Summer is in full swing, and whilst you might think a lighthearted book is the obvious choice for your beach holiday, that is only because you haven’t yet read NPC’s top book picks. Here’s four recommendations that social sector people must read this summer.
In your defence by Sarah Langford
Reviewed by Margery Infield
In Your Defence is barrister Sarah Langford’s memoir of her time at the Bar. Told through 11 cases in which she was involved, Langford gives us an insight into the human stories—and tragedies—of people who find themselves needing legal representation. We meet a victim of domestic violence fighting for custody of her child, a man who faces his sexuality being revealed in court, and a woman implicated in a crime by association. These are people at their lowest ebb—often let down by their families and desperate for support.
Through it all, Langford shares the extreme pressures facing many barristers. The late nights, relentless travel and uncertainty of self-employment are compounded by a deep sense of injustice and self-doubt when her clients don’t get the outcome they deserve. We hear how the cuts to the criminal justice system are exacerbating these pressures, eroding the humanity of the courts and leading to worse outcomes for people caught up in it. In Your Defence is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the criminal justice system—whilst the stories are often sobering, it is written with remarkable humanity.
Divided: Why we are living in an age of walls by Tim Marshall
Reviewed by Alex Miller
There are now more walls and fences on international borders than there was at the height of the Cold War. 28 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the latest book from Tim Marshall is a stimulating read for anyone with a penchant for geopolitics or anyone who wants to understand why particular cultures clash so spectacularly. This book has less of a British focus than his other publications (in a book about walls it is hard to not devote some pages to the US—Mexico border), instead Marshall talks about the international rise of nationalism, the effects of globalism and the increased prevalence of border walls in today’s world. Divided gives you the details as to why society currently feels so fractious and why this drives humans to put up concrete and steel barriers.
Marshall also expertly details the reasoning behind the construction of divisions within communities and neighbourhoods. One of the most famous snippets from this book is in a chapter about gated communities in South Africa. He posits that an increased ‘lack of interaction may shrink the sense of civic engagement, encourage group-think among those on the inside and lead to a psychological division, with poorer people left feeling like outsiders’. This sentiment runs through our work on place-based approaches. This book explains why we must rally against division, like those experienced during the Cold War, and why we must promote a shared sense of place that can unite us.
The price of inequality by Joseph Stiglitz
Reviewed by Oli Kelly-Dean
Mental and physical health problems, lower educational achievements, social cohesion and higher crime are all consequences of extreme inequality that we are experiencing. In this book, Joseph Stiglitz argues that the age of free market fundamentalism must come to an end for the benefit of us all. The book explores how the top 1% is not the only culprit but the government plays a key role through its tax policies, poor management of globalisation and other legislation. All of these factors have come together to create the current state of affairs, and the resulting societal problems. It is not a call for revolution, but it is a call for evolution, for a change in system.
Charities often find themselves tackling symptoms rather than getting to the root causes of problems. But many across the sector are now thinking about how they can create lasting change. NPC is working with charities and funders that are grappling with complex issues and taking a systems change approach. We think that this has the potential for real and lasting impact—whether on inequality or other urgent issues of our time.
The Poisonwood bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Reviewed by Sarah Broad
The Posionwood Bible is a story about Nathan Price, an obstinate, evangelical Baptist missionary who moves his family to Kilanga, a small village in the Belgian Congo in 1959. The story is told through the eyes of his wife, who is overwhelmed by the struggle to feed, clothe and protect her children, and his four daughters each of whom offers a different perspective on their new community and their father’s often misplaced missionary-zeal.
From the outset Nathan refuses to deviate from his pre-conceived ideas about how to interact with the local community and, unsurprisingly, the mission fails. And a combination of stubbornness, tragedy and circumstance causes the Price family to implode just as the Belgian Congo embarks on 20+ years of political upheaval.
This is a compelling read that combines humour with poignancy. It’s also a reminder that achieving meaningful societal change, at grassroots or national level, is hard and requires vision, commitment, flexibility, innovation and humility-adjectives that we at NPC and across the charity sector can relate to.
Join in the conversation on Twitter and tell us what you’re reading this summer. We’ll be discussing some of these topics at our annual conference NPC Ignites.