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Book Reviews: Spokesman Books

12 October 16 words: James Walker
Want to get stuck into some seriously good books that tackle everyday issues? Step this way for an introduction to some worthy works
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Satan in the Suburbs
Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell was a polymath best known as a philosopher and political activist. But, at eighty, he turned his hand to short stories. The five illustrated tales in this collection were originally published in 1953, when atomic annihilation loomed over society. The title story sees a man walk past the home of Dr. Mallako, where a brass plate on a gate informs: Horrors Manufactured Here. He is intrigued, but this soon turns to fear on the discovery that four neighbours who’ve paid him a visit exit as very different people. For example, a respectable banker, who had previously led an unblemished life, is caught stealing money and imprisoned. In the preface, Russell states that the stories are not meant to point to moral doctrines, but given the secret oaths, corruption and schemes to destroy the world that pervade the narrative, it’s hard to distinguish the philosopher from the fiction. The stories are satirical, humorous and provocative. But on occasion it’s the voice of the author, rather than the voice of the character, that comes through.

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Standing up for Education   
Louise Regan and Tom Unterrainer (ed)

The digested read for this eclectic collection of essays can be summarised as thus: the government will do the complete opposite of anything recommended by teaching professionals. Things, however, are better in Scotland, something the NUT is fighting for. It is no wonder, then, that 50,000 teachers quit last year, resulting in bloated classrooms in primary schools across the country, as Jeremy Corbyn noted when he became the first Labour leader to address the National Union of Teachers in March this year. Louise Regan outlines the constant upheavals created by Ofsted and SATs that has ‘blighted the educational landscape for the whole of my career.’ This is most evident in a heartfelt plea from Siobhan Collingwood, a headteacher of eleven years in a disadvantaged community. Whereas once she described her job as the best job in the world, now she sees an environment devoid of warmth and humanity. Teaching is the most valuable profession on the planet because it’s responsible for rearing the next generation. This should inform any policy. Not whether a two-year-old can identify the corresponding possessive forms of personal pronouns.

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Architect or Bee? The Human Price of Technology
Mike Cooley (forward by Frances O’Grady)

Former trade union activist and engineer Mike Cooley made his name as a workplace activist in the seventies at Lucas Aerospace. Here, he put forward a radical strategy to avoid redundancies known as the Lucas Act. In 1980, he developed these ideas in his seminal text, Architect or Bee? which functions as a critique of the automation and computerisation of labour. At the heart of his philosophy is the idea of human-centred systems that utilise and enhance human skills, offering an alternative view to technological determinism. Although the book’s title alludes to a comparison made by Karl Marx, it is more an extension of principles raised by Bertrand Russell in a speech to the war workers of Glasgow in 1917. Russell asked how workers could avoid being crushed by the impersonal institutions that made up twentieth-century capitalism – institutions that privileged profit over individuality and creativity. Cooley, via case studies, demonstrates that technology can be used efficiently and profitably for socially useful purposes. These are admirable principles that are more relevant now than ever. But is anyone listening?   

Spokesman Books website
Interview with Tony Simpson of Spokesman Books and The Spokesman


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