Book news

  • Two Blankets, Three Sheets by Rodaan Al Galidi – nine years in an asylum centre
    Dina Nayeri

    This tragicomic Dutch bestseller tells the autobiographical story of an Iraqi refugee. It is essential reading

    When I lived in the Netherlands, long-settled Iranians joked about the native Dutch: “If they invite five people for dinner, they’ll make exactly five potatoes.” Newer arrivals would gasp at this, since in the Middle East hospitality is a matter of pride and any decent person cooks a feast no matter how many are expected. “What if someone wants a second potato?” they’d say, “Oh God, what if guests leave … still hungry?” “I wouldn’t worry about that,” the settled Iranians would reply. “They’ll never invite you over.” It was a sad kind of joke, an understanding about the nature of welcome in the Netherlands.

    I’ve never read a book that better illustrates the human cost of the European asylum systems

    Related: The ungrateful refugee: ‘We have no debt to repay’

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  • Sabotage by Anastasia Nesvetailova and Ronen Palan review – the business of finance
    Oliver Bullough

    Is financial malpractice an aberration or built into the system? This is enraging, essential reading

    A decade ago the global economy was emerging from the biggest financial crisis in decades. Major financial institutions only survived thanks to a torrent of liquid capital, government deficits ballooned as they tried to manage the fallout, millions of jobs were lost and billions of pounds’ worth of value vanished from global asset prices. It was an epochal disaster, comparable only to its predecessor in 1929, and its effects are still with us. The political convulsions of Donald Trump, Brexit, Viktor Orbán and the gilets jaunes, among other phenomena, can all be seen as aftershocks of this great earthquake, and we are very much not done yet.

    We might have expected some serious soul-searching in politics, finance, economics and among the electorate about how this could have come about but, in Britain anyway, precisely the opposite has happened. A good example was one of – for me – the lowlights of last year’s general election campaign, when the chancellor of the exchequer, Sajid Javid, blamed the Labour party for the economic crisis and resulting rise in homelessness.

    The world economy is a huge pyramid scheme; governments let it continue rather than deal with the fallout of its collapse

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  • Tickbox by David Boyle review – thinking inside the box
    Steven Poole

    From call centres to management consultancy to government, decision-making is being dehumanised. We need to take a stand against the culture of targets

    Automation in the modern world is usually thought of as done by robots or creepily intelligent software, but it is also the way, as this feistily interesting book argues, that bureaucracies composed of human beings increasingly operate. Officials are required to follow recipes (or algorithms) of sorting people into discrete categories and pursuing strictly defined courses of action with no allowance for ambiguity or complexity. They are condemned, if you will, to think inside the box.

    This is what David Boyle, an economist and former policy wonk for the Liberal Democrats, refers to simply as “tickbox”: what more usually is called “tickbox culture” or, in US English, “checkbox culture”. For him it covers not only the targets and key performance indicators of official bureaucracy, but phenomena such as pervasive employee surveillance, the culture war over “identity politics”, the rise of management consultancy, the fact that you can never get a simple resolution to your problem from a call centre, and why the trains don’t work. Boyle himself instigated the celebrated “passenger strike” on Southern rail in 2017, convincing most of a trainload of passengers to refuse to show their tickets at Brighton. In an optimistic conclusion, he even claims that Ludwig Wittgenstein was also an enemy of “tickbox”, while exhorting his readers: “Refuse to categorise yourself on feedback or monitoring forms.”

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