Classic reads

Why read...The Communist Manifesto

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Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were commissioned in late 1847 to draw up a manifesto by the Communist League, the first international working class organisation. The resulting pamphlet that calls on working class of all countries to unite has become an inspiration for socialists in every decade since.

It has been translated into more than a hundred languages. It is a historical materialist approach to history, a critique of capitalism and a guide to the international class struggle.

More than one and half centuries later the words of the preface to the 1872 German edition of the Manifesto remain applicable today: "However much the state of things may have altered during the last 25 years, the general principles laid down in the Manifesto are, on the whole, as correct today as ever."

One Hundred Years of Solitude

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Gabriel García Marquez

First published in 1967

Expelled from a Garden of Eden, a still nameless community moves through the world, until they stop at a place called Macondo. Jose Arcadio Buendía, whose family dynasty governs Macondo, puts up the sign that marks the town's existence.

But where is this place? What is its relation to the wider world?

When Buendía leads a search he finds that the town is locked between marshes, mountains and the sea with no path to the wider world. All they find is a wrecked Spanish galleon, suspended in the forest.

Classic read: Saturday night and Sunday morning

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Alan Sillitoe

The novel opens in the midst of a rowdy Saturday night, "the best and bingiest glad-time of the week" for 22 year old Arthur Seaton, a factory worker in post-war Nottingham. Weekdays are spent "sweating his guts out" in the bicycle factory and daydreaming through repetitive work. However, after payday Arthur and his friends spend their weekends drinking and fighting, to "swill" the factory out of their system and explode the "piled up passions" from monotonous work.

Classic read: The Jungle

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Upton Sinclair

In 1906, when Upton Sinclair was writing The Jungle, around 35,000 workers died every year in industry-related incidents in the US. It was in this context that Sinclair wrote this tale about the conditions of workers in the stockyards and meat packing plants of Chicago. Many will associate this novel with its shocking exposé of the unsanitary conditions in the meat packing plants, which contributed to the passing of the 1906 Meat Inspection Act. The description of meat being mixed with bone, blood, hair and flies, all in sweltering hot, bloody rooms, caused public outcry.

Classic read: Fahrenheit 451

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Ray Bradbury

First published in 1953

Best known for his politically dystopian work Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, at the age of 91, sadly died on 5 June 2012. Since then, sales of Fahrenheit 451 have increased by 250 percent week on week. But the increase in sales is unsurprising considering the international acclaim the book has received since its publication in 1953. It is a book that is a pleasure to re-engage with.

Bradbury's work was obviously influenced by authors such as HG Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs, but most of all the gothic horrific texts of Edgar Allan Poe.

Classic read: Native Son

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Richard Wright

Native Son was first published in 1940

Richard Wright had every good reason to be angry. He grew up in the US Deep South in the 1920s and 1930s, when segregation and systematic violence towards African-Americans were at their height. In his autobiography, Black Boy, he remembers seeing the dismembered body parts of a lynched relative displayed in the windows of local white businesses as a marketing strategy.

Classic read - The Grapes of Wrath

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John Steinbeck, first published in 1939

John Steinbeck's novel, set in the US in the 1930s, begins with the Joad family on Route 66 crossing the Panhandle and Painted Desert on their way to California.

The "Okies" (as in Oklahoma) were subsistence farmers driven from their land when they were no longer able to pay their mortgages and the banks moved in to tractor them out. This converged with environmental reasons for their displacement - the dustbowl storms that scoured the land and ruined crops. They are migrants of misery and an enduring image of the Great Depression.

Classic read: The Handmaid's Tale

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Margaret Atwood

"Are there any questions?" This sentence ends the epilogue to The Handmaid's Tale and, for readers, of course there are many questions left unanswered because Margaret Atwood's classic of feminist fiction is a complex story told by an elusive narrator.

In a future not too distant from 1985 when the book was published, the US has become Gilead - a patriarchal dictatorship. The story opens five weeks into the narrator's first posting as handmaid to the Commander and his barren wife, Serena Joy.

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