Christmas Books
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Date: 08 December, 2006

As used on the famous Nelson Mandela by Mark Thomas


'Intelligent stocking fillers at last!'

Charlotte Haines Lyon reviews some books that you, your family or your friends might like for Christmas.

Click on the orange title in the article to buy the book and Christian Aid will receive a part of the sale.

As used on the famous Nelson Mandela – underground adventures in the arms and torture trade
Mark Thomas, Ebury Press, £10.99

“640 million small arms are at large in the world. 8 million new small arms are added each year. One person is killed every minute with small arms...The UK is the 2nd biggest arms dealer in the world.”

These startling facts form the basis of comedian Thomas’ debut book. Weapons of killing, maiming and torture have high currency it seems and it is disturbing to discover the pernicious industry behind them.

Thomas recounts various schemes (some shown on TV) that have given him terrifying insight into the arms industry. One shining example is duping Indonesian generals into telling the truth about their killing and torture of 200,000 East Timorese and using British supplied planes to do so.

Another is setting up arms companies in schools. Yes you did read that correctly. Thomas – with full approval of teachers and parents, managed to involve young teenagers in procuring arms and selling them to dodgy regimes. Thus proving how easy it is to exploit loopholes in our “ethical” foreign policy.

Reading the book is like watching his programmes; plenty laughs but they are earned through tremendous political insight, in-depth research, a touch of genius and great wit.

A perfect gift for someone who doesn’t like reading or doesn’t usually like political books.

There is No Me Without You – One Woman’s Odyssey to Rescue Africa’s Children
Melissa Fay Greene, Bloomsbury, £17.99

At Christmas it is inevitable that we Westerners start to feel guilty and think about those poorer than ourselves. This is often aided by the Band Aid single and video being played endlessly.

Not that there is anything wrong with this but I am a little tired of the images of the poor transmitted through our screens.

Greene breaks the mould dramatically. She tells the story of Haregewoin Tefera, a middle class woman who after losing her husband and daughter decides to take part in the fight against AIDs.

More specifically, she dedicates her life to looking after orphans; one of the most distressing legacies of HIV and AIDs.

However this is no read it and weep tome, Greene has incisively observed the issues and characters involved. The strength of the book is that each person is portrayed as real, not a saint but as a normal human being; faults and inspiration combined.

Haregewoin at one point agrees to a rich woman arranging her daughter’s birthday party at the house full of scruffy orphans. The exploitation is pretty awful but underlines the fact, that everybody is prey to adulation and attention.

An insightful gift for anybody interested in Africa, HIV, orphans and even foreign adoption.

The No-Nonsense Guide to Globalization
Wayne Ellwood, New Internationalist, £6.99

Globalisation is one of those issues I should know more about. Sure I can tell you a bit about it, but to be honest I have no real understanding of the whys and wherefores.

That was true until this little book came along. It took me no more than a couple of hours to read, whilst leaving my head buzzing with all sorts of information.

For starters, I didn’t know that the king of capitalism Adam Smith had actually advocated keeping small and local. Neither did I know that the UK had originally wanted the International Monetary Fund to be far more ethical than it is.

I also now have a much deeper understanding of the impact of the West on the East especially with regard to recent Asian economics. All useful, fascinating stuff and packed into 140 very small pages. There are also other guides including Climate Change, Human Rights and Fairtrade. Intelligent stocking fillers at last!

Don’t Shoot The Clowns; Taking a Circus to the Children of Iraq
Jo Wilding, New Internationalist, £8.99

It’s all too easy to sink into depression