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AHRC summer reads


How to take part

1. Choose a book from the last 13 years and tell us why you recommend it in 100 words or less.

2. Email your recommendation to communications@ahrc.ukri.org with the subject "AHRC Summer Read".

3. Share your favourites on social media using the hashtag #AHRCSummerRead.

The best books always come passed on from a friend or colleague and personal recommendation is the best guarantee of a good read.

As we head into summer and many of us can look forward to a bit more time to read what we’d like -- for pleasure and not just for work – the Arts and Humanities Research Council would like to invite you to share with us your suggestions.

Mike Collins, head of communications, AHRC says: "It wouldn't be summer without those lovely lists of recommended reads for the holiday season that appear in magazines and the weekend papers.

“Losing yourself in a good book is one of life's real pleasures and we want your help in compiling a list of literary treats that will satisfy curious minds and whet the appetite for those days on the beach or long haul flights.”

Please send us your short reviews of a book you think we should all be reading this summer.

"We'll be publishing a list of the ten best recommended books, handpicked by our in-house teams of critics, on our website," says Mike Collins.

It can be on any topic, in any style: fiction, poetry, history; the choice is yours.

The only caveat is that it must have been published in the 13 years since the AHRC was founded, and you send us your review by 6 July.

Email your suggestion (in no more 100 words) to communications@ahrc.org.uk with the subject "AHRC Summer Read" and share your favourites using the hashtag #AHRCsummerread.

To get the ball rolling we’ve selected some of our favourites:

The Ballroom by Anna Hope (Penguin, 2016)

Julie Venis Communications Manager, AHRC

The Ballroom

I picked this book up last year as it had been selected as part of Richard and Judy’s Book Club. At first it seemed reminiscent of Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale – a world where the characters are deprived of freedom and punished should they refuse to conform to totalitarian rules but I soon discovered this is where the similarities end. The book begins as Ella, a former mill-worker wakes up unsure of her surroundings, bruised and battered. It wasn’t long before she realised she had been taken to an asylum, simply for breaking a window where she worked, and this is how many people – those who were regarded as rebellious, outcasts or ‘feeble-minded’ ended up. The book is a stark reminder of a dark period in history, where many, including Winston Churchill, viewed Eugenics as the best course of action for preventing the ‘unfit’  from being able to reproduce.

The story is inspired by the famous and much-maligned Menston Asylum in Yorkshire, which is named Sharston in the novel, and is in fact every bit as terrifying.  For patients, the only saving grace is when the usually segregated men and women are allowed to dance together on a Friday night in the grand ballroom.

The book interweaves between the viewpoints of three main characters – Ella, John and Charles.  It’s certainly not the setting for a romance novel, but a romance develops between the two inmates - Ella and John, whose main crime (so it would seem) is simply for being members of the underclass. At the same time, we witness the rise and fall of Dr Charles Fuller, who himself is a disturbed character who becomes fixated on the idea of sterilisation.  There are twists and turns, and I dare you not to shed a tear at the end.


Citizen Clem by John Bew (Riverrun, 2017)

Mike Collins, Director of Communications

Citizen Clem

This is a remarkable biography of a very unassuming politician who helped guide the UK through world war and into the promised land of the 1945 Labour Government that fundamental changed the country. From starting out as a social worker in the East End of London to being driven round by his wife during the 1945 General Election this beautifully crafted book gets under the skin of a towering figure of 20th century politics who has often been overshadowed by other more charismatic, yet whose influence has been profound on the last seven decades of British politics.




The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth (Unbound 2015)

Matt Ford, freelance

The Wake

For a pool-side read to blow your mind look to The Wake, a technically ambitious, hugely evocative post-apocalyptic novel located in the 11th century and written in a made-up language based on Old English. Set in the three years after the Norman invasion it follows a broken and bewildered gang of Anglo-Saxon guerilla fighters – led by Buccmaster – who keep the war going after the defeat at Hastings; they lurk in the strange, haunted fenland of eastern England, beset by visions, beholden to old gods, ever at the mercy of the harsh world around them and seemingly doomed from the first page.

