Helena Kennedy

picks the eight books she'd take to the ends of the Earth with her

May 29, 2010
5 min read

Anne of Green Gables

Lucy Maud Montgomery

Puffin. First published 1908

I have always been bookish. I was brought up in a working class home and my father took me to the library every week. He was an avid reader and we would come back weighed down with our spoils. Most of my favourites had as their central character a girl who was strong and feisty and was valued in the end for being smart rather than beautiful! Anne was one of those. The book meant something special because I was given it as a prize and my mother, who had left school at 14 and rarely had time for the indulgence of reading, was thrilled when I brought it home. She wistfully remembered it from when she was at school and she read it again. Sharing it with her meant so much to me and I still love discussing books with other people. It’s like sharing food.

Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck

Penguin. First published 1939

The few books of our own we had at home were either good Catholic stories about the saints and martyrs or leftish books belonging to my father. They lived on a little bookshelf attached to a bureau, which was my mother’s prized piece of furniture. The books were novels by American authors like Jack London, Howard Fast and John Steinbeck, which my father had read when he was young and reflected his own political leanings. I read Grapes of Wrath when I was 13 and I was enraged at the way the bankers and big corporations exploited the farmers, driving them into destitution. We were a Labour family, but it was reading that put flesh on the bones of my socialism.

Letters from Prison

Antonio Gramsci

Columbia Univ Press 1994

I think Gramsci is one of the most important political figures of the 20th century. Through him I came to understand how people consent to their own oppression. We only have to look around now to see how his concept of cultural hegemony works so effectively. The values of a particular class become the ‘common-sense’ values of all and ordinary folk identify their own good with that of the rich.

The Women’s Room

Marilyn French

Virago. First published 1977

The 1970s produced many great feminist books – novels and political analysis about patriarchy, entrenched inequality and double sexual standards. Marilyn French made it all come alive in the pages of her novel. My courtroom experience was what blew open my own real understanding of the way women suffered multiple disadvantages in a society that was organised from the perspective of men.

Staying Alive

ed Neil Astley

Bloodaxe 2002

I have always loved poetry and read it regularly for pleasure. I like how a few words can be so expressive of profound emotion. This is a wonderful anthology and it includes some work of a friend, Mary Oliver, one of the great contemporary American poets.

Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad

Penguin. First published 1899

This is the book to read about colonialism and racist exploitation. It tells the story of Marlow, who is commissioned to go to the Congo to bring back the disappeared Kurtz, a key figure in a European company that is sucking the natural resources out of central Africa. All the justifications for colonial occupation are rehearsed – bringing ‘civilisation’ to the natives. Now we describe it as bringing ‘democracy’. The film Apocalypse Now was a contemporary rendition of the tale. An unforgettable book.

A People’s History of the

United States

Howard Zinn

Harper Perennial. First published 1980

Howard Zinn was one of the truly great men of America. He died recently, still a socialist and campaigner. His history of the United States is a challenge to the patriotic jingoism that mutes the horror stories of what happened to native Americans and slaves, the nightmare of McCarthyism and Jim Crow laws, the shame of his country’s role in Vietnam and South America. However, this is no ‘self-hating’ American Jew. He tells the wonderful true stories of America’s greatness – the former welcome to the world’s huddled masses fleeing persecution, the struggles by ordinary people for trade union rights and by black people for civil rights. All his books are inspirational but this is the one that everyone should read.

The Trial

Franz Kafka

Penguin. First published 1925

Some books have eternal truths and should be revisited at regular intervals. This is one of them. My life as a trial lawyer has made me a firm believer in open processes with a jury of ordinary people hearing the evidence. Over many years I have done a large amount of terrorist work but this is the worst time I have ever known for injustice. Currently, control order cases and hearings to deport people are frequently heard in secret. Neither the detainees nor their lawyers of choice get to hear the evidence against them. Special advocates hear the secret evidence but are not allowed to discuss it with the detainee. Kafka is dead. Long live Kafka.

Helena Kennedy QC is a leading barrister and expert in human rights law and civil liberties


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

Greenwald speaks Trump, War on Terror, and citizen activism
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

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

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

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


1