's book is a very welcome pioneering effort to do just that. Fourth, dump the ridiculous rhetoric embraced by fans as well as the corporate brand managers, that the Premiership is 'the best league in the world'. It's the richest yes, but in almost every other regard it is inferior to several others, most notably the German Bundesliga. Read Ronald Reng's very good Matchdays to find out how German football gets by without foreign owners, clubs 51% owned by their fans, mainly German players on the pitch, drinking and standing on the terraces. Didn't that use to be 'the English way' when Liverpool, Notts Forest and Villa won European Cups and an England side could make to it to a World Cup semi-final. All pre-Premiership no thankyou very much. 

Few football books manage to provide the breadth and dept of insight with the very obvious passion for the game that Mark Doidge combines in writing Football Italia. From the country of Gramsci, Mussolini,post-war Eurocommunism, Berlusconi and more it is no surprise that Italian football also is a game of extremes. What Mark Doidge manages, definitively, to explain is how a nation's football can never be divorced from how a national culture has been shaped too, all with a neat line in understanding why sometimes despite that process Italian football retains a fateful appeal for fans the world over. 

It is only in English football's ever-shortening summertime off-season that much of any other sport gets any kind of look in. And even that is reduced in a year of a World Cup or a Euro. For a fortnight or so the media will go overboard for the tennis at Wimbledon. Such coverage aided when the rivalry that singles tennis generates reaches out beyond the strawberries and Pimms brigade. Peter Bodo's account,Ashe vs Connors records just such a moment from the faraway summer of 1975. This is sports writing as social history against the backdrop of towering personalities and supreme talent, all the makings of a really good sports book. 

An Ashes Summer used to more or less guarantee a mass audience for cricket. But since the appallingly short-sighted decision of cricket's governing body to dump free-to-air live TV coverage interest has plummeted and is unlikely ever to recover, despite what looks like a fast-improving England team. In his newly published autobiographyCurtly Ambrose provides a compelling picture of the heights of popularity Test cricket once enjoyed. A thrilling West Indies team becoming a symbol of resistance, diaspora and nationhood. This was international sport at its very best, fiercely competitive, individuals combining for the common purpose of the team, imagined communities acquiring some semblance of the real. Will we see the like of it on a cricket pitch again? Possibly not. Rob Smyth like Jim White uses 100 quotations to track a sport's history. This time, The Ashes inGentlemen and Sledgers. Rob depicts the changes from the pre TV era, the broadening popularity of cricket via television and radio coverage, England's return to glory in recent years and then the catastrophic decline on the pitch accompanied by the loss of terrestrial TV coverage. Despite all this the 5-day 5-test Ashes series remained throughout one of the most epic contests in the world of sport and Rob's book helps us to appreciate the reasons why. 

It is only in recent years that Le Tour has featured very much at all as part of the Great British sporting summer. In the era that William Fotheringham described in his classic biography of Italian cycling great Fausto Coppi Fallen Angel the 1940s and 1950s cycling up mountains was something best left to continental types. And the domestic popularity of cycling hadn't changed so very much by the time of his latest biography, the greatest French cyclist Bernard Hinault in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But it is by reading William's books the latter-day domestic popularity of this most extraordinary drama of human endurance can begin to be accounted for. Alpe D'Huez by Peter Cossins accounts for the kind of physical achievement Grand Tour cycling represents via the challenge of just one epic mountain these cyclists are expected to climb on their two wheels. The greatest climb? Quite possibly, though the greatness perhaps lies in the realisation that for these cyclists once they have done one day's climbing another follows, and another, with next to no respite. It is a sport that borders on the inhuman, the biggest single reason for the scourge of performance enhancing drugs that for a while threatened to engulf cycling. Yet with dedication these climbs, or something like them, can be done. This is the dream of the sporting everyman, or increasingly everywoman too. Ian McGregor's To Hell on a Bike rather brilliantly tells just such a tale, an ordinary cyclist who trains himself to tackle Paris-Roubaix, widely regarded as the toughest of all the one-day classic cycle races. 

Two Days in Yorkshire by Peter Cossins and Andrew Enton superbly captures with stunning photography and great prose the sheer magnitude of what Le Tour starting in Yorkshire in 2014 came to represent. An unforgettable experience and one that deserves to be remembered as far more important than London 2012 in terms of its possibilities for reshaping English sporting culture. Rick Robson's beautiful book, De Tour De Yorkshire again combines photos and prose, this time to point towards the kind of legacy Le Tour might yet leave behind. Showcasing Yorkshire as England's capital destination for cyclists, to race or for pleasure and all points in-between. 

The thrill of physical activity, recreational or competitive, for many is not only to maintain a decent level of fitness but to test what our bodies might be capable of. Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall gives the active reader something to aim towards, an approach to ultra-fitness that is almost philosophical in its gritty determination to inspire ever greater achievements of endurance. This is thriller-writing for fitness junkies. Adharanand Finn achieves something similar in his new book The Way of the Runner a gripping account of the place of marathon running in Japanese sporting culture. If all these sounds a bit macho read Lucy Fry's Run, Ride, Sink or Swim, more than enough to reassure that both sexes are almost equally susceptible to the kind of physical obsession that can drive some in search of the very limits of our body's potential. 

Our sports book of the quarter? Opportunities to play sport, any sport at any level are inevitably socially constructed. The failure to understand this both narrows the scope of most mainstream sportswriting and at the same time ensures most writers on politics to wilfully ignore sport. Gabriel Kuhn is an author who would never make either of these cardinal errors. His Playing As If The World Mattered is an illustrated history of sport as activism. Refusing to treat one as the opposite of the other Gabriel weaves together stories and episodes, some familiar, many not, to portray sport as a vital space for and method of human liberation. The writing is effortlessly informative and inspiring while the full colour illustrations do a similar job visually. Together this is a truly great book to savour for a better future as well as to read now to help improve the present, on or off the pitch, track , inside and outside the ring or pool,wherever your sporting fancy takes you. 

Note No links in this are to Amazon if you can avoiud the offshore tax dodgers please do so. 

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football.

A manifesto of good reads

10/04/2015

Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football selects his reading for the 2015 General Election Campaign 

The much-missed indie band, well by some of us of a certain age, Sultans of Ping, had a great line in one of their barnstormer numbers "I like your manifesto, put it to the test 'tho." We are told in all seriousness that this is the most important General Election, ever, yet it will be fought between the three parties of the mainstream with ever-decreasing differences in their politics. Most important? Not in those terms, the importance lies almost entirely in the busting apart of the Westminster cartel, the centre this time really won't hold. 

Veteran rebel, aka 1960s 'street fighting man' ,Tariq Ali proves the durability of a countercultural idealism. Tariq's new book Extreme Centre is a splendid denunciation of the battle for the middle ground and never mind the rest of us. After Neoliberalism? and its companion volume The Neoliberal Crisis are both framed by a similar 1968-inflected politics to Tariq Ali's. A shared belief that another politics is not only necessary but possible. As the dull grey reality of #GE2015 threatens to smother any lingering hope these are essential reads. An optimism of the intellect revived by a new wave of writers, thinkers and activists too. Owen Jones is nothing short of a phenomenon, someone from the left who can brighten up the dullest of TV studio debates , a wilful energy to inspire that is founded on good writing. His latest, The Establishment is more than enough to convince anyone of the maxim 'whoever we vote for the government always gets in." Naomi Klein first made her name as a hugely influential figure in the early twenty-first century movements of global resistance with her innovative book No Logo. Naomi's This Changes Everything shows every sign of making a similar impact, this time to refresh and renew a Climate Change movement that desperately needs to find a form of politics to catapult the issue to the very top of any pile of governmental priorities. The #GE2015 campaign goes to show just how far we still have to go to achieve that vital ambition. 

The best contemporary writer on the plight of urban Britain is without a shadow of a doubt the sublimely gifted Owen Hatherley. His recent A New Kind of Bleak could almost be a guidebook to the communities that barely merit a mention in any General Election Campaign. This is the Britain of deindustrialised disconnection, not the handful of swing marginals that matter infinitely more to the politicians and their spinners. Two more books provide an essential politico-travelogue through this other Britain. Mary O'Hara's Austerity Bites. is reportage from the sharp end of the poverty and inequality divide. While from James Meek a new edition of his superb Private Island. The elegantly polemical writing just what you would expect from a London Review of Books irregular 

In the swing marginals that our neo-rotten borough political system elevates to such central importance and more or less sod the rest the General Election campaign will be decisively shaped by race defined almost entirely by the issue of immigration. What British politics desperately needs is the kind of understanding of nationhood that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown provides in her latest book Exotic England. Not only do we have UKiP dragging the entire discourse on immigration dramatically to the Right, but Labour has proved singularly incapable of articulating a vision of the virtues of a multicultural society, and the extra-parliamentary anti-racist campaigns neither have much of a popular dimension nor are willing to engage with any kind of project for a progressive, pluralist Englishness. Yasmin shows in her beautifully written book how all three elements of this recipe for a social disaster have an inadequate understanding of race and nation. 

There will be much asking of the question, why are young people so disengaged with politics? The question of course should be asked the other way round, why is so much of politics disengaged with the young? There are of course exceptions, and these tell us plenty about the degeneration of the political. Norman Finkelstein graphically describes in Method and Madness the horrors that Israel has successively inflicted on Palestine. It is a subject that mobilises the passion of tens of thousands on occasion, many are young, yet where will any denunciation of Israel feature in the General Election campaign. With honourable, and few, exceptions, nowhere. It will be the same by and large with the near universal absence of voices that are pro-trade union rather than indulging in the simplified vocabulary of 'trade union barons'. Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain's astonishing book Blacklisted combines investigative journalism with campaigning politics to reveal where such an absence will leave us. The bullying, harassment and spying on of workers who stand up for basic rights to organise. 

An early critic of the profound weaknesses of Parliamentary Socialism was of course Ralph Miliband. Weaknesses accelerated during the period when his two sons came to prominence as MPs. Handily republished just in time for Ed's campaign Class War Conservatismreminds us of the superbly polemical analysis his father once provided. An essential antidote to Labour's 2015 Manifesto. Miliband senior was of course an unapologetic Marxist, his work characterised by the creative application of theory to practice. He was part of an era when varied, sometimes conflicting , versions of creative Marxism flourished, dominated in particular by the interest in the work of Antonio Gramsci. It is most welcome therefore that a new collection of freshly translated and interpreted work by Gramsci has been published, The Pre-Prison Letters, 1908-1926. It is rarely remarked upon but a deadly combination of technocratic managerialism with marketisation and the meekest of resistance to both has led to the more or less wholesale elimination of any sort of popular political intervention of much note by academics outside of their university sinecures. David Graeber is not only a welcome exception to this sorry situation but in his new bookThe Utopia of Rules he furiously yet effectively critiques the culture of top-heavy bureaucracy . Should the absence of public and radical intellectuals matter? Read the superb History on Our Side by Hywel Francis for the most convincing of arguments why it does. Mixing labour history and political theory in the context of the 1984-85 Miners Strike Hywel's writing epitomises the kind of work that helps to shape communities of interest out of struggle. The most fitting of memoirs to this most epic of industrial disputes. 

Of course nobody in their right minds would suggest that movements for change will be the same today as those that fought that battle for Coal not Dole a generation ago. Two recent books give us the beginnings of an insight into how the terrain of what it means to be radical has changed. Clive Bloom's Riot City provides a much-needed theoretical backdrop to the upsurge in inner-city direct action. Of different varieties certainly, the student tuition fee protests, Occupy London, the Summer 2011 riots, but each affected by the same punitive clampdown, and each in their different ways seeking to force the subject of change on to an agenda that wilfully ignores such demands. Sroja Popovic and Matthew Miller's Blueprint for Revolutionhas a more internationalist flavour yet combines this with something altogether rare, a practical methodology for revolutionary change. 

What British politics so singularly lacks right now is the capacity to inspire. When this does happens it electrifies portions of the electorate otherwise untouched by the Westminster Bubble. This helps explain the Green Surge and the irresistible post-referendum rise of the SNP. Neither the success of the Greens nor the SNP fit any pre-existing model of an Outside Left. In part this is because the resources of hope that do exist have become detached as much from the organised Left as organised politics. The appeal of Woody Guthrie, revisited in the splendidly illustrated Woody Guthrie and the Dustbowl Ballads has a certain timelessness which means it is never entirely extinguished, it is in the undergrowth of popular music that a return to the political is beginning to re-emerge that can't be entirely separated from Woody's legacy. But at the same time it is just as likely to be influenced by the single most important political figure of inspiration of the modern era, Banksy. Yes a graffiti artist and sometime filmmaker has single-handedly reinvented the radical appeal of the situationists with a popular reach few traditional political figures come anywhere close to matching. Banksy's work has been superbly chronicled in a new collection This is not a Photo Opportunity which goes out of its way to place his work in this political, oppositional context. 

Nobody would ever claim the Soviet Union made any mistake in recognising the political role of art. The wonderfully titled CCCP (Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed) is the perfect coffee table book for unrepentant Marxists. The mix of the beautiful and the brutal in Soviet era architecture beautifully restored to former glories in the pages of this book before decay and disinvestment threaten their disappearance. The very well-edited journal Twentieth Century Communism is the best single source of an up-to-date historiography of this social movement that so decisively shaped the last century. The latest edition ranges over Communist organisation in Brittany, family and sex in the Chilean Communist Youth of the Allende era, and Scandinavian Communists. Or for another episode from the margins of history read a new account of American Maoism and its peculiar impact on the protest movements of the USA in the 1970s and 1980s. Heavy Radicals provides a rare insight into the motivations and political culture of a fringe culture on the American Left. 

The two most decisive twentieth century global events whose legacy continues to shape the twenty-first century however are surely the First and Second World Wars. At the end of April the centenary of Gallipoli will be marked, the 1915 campaign most represented by the contribution of Australian and New Zealand troops (ANZAC). From Australia a brilliant effort by left wing scholars and writers to understand the impact of this era on today, What's Wrong with ANZAC? It is an urgent necessity for the British Left to produce a similarly popular, sometimes unpopular, intervention on the shaping of our own martial history. Chris Bambery's The Second World War: A Marxist History is a fine indication of the potential for such a project, but we need more of this and across the entire left and radical spectrum. 

But how do we propel this uncovering of the meaning of the past into the everyday? There is no finer, more imaginative exponent of this vital yet difficult task than the pioneering David Rosenberg. A long-standing activist and writer who has reinvented himself as a guide and organiser of radical history walking tours of London. A brilliant idea, combining tourism and pleasure, exercise and history, fun and the odd tea or beer stop. David has now compiled these routes into a guidebook, Rebel Footprints though for the 'real' experience why not join him for a walk, details on his website East End Walks A history workshop of the streets? Its something every city and town should surely have if any kind of left culture is ever to be rebuilt in this country. 

It is the practical entrepreneurship of East End Walks that so impresses me. History, walking, tourism these are everyday experiences that touch millions, merge them with the political and the radical and the potential is obvious. No other human activity however dominates and shapes popular culture right now in the way cooking does. It is a very soft version of multiculturalism to promote the consumption of curry as a symbol of diversity but in the near total absence of any kind of effective movement against racism we should be grateful at least for the opportunities created when such connections are made. Meera Sodha's Made in India Cooked in Britain gets her essential point across in what she has rather brilliantly called her cookbook. Inside, treat yourself to beautiful food photography, splendidly scrumptious recipes and without once labouring the point a powerful symbolism of what a modern Britain eats, likes and most of us, UKiP and the other parties demonising immigration notwithstanding, wouldn't have it any other way no thankyou very much. 