The text can be a knotty challenge probably best not attempted after your third lunchtime cerveza. But once your brain slots into its poetic cadence Kingsnorth's shadow tongue draws you into his misty forests and the inner world of his hero, with all its strangenesses -- and its strange familiarity.


Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain by Charlotte Higgins (Vintage 2014)

Rooey Sweet Director of Partnership and Engagement, AHRC

Under Another Sky

‘Suppose the past lives on in the present’, wrote R.G. Collingwood in his autobiography; the past, does, of course, live on in the present through its physical traces and imaginative legacy and this is what drives Charlotte Higgins’ Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain. Higgins’ book is both a beautifully written travelogue of her personal itinerary around Romano-British sites, and a reflection on how Roman Britain is remembered and interpreted.  




Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (John Murray 2017)

Joe Lewis Press and Social Media Officer, AHRC

Born a Crime

South African Comedian Trevor Noah’s autobiography might not be the first choice for readers in the UK. Despite having gone down a storm in the US  – he’s hosted one of America’s top late night talk shows since 2015 – he remains far less well known on this side of the Atlantic. But Born a Crime tells a story that’s so engaging, interesting and specific that it’s a must read whether you’ve heard of Noah or not.

The title – a reference to Noah’s birth as the result of a loving, but contemporaneously illegal interracial relationship – evokes just one strand of the story. Throughout his childhood, Noah is buffeted from community to community based on whatever the apartheid system – as arbitrary, as it was racist – deemed correct.

But Born a Crime is equally focused on Noah’s mother, no less interesting and no less a powerful force on his childhood than Apartheid itself. As progressive and stubbornly independent as she is strictly devout, it’s easy to empathise with Noah as he flips between utter admiration and resentment of his mother’s failings

Throughout the story of his formative years, Noah’s writing is endearing – perhaps more so than his cheery but none the less sardonic TV persona – and his thoughts on his own childhood are both wise and well-considered. As stories from the atrocity that was Apartheid go, you’d struggle to find one that’s as impactful, personal and entertaining as this one.


To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine (Faber and Faber 2018)

Gillian Gray, Portfolio Manager for Histories, Cultures and Heritage, AHRC

To Throw Away Unopened


Viv Albertine is a musician and songwriter and former member of ground-breaking punk band The Slits. This memoir explores her difficult relationships with her family (including a rather violent fight literally over the body of her dying mother). This is an extremely stylish, well-crafted honest account; both acerbically funny and touching in equal measure. Her advice whilst speaking at the Swindon festival of literature in May 2018, “if you ever get the chance to read your parent’s diaries…DON’T”.



The Circle by Dave Eggers (Penguin 2014)

Harry Kerr, the Portfolio Manager for Design, Creative Arts and Digital, AHRC

The Circle



This 2013 novel is a chilling take on issues of trust, transparency and social media. Mae gets a job at a powerful technology company with undisguised similarities to real-life corporations – a beautiful Californian campus, charismatic founders and enormous reach into its users’ lives – and quickly rises through its ranks. Though the costs of the protagonist’s success become higher and higher, the reader is left to decide for themselves whether they’re worthwhile.


The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi (Orbit 2015)

Tristan Russell, Digital Project Manager, UKRI

The Water Knife

A post-cyberpunk novel for the climate change generation, The Water Knife is a vision of what we are becoming.

Set amidst a water war in the near future The Water Knife deftly describes a world that has every possibility of coming true. Originally published in 2015, Paolo Bacigalupi paints a picture of the southwestern United States where our most precious resource is in short supply. With the Colorado River drying up, Nevada, Arizona and California scheme and fight for control of the water.

Although based on the supposition that we are close to doing all of this to ourselves, the novel never gets preachy. It is a simple assessment of the how the human condition might evolve should we find ourselves in this situation. In the end, what would you do?


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