Why publish political books?
We believe political narratives are of paramount importance. In a world where the publishing industry combines Victorian nepotism with corporate market analysis, many promising stories get lost. This is where we come in. The best books provoke conversation, challenge ideas, broaden worldviews and can even inspire powerful action. Those are the books we love the best. Those are the books we want to publish. Whether you're a political animal or resolutely apolitical, our lives are shaped by our political reality. Like fish, this is the water we swim in. Political actors make life and death decisions (underfunding the NHS, the war in Iraq, climate change targets) and complex agreements (Brexit, Good Friday Agreement, devolution). These issues affect our realities in such myriad and nuanced ways that we often can’t see the connections. Narrative, whether fiction or non-fiction, is particularly good at helping us see how the big picture and the small picture link up. Engaging political stories explain our reality while also entertaining us. Fun, germane and informative, political prose has gifted us with phrases that have entered our language because they so accurately describe our reality: Big Brother, Catch-22, Brave New World, Kafkaesque. Phrases like that cut through the chaff. Political prose can belong to a well-defined political stance (Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck on the left and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand on the right) but mostly does not endorse any political party or ideology (The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe). The ten novels below are some of our favourite conversation starters.
10 political novels
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre overturned the dashing adventure hero and replaced them with a bureaucratized greyness of morally ambiguous, even criminal, actors. In Tinker Tailor, Le Carre has his most famous creation, George Smiley, try to persuade his arch nemesis, Karl of the Eastern European spy agency, to defect. They both are loyal to their own systems, knowing how deeply flawed they are. It raises the awkward question of whether a political system should ask that of its citizens. Of what they are being loyal to, and why.
In Term Limits by Steve Powell, the FBI hunts a clever serial killer systematically murdering members of the families of long-serving senators and representatives. Driven by the belief that the longer politicians serve, the more they serve the wealthy and the powerful and not their constituents, the killer wants term limits. Would term limits put the brakes on lobbying and vested interests, making it more difficult to tilt the playing field? Would term limits rejuvenate our democracies?
Day of the Jackal by Fredrick Forsyth starts off with a real event, the failed assassination of the then-president of France, Charles de Gaulle, by members of the French military who had formed a paramilitary organisation to resist Algerian independence. A chase novel, this time between an English assassin and the French police, the story raises more questions than it answers. Why is such a large segment of the French population so committed to keeping Algeria and so hostile to its independence that it would try to kill one of its greatest leaders?
First Among Equals by Jeffrey Archer tells the story of men competing with each other within their own party to become its leader and therefore prime minister. Clearly, the pursuit of power is hardwired into these men, a non-negotiable drive. But equally, attaining power is a matter of luck as much as anything else.
In The Ghost by Robert Harris, a ghostwriter is hired to write an outgoing prime minister's memoir. The PM is embattled, accused of war crimes and of helping the USA invade another country. The ghostwriter uncovers secrets. It shows how leaders go to war, salvage themselves from disastrous decisions, and shape their own narratives for public consumption.
In The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin asks when the revolution is over and you have your utopia, how can it remain revolutionary? Maybe it can’t. A physicist raised on an anarchist colony on the moon is the first person to return to the homeworld and soon finds himself a divisive symbol in a world struggling for change.
Not in My Name by Michael Coolwood is a playful alt-reality murder mystery which cleverly transposes the Brexit referendum to the Iraq War and a divided Labour Party that needs a public endorsement to invade. By putting it in the starker debate over Iraq, the use of referendums to decide policy is highlighted and criticised.
The Hunger Games by Susanne Collins is a YA thriller that has as its theme the role of storytelling in politics. Throughout the book, our heroine has to acknowledge the use of storytelling and role-playing to survive. Storytelling becomes a complex tool both sides of the conflict use to attract support and gain legitimacy to rule.
Dune by Frank Herbert is a parable of the oil rush in the 1970s as a planet has an excess of a natural resource the rest of the galaxy wants. Told from the perspective of the inhabitants of the desert planet, it makes religious fundamentalism, resistance to the West and radical environmentalism a reasonable and morally correct response.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel has won awards and plaudits for its portrayal of Tudor England. Legally ridding a king of his wife without antagonising Rome or France, managing a powerful if unpredictable boss, and maneuvering pawns and competitors is all in a day's work. It is similar to I, Claudius by Robert Greaves about Ancient Rome and House of Cards by Michael Dobbs.
The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollingshurt is a description of a place and time. It strips the neoliberal reality of its gloss, and portrays it instead as having a heartlessness and hypocrisy at its core. It presages a new and acceptable political reality of a healthcare crisis (the AIDS epidemic), the widening socio-economic gap, and a multicultural Britain. It is similar to Brideshead Revisted by Evelyn Waugh, which charted the end of one era and the start of another.
The Handmaid's Tale is probably Margaret Atwood's most known work. It shows how misogyny, religion and politics intersect as the state controls women's reproductive rights. Painfully farsighted, this book explores a world in which the oppression of women and repression of democracy are justified by religious and political orthodoxy. It is similar to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.