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Our suggestions for what to read, watch or listen to this summer:

General news / MESSAGE
European Policy Centre

Date: 28/07/2022
Summer is here! While the European Policy Centre winds down its activities during the hottest holiday weeks, you can take a dip in our first-ever EPC summer recommendations list. Whether you will be relaxing on a sunny beach or in your garden, lounging on a balcony, a sofa or a hammock, here are some books, podcasts and movies our colleagues love and recommend to keep you company. We hope you will like them just as much.

Elizabeth Kuiper, Associate Director and Head of the Social Europe and Well-Being programme (@kuiper_em)

  • Cultural Evolution: People’s Motivations Are Changing, and Reshaping the World by Ronald F. Inglehart
A must-read in the current context, where COVID-19 and climate action continue to reinforce tensions between EU member states and increase fears about diminishing job security and rising inequality. Inglehart thoroughly examines how public support for issues like environmental protection and gender equality is linked to existential security, based on empirical evidence from over 100 societies. A fascinating yet sobering read.

  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I always make sure to take a few novels with me on holidays, as they help me disconnect and immerse into a fictional world. This historical fiction novel gets under your skin, as it tells the violence of slavery in a way that explains the past and present of the United States. 

  • Pod Save America
My all-time favourite podcast is Pod Save America, hosted by former Obama aides Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer and Tommy Vietor. They call it a “no-bullshit conversation”, and that’s truly what it is: a breakdown of (US) politics in a highly entertaining yet fact-based way, providing great insights into what’s going on on the other side of the pond.

Stefan Sipka, Policy Analyst, Sustainable Prosperity for Europe programme (@sipka_stefan)

  • Yes Minister (1980-1988) 
A hilarious take on British (and European) politics and civil service. Never gets old. A must for any policy-minded person. In my view, the best comedy series ever!

  • Bad Banks (2018-present)
A German-Luxembourgish series about the struggle for power in the European world of finance. It focuses on personal drama rather than the technical nitty-gritty, making it more appealing to wider audiences.

  • En thérapie (2021-present)
A French series about a Paris-based therapist and his encounters with his patients. Its minimalist and effective style mirrors similar formats undertaken in Israel and the US. The series also considers the impacts of wider crises (COVID-19, Bataclan) on the protagonists’ lives.

Irina Popescu, Programme Assistant, Sustainable Prosperity for Europe programme (@_irinapopescu)

  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carso
Published in 1962, this book is a classic and highly influential piece that still has a powerful impact on the environmental movement today. It uncovered the devastating and detrimental effects of synthetic pesticides on natural ecosystems, including animals and humans, as well as the chemical industry’s ruthless campaigning and disinformation, hiding well-known risks and misleading the public. Although met with fierce opposition from chemical companies, the book helped implement a US ban on the DDT insecticide for agricultural uses and led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency. 60 years later, it is still incredibly relevant today.

  • This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein
Klein examines the relations between climate change and the economy and argues that the climate crisis cannot be adequately addressed within our current deregulated neoliberal economic system, “carbon-fuelled capitalism” and exploitative extractivism. Klein’s pragmatic conclusions on the war between our economic and planetary systems call for a bold, structural change. She inspires readers to challenge the current systems in which corporations and the wealthy not only contribute but accelerate and exacerbate climate change. This book clearly highlights there is still a lot of work to be done and that the status quo is no longer an option.

  • We Organize to Change Everything: Fighting for Abortion Access and Reproductive Justice, edited by Natalie Adler, Marian Jones, Jessie Kindig, Elizabeth Navarro and Anne Rumberger
A timely and incredibly important collection of essays on abortion access and reproductive justice, bringing together voices from the movement for reproductive justice and feminist activists. It highlights how reproductive rights are human rights and covers structural racism, criminalisation, Indigenous People’s sovereignty, transgender rights and the white supremacist far-right. Published as a free e-book immediately after the overturn of Roe v. Wade, this is an important tool for the collective fight for collective rights.

Andrea G. Rodríguez, Lead Digital Policy Analyst, Europe’s Political Economy programme (@agarcod)

  • The Europeans by Orlando Figes
It’s one of the best books I have read in years. It is about the emergence of a pan-European culture & the sentiment of European integration through technology in the 19th century. The thesis would be something like: “because of railways and other advancements, Europeans could move faster and national cultures fused with others, so we can speak of a common European culture for the first time”. The book is wonderfully written and explores the topic through the lives of European intellectuals and artists of the era, such as soprano singer Paula García, writer George Sand and Ivan Turgénev, and Frederic Chopin.

Clara Sophie Cramer, Project Assistant, Connecting Europe 

  • On All Fronts: The Education of a Journalist by Clarissa Ward
A fascinating autobiography by the world-renowned conflict reporter Clarissa Ward. She not only provides direct insights into the root causes of some of the most brutal conflicts of the 21st century, illustrated with cases of consequential human suffering but also lets readers in on the troublesome mix of emotions that conflict reporters are confronted with on a daily basis. A sombre yet accessible publication that makes one appreciate the tremendous work of journalists reporting from crisis regions. 

Lucasta Bath, Programme Assistant, European Politics and Institutions programme (@LucastaBath)

  • On Nationalism by E.J. Hobsbawm
Many of the broad observations in these essays feel especially salient even today: a particularly interesting piece entitled Falklands Fallout examines the consequences of the British post-imperial identity crisis, with Hobsbawm observing that the war was about neither the Falklands themselves nor any such lofty principles as self-determination for the islanders, but rather about capitalising on trends in the British political landscape. “The people who said the war was pointless and should never have been started”, Hobsbawm concludes, “have been proved right in the abstract, but they themselves have not benefited politically and aren’t likely to benefit from having been proved right”. Plus, ça change! 

