Welcome to our weekly Books Digest where we round-up the new books you should, and shouldn’t, be reading. This week features Tim Marshall’s review of Xi: A Study in Power by Kerry Brown, The Premonitions Bureau by Sam Knight and A More Loving World: How to increase Compassion, Kindness and Joy by The School of Life
For more books take a look through our Books Digest Archive.
Xi: A Study in Power by Kerry Brown (Icon Books, £7.99)
Did you know that 15-year-old Xi Jinping read Clausewitz during his time spent exiled in a remote peasant village? That’s just one of many nuggets to be found in this relatively short but informative biography by Professor Kerry Brown.
The exile was during Mao’s Cultural Revolution and due to the perceived sins of his father Xi Zhongxun, who had fallen out with the “Lingxiu” — Great Leader. Brown takes us through Xi’s journey from back-breaking labour in the countryside to party member, and the long march through the ranks. He wasn’t the most charismatic, not even perhaps the smartest, but his competence, quiet confidence, and an understanding of timing took him to the top.
There are many books in English about Xi’s China, but you’ll struggle to find one on the man himself. This book by an academic who has worked and lived in China is a welcome contribution to filling that gap.
The Premonitions Bureau by Sam Knight (Faber & Faber, £11.09)
How many times does a fortune teller need to be right before you can say they see the future? Are prophecies self-fulfilling? These questions come to mind as you read The Premonitions Bureau and its true account of John Barker, a psychiatrist who, bored at his outdated mental asylum, pursues his interest in the occult. He comes across two “psychics” who consistently make accurate predictions, including the unsettling one that ends the story.
The Premonitions Bureau is essentially a biography of Barker, focused on his study of the supernatural — where psychiatry meets psychic — at a time where much to do with the mind was still unknown. Scientific research into the occult was still taken (relatively) seriously in the post-war period.
Accompanied by quotes and atmospheric black and white photos, the style keeps the reader’s attention, although he does tend to switch narratives at times without warning, which can be a little distracting. The book is non-fiction that feels like fiction. Pick it up if you like to wonder: “is the truth out there?”
A More Loving World: How to increase Compassion, Kindness and Joy by The School of Life (The School of Life Press, £9.85)
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In an age where the world is more connected than ever, it is also a world that is easier than ever to feel alone. A More Loving World reminds us how much humankind longs for and depends on love.
The latest instalment from The School of Life — an educational organisation known for its meditations on life, love, the self and everything in between — each chapter invites the reader to reframe what we have come to define as love.
Love is multifaceted. It is not a bouquet of roses or the warmth of admiration but rather a “serious and dignified force” — something that can help defend against disorder and facilitate greater understanding.
The narrative voice is clear, concise, yet gentle in tone. What has the potential to tip into condescension is far from the case; the core message is one of encouragement over derision. We are invited to be curious rather than critical, to demonstrate sympathy over judgement as it is not harshness that can best help humanity but tolerance instead.
A charming and empowering read, A More Loving World, aims to bridge the gap between us, providing notes of optimism in a time when moralism and impatience seem to dominate. The School of Life has just one key message; with the right encouragement, we are all capable of immense kindness.