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