Engaging with issues of parenthood and childhood more than almost any other subject reshapes what we mean by the political. The failure to do so narrows not only the relevance of politics but its appeal too, to join or to vote. It Runs in The Family by Frida Berrigan is a powerful testament to both the strengths and weaknesses of a radicalised, liberatarian-socialist politics that puts the conduct of relationships, parenting and children at its very core. The personal is political? Well if it isn't what exactly is politics for, or more sharply for whom? Lydia Syson is one author who would have no problem answering that question. A hugely popular writer of teen novels, Lydia's latest Liberty's Fire combines the Paris Commune, love and friendship for a thrilling and passionate plot perfect for the teenager in your life. There are precious few modern authors for this age-group with the appeal and ideals of Lydia Syson. However Pushkin Press are past masters at finding classic childrens tales of an earlier era and repackaging them for today's teen audience, their latest releases include Eric Kastner, best known for his anti-fascist Emil and the Detectives , and his 1931 classic tale of Berlin night-time scrapes Dot & Anton

Of course the anything-but-idle appeal to our imagination is an essential pre-requisite for plenty of grown-ups too in their search for inspiration beyond the terrain of the everyday and the mainstream. Few British writers have done more to provide this over the past two decades than NIck Hornby. His latest, Funny Girl continues his rich mix of wry humour, neat period observational detail and an unravelling of the predicaments of British masculinity to create a damn good read. Mikhail Elizarov's The Librarian is another foreign language gem discovered by Pushkin Press, this time for adults. Soviet era propaganda versus dissent from below, wrapped around a hugely imaginative plot that loses nothing in translation. Or for an an absolute classic read Victor Serge's recently republished Midnight in the Century.A tale of revolutionary ideals perverted by absolute power, the necessity to resist and the enduring subversive power of hope.Chris Brookmyre fulfils Val McDermid's recent claim that most crime fiction is left-wing. I've been a huge fan of Christopher Brookmyre for years, a guilty pleasure if ever there was one. But Val's excellent piece helps validate this fascination with the violent criminal underworld of his writing, including the thrilling twist and turns of his latest, Dead Girl Walking. Like others of his ilk the crime is merely the plot around which witty and critical social observation is cast, and in Chris's case given the additional political sharpness of an unashamed Scottishness too. 

And our book of the quarter? The effortlessly feminist writing, the radically egalitarian, the anti-establishment wit, the natural greenery ofGet it Together by Zoe Williams would add up to a good read at any time. But during this election campaign it like a resuscitation device for the demoralised and disaffected. Labour should read this and weep as they wonder why a decent chunk of it doesn't appear anywhere near their manifesto. In easily digestible chapters Zoe dismantles the consensus politics of the same-old-same with a blistering dissection of the hypocrisy and ineffectiveness that holds it together. Carefully researched this is no empty polemic but the kind of politics that Labour's lost millions hanker after and more often than before find here and there. From a bit of Green, a touch of SNP, a dash of Plaid Cymru, and the odd maverick Labour candidate who has slipped through the party machinery net too for good measure. 'Get It Together' is Zoe's rallying cry in the final chapter, with a matter of weeks to go not too much chance of that this time round but the disorganised Left could yet find itself on the winning side as the perviously impregnable party blocs shake, shatter and fail to poll. This is the book to treat ourselves to as we prepare for the great reckoning to come and the shape of whatever might follow. Brilliant, and funny too, what a rare mix. 

Note< No Links in this book review to Amazon, if you can avoid the tax dodger please do so. 

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction', aka Philosophy Football.

Not much peace, plenty of ill willl, a good seasonal read needed please

14/12/2014

Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football offers his top ten books to buy to make somebody's Christmas.

Bah! Humbug? Well, not exactly but in a world of not much peace and plenty of ill-will what do you buy for those in your life clinging on to the ideal that the point is to change it? Here's my top ten, not guaranteed to cheer them up mind.

Danny Dorling's Inequality and the 1% reveals in graphic prose the modern day wealth of the super-rich, the '1%' who shape levels of inequality today straight out of a Dickensian novel of Christmas past.

The Best of Benn is the perfect book to end the year in which we lost one of the towering political figures of the last three decades, Tony Benn. Along with his foe, Thatcher, Benn acquired an 'ism' and this posthumous collection brilliantly shows just why he was of such enduring significance, held in great affection by many while being hated and pilloried by the establishment including the leadership of his own party, Labour.

The most inspirational popular movement of 2014? In my book (sic) Scotland's Yes Campaign, and more particularly the Radical Independence Campaign. The politics of hope and vision versus Project Fear and Unionist Labour defending the status quo. Alasdair Gray's poetic Independence is a splendid short book to set out the case for an argument that doesn't show one bit of going away. The SNP's membership quadrupled since the Referendum, The Radical Independence Campaign born again with 3,000 in attendance at their recent conference, and this is what being on the losing side is supposed to look like?

The worst-written reviews I've read all year have been those the 'quality press' commissioned of Russell Brand's mostly excellentRevolution. Almost without exception the reviewers were long-standing and middle-aged members of the commentariat, Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, Craig Brown and the rest. All proved themselves entirely incapable of recognising that the world of politics they feast on, the Westminster bubble, has become entirely disconnected from ,and unrepresentative of, the generation Russell addresses and engages with. No he doesn't get everything right but he writes and acts in a way these commentators and their cosy world of self-satisfaction could do with learning a lesson or two from. Except, as their reviews proved, they can't see through their own fog of smug.

Russell is a kind of punk politician, for those of us of a certain age the antecedents are there to be seen and celebrated. Randal Doane'sStealing All Transmissions in that regard couldn't be more timely. Instead of yet another biography of The Clash, Randal gets to grips with their cultural and political legacy via a decent dose of Gramsci. This is a cultural politics of dissent for the 21st century, mixing interpretation and insurrection . More of that please in 2015.

Regular readers of my reviews round-ups won't be surprised that I've included a sports, cookery and children's' title in my seasonal top ten. Because all three are vital to any remaking of the narrow, inward-looking space the 'political' too often threatens to become. How To Think About Exercise by Damon Young sets out a philosophy of sport which is centred on active participation and physical pleasure rather than the passive-consumerism of fandom. Crucially Damon links the rewards provided to the mental not just the physical, a fresh and vibrant way of rethinking the meaning of sport. Food as an activity, eating and cooking, if the Christmastime best-seller lists are anything to go by, provides more pleasure today than just about any other aspect of popular culture. David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl's Green Kitchen Travels is a book rich in deliciousness before you even get round to trying out the recipes. It is wrapped in an internationalism and environmentalism that hardly needs to speak its name because both are such a natural part of David and Luise's project. Pushkin Press publish wonderful children's books, great pan-European writing and beautifully packaged. Their 'Save the Story' series gets contemporary writers to reinterpret classic tales. My favourite from their latest batch of titles in this series is Umbero Eco's version of The Betrothed, an ancient Italian story for children retold by one of the most imaginative of Italy's modern writers.

For a decent novel for the grown-ups I recommend James Ellroy's latest. His chronicles of JFK-era America are an absolute pleasure to read. Hugely informative yet compulsively thrilling. This is a politicised fiction at its best and of a sort, with the exception of the equally splendid Christopher Brookmyre, GB is largely yet to produce. Perfidais Ellroy's 2014 blockbuster, taking in 1941, the USA on the brink of entering World War Two, race hate aimed at Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbour and as always with Ellroy, deep-seated political intrigue and insight.

And my personal choice of a number one Christmas read? Ned Boulting is a rare kind of sports commentator, his reports from Le Tour are funny and self-knowing yet provide context too, historical and cultural, to the greatest race on Earth. And what makes Ned even more unusual is he writes every bit as well as he presents in front of a camera. His book on the 2014 Tour de France 101 Damnations of course begins in Yorkshire and those two unforgettable days when a world class sporting event travelled from Leeds via Harrogate and York to Sheffield via every village and town along the way. Local yet global, free to watch, no expensive infrastructure built unlikely to be ever used afterwards, a street festival with bikes, hundreds of thousands cycling to their vantage point. Ned catches all of this superbly and thats just the first couple of days. A joy to read both for the memories and a vision of what sport could be minus the commercial overdrive and corrupt governance. Happy reading! 

Note< No links in this review to Amazon, if you can avoid purchasing from the tax-dodgers please do so. 

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

Beyond the froth

12/11/2014

Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football picks out the best of the autumn sports books

I'm sorry but you won't find here the just-in-time-for Christmas sports autobiography blockbusters. With enough manufactured controversy to ensure blanket coverage when they are launched. Even a skim read will reveal that on the contrary they tell the reader very little they didn't either know or suspect already.

Instead I would recommend a weighty volume of this sort .A Companion to Sport edited by David Andrews and Ben Carrington. The range of coverage from Monty Panesar to football's 2010 World Cup is matched by the variety of insights, sport as a contested space being the overarching theme. As an academic book scandalously expensive, but any well-stocked library. should have a copy. 

As a writer Rob Steen straddles that frustrating divide between the academic and the journalistic. His new book Floodlights and Touchlinesreveals the richness of writing this mix can sometimes produce. A living history of the relationship between the spectator and his, or increasingly as Rob chronicles, her sport. This is social history of the very highest standard. Simon Inglis is rightly renowned for his writing on the cultural significance of stadia and other sporting buildings. Simon's Played in Britain project has helped transform our understanding of what these structures mean to their localities, and his latest account of this relationship, Played in London not only continues the richness of Simon's explanation but is unarguably his finest book in this extraordinary Played In.. series yet.

