Chris Smith

picks the eight books he'd take to the ends of the Earth with him

September 27, 2010
4 min read

The Prelude (1805 version)

William Wordsworth

Oxford University Press

For me, this is the greatest poem in the English language: a long, compelling account of Wordsworth’s own life and growth, charting the development of his mind and soul and their interaction with the natural world and with the tumultuous political events of the time – all told in rolling, lilting poetry that takes your breath away. Wordsworth was the first great environmentalist, who saw clearly how interdependent the worlds of humanity and of nature are. It’s the early 1805 version that has to be read, though: it is full of freshness and vitality, which were lost by the time he revised it all for publication in 1850.

Equality

R H Tawney 1931

Unwin Books

This book, probably more than any other, made me realise what democratic socialism meant and why it was important. It’s a marvellous account of the intellectual and philosophical underpinning of the European left over the past 80 years. And its central thesis is that the ‘freedom from’ is a necessary precondition for the exercise of the ‘freedom to’: the freedom from want, disease, hunger, poverty, idleness or discrimination having to be secured before the freedom to do things, seize opportunities or achieve successes can be delivered. It’s a book I would prescribe as required reading for anyone aspiring to be a progressive MP.

No Ordinary Time

Doris Kearns Goodwin 1994

Simon Schuster

Doris Kearns Goodwin has become an indefatigable chronicler of American politics and history, and this is her best book – an account of the life, challenges and decisions of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in the White House. It’s a fascinating story of the noble ideals and grubby compromises that combine together in any great political endeavour. It shows us exactly what torments and triumphs Barack Obama is enduring, right now.

Ring of Bright Water

Gavin Maxwell 1960

Penguin

I loved this book when I first read it as a teenager. I still do. It’s the tale of someone who renovates a tumbledown cottage by the sea on the west coast of Scotland and shares his life there with two otters. Its evocation of the land and seascape, the rhythm of the seasons, its perceptions about the natural world, its empathy with the lives of animals, its hilarious stories of adventure and accident and tragedy, are perfectly done. Maxwell quotes a Louis MacNeice poem at the end that says ‘thank you … for making this life worth living’; and it is indeed a book infused with the spirit of life.

Undiscovered Scotland

W H Murray 1951

Diadem

Bill Murray was one of the formidable group of mid-20th century Scottish mountaineers. He wrote his first book, Mountaineering in Scotland, in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany and after it was confiscated had to write it all over again. This is the sequel, and for someone like me, who has spent a lifetime tramping the hills and glens of Scotland, it is a perfect gem. It is passionate about the beauty of the hills and mountains; it captures the sense of the infinite that lies beyond the landscape; it reminds us, deep down, why we love this wild and wonderful country.

King Lear

William Shakespeare 1608

Methuen (Arden Shakespeare)

Lear is the darkest of Shakespeare’s tragedies. The play tears at our hearts, brings rage and pity, exposes the elemental forces of all our natures, renders us baffled and exhausted by folly and cruelty alike, and does it all in words that are unsurpassed. We emerge from the play feeling as if our emotions and understanding have been wrung dry. A critic once wrote that the catharsis at the end of Lear doesn’t come because we know that good has triumphed over evil – it hasn’t – but because we know ‘that it is better to have been Cordelia than to have been her sisters’.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry