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The Spectator’s Bookbenchers

November 12, 2011

 The New Speaker

Mark was asked by the Spectator to take part in their Bookbenchers series where MPs discuss their reading material.

Which book’s on your bedside table at the moment?

Juliet Gardiner’s comprehensive tome, The Thirties: An Intimate History of Britain. I have become an avid reader of authors such as David Kynaston, Dominic Sandbrook and Peter Hennessy who have written some magisterial socio-political summaries of brief periods of post-war Britain.

Which book would you read to your children?

I have a son of three-and-a-half and a four-month-old daughter so I fear it is their tastes rather than mine that matter! I must confess that I have never been a great dog lover but the Hairy Maclary books are beautiful for young children and might inspire my offspring to be more canine friendly. As soon as I heard that the Revd W. Awdry’s Thomas the Tank Engine books (which I loved as a young boy) were apparently ‘too right wing’ on account of having too many middle class, male characters, I understood precisely why my young son, Frederick, has become such a keen adherent!

Which literary character would you most like to be?

I fear that I have read too little fiction in my life to have any definitive view on that!

Which book do you think best sums up ‘now’?

The Big Short by Michael Lewis, a superb analysis from last year of the run-up to the financial crash. Rather like his iconic, late 1980s debut, Liar’s Poker, this fast-paced book is a beautifully perceptive and racy tale of the road to economic ruin.

What was the last novel you read?

I must confess that whilst on holiday in Mallorca the summer before last I picked up a book that my wife, Victoria, was reading. This was the now world-renowned One Day by David Nicholls – that the rather good film proved such a disappointment to many of those who had already read the book sums up the nature of its appeal to thirty- and forty-somethings.

Which book would you most recommend?

To understand the worlds of economic and finance (close to my heart as you will have gathered) I would recommend the Lords of Finance by Liaquat Ahamed. This is a brilliant, historical analysis of the key characters in the central banks of the US, UK, Germany and France in the period of 1914-1945. Wonderfully written and very apposite for today’s problems.

Given enough time, which book would you like to study deeply?

My selection in the final month of the last millennium for the Cities of London and Westminster seat commenced a love affair with the political, cultural and financial heart of the world’s most exciting city. It also sparked in me a passion for urban walking. Beyond the seven square miles of my constituency, I travel by tube or overground about once a month to a farflung suburb and wend my back home through areas of the capital that very few visitors ever see. It is rare that anyone takes a leisure trip to the Barkings, Crayfords or Dollis Hills of this world, but the furthest tentacles of our tireless capital can tell the visitor so much about modern British life and its people. Accordingly I constantly refer to the A – Z of London which brings back memories of walks I have had in the past and excites me for future expeditions.

Which books do you plan to read next?

Bismarck: A Life (2011) by Jonathan Steinberg, Just Boris (2011) by Sonia Purnell and Postwar by Tony Judt. I first read the latter book when it came out almost five years ago and get into the habit of rereading some of the best books I have come across. This commanding high point of the late Tony Judt’s writing is a tremendous analysis of Europe, its history and politics since 1945.

If the British Library was on fire and you could only save three books, which ones would you take?

I very much hope that Google in one of its characteristic global domination projects has ensured that each and every book ever published is now online.