  • The Black Obelisk by Erich Maria Remarque
Remarque is far better known for his First World War novel All Quiet on the Western Front, but The Black Obelisk deals with Germany in the immediate post-war period, marked by hyperinflation and the unstable Weimar government. In brief, it’s a portrait of a society and a young generation in crisis, but despite these bleak themes, it’s also often very funny and moving. 

  • Tunnel 29 hosted by Helena Merrimn 
This podcast tells the true story of a group of students who tried digging a tunnel under the Berlin Wall to help friends escape from East Berlin. It’s an absolutely gripping story with more twists than you can imagine. It’s not the best thing to listen to if you’re trying to fall asleep, though!

Finally, like any self-respecting Gen Zer, I have a summer playlist: this year, it’s mostly filled with more laid-back music from artists like Tom Misch, Mayer Hawthorne and Tuxedo. 

Helena Hahn, Policy Analyst, European Migration and Diversity programme, (@H__Hahn)
  • The Ezra Klein Show hosted by Ezra Klein
I really enjoy Ezra Klein’s New York Times podcast series. The breadth of topics he covers and the extremely well-structured but somehow conversational style make it a joy to listen to. He mostly covers politics and economics with a US focus, but I tend to particularly like the episodes on housing policy and financing, technology and the future of work, as well as his loose series on why and how liberalism has or has not worked. For anyone wanting to learn more about abortion rights in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned, there are a few episodes worth listening to as well.

  • It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and Way by Lynsey Addario
Anyone who regularly reads The New York Times or follows humanitarian developments has probably come across one of Lynsey Addario’s photographs. Her memoir provides excellent insights into the life and experience of a woman war photographer in a realm that remains dominated by men. It proves that a photographer’s eye on the conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Sudan are just as valuable and important as those of the journalists they accompany.

  • Babel: Around the World in Twenty Languages by Gaston Dorren
Gaston Dorren takes a deep dive into the twenty most spoken languages worldwide, highlighting not just their linguistic particularities but also broader insights on cultural history.

  • Hot Money by Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein unpacks the impact of deregulated capitalism on the climate, adding to her vast canon around this topic. The book is part of a Penguin series called “Green Ideas”, which invited writers of all backgrounds to reflect on the current state of the climate emergency through various lenses. I highly recommend it!

Nathalie Henry, Events Executive

  • The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
One day in Nigeria, a woman finds the body of her son, Vivek, on the porch of their house, wrapped in colourful fabric. It appears he has been beaten to death.

This is a story of identity, sexuality, love, grief, friendship and the need to live the life you want, even if doing so might be deadly. It’s also a story of a mother desperate to understand her child. I won’t forget this novel anytime soon.

  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins-Reid
I must thank the BookTube community for this book. It’s not the kind of thing I usually pick up, and I hadn’t read anything by Reid before, although I have read all her books since. But something about it intrigued me after listening to a review from my favourite BookTuber, Jack Edwards. (Go check out his YouTube channel!)

It’s not particularly deep, it does not take the genre to new levels or make you think about something new, and yet it did feel different. Evelyn Hugo’s story is so delicious and compelling that it kept me turning pages in a desperate need to discover the stories behind her seven husbands (yes, I finished it in one sitting) and the answer to the one question everyone wants to know: Who was her greatest love?

  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Ove, an ill-tempered, isolated retiree who spends his days enforcing block association rules and visiting his wife’s grave, has finally given up on life just as an unlikely friendship develops with his boisterous new neighbours. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry… What more can you ask for from a book?

  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Weaving together multiple strands and generations of a family, from the Deep South to California and the 1950s to the 1990s, this story is at once riveting and emotional, and a brilliant exploration of the American history of racial passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past on a person’s decisions, desires and expectations, and explores some of the reasons and realms in which people can feel compelled to be something other than their origins.

Emi Vergels, Executive Editor

  • Afropean: Notes from Black Europe by Johny Pitts

British presenter and writer Johny Pitts travels through continental Europe – Stockholm to Marseilles, Lisbon to Berlin – in 2019 and returns with fieldnotes on black Europe. He even covers our very own Brussels, where, incidentally, the term Afropean was born. Reflecting on his travels, Pitts provides a rare, intimate study of racial diversity in Europe and scrutiny of ‘Europeanness’. A quasi-ethnography of “[b]lack Europe from the street up” containing personal observations and analyses of European urban planning, African and European histories, American exceptionalism and class dynamics. As a lover of post-war literature, the Baldwin and Fanon chapters are personal faves.

If you can overlook the occasional over-poeticising and forgive the not-so-occasional assumption as subjective impressions, you’re left with a compassionate and urgent call for plurality in European identity. A valuable exploration of what it means to be black in Europe, and a non-white European.

  • Rough Translation from NPR
Thanks to a recommendation from an ex-EPC analyst, I am enjoying this podcast hosted by a former NPR foreign correspondent. Despite my initial aversion to the tagline, “a podcast that tells stories from far-off places that hit close to home”, I do concede that it’s accurate and fair. By taking seemingly narrow topics, Rough Translation unveils not only local but also global dynamics and truths. An eclectic range of early episodes covers transnational surrogacy, Hindu nationalism and commodified yoga, Ghana’s educational reform and France’s love affair with its language. I’m also excited to work my way through to the latest season on how work culture is understood around the world.

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