Michael Walker's Up There is a hugely entertaining application of the social and historical, along with the political and cultural, to the place of football in England's North-East. Newcastle, Sunderland, 'Boro, but also the likes of Hartlepool and Darlo, where would English football be without them? The First Game With My Father by Michael Tierney expertly, and movingly, applies this macro-analysis of big picture football connectivity to the micro, the personal. A tale of how football frames many families' lives in the way it is a central influence in shaping both fatherhood and masculine adolescence, for good, and sometimes bad. Football once had this degree of influence because it truly was 'the people's game'. Today it dominates so many lives because it is big business, almost impossible to escape from. Alex Fynn is a renowned chronicler of the processes behind this very particular evolution, his latest book Arsène & Arsenal continues what amounts to an in-depth study of Arsenal both as a football club and a business, a brand even, what Alex terms a 'superclub'. If such a notion fills fans with horror, have a read of Ian Plenderleith's rip-roaring Rock n Roll Soccer is an account of the 1970s North American Soccer League which serves as a warning of what happens when football chooses to be simply a branch of a global entertainment industry and forgets where it came from on the way. 

Of course wholesale resistance to any change amounts to a conservatism, few progressives should welcome. Has the penalty shoot-out spelt the end of football as we know it? No, it has proved to be instead an occasional thrilling end to a tightly-fought match. Ben Lyttleton's carefully researched Twelve Yards contains plenty of original insight into how to take penalties successfully and turns this quirky idea for a book into a fine read along the way. The last tournament England exited following a penalty shoot-out was Euro 2012. The tournament has proved to be the high point of Roy Hodgson's England managerial reign to date, getting out of a tough group consisting of France, Sweden and Ukraine. In the year of London 2012 and Wiggomania however few took any notice and England have been down ever since. Peter Kennedy and Christos Kassimeris have put together a really excellent academic survey of the tournament,Exploring the Cultural, Ideological and Economic Legacies of Euro 2012. A legacy for the Ukraine which in essence was a tournament which united the nation but within twelve months bloody separation followed.

No figure better represents the world English football fears it has lost to the excesses of commerce better than the late Bobby Moore. Matt Dickinson's new biography Bobby Moore: The Man In Full reveals both Moore's supreme achievements, with England and West Ham, but also the flaws even the most heroic contain within themselves. In Moore's day the media spotlight was nothing like as intense as it is now. We even have the phenomenon of the anonymous insider dishing whatever dirt that might otherwise be hidden from public gaze. The Secret Footballer's Guide to the Modern Game is the third volume of home truths from this suspiciously well-informed writer. Who is he? Who knows? And who cares as he continues to open the changing room door to put all behind it on show for his readers. This time it is the tactics board, team talks and training he treats us to.

Two books kind of sum up the romance and the misery of modern football. Both happen to be about Arsenal, they could have been written about almost any club. Amy Lawrence's Invincible tells the story of the club's 2003-2004 unbeaten season. Amy is a writer who will help the reader to appreciate the football on the pitch with an understanding of how the game is played few can match. At the same time she never fails to appreciate the passion that makes us fans. The Arsenal Shirt by James Elkin and Simon Shakeshaft is a beautifully designed art book visually detailing the history of the club's most iconic of shirt designs. But of course since the advent of sponsors logos and merchandising profits any legendary kit simply becomes a moneymaking billboard. Unwittingly perhaps the book eloquently reveals the death of tradition that football's monetisation has successfully engineered. Progress? In some areas certainly, but at what cost? It is the shift over the past twenty years from the positives post Italia 90 to the negatives after two decades' worth of the dire Premier League (sic) that Martin Cloake charts in his new book Taking Our Ball Back. Martin carefully unpicks the causes, and effects of a growing discontent with how what was once the people's game is being transformed.

Sport of course doesn't simply collide with economic forces it is indivisible from the political and social too. This is the basis of these quarterly forays into reviewing the best of current sportswriting. The Nazi Olympics of 1936 remain the strongest example yet of this combination. a platform for Hitler, sport used to seek to prove the physical superiority of the Aryan race, brilliantly demolished of course by black American athlete Jesse Owens' four gold medals on the track and in the long jump pit. A superb achievement that has been allowed to mask countless examples of large sections of the sporting establishment's effective covering-up and collaboration with the Nazi regime in order to save their sports' relations with Germany. An England football team ordered to give the Nazi salute before an England v Germany game an incredible, and shameful, moment in English football's history. Field of Shadows by Dan Waddell uncovers a part of sporting history from this period which I suspect even the most knowlegeable sports fan would be unaware of. The 1937 English cricket tour of Nazi Germany! The impulses and reasoning behind such a bizarre adventure for the Germans and the English were many and varied. What Dan Waddell's account reveals though in this most extraordinary of settings was how the cricket was framed by Germany's fast-moving descent into Nazi barbarism while England remained divided by tendencies towards appeasement and collaboration versus popular and militant anti-fascism. When being knocked for six could land Hitler a propaganda victory cricket is not quite the gentle sport we're used to. Dan Waddell's tale is scarcely believable. The fact it is makes the book an even better read.

Herbie Sykes covers a different sport , cycling, and a different era for Germany, the East German GDR years of state socialism and the Berlin Wall. Of course comparisons with the Nazi era are both crass and ill-founded historically yet the clash between politics and sport all the same was a constant across these two contrasting periods in German history. Herbie's wonderful book The Race against the Stasi details the career, life and times of one of the sporting heroes of East Germany, Dieter Wiedemann. The culture that turned him firstly into an elite athlete, then into an icon of GDR socialism the disillusionment that led him to escape, turn pro, ride Le Tour and the efforts of the Stasi to repatriate him.

The cycling intrigue we are perhaps more used to are the drug scandals, particularly of the Lance Armstrong era. Michael Barry is the latest rider to break ranks with the peloton to reveal the consequences of the sport's drug culture and how cycling has to change in order to rid itself from this scourge. Michael's autobiographical Shadows on the Road is both brutally honest while elegantly moving in terms of his vision for what riding clean means. Restoring the undoubted romance, heroic endeavours and idealism of road cycling at its best is what Jan Cleijne's graphic history of Le Tour achieves. Jan's Legends of the Touris a stunning graphic history of what remains the greatest race on earth. Until relatively recently British cyclists wouldn't be much more than an honourable footnote in such a history, Ellis Bacon's Great British Cycling tracks the irresistible rise of the sport on these shores from modest beginnings. to such achievements at World, Olympic and Grand Tour level to be thought of as worldbeaters. At the core of that achievement in recent years have been women cyclists. Victoria Pendleton, Lizzie Armistead, Laura Trott and others. Nicole Cooke's The Breakaway is both a powerfully-written testament to the measure of that achievement by a former World and European champion on the road plus a well-argued critique of the barriers that stand in the way of women's cycling.

The latest edition of The Cycling Anthology remains the must-read collection of the very best writing on two wheels. Keep Calm and Pedal On is a great collection of quotes on cycling which gives us an idea of the breadth and depth of inspiration riding a bike fast, slow or in-between can provide. Getting our hands dirty fixing what might have gone wrong with a bicycle might not seem much of a radical act. Sam Tracy would dispute this and has written a Bicycle Repair Manifesto full of useful diy maintenance tips to keep the bike, if not a revolution, on the road. Still not convinced? Bike Mechanic is one of the most beautifully produced books I've ever read. In words but, most of all with arthouse standard photographs and layout a homage to those who build and maintain bikes.

Sport of course should never be treated as a fixed, unchanging, entity.It demands investigation and often a critique too. Allyson Pollock's pioneering Tackling Rugby provides both with a sparkling abundance of well-researched writing. Her target? Children and youth rugby, the risk of injury, especially head injuries, and the failure of the sport's governing bodies to react, with practical suggestions for how to safeguard both young players' health and the future of the game. A textbook example of how to investigate sport, expose and help to make change possible.

And my sports book of the quarter? David Goldblatt has already produced one definitive work The Ball is Round, his global and social history of football. His latest book The Game of Our Lives is both a social history of the domestic game and a critique of its modern, monetised manifestation. David combines a sympathetic and original explanation of why football is of such importance to so many while accounting for why it deserves nothing resembling a hagiography because of its many, mostly self-inflicted out of commercial greed, failings. As such it is a book that informs and inspires, a truly great piece of writing.

Note< No links are provided to Amazon. If you can avoid buying from tax-dodgers please do so.

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

A BREATH OF FRESH AIR

01/10/2014

Mark Perryman reviews an exceptionally strong list of autumn political reading 


This autumn has been dominated already by two lots of morbid symptoms. The unseemly sight of Labour Unionism cosying up to the Tories, Lib-Dems, the financial and media establishment in defence of the ancien regime. Accompanied by UKiP's spectacular and seemingly irresistible rise, now fracturing the Tory Right's vote more effectively than ever, the protest vote that just won't go away. 



What possible cause for any optimism then? Because outside of the parliamentary parties' mainstream there is a revived freshness of ideas. Two writers in particular serve to symbolise such brightness of purpose. Laurie Penny's Unspeakable Things is the latest collection of her writing. The spiky subversiveness of Laurie's journalism best summed up by her book's sub-title ' sex, lies and revolution'. This is feminism with no apologies given, no compromises surrendered and a sharp-edged radicalism all the better for both. The Establishment by Owen Jones is every bit as much a reason for igniting readers' optimism but also the cause of a quandary. Owen is an unrepentant Bennite, a body of ideas and activists with next to no influence in Miliband Labour. The organised Left outside of Labour in England at any rate, borders on the non-existent. Owen is described on the book's cover by Russell Brand no less as ' Our generation's Orwell' a bold yet fitting accolade. Yet Owen's writing aims, like Laurie's, at something beyond being simply a critical media voice. Quite how, is the quandary for both. 



Owen and Laurie represent a new generation radicalism shaped decisively by the disappointment they, and their readers, share in Blairist-Brownite new Labour. But it is reckless to divorce these past two decades from preceding eras that remain decisive in influencing any alternative. Luciana Castellina's elegantly written memoirDiscovery of the World recounts the experience of the post war anti-fascist Italian Left, dominated at first by the Italian Communist Party, which evolved into a Eurocommunist party. Luciana records the tensions within reform communism which would foreground deeper divisions and explosions a generation later in 1968. This is a tale nevertheless full of hope, Paul Preston's The Last Stalinist is more of a case of crushing disappointment,though no less of a good read for that. At the core of the Spanish Republic's resistance to Franco in the Civil War was the Spanish Communist Party. As it emerged from an underground, clandestine existence in the mid 1970s it was well-placed to be a key social force to shape the new Spanish democracy post-Franco. But the failings of Stalinism were to haunt the party long after being unbanned, an experience it is still only beginning to entirely recover from. Paul Preston's superbly researched account of the life, times and misdeeds of former party General Secretary Santiago Carrillo uniquely helps us to understand Stalinism in a west European context. Neil Davidson's Holding Fast to an Image of the Past is a wide-ranging chronicle of alternatives to Stalinism that remain in, and of, the Left. Subjects covered in short and highly readable essays include Scottish Nationalism, the shock doctrine analysis of Naomi Klein, the 1970s Anti-Nazi League, Eric Hobsbawm's historiography and plenty more. Unfinished Leninism by Paul Le Blanc is perhaps less eclectic in its coverage, the focus more specific, to recover Lenin from Leninism. The assumption seems to be that a new generation of activists requires such an exercise. Though what is increasingly apparent is that most simply bypass the history of the Russian Revolution in order to make their own revolutions, in their own image and idiom. To make connections of relevance over the span of almost. a century between past and present will be no mean feat for Le Blanc and his co-thinkers. 



Such books help us to learn from history without being trapped by it. Scotland this year has been in the process of making its own history, the Union will never be the same again. The implications for the Scottish Left and a Left that until recently scarcely never added the prefix 'English' remain profound. Chris Bambery's A People's History of Scotland deserves to become the primer of a post 18.09.2014 Scots Left. Keenly aware of its national story, with the emerging capacity to write a new one too. The English Left has no such capacity because it barely recognises a national narrative worth bothering with. A Collection of Ranter Writing edited by Nigel Smith is part of the process of uncovering radical English past. The richness of writing in recent years on all matters English exist largely outside the comfort zone of the Left. One of the best is the book edited by Robert Collis and Philip Dodd Englishness, Politics and Culture which with timely precision has recently been republished in a new edition. Dan Hind's short book The Magic Kingdom is perhaps the best read post-referendum. He not only dissects the contradictions of a non-existent British constitution but provides a practical vision for a modern, republican, future. Or for a masterclass of insights into the contradictions of the Union a most welcome collection of Tom Nairn's essays Old Nations, Auld Enemies, New Times. Tom's always argumentative writing represents the definitive rebuttal of the tired old diktat of some on the Left which denies breaking up Britain is anything but a progressive project. 



British nationalism is framed by a martial and imperial tradition. Post-referendum the contest remains whether Englishness will be framed in the same manner. Dave Sherry's Empire and Revolution is a pocket-sized introduction to an alternative reading of World War One. 1914-18 as a period of resistance and revolution existing alongside the more traditional understanding of the period. The Darkest Days by Douglas Newton recovers the causes behind Britain's entry into this most devastating of wars in 1914, providing the reader with a rich counter-narrative to the one we usually have to endure, of the 'Your Country Needs You' variety. The significance of the First World War is not only about this battle or that, it has a cultural legacy too which needs accounting for. 1914 Goodbye to All That edited by Lavinia Greenlaw addresses this most vital of subjects from an impressively wide range of sources including Turkey , China, India and Belgium. A collection admirably, and creatively, internationalist in both content and purpose.



Localised spaces of resistance, linked together globally, this is what has characterised the various forms in which direct action has been revived in recent years. David Graeber's The Democracy Project is without much doubt the definitive record of the significance of this multi-faceted movement to date. They Can't Represent Us by Marina Sitrin and Dario Azzezellini links its account of the irresistible spread of direct action to a clear-sighted analysis of the mounting crisis of representative democracy. Voter disengagement but also activist suspicion of top-down leadership models. The furthest expression of such rejectionism is examined in Who's Afraid of the Black Blocs? by Francois Dupuis-Deri. The contemporary appeal of anarchism to a segment of activists today is undeniable, this book helps to explain why in the often confrontational context of direct action vs traditional forms of protest.We Make Our Own History by Laurence Cox and Alf Gunvald Nilsen makes a spirited case for the enduring relevance of Marxism to understand protest movements, however 'new' they may aspire to be. The strength of the writing however lies in the necessity the authors recognise for Marxism, and Marxists, to change if it is to retain its unique combination of analysis and action. Occupy Media! by Christian Fuchs is in part a recognition of how deep the change that needed in the theories and practice of traditional oppositional politics. Christian explains the role of social media, as a model of organisation as well as a tool of communication, in terms of the transformation of protest movements world-wide. Such a role though isn't by any means automatic, Micah L. Sifry's The Big Disconnect is a brilliant critique of such wilful enthusiasm in blissful ignorance of how big business retains the capacity to dominate much, if not all, of social media, along with a powerful argument on how to challenge such concentrations of online power. And to drill all this down to the personal, have a read of Graham Allcott's highly original How To Be a Productivity Ninja to turn the everyday activist into the truly hyper-active, painlessly! 



Before the age of the internet pamphleteering was a cheap and effective way to package and distribute ideas. Today the free download has more or less replaced this tradition though the hassle sometimes involved, my personal bugbear is finding a stapler trough enough to keep 60 plus pages bound together I've just gone to the bother of printing out, just goes to show new isn't necessarily better. The ABC of Socialism by John Rees is part of a revival of the pamphleteer. In exactly 100 tightly-argued pages John sets out the basic case for socialism, something we could once rely on Labour MPs to do but not much chance of that now. Rich in history, made relevant to the present, polemical politics at its best. The section most likely to be bitterly contested is the one on organising as socialists, John preferring a form that while appropriate to a tightly committed group that shares a set of core beliefs faces huge problems when it seeks to grow beyond such a core and expect the commitment to persist. Open Tribe by Sue Goss addresses in considerable depth such issues. The intent it is difficult to fault, an honest response on the Left is that none of our forms of organising are exactly thriving. But the scope for such an ambition is remarkably narrow. The huge Stop the War movement, the revival of internationalism sparked by Gaza, new wave feminism, UK Uncut direct action, precariat workers organising, the student revolt of 2010-11. None of these scarcely get a mention while Westminster politicians and party activists dominate. Women against Fundamentalism edited by Sukhwant Dhaliwal and Nira Yuval-Davis is limited in a different way, by the time frame of the mood of activism it mainly describes. These were epic struggles against guardians of one faith and another but little account is then given of post 2001 hijab-wearing Muslim women's militancy. A factor it is impossible to ignore when recounting both anti-war and pro-Palestine activism. Despite these misgivings this is a pair of books that bristle with hope. Compare this to the horrror-story that Lewis Minkin carefully catalogues in The Blair Supremacy. Lewis is a social historian who specialises in Labour Party organisation and in this seminal text he dissects in the most incredible detail how the Blairites first secured control of the party and then Labour's ambitions, such as they were, in government too. A sorry tale of ruthless ambition and lost opportunity. 



