Adam Honeysett-Watts is Principal Director at Conservatives in Communications
Having badgered folks to read more books during the lockdowns, I decided to practice what I was preaching and also to make a note of everything I got through (all 36 – circa 11,000 pages). The only sequence to the below is the order in which I finished them. This list combines non-fiction and fiction titles as well as political and non-political genres.
For consistency, all links direct to publisher sites or Amazon. For availability, check with your independent bookseller before online retailers. Book information relates to the copies I own.
1. The MAGA Doctrine: The Only Ideas That Will Win the Future by Charlie Kirk
HarperCollins | 2020 | Hardback | 256 pages
Love him or loathe him, Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the US; but, how did we end up here? Turning Point USA’s founder-president sets out the ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) stall – the movement that brought Trump to The White House – and how he intends to win a second term (clue: ‘Keep America Great’ is the new slogan).
2. National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy by Roger Eatwell & Matthew Goodwin
Penguin | 2018 | Paperback | 384 pages
Professor Goodwin brought up ‘national populism’ – the 21st century conundrum, including MAGA, that’s challenging mainstream politics – at the Conservatives in Communications Spring 2020 Reception. This text goes further – beyond lazy stereotypes of Brexit and Trump supporters – and looks at what is next: will Matteo Salvini become the next Prime Minister of Italy?
3. Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman
Atlantic | 2009 | Paperback | 256 pages
Set in 1980s Italy – in fact, the film was directed about an hour from Salvini’s hometown of Milan – this real page-turner centres on the blossoming relationship between an intellectually precocious and curious teenager, Elio, and a visiting scholar, Oliver. It chronicles their short, summer romance and the 20 years that follow, which is developed in the sequel ‘Find Me’.
4. Find Me by André Aciman
Faber & Faber | 2019 | Hardback | 272 pages
Billed as the sequel to ‘Call Me by Your Name’, this novel focuses on three romances: that of Elio’s father and a younger woman, called Miranda; that of Elio and an older man, called Michel; and that of Elio and yes, Oliver. If you discovered the former, you should definitely read this; though a word of warning… manage your expectations!
5. The Gatekeeper by Kate Fall
HarperCollins | 2020 | Hardback | 272 pages
The Baroness was at the heart of David Cameron’s administration for over a decade. As one of the former Prime Minister’s most trusted advisers (Deputy Chief of Staff), this is a must-read for any current and wannabe media or policy SpAd. It is full to the brim with snippets of information, including several new revelations.
6. Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us by Donald Trump Jr.
Center Street | 2019 | Hardback | 304 pages
This isn’t elegant prose, but it’s a wide-ranging and colourful book – think Boris Johnson and Jeremy Clarkson on speed – that covers everything from his childhood to the present day and beyond. If you follow him on social media and you’re (i) right-leaning – you will love it, but if you’re (ii) anything else – I can’t really guarantee your reaction.
7. Friends, Voters, Countrymen: Jottings on the Stump by Boris Johnson
HarperCollins | 2002 | Paperback | 288 pages
Like ‘The Gatekeeper’ – albeit early on in his career – this memoir, of his campaign to become the MP for Henley and endorsed by Jeremy Paxman, is essential reading for any Tory candidate. It is both educational and entertaining, and reflective of his personal style for The Telegraph and The Spectator, including phrases that are now synonymous with him.
8. The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam by Douglas Murray
Bloomsbury | 2018 | Paperback | 384 pages
The Literary Review is spot on here: “Disagree passionately if you will, but you won’t regret reading it.” The author dares to tread where others have avoided like the plague – focusing on three traditionally sensitive topics – however, in my opinion, he does it all rather well; although, perhaps, it could have been written with half as many words.
9. Seventy Two Virgins by Boris Johnson
HarperCollins | 2005 | Paperback | 336 pages
Now Shadow Arts Minister, this was his first novel to be published, thereby making him the third novelist – after Disraeli and Churchill – to become Prime Minister. POTUS is set to address both Houses of Parliament and there’s an Islamist terrorist plot to assassinate him. Roger Barlow, a hapless backbench MP (hapless like the book), aims to foil the attack to distract from a scandal.
10. Matteo Salvini: Italy, Europe and the New Right by Alessandro Franzi & Alessandro Madron
goWare | 2019 | Paperback | 104 pages
This is a map that seeks to answer one simple question: who is Matteo Salvini, really? As both Vice-Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior (in 2018) the number of non-European illegal immigrants to land in Italy fell by 100,000, and – if current polls are to be believed and his digital and media strategy is anything to go by – he is on course to become their next prime minister.
11. Have I Got Views for You by Boris Johnson
HarperCollins | 2008 | Paperback | 448 pages
Published just after he was elected as Mayor of London (first term), this is an anthology of some of his best articles for The Daily Telegraph – such as observations on British society and foreign affairs (including China) – coupled with several new hits. As with both ‘Friends, Voters, Countrymen’ and ‘The Churchill Factor’, this is educational, entertaining and easy to read.
Penguin | 2018 | Hardback | 240 pages
Along with another Steve (Bannon) and Dominic Cummings, Hilton is one of the political mavericks of our age. Here – in a similar vein to his ‘Invitation to Join the Government of Britain’ (Conservative Party 2010 manifesto) – he begins with an ‘invitation for you to participate in the next revolution’ and puts forward interesting ideas on the economy, society and government.
13. The Dream of Rome by Boris Johnson
HarperCollins | 2007 | Paperback | 304 pages
Now Shadow Education Minister, here, he discusses how the Roman Empire achieved political and cultural unity in Europe, and compares it to the failure of the European Union to do the same. Not usually one for historical books, this is both an authoritative and amusing study – with plenty of lessons for all of us – and I read it in a few sittings.
14. The Wages of Spin by Bernard Ingham
John Murray | 2003 | Hardback | 272 pages
This week marks over three decades since Britain elected its first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Sir Bernard’s a journalist and former civil servant, who served as the Iron Lady’s Chief Press Secretary throughout her time in No.10. We hear first-hand (and slowly) how spin-doctoring developed, from the man who is wrongly attributed with its invention.
Post Hill Press | 2018 | Hardback | 160 pages
I’d read mixed reviews about this, but purchased a copy, since I enjoyed ‘The MAGA Doctrine’ and wanted to see whether Charlie’s experiences resonated with my own young conservative days. Bit pricey, considering how short the text is; however, there’s good intention and some decent content – if you ignore the partisan approach, marketing pitch and re-printings of his tweets!
16. My Fellow Prisoners by Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Penguin | 2014 | Paperback | 96 pages
Described by The Economist as “the Kremlin’s leading critic-in-exile” (after eight years inside he now resides in London), this is a selection of brilliantly written essays about the author’s first hand accounts of prison life and the people he encountered. It is a clever and quick read, and more people should be made aware of it.
17. Dangerous by Milo Yiannopoulos
Dangerous | 2017 | Hardback | 232 pages
Akin to ‘Campus Battlefield’, I’d heard mixed reviews and all of the drama around its release just made me want to read it more. The reality, in my opinion, is that the contents of the book, while certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, are far less controversial than its publication (even boring in parts) – conservatives will largely agree with his message while liberals will largely disagree.
18. The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry
Penguin | 2017 | Paperback | 160 pages
The celebrated artist and media personality Grayson Perry explores masculinity. In short, I think it is well written (and illustrated) – although it took me a while to get into it; however, I didn’t feel there was anything new and therefore, at best, it’s a conversation starter (perhaps that alone might be considered a success?)
19. Michael Gove: A Man in a Hurry by Owen Bennett
Biteback | 2019 | Hardback | 432 pages
Ignoring the endless typos (I have never spotted so many typos in one book – did anyone proof it?), I really enjoyed reading this biography. The author successfully combines old and fresh information to tell us the story about one of the most recognisable and central characters in British politics today.
20. Celsius 7/7 by Michael Gove
Weidenfeld & Nicolson | 2006 | Hardback | 160 pages
I only learned about this text having read Owen Bennett’s book on the man (see above), but glad I did. In writing ‘Celsius 7/7’, which describes how the West’s policy of appeasement has provoked yet more fundamentalist terror, Gove names both Dominic Cummings and Douglas Murray among those whose conversations and ideas helped shape his thinking.
21. First Confession: A Sort of Memoir by Chris Patten
Penguin | 2017 | Hardback | 320 pages
A man who’s been there at pivotal moments: Chairman of the Party (winning the 1992 election, but losing his own Bath seat), the last Governor of Hong Kong, Chairman of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland (pursuant to the Good Friday Agreement) and Chairman of the BBC Trust (when the Jimmy Savile scandal broke). Absolutely captivating.
22. Party Games by Fiona Cuthbertson
Blossom Spring | 2020 | Paperback | 316 pages
Fiona’s first novel addresses love and corruption in the seat of power – from a female perspective. However, for those of either sex and who have worked in Parliament or on Whitehall will enjoy this – and perhaps associate with some of the content. I look forward to her second book, which is in the works.
23. Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America by Donald J. Trump
Simon & Schuster | 2016 | Paperback | 208 pages
I didn’t read this in 2016, however I decided to now since he’s seeking re-election. In a similar vein to ‘The MAGA Doctrine’, you get a better feel what the 45th President of the US does and doesn’t believe, but this time you get to judge him on his record in office as well as in business. I wonder if Boris has read it too (see “get it done” p.123 and “shovel-ready projects” p.165)?
24. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Penguin | 1994 | Paperback | 256 pages
A friend of mine bought this for my 18th birthday (I’m not sure what she was hinting at) and, though I’ve watched the 2019 film adaptation, I’ve never got round to reading this gift – until now, during lockdown. Another book I wish I’d read earlier as the writing is beautiful and I’ve a lot to learn.
Penguin | 2016 | Paperback | 384 pages
I’m (usually) a fan of Dan Hodges’ writing, so it wasn’t a difficult choice to pick-up a copy of this book (in 2016). Then, I couldn’t get beyond the first chapter. Four years later, I still struggled with it but persevered and I’m glad that I did as it takes off – a smart and unique account of the 2015 general election campaign and the three party leaders.
26. Why Can’t We All Just Get Along… Shout Less. Listen More. by Iain Dale
HarperCollins | 2020 | Hardback | 304 pages
Great read. I’m not just saying that because we both studied at “the very left-wing” University of East Anglia, worked/ interned for the staunch right-winger David Davis MP, nor was his chief of staff/ backed him until the leadership hustings in Cambridgeshire… This is “part-memoir, part-polemic about the state of public discourse in Britain and the world today”, and it’s spot on.
27. Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman
Penguin | 2012 | Hardback | 384 pages
This is a tale about News Corporation and the corruption of Britain, according to the former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and active member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. My reading this happens to coincide with the BBC airing a new three-part documentary series ‘The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty’. Both excellent.
28. First They Took Rome: How the Populist Right Conquered Italy by David Broder
Verso | 2020 | Hardback | 192 pages
Similar to Franzi and Madron’s book ‘Matteo Salvini: Italy, Europe and the New Right’ (as above), this is a forensic, educational read – written by a left-wing author – especially for non-Italians who want to understand what has been happening in Italy these past three decades. It’s a shame it took until three quarters of the way through to get to the important bit!
29. The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
Picador | 2005 | Paperback | 512 pages
It’s a classic novel about class, politics and sexuality in Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s Britain. Similar to ‘One Minute to Ten’, I struggled with the very early chapters and put it back on the shelf. I picked it up again this summer and made headway. I’m glad I did because it’s quite excellent and clearly deserving of its awards.
30. The Spirit of London by Boris Johnson
HarperCollins | 2012 | Paperback | 448 pages
Like ‘The Dream of Rome’ this is an interesting and entertaining history of the British capital. This updated version of ‘Johnson’s Life of London’ – which focuses on some very famous figures and some rather obscure ones – includes material following the Jubilee and Olympic celebrations in 2012. I hope the Spirit of the United Kingdom shines through in his CPC20 speech.
31. Order, Order! The Rise and Fall of Political Drinking by Ben Wright
Duckworth Overlook | 2017 | Paperback | 368 pages
One of the BBC’s political correspondents, Ben Wright, explores the history of alcohol in global politics, including a section titled ‘Party Time’. I confess that I was one of the “tight-suited delegates from Conservative Future” in the Midland Hotel he refers to (p.215). I found this witty and informative. Another one that all aspiring politicians should read and take note of.
32. The Art of the Deal by Donald J. Trump with Tony Schwartz
Penguin | 2016 | Paperback | 384 pages
Ghost written by Tony Schwartz, this is a part memoir, part business-advice book and part auto-hagiography – President Donald J. Trump has referred to it as one of his proudest accomplishments and his second-favourite book after the Bible (which he has clearly never read!) It gives readers insight into how he works and the motivations behind the current man sitting in the Oval Office.
33. Diary of an MP’s Wife: Inside and Outside Power by Sasha Swire
Little, Brown | 2020 | Hardback | 544 pages
I think The Times perfectly describes this one: “A gossipy, amusing, opinionated account of what it’s like to be married to an MP [Sir Hugo Swire KCMG]… Good fun and eye-opening.” I can’t remember enjoying a book so much for a long time – an absolute must-read; it is well written and wonderfully indiscreet about senior politicians – friends and foes alike – over the past decade.
34. Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn by Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire
Bodley Head | 2020 | Hardback | 384 pages
For any political junkie, this is a fascinating account of the tragic-comedy that defined the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn MP and it should serve as a warning to all future political movements. Britain really deserves an effective Opposition to hold the Government to account; the question is whether Sir Keir Starmer MP can turn things around – my sense is partially, but not by enough.
35. The Political Animal: An Anatomy by Jeremy Paxman
Penguin | 2003 | Paperback | 352 pages
What makes politicians tick? Like ‘Friends, Voters, Countrymen’ and ‘The Gatekeeper’ I’d consider this essential reading for all, not just Tory, candidates. I also learned about another fact for my Churchill vs Johnson comparison: When Sir Winston took over from Neville Chamberlain in 1940, he inherited an 81-seat majority – equal to that achieved by No.10’s current tenant in 2019.
Scribner | 2018 | Hardback | 240 pages
The author argues that former FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress – sent just before the 2016 US Presidential election – was a significant determining factor in Donald J. Trump’s win. Hillary Clinton was decisively ahead of him in many polls and, more importantly, in the key battleground states – that can’t be disputed; however, there were many factors at play here.
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