Two books from NetGalley today – I do like my non-fiction reads from here even if I don’t keep up to date very well (I am making an effort to read the upcoming books I have in time for their publication while also chivvying away at the backlist, reading the oldest ones first where I can, unless I need to mix things up a bit, and I’m continuing to be very selective about what to request!

Chris McMillan – “The London Dream: Migration and the Mythology of the City”

(25 August 2020)

A fascinating and excellent book in which the author sets out to write “a bleak critique of working conditions in London” but finds that his interviewees are all unfailingly positive about their future in London, however bleak their conditions and immediate prospects. So he has to take another line, and ends up with a rather marvellous and statedly Marxist reading of modern London as a hub for and maintainer of capital.

Even when we think we’re being anti-consumer, green, ecological and sustainable, of course we are buying things, whether that’s reusable sponges or experiences in craft beer joints. It’s just a different kind of “cool capitalism” and all the new features of London (and other places, of course) rely on the old Marxist concept of the supply of workers being larger than the need, meaning that people can always be replaced by other people who will accept bad conditions and precarity while they try to gain a foothold in the city. So the Deliveroo rider who gives up because they don’t make enough money per delivery and never see their family might move on to something else but will be immediately replaced by probably a new migrant to the city (or someone moving “up” from an even more precarious position) and the company will never have to change its tactics.

London has creative hubs of course, with tech doing well but academia and the creative industries increasingly precarious for their workers, many of whom hold down second jobs in the gig economy. And while the adverts make it seem cool and flexible to be on a zero-hours contract, there are very few people who are able to use that successfully (I will admit here to having used a company that was a pioneer in zero-hours contracts and working-time-intiative dodging practices in order to earn enough during concentrated enough hours to get me through full-time Library School at the same time: I do appreciate though that this is NOT the experience of most!).

McMillan compares the London of today with the Victorian London that Marx and Engels studied, finding parallels in the dock workers queuing up waiting to be chosen to work each morning and the delivery drivers logging on for gigs. As a New Zealander by birth and Londoner by adoption, he is able to look at the city with that much more of an outsider’s eye, for example noticing “the British seem unable to fully acknowledge industrialised slavery” which of course the wealth of many of these exploiting companies was based on – nothing’s new in the world.

But his interviewees remain positive. They love London, they work hard and they feel they can progress, so there’s a stream of hope running through the book as a counterpoint to the Dickensian squalour. Very interesting and worthwhile read, and not a difficult or dry one. And he mentions and interviews his own transcriber, which made this transcriber smile!

Thank you to John Hunt Publishing for making this book available for me to read via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Pete Lindsay & Mark Bowden – “Pig Wrestling”

(06 December 2018)

A decently done fable including a story within a story to use as a mnemonic for effecting change. The authors are well-renowned business and sports psychologists and claim that you can use the framework in the book for individual/personal as well as business/team change, to unstick problems that have got stuck, etc. The method is, without giving it all away, essentially around getting rid of preconceptions and reframing the question, and all but one of the examples are around business or a sports team, with one personal issue mentioned but not elaborated upon.

The people the Young Manager of the book is sent to chat with and learn from are varied in age and gender; I was just starting to huff a bit about racial homogeneity when I realised no one is described in enough detail for us to know their race or culture, so that was cleverly done. I feel this would be a good business tool to consider, but more in that area and team sports.

Thank you to Ebury Publishing for making this book available for me to read via NetGalley in return for an honest review