Alec Ash

Interviews by Alec Ash

The Best Books on the Hong Kong Protests, recommended by Ben Bland

Around the world people have followed the standoff in Hong Kong with apprehension, as local protestors have taken on the might of China's powerful Communist Party. Here Ben Bland, author of Generation HK and Director at Australian think tank the Lowy Institute, talks us through books to better understand what's been going on these past few years and what's at stake for Hong Kong's citizens and activists.

The best books on Maoism, recommended by Julia Lovell

While researching Maoism, China expert Julia Lovell battled against two incorrect assumptions: “firstly that Maoism is a story of China; and secondly that Maoism is a story of the past.” Here she recommends five books for coming to grips with the global, still-relevant impact of Maoism.

Shanghai Novels, recommended by Paul French

Though it was the fifth biggest city in the world in the years following the Second World War, there aren’t nearly as many novels set in Shanghai as there are in Paris, Berlin and other international cities. Author and expert on modern Chinese history Paul French takes a look at the literary history of an often underwritten city from the 1930s through to the new millennium.

Science Fiction Classics, recommended by Adam Roberts

The best sci-fi explores humanity’s anxieties and concerns and is in some sense about the future. But it doesn’t try to predict what’s to come. The literature professor and sci-fi writer recommends five classics of the genre.

The best books on Asia’s Rivers, recommended by Victor Mallet

Human history has been founded on the banks of great rivers – but in the East they are increasingly the focus of bitter international and environmental dispute, says Victor Mallet, the journalist and author of River of Life, River of Death. Here he selects five brilliant books that profile Asia’s most celebrated waterways.

The best books on Religion in China, recommended by Ian Johnson

China is a religious country with all kinds of faiths being practised across its vast territories—despite Mao’s attempts to eradicate them. The Chinese Communist Party tolerates a variety of religions but continues to grapple with the potential challenge they pose to its authority. Prize-winning journalist Ian Johnson introduces the best books on the complex topic of religion in China.

The best books on Ethical Problems, recommended by David Edmonds

Given the choice between allowing five people to die, and killing one person, what would you do? What is the utilitarian argument for vegetarianism? Should we be able to sell our kidneys? The philosopher suggests some answers and picks the best books on ‘ethical problems.’

Ian McEwan on the Books That Shaped His Novels

Novelist Ian McEwan talks about five of the books that have helped shape his own, from the biography of a scientific genius to a treatise on the end of time, and discusses the importance of finding “mental freedom”

The best books on Heavy Metal, recommended by Keith Kahn Harris

Metal music, developed in the sixties and seventies, is notorious for its dark and disturbing imagery and its aggressive sound. But there’s nothing to be afraid of, says sociologist and fan Keith Kahn-Harris: it’s all part of the mythmaking of metal.

The Best Autism Books, recommended by Steve Silberman

Writing about autism has undergone an important shift, finally giving a voice to people with autism, says Steve Silberman, the winner of the 2015 Baillie Gifford Prize for his book tracing the history of autism, NeuroTribes. He picks the best new books on autism.

The best books on Time and the Mind, recommended by Marc Wittmann

“Time is an illusion,” wrote Douglas Adams. “Lunchtime, doubly so.” It is certainly a subjective experience, agrees the psychologist and author Marc Wittmann—as any drug user or meditation expert can tell you. Here he picks five books that unpick our perception of the passage of time.

The best books on Drone Warfare, recommended by Hugh Gusterson

The introduction of drones “makes possible perpetual war without costs”, warns the anthropology professor and security expert Hugh Gusterson. Here he selects the best books that examine their ethical, psychological and political impact upon 21st century warfare.

The best books on North Korea, recommended by Hyeonseo Lee

Kim Jong-un’s posturing over nuclear weapons is a distraction from more pressing concerns: the extreme poverty and disenfranchisement of his people, says North Korean defector Hyeonseo Lee.  She chooses five books for understanding the hermit kingdom.

The best books on Hong Kong, recommended by Jason Ng

In 2014 Hong Kong’s ‘Umbrella Protests’ made news around the world. But will continuing protests in Hong Kong lead to advances in democracy or crackdowns by Beijing? Jason Ng, lawyer and author of Umbrellas in Bloom, chooses five of the best books for understanding China’s ‘foster child’ city.

The Best Narrative Nonfiction, recommended by Peter Hessler

Writer and journalist Peter Hessler selects five books, from Haight Ashbury to a fifth grade classroom, which show how nonfiction can bring true stories to life through literary techniques. He chooses the best of narrative nonfiction.

The best books on Tintin, recommended by Michael Farr

The adventures of Tintin are some of the bestselling books of all time, translated from French into languages across the globe, and still in bookshops nearly a century since they first started being published. Their stories, their humour, their characters continue to delight. Here, Tintinologist Michael Farr explains why the Tintin books have such enduring appeal and how their creator, Hergé, came to write them.

The Best Comics, recommended by Will Brooker

Fed up of superhero films? Hiding your copy of Watchmen behind the Economist on the train? Comics are a serious literary form as well as being fun, says the author of a new book on Batman.

The best books on Britishness, recommended by Matthew Engel

Britain is a bewilderingly motley nation of phlegmatic grumblers, says the author and editor Matthew Engel – a seaside resort-going, class-conscious people haunted by loss of empire, and we can’t even agree on what the country is called

The Best Travel Books, recommended by Paul Theroux

Travel is a leap in the dark, says Paul Theroux and one that will leave you a different person at the other end. He recommends five travel books that inspired him, from Mark Twain at sea to VS Naipaul in India

Niall Ferguson on His Intellectual Influences

Harvard historian Niall Ferguson tells us about the diverse influences on his work, from Keynes and Tolstoy to an Austrian satirist. He explains how he prefers a philosophy of history that emphasises the contingent and the chaotic, rather than the neatly predictable.