We largely look in vain to the political mainstream to provide ideas to inspire with their passion or intrigue with their imagination. A generation of privatisation, first by the Thatcherities, then by Blairist-Brownite new Labour should surely be enough to generate ample enough of both. With both passion and insight, James Meek has written the most devastating critique of the selling off of public utilities in his new book Private Island. Beautifully composed, informed anger delivered with a telling turn of phrase. The latest, and free, instalment of the impressive After Neoliberalism manifesto is available now to download. Written by Doreen Massey and Michael Rustin, Rethinking the Neoliberal World Order injects a welcome, and much-needed, global perspective on challenging the private good, public not-much-good consensus that more or less reigns in British politics. Harry Leslie Smith"s Harry's Last Stand is fast becoming a well-deserved publishing phenomenon. Harry is one of the '45 generation, who fought fascism, saw Labour start to build a new society, and now see all this on the verge of destruction matched by a rise in hatred and intolerance. It is a breathtaking argument, brilliantly delivered, who said only the new generation have the capacity to make a difference? 



In the twenty-first century we haven't had to endure the World Wars which decisively shaped the twentieth century, yet. But the relentless drive to armed intervention on a massive scale, particularly in the Middle East , without learning that a military solution is no guarantee of a peaceful solution, spreads enough death and misery to be getting on with no thankyou very much. Patrick Cockburn's The Jihadis Returnprovides both an unrivalled insight into what ISIS represents and an idea why a USA/GB armed intervention isn't only bound to fail, again, but will almost certainly make matters even worse, too. 



A warmongering state in 2001-2003 had to face huge anti-war opposition. Along with the Anti-Nazi League of the late 1970s and the anti-Poll Tax movement of the late 1980s these are instances when a non Labour Left, an outside Left, had a decisive influence in shaping a broad oppositional movement well beyond its immediate, and limited, orbit. The consequences though in all three cases was next to no growth, a retreat into the bunker, splits, fallout and enduring decline.Against the Grain edited by Evan Smith and Matthew Worley is a superb collection cataloguing the whys and wherefores for this decline, along with those moments of breakthrough. Comprehensive and compelling, just a shame the publishers have opted for a very expensive hardback edition for the Library market, this is one for the activists, the old hands for the nostalgia trip of reading of old battles, the new wave to read of past mistakes and dream of not repeating them. 



Despite the best, and sometimes worst, efforts of the Outside Left that Evan and Matthew describe as 'against the grain' the most radical and challenging ideas often exist in a domain not so easily described as the 'political'. In the 1970s, to take one example, few offered a more fundamental challenge to traditional masculinity than David Bowie, a musical career described in these and other broader social and cultural terms in Simon Critchley's wonderful short book Bowie.Or towards the end of that same decade the challenge by some in Punk to femininity too, most notably from the all-girl band The Slits, their tale superbly retold by Viv Albertine in her autobiographical Clothes, Music, Boys. A politics committed to serious, and radical, social change must recognise this myriad of influences, many of them inherently progressive yet not fitting any kind of traditional leftist lexicon. And at the same time we must break open the often closed and narrow agendas of leftism. Take food, diet, obesity and the British obsession with home-baking. How often do any of these feature as a concern of the Left yet each in their different ways touch and mobilise the emotions of millions. The Shape We're In by Sarah Boseley is a convincing case-study in the central importance of food to all our lives and how the junk food diet is a grave threat to public health nobody can afford to ignore. 



Two of the biggest stories of the past couple of years have surely been the revelations of wholesale phone hacking by Murdoch-owned papers and Jimmy Savile's unmasking as a serial sex criminal. Each is recounted in a pair of superlative books. Hack Attack by Nick Davies is written like a thriller by the journalist more responsible than any other for bringing Murdoch's corrupt empire to its knees. For a moment at any rate the chances of The Sun occupying a space remotely close to the moral high ground was undermined but whether this will be enough to clean up the worst excesses of tabloid journalism only time will tell. The ugly story of JImmy Savile was probably beyond the vilest imagination of our best crime writers., His posthumous unmasking as quite possibly the biggest sex criminal Britain has ever known is chronicled by Dan Davies in his In Plain Sight. The book was written over a decade long period, for much of the time the biographer as unaware of Savile's crimes as the rest of us, which only adds to the book's appeal. These were both huge issues, enormous campaigns, existing largely outside of the political mainstream. Does that make them any less important? No, of course not, Instead they should lead us to question what the 'mainstream' amounts to and how it is constructed. 



From two fiction writers at least some of the tools towards unpicking the mainstream. Roddy Doyle's Two More Pints uses the ingenious device of pub conversational dialogue to record and explore popular disengagement with the mainstream and how in everyday life we construct our own responses, unrepresented by politicians the world over. Joseph O'Connor's The Thrill of It All has an eye, and ear, for music culture that few of even the best rock journalists can match and brings to life why music is for so many not just a source of entertainment but inspiration, motivation and ideas too. A great read, especially if the 1908s were your coming-of-age decade! 



The recent National Theatre brilliant stage production of the children's book Emil and the Detectives made abundantly clear the anti-fascist context , and commitment, of the book and its author, Erich Kastner.Pushkin Press have reissued two of Erich's lesser known books, a treasure-trove of childhood reading, perfect for progressive parents everywhere. Or for a more modern treat Roddy Doyle's Brilliant goes to show that this most gifted of authors can write just as well for children as their parents. Which brings me neatly to my favourite book on parenthood. Michael Rosen's latest, Good Ideas. A politics that neither takes childhood and parenting seriously nor can have a laugh in the process deserves to inspire nothing much more than apathy and antipathy. Michael Rosen is the polar oppsite to such twin barbs, he cares about children, deeply and is richly amusing. Michael's book is so extraordinarily good precisely because it defies what we think if the 'political, in order to reinvent it. 





And amongst the doom and gloom the Westminster Bubble, aided and abetted by the UKiP outriders where do I find a book of the quarter to convince that change, for the better, remains possible? One pointer towards that possibility was the extraordinary campaign in the course of the 2010 General Election which both put paid to Nick Griffin's hopes of becoming an MP but also defeated every one of the BNP councillors on the local Barking Council too. Four years later the once rampant BNP are almost extinct. A huge chunk of credit for this achievement goes to the Hope not Hate Campaign, their story told by the campaign's Nick Lowles in his new book Hope. Not only a detailed account of an epic campaign but a handbook on how to start repeating that success too. By breaking with the narrowness of too much of leftist campaigning, a community-led initiative emerged in one town and city after another which brought the era of the BNP's not inconsiderable success to a stunning end. Political reportage, superb photography, practical advice framed by experience, this is a book to inspire and equip activism Anger? Plenty of us have that in abundance. Rather we need to look back and forwards in Hope. Another politics, as was proved in Barking 2010, is not only possible but can secure important victories too. Seeing off the BNP was just one small beginning towards a better future. But just imagine if they'd won. That gives us the measure of this excellent book's importance. 


Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction'., aka Philosophy Football.

READING LE TOUR

30/06/214

Mark Perryman reviews books that can help frame our enjoyment of the Tour de France 



There seems to be something about cycling that helps inspire fine sportswriting. Perhaps it is the landscapes and countries traversed, the solitude on a bike, the risk factor of a fall or worse, the extraordinary feats of human endurance, and human-powered speed too. Add a healthy dose of British elite level cycling success plus a dose of greenery and its no surprise that publishers are backing bicycling authors to deliver sales, for the most part with very good books too. 


Of course it is Le Tour that galvanises this interest, every year, right across Europe, free to watch from the road or mountain side, on terrestrial TV live too. And this year the first two days are in Yorkshire, from Leeds to Harrogate, York to Sheffield, then down south to London before crossing La Manche for the remaining three and a bit weeks of this most magnificent of races. Tim Moore's French Revolutions is one of the best introductions to the scale and ambition of Le Tour from a cyclist's point of view as he retells the experience of riding all 3,630km of one year's route. Even for the keenest, and fittest cyclist such a venture would prove to be too far, and too much. Ned Boulting's brilliantly idiosyncratic How I Won the Yellow Jumper is his own inside story on how most of us follow the race, via the ITV coverage. This is the professional journalist as self-confessed fan, which in Boulting's case, but not for many others, works to produce a wonderful style of writing. Part of what makes Le Tour so iconic, as with all the major global sporting events, is its backhistory, now stretching back more than a century. The Tour de France to the Bitter End is a superlative collection of race reports from the Guardian beginning in 1903 to almost right up to the present with the Bradley Wiggins victory in 2012. Before Wiggins in terms of British riders the essential reference point was the story of the brilliant, yet tragic, Tommy Simpson. A career detailed in William Fotheringham's Put Me Back on My Bike. Road racing at this extreme physical level is sometimes described as a sport for individuals played by teams. Simpson's final demise can in part be explained by his becoming a victim of this contradiction. Richard Moore's Slaying the Badger is the classic account of a bitter rivalry between two cyclists riding the race supposedly for the same team, Hinault vs LeMond, in what Moore dubs the greatest-ever Tour de France, the 1986 edition. Whatever the year, on the roads of France and beyond the riders will be stretched out over many kms as they follow the designated route for the best part of four weeks, a compelling sports drama. It is the sheer range of the riders that Max Leonard captures so well in his book Lanterne Rouge choosing to write not about the winners, but those at the back, the very back of the race, and what keeps them going. Ellis Bacon's Mapping Le Tourprovides the definitive insight into the scale of the endeavour of the race, beautifully illustrated, every edition of Le Tour catalogued, each stage recorded. Not only does cycling inspire and attract great writing, but it has a vivid visual culture too. A combination showcased in The Rouleur Centenary Tour de France with the very finest photography of the 2013 race alongside high quality reportage on each of the 21 stages, which ended of course with the second successive British Yellow Jersey winner, Chris Froome.. 


The Climb is Chris Froome's newly published autobiography and details his extraordinary road to the Yellow Jersey via growing up in Kenya, school in South Africa, joining the European pro-cycling circuit, debilitating illness and last year's eventual triumph. Of course this was a victory whether he likes it or not will for ever and a day be measured against Bradley Wiggins' triumph the year previously. Read the Wiggins biography My Time to get some kind of inkling of the nature and the depth of the rivalry between the pair of them. Before these two was Mark Cavendish and expected to be very much a part of this year's Tour too. The ferocious speed, not to mention the split second and millimetre perfect decision making required, of a stage finish seems to be almost the ideal environment for Cavendish's very particular cycling proves how he has developed and excelled detailed in his book At Speed. For many though whatever the scale of Wiggo, Cav and Froome's achievements as British cyclists the long shadow of the sport's drug problems remans so impenetrable as to cast such successes in doubt. The Armstrong case was eventually uncovered because of the dogged determination of the very best investigative sports journalism. And now with the revelations made spectacularly public and entirely unchangeable Armstrong's team-mates are producing confessional-style books to help reveal the mire of performance-enhancing drug culture the sport had relationship become part of. George Hincapie's The Loyal LIeutenant the latest, and as such a close and long-standing team mate of Armstrong;s, one of the most revealing to date too. Juliet Macur's Cycle of Lies provides the panoramic view of perhaps the greatest story of decline and fall in the history of sport with a rare ability to get to grips with what Armstrong, the good the bad and the drugs, came to represent in and beyond his sport. 



The Tour de France differs markedly from other sports mega-events - most obviously football's World Cup - in the close relationship between spectating and participating. A huge proportion of those watching Le Tour in Yorkshire will be cyclists themselves, many pedalling their way to reach a prized vantage point n a hill climb. And lots in the weeks before, and after, will cycle a chunk of the official route with all the speed and energy they can muster dreaming of being in the mighty pellet on the day itself. This is in many ways a do-it-yourself sports culture, armed with the Pocket Road Bike Maintenance handbook and the Cyclist's Training Manual the advice will be more than enough to keep bike and body in the kind of shape to ride a Tour stage, or even two. The binary opposition of recreation vs comepetition blurred by the race which is mainly against the clock and our own body's capacity to perform at speed, to ride a 'sportive' the aim for some, as documented in Successful Sportives. A tad muscle-bound some of this stuff, certainly gendering the way cycling is consumed and practiced. A welcome relief therefore provided by Caz Nicklin's pioneering The Girls' Bicycle Handbook


A sense of the potential inclusiveness of cycling is provided by Robert Penn's almost philosophical It's All About The Bike. Penn is a missionary for cycling, he makes no apology for his two-wheeled evangelism. A bike as mode of transport, a means to a holiday, a family outing, a race to the finish. All this and more Robert Penn promises we can expect from our bike. 


The rich variety of inspiration cycle racing can inspire is admirably showcased in the latest volume of The Cycling Anthology.. Ranging over history, philosophy, the mediation and culture of the sport, this is high quality writing for the seriously enthusiastic. 


And my book of Le Tour ? Richard Moore's superb Étape. There have been many history of the Tour de France but instead of a dry chronology Richard Moire takes his reader to the core meaning of this most intriguing of races, the stages where the Yellow Jersey is decided by a lone break, a climb that defies human frailty, a calamity on the road, a rivalry unfolding. Its takes three weeks to ride the Tour, ever day filled with drama. This book helps us to understand its ensuring and growing appeal, and to appreciate the tradition and culture this year's Yorkshire Grand Départ will be contributing to in no doubt its own very special way . 


Note No links in this review are to Amazon. If you can avoid purchasing your books from tax-dodgers please do so. 


Matk Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction'. aka Philosophy Football

THE WORLD CUP OF OUR DREAMS

10/06/2014

To drag ourselves away from the banalities of the Brazil 2014 TV studio punditariat Mark Perryman provides a World Cup reading list. 


The professionally cautious Roy Hodgson just couldn't resist it could he? 'England can win this World Cup' he declares on the eve of the tournament. Not if Roy consults the match histories elegantly provided by Brain Glanville's classic The Story of the World Cup they won't. No European side has won a World Cup hosted in South America, Central America or North America. No England side has made it past the quarter-finals in a World Cup for 24 years. No England side has ever made it past the quarter finals at a World Cup in South or Central America. Why should things be any different this time Roy? That's not to say the next three and a bit weeks can't be hugely enjoyable for football fans, England loyal or otherwise. Chris England's witty and accessible pocket guide How To Enjoy the World Cup provides ample enough ways to drag ourselves away from what the TV studio punditariat serves up and consume the tournament on our own terms. Or delve intoThirty One Nil. A footballing travelogue which explores the global reach of the World Cup via the qualifying games we would otherwise never have heard of because the losers haven't a hope in the proverbial of ever making it to Brazil for the finals. Yet without this international back-history the World Cup loses much of its sense of meaning, a case superbly made by author James Montague. 


As tournament hosts Brazil will unsurprisingly be the focus for much of the TV and other media coverage. Yet the richness of Brazilian football culture cannot be disconnected from the broader place of football right across Latin American society. Alongside Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and possibly Colombia will be serious contender. The collection The Football Crónicas provides a football-writing insight into the state of, and culture of, the game across the region. A prison team in Argentina, a team of Colombian transvestites, Peruvian women's football, Chilean football hooligans. Romario's campaign for a just World Cup. This collection really has got the lot. Golazo! by Andreas Camponar is a splendid history of Latin American football on both the continent and the international stage, including of course most importantly success at World Cups. This is football writing at its very best, epic on the pitch, socially aware off it. 



The best writing on society and culture repays this kind of literary compliment by accounting for sport's role in making the social. Justin McGuirk's Radical Cities is critical travel-writing with an expert eye for urban design. The author tells his story via a tour across Latin America, on the the way accounting for how urbanism shapes the politics of Brazil. This is a powerfully original way to begin an understanding how the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics both seek to represent modern Brazil. Published by the Latin America Bureau their brand new guide Brazil Inside Out is easily easily the best guidebook to have handy beside the TV as we wade through a month of banalities and lazy stereotypes. Perfect for a half-time alternative catch up to keep yourself better informed on Brazilian politics and culture. 


One of the by-products of hosting a World Cup is the unprecedented focus on the host nation. Brazil remains best known for its football, there is no obvious way of avoiding that salient fact . Jogo Bonito helps us to understand the central importance of global footballing success, dating back to the 1950s and pretty much ever-present since then, both to Brazil's self image and external profile. Futebol by Alex Bellos is the definitive social history of Brazilian football and an absolutely joy to read. David Goldblatt's Futebol Nation is also an historical account of Brazilian football with a sharp political edge to connect this story both to the formation of Brazil as a nation and the current state of this nation as 2014's host, and favourites to win the tournament. 





And my book of the World Cup? Written by the finest critical sportswriter in the world today, Dave Zirin his new book Brazil's Dance with the Devil mixes incisive sporting commentary with an angry polemical style that drags readers along to marvel both at the sport we love and the outrage FIFA with corrupt politicians in tow quite rightly spark. Read it to be informed in your anger. Not to spoil your watching of the World Cup, but to enrich the experience. 


Note A signed copy of Futebol Nation with Futebol, Brazil Inside Outand Football Crónicas, all half-price is available for just £24.99 from Philosophy Football 

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction', aka Philosophy Football

 

OUR WORLD OF SPORT

22/05/2014

Mark Perryman reviews the perfect reading companions to the sporting summer 


Summer 2013. The British and Irish Lions win their test series against the Aussies down under. Andy Murray wins Wimbledon. Chris Froome makes it a second Tour de France British Yellow Jersey in a row. Mo Farah does the double in the 5000m and 10,000m at the World Athletics Championships. Sporting Brits are forced for once to come to terns with what it feels like to be winners. 


Of course the glorious appeal of sport is its unpredictability. A year ago Man Utd won the League by 11 points with Sir Alex in his retirement pomp. A year later Utd managed to hold on to 7th place. The best sportswriters engage with the cause and effect of unpredictability to capture not only the glories of victory but the far more common experience, the miseries of defeat. 2013's summer of British victories only meant so much because most of us were better accustomed to the experience of British plucky losers. Amongst the finest sportswriters to cover this emotional scope was Frank Keating, The Highlights a posthumous collection of his superb writing spanning more than fifty years of sport. But sport's appeal is about more than just emotions. Sport's potential to mobilise for social change across issues stretching from peace and environmentalism to women's liberation and anti-racism is expertly chronicled in the collection Sport and Social Movements. It is a potential rarely acknowledged by the Left, in what should be regarded as a 'classic' work on this subject, Marxism, Cultural Studies and Sport Editors Ben Carrington and Ian McDonald definitively rebuff this underestimation. Or by way of practical example., the extraordinary story retold in Nicholas Griffin's Ping-Pong Diplomacy. Mao's China, a long-standing British communist, the Cold War and table-tennis is an unlikely mix yet proves to be a true-life story of how sport can matter enough to change history, sometimes. 





Sport is not only socially-constructed but is heavily circumscribed by a classic binary divide, competition vs recreation. One that is largely meaningless however to the vast majority of us who participate because for most of our time watching, or doing, we are inevitably on the losing side. The pleasure rather is being there, or doing it. As a doer and a writer Richard Askwith is the supreme champion of the appeal of the most basic sporting activity of all, running , and in his new book Running Free, subtitled ' a runner's journey back to nature' he explores with some wonderful writing what running 'free' means as opposed to Olympian ambition on the track or big city marathons on the road. 


For those cynics still to be convinced of the potential connect between sport and politics James Montague's When Friday Comes could prove the most enjoyable dose of re-education imaginable. A travelogue combining war, revolution and religion with football all in the Middle East, a quite remarkable read. Or with the summer World Cup fast-approaching try Alan Tomlinson's handy counter-history of Blatter and company, FIFA : The Men, The Myths and the Money Written by the pre-eminent expert on what FIFA has done to football , a vital accompaniment to understanding the divorce in Brazil between the tournament and the passion of the people . Cult football teams, can help popular fascination with the game. Danish Dynamite, is a tale of what that passion can come to represent. In this case Denmark's 1986 World Cup Squad. A similar approach, uncovering what particular teams at particular times represent to those they captivate with their skill and personality is covered by the collection Falling for Football This is fan-oriented writing at its best. Yet for every moment of joy there's plenty more of misery. You simply can't have one without the other, and can't really relish the former without your air share of the latter. The "Where were you when you were shit conundrum'. Refs of course are one of the main causes of such joylessnes. Paul Trevillion and Keith Hackett's latest volume of their cult series You are the Ref enables us all to be the arbiter of the disallowed goal, offside controversy, did he dive or was he tripped? Ideal reading as England go out of the World Cup thanks to a goal that never was. Originally titled Why England Lose authors Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski came up ahead of World Cup 2006 with an original set of arguments to explain away the nation's four decades and more of hurt. A 4-1 thrashing at the hands of a young and hugely talented German team helped make the book a well-deserved best-seller. But four years on precious few now expect England to do anything but lose at World Cup 2014 so the book has been revised, updated and given the new title of Soccernomics. A book rich in arguments and statistics, debunking the mythologies of football from penalty shoot outs can't be trained for to big cities producing the best clubs. More sense than you'll ever get out of a Match of the Day Sofa. 



Elizabeth Wilson is a committed Marxist, a feminist, and a tennis fan. Her new book Love Game is not only the definitive social history of tennis but also provides a template of range, argument and wonderfully engaging writing style for a similar progressive account of each and every other sport too. An incredibly important book whether tennis is your sport or not. 



Wimbledon fortnight for as long as most us can remember has been a mainstay of the British sporting summer. Notoriously insular, the Tour de France scarcely got a look-in, something those flash continentals got up to. All that has changed now, with first Olympic success on the velodrome track closely followed by Wiggomania and Chris Froome's victory last year too. Yorkshire hosting the start of Le Tour's 2014 edition is symbolic of the soft internationalism sport hs an almost unique capacity to foster. Tim Moore's Gironimo is a tribute to Italy's Grand Tour Race, 'The Giro' which this year started in Belfast. Tracing the route of the 1914 race on an ancient bike, this exploration of what cycling means to Italians is a rare, and hugely effective, mix of the historic and the comic. Alasdair Fotheringham's Reckless covers a more recent period of cycling history, Luis Ocana, the great Eddy Merckx's most serious rival in the 1970s. A vivid portrayal of the sport before the scourge of performance-enhancing drugs threatened to destroy it, rider against rider in what is surely the single longest battle for physical supremacy in any sport , the four weeks of Le Tour, and Fotheringham captures the mental and muscular intensity this demands brilliantly. Cycling appears to the layperson as a sport simply of individuals , but dig deeper and rather this is a sport contested by teams of individuals. Pro cyclist Charly Wegelius records this in his autobiography Domestique. Every team has a leader, pushing for the Yellow Jersey or equivalent, but sprint finishers, mountain climbers, arouleur to help keep the pace going, sometime to make a breakaway, often to close the breakaway down. And in Charly's case a domestiquetoo, with a wide variety of roles to keep the team united behind the interests of their leader. A book that helps us to understand the varying parts of what make up cycling's peloton which produces such a thrilling sport. Le Tour will this summer surely establish itself as one of the highlights of the British sporting summer. But the rest of the continental great cycling races remain so low profile in terms of coverage and understanding they may as well not exist. Cycling in that sense has a long way to go before breaking into the British sporting mainstream. To understand the appeal of the one-day classics read the brilliant new book The Monuments. A bit like football-writing in the early 1990s, publishers have woken up to the fact that there is a great literature to be written about cycling and a growing readership too. Crucial tools towards the popular breakthrough the sport deserves. There's not much doubt part of the appeal of cycling is the pursuit of speed. From commuting and the recreational to touring and racing, the bike offers us the potential for unheard of speed by almost any other vehicles fuelled by our own body. Few of us are going to reach elite levels of performance, but the dreaming and wondering is pervasive. Desires satisfied by Michael Hutchinson's imaginative book on the science of cycling speed Faster



And my book of the quarter? One to restore faith in the capacity of sport to inspire, to form a collective, to spark social change. The remarkable story of Germany's FC St Pauli, told with energy and insight in the brand new book (the title says it all), Pirates, Punks & Politics by Nick Davidson. This is a tale, and writing , to take us back to spiky music and DIY politics that framed a long-forgotten moment of football with attitude. A book to remind us that across sport those sparks still exist, vividly illustrated by all that St Pauli fans have achieved. A book to lift spirits, and horizons, just what sport needs. My perfect read for the sporting Summer.. 

Note No links in this book review to Amazon. If you can avoid buying from the tax-dodgers please do so. 

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction'. aka, Philosophy Football

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