Cur­rent af­fairs

The Oldie - - CURRENT AFFAIRS -

con­ceded that he could think of ‘two fam­i­lies in which ex­treme achieve­ment was, to an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­tent, a man­i­fes­ta­tion of parental will’, nei­ther, rather sur­pris­ingly, prov­ing to be the Law­sons. Ni­amh Ho­ran at the Ir­ish

In­de­pen­dent on Sun­day was struck less by Hooper’s ex­am­ples of skill or achieve­ment than those of plain en­durance, re­sis­tance to ill­ness and even, in the case of sev­eral high-liv­ing su­per­cente­nar­i­ans, to mor­tal­ity. Ho­ran iden­ti­fied Hooper’s most fun­da­men­tal point as one about ‘men­tal re­silience’ – his in­ter­vie­wees ‘had the power to ac­cept things they could not change’.

POSH BOYS HOW THE ENGLISH PUB­LIC SCHOOLS RUIN BRI­TAIN ROBERT VERKAIK Oneworld, 400pp, £16.99, Oldie price £10.75 inc p&p

Robert Verkaik’s Posh Boys is a polemic that takes aim at the in­iq­ui­ties of pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion in Bri­tain. Most of us know that for­mer pri­vate school pupils dom­i­nate the Bri­tish es­tab­lish­ment, but the sta­tis­tics can still be sur­pris­ing: 7 per cent of the UK pop­u­la­tion are pri­vately ed­u­cated, but they make up 75 per cent of judges, 62 per cent of se­nior armed forces per­son­nel, al­most half of busi­ness lead­ers and 36 per cent of Cab­i­net min­is­ters. As Eve­lyn Waugh wrote in De­cline and

Fall, ‘One goes through four or five years of per­fect hell at an age when life is bound to be hell any­way, and af­ter that the so­cial sys­tem never lets one down.’ Houman Barekat, writ­ing in the

Guardian, called Posh Boys a ‘tren­chant j’ac­cuse’ against a sys­tem that ‘per­pet­u­ates so­cial in­equal­ity’. It’s all a far cry from the egal­i­tar­ian 14th-cen­tury roots of the so-called ‘pub­lic’ schools. Posh Boys is ‘a timely in­ter­ven­tion that asks all the right ques­tions,’ wrote Barekat. ‘Its sweep is im­pres­sively broad, en­com­pass­ing ev­ery­thing from child abuse scan­dals to con­cerns about money laun­der­ing amid the re­cent in­flux of oli­garch wealth.’ In the

Sun­day Times An­drew Marr called it a ‘calmly writ­ten, fair-minded but ul­ti­mately an­gry’ ac­count, re­mind­ing his read­ers that the UK spends more on pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion than any other coun­try in the world, while in Her­ald

Scot­land Su­san Flock­hart called it ‘an il­lu­mi­nat­ing and hugely en­joy­able read, packed full of eye-open­ing facts’.

BULLSHIT JOBS: A THE­ORY DAVID GRAEBNER Allen Lane, 368pp, £20, Oldie price £14.29 inc p&p

Like the late Nick To­ma­lin, David Graebner has a built-in bullshit de­tec­tor, the dif­fer­ence be­ing that whereas To­ma­lin ap­plied it to what peo­ple said, Graebner fo­cuses on what peo­ple do. An an­ar­chis­tic Amer­i­can an­thro­pol­o­gist who lec­tures at the LSE, Graebner ad­mits that his book grew out of a sen­sa­tional es­say on the sub­ject that he wrote in 2013. Read­ing it then, said Eliane Glaser in the Guardian, made her ‘feel part of some grand, ab­sur­dist ou­trage’. Her plight, and that of mil­lions of oth­ers in bullshit jobs, was ar­tic­u­lated.

Bullshit jobs come in all shapes and sizes, their com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor be­ing that they are point­less. No amount of money – and some are very well paid in­deed – can ame­lio­rate this dispir­it­ing predica­ment. But if cap­i­tal­ism is so cut-throat, how to ex­plain all this in­ef­fi­ciency and waste? Graebner’s sub­ver­sive an­swer, ac­cord­ing to Eliane Glaser, is that ‘a pop­u­la­tion kept busy with make-work is less likely to re­volt’. And let’s not for­get cor­po­rate man­age­rial egos, said Nathan Heller in the New Yorker: ‘Why do peo­ple em­ploy door­men? Not be­cause they’re cost-ef­fec­tive.’

One pos­si­ble so­lu­tion touted by Graebner is pay­ing every­one a univer­sal ba­sic in­come. But as Pelita Clark cau­tioned in the Fi­nan­cial

Times, the jury is likely to be out on this for the fore­see­able fu­ture. Mean­while she had no hes­i­ta­tion in rec­om­mend­ing this ‘provoca­tive, funny and en­gag­ing book’.

HOW TO RIG AN ELEC­TION NIC CHEESEMAN AND BRIAN KLASS Yale, 310pp, £18.99, Oldie price £13.40 inc p&p

Rig­ging elec­tions is both easy and com­mon­place, say Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klass in their new book. Around the world, what the au­thors call ‘coun­ter­feit democ­ra­cies’ are flour­ish­ing as au­to­crats use cor­rupted elec­tions to lend a sham le­git­i­macy to their regimes. The ‘un­set­tling re­al­ity’, Cheeseman and Klass state, is that these regimes ‘have a bet­ter chance of sur­vival if they hold elec­tions and rig them than if they avoid hold­ing elec­tions al­to­gether.’

This is a ‘lively’ book with a ‘chirpy tone’ that be­lies the au­thors’ ‘thor­ough re­search and bleak mes­sage’, wrote Ed­ward Lu­cas in the

Times. Bleak is the word, wrote Carla Anne Rob­bins in the Wash­ing­ton

Post. ‘In 23 per cent of re­cent elec­tions, vi­o­lence, in­tim­i­da­tion or ha­rass­ment was found to have played a role; vote buy­ing oc­curred in nearly 40 per cent,’ she ex­plained. ‘West­ern ob­ser­va­tion mis­sions only raised the prob­lem of fraud in 20 per cent of the elec­tions, and for­eign aid was only stopped in the after­math of around 6 per cent.’ Rob­bins called it a ‘provoca­tive’ and ‘in­struc­tive, though thin primer’ to a ‘de­press­ingly com­mon’ prob­lem. Richard Cock­ett, writ­ing in

Lit­er­ary Re­view, found the book ‘ex­cel­lent’: while much of the in­for­ma­tion about the ways au­to­crats tam­per with elec­tions is not new, Cock­ett said, ‘the huge ser­vice that Cheeseman and Klass per­form is to bring all these meth­ods to­gether into one handy, very read­able sin­gle vol­ume’.

‘A calmly writ­ten, fair-minded but ul­ti­mately an­gry ac­count’

David Cameron and Nick Clegg: posh

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