Category Archives: Non-fiction

Politics by David Runciman (Review)

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Rating a non-fiction book about politics doesn’t feel right but let’s go with 4 stars. The title is mighty dull but don’t let that dissuade you. Politics is about the importance of political systems, why we need them, and why they’re here to stay. I heard David Runciman (and Francis Fukuyama) on an Intelligence Squared debate on YouTube because, yes I’m that person. The talk was about how even the best political system (aka democracy) can fail. And this was in 2014… those were rosy, rosy times indeed!

I guess this review will be a little pessimistic. If I had read Politics in 2014, my review would be a little different. It’s safe to say democracy went through two formative stages – the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the bloody mess that was the 20th century. David Runciman’s main idea is that democracy in today’s world is fractured and not what we all imagine it to be.

China is a technocracy. Russia has a federal presidential system but is basically highly centralised and autocratic. Runciman doesn’t mention this but liberal democracies have been dying since 2016. Protectionism and populism are on the rise – just look at the U.S and the U.K. Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 thesis (The End of History) is about the success of Western liberal democracy. He believed that democracy had perfected itself, that there couldn’t be a more ideal political system. Of course it isn’t always that easy.

It can’t be predicted but I’m pretty sure all political systems will undergo changes at some point in the future as there are always alternatives. Runciman points out that democracy hasn’t completed it’s work: there is rampant inequality around the world, states are inherently insular and concerned with their own problems. Unless huge disasters occur – the Great Depression, the 2008 financial crisis, 9/11 – democracies are complacent.

Politics got us out of those ruts. Politics causes wars, and politics is the thing that influences everything around us even if we can’t feel it. Because the world is so intertwined, failure on one end can be felt all the way on the other end. Runciman’s outlook is a depressing one, no doubt, but it’s pragmatic. If any big catastrophe occurs, it’ll be because of politics and only politics can solve that catastrophe. Give this a read. It’s well-written and has illustrations!

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True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray by James Renner (Review)

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Readers, I have fallen deep inside the True Crime rabbit hole! It’s a wonderful land. True Crime Addict is part memoir and part – you guessed it – True Crime about the Maura Murray case. Infamous and eerie, Maura Murray’s disappearance has been an open investigation since 2004. In order to keep the suspense intact, I won’t focus on all the details of her disappearance in this review. Maura vanished without a trace and her story has reached a cult like status for web forums and online sleuths.

James Renner’s obsession with this case is unparalleled. He describes it as being the “first great mystery of the social media age,” Facebook having been launched during the same week she went missing. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Renner’s life story (the memoir bits) though it’s slightly relevant in the end. I feel like his avid interest and obsession with Maura Murray borders on unhealthy territory throughout the book, especially when he exposes his family to the ire he receives online.

As I said, the case is still an open investigation 13 years later. James Renner mentions the strange way Maura’s family and friends act and how unhelpful they are regarding releasing information. There hasn’t been any real resolve to the mystery but endless avenues and theories have cropped up over this time. True Crime Addict ends with more questions than answers – which isn’t a criticism. I enjoyed reading it. This is a deeply interesting case with various scenarios and possibilities: Did Maura concoct a genius plan to run away? Was it a perfect murder? It’s a quick and fun read, if that’s what you’re looking for. 

American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse (Review)

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American Fire is a strange book about a fascinating topic: arson. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d string together but it’s true! I remember being obsessed with True Crime documentaries on YouTube when I was younger and having horrendous nightmares afterwards. But I never stopped watching them, stupidly. Cue to me having bloody nightmares over and over again. More recently, Mindhunter (which is literally everything and more) has made me very interested in criminal psychology. If you haven’t watched Mindhunter, you’re missing out!

So, the topic that Monica Hesse broaches is probably a well known case in America but I had no prior knowledge of it. While reading it, all I could think was “is this real life?” because honestly, Non-fiction books aren’t supposed to be this entertaining. Hesse examines the story of two arsonists in love named Charlie and Tonya and specifically analyses why and how they burned down 80+ buildings in the county of Accomack, Virginia.

“… the fire itself is the motive. An act that becomes its own purifying absolution, its own reason for being.”

It’s a terrific page-turner. Monica Hesse’s exploration of Accomack’s rise and fall in the economic sphere and its changing topography is done excellently. This leads into the discussion about crazy love and crazier crimes, how both Charlie and Tonya created a hell on earth to deal with their everyday problems and emotions. American Fire is a book I’ll keep thinking about because even though it’s not about some gruesome murderers, it is equally frightening (in a different way). What I really appreciated in this book was how succinct the writing is: it grabs your attention right away and doesn’t clamber for attention. Read it, read it, read it!

The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, illustrated by Yuko Uramoto (Review)

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This was adorable. 

I’m not a big self-help books fan. That is, I don’t think I’ve read any self-help. My boyfriend and I decided to read ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie many a months ago and never got around to finishing it. I’d rather hear advice and stories on a podcast, if that makes sense. Marie Kondo’s book is wildly popular and I never thought to pick it up myself but it was lying around the house (my brother gifted it to my mother) and I thought why not?

A super quick and helpful little book this turned out to be! The illustrations are gorgeous. In the story, Chiaki is a 29-year old woman who works in sales. Her apartment and love life are a mess, she procrastinates on chores and no longer cooks at home. But fret not, Marie Kondo is there to save the day. She helps Chiaki get rid of unnecessary or excess clothes, books (which was a little tragic, personally), and other stuff that piles up and never goes away. Kondo’s main idea is that if a thing doesn’t spark joy in you, let it go (bin it or donate).

Now, I’ve always lived in a messy house. On the odd occasion when stuff is put away in their proper places, it feels odd! I need a personal Marie Kondo pronto to physically push me to organise my house. I thought this book was super cute and gave some sound & practical advise. If anything, I know how to correctly fold and store my underwear now. Amazing.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Review)

“Black life is cheap, but in America black bodies are a natural resource of incomparable value.”

Between the World and Me is a powerful piece of work.  Ta-Nehisi Coates, a journalist by profession, deconstructs black consciousness in a series of letters to his son Samori. Reading this text was truly heartbreaking. And I don’t know how to begin talking about this subject, but here goes anyway. It is important. Ta-Nehisi Coates charts the brutality and inhumanity of slavery, the absence of control and power for black people which has been the only consistent thread since the seventeenth century to present times.  Ta-Nehisi Coates refers time and time again to the severe regulation and curtailment of the black ‘body’ in America. He is referring to the black individual, and the larger collective. Blackhood in America is an essentialism and rightly so, it is unique and exclusive to American history and the way race relations in tandem  with the American Dream unravelled in it. Ta-Nehisi Coates is relentless in recounting the ritualised violence on black bodies – “the essential below” – from plantations to twenty first century streets and prisons. Everyone should read this book.