Books

The Five

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Jack the Ripper’s murder of five “prostitutes” on the streets of London’s East End has spawned thousands of books, TV programmes and vile walking tours of sites where the five women were mutilated. Their question is always the same: who might have been the murderer?

Hallie Rubenhold’s book is an astonishing piece of historical detective work that finally asks, after 130 years, “who were the women?” They were Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly.

Seducing and Killing Nazis

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The Nazi occupation of The Netherlands is indelibly linked to reading Ann Frank’s diary; her extraordinary description of surviving in hiding for over two years and her tragic death in Belsen shortly before the end of the war.

However, fewer of us know much about the Nazi occupation and the resistance to it, including the contribution made by women and teenagers.

The Other End of the Line

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This latest Inspector Montalbano story is the one the racists do not like. It is sympathetic towards refugees, who are shown as human beings facing hardship and tragedy, rather than as an alien “threat” to be feared or hated.

Author Andrea Camilleri has often sprinkled his Montalbano books with social comments from his left-leaning perspective — for example, targeting the links between big business, corrupt politicians and the Mafia.

But this time he wears his heart on his sleeve even more explicitly than usual by conveying a strong anti-racist message.

Mask Off: Masculinity Redefined

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This incredibly enjoyable book utterly destroys the myths around masculinity and is a great read for younger men told to “man up”, “stop being such a wimp” and so on. There has been a significant rise of books around the same theme, but JJ Bola directly relates his struggles and understanding to a younger audience, which has largely gone amiss in recent years.

The Dressing-Up Box

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“The trouble with you...is that you feel that people’s stories have to make some sort of sense. Whereas in reality it’s all accidents.” So says one of the characters in David Constantine’s collection of gripping, dark and powerful short stories; stories whose unexpected twists seek to bring in some sort of light and meaning.

Insurgent Empire

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This book is a very important contribution to the history of anti-imperialism and racism in the UK. Priyamvada Gopal first tells the stories of several white colonialists who, as a result of the brutality of imperial rule that they witnessed, became convinced that it should be either radically reformed or ended.

The letters and the reports they either sent or brought back to Britain circulated among a growing number of anti-imperialists to become an important current that subsequently formed the basis of anti-imperialist campaigns up to the present day.

Superior: The Return of Race Science

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Many people assume that scientific racism and eugenics were dealt a death blow at the end of the Second World War when the nature and scale of horrifying Nazi atrocities were revealed. But Angela Saini destroys that myth in the most forensic of fashions.

First, she shows the extent to which the Nazis were foreshadowed by top British academics who sought justification for slavery, and later colonisation, in theories of racial hierarchy.

Behind Closed Doors

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My sex education, like many of my peers, was limited. Conversations were hushed, lessons were focused on contraception and how to prevent pregnancy, and there was little discussion about sexuality, gender and the importance of giving consent.

Natalie Fiennes provides a daring and radical, if at times somewhat jumbled, overview of how sex education is “outdated and ripe for transformation”, confirming what many have said for too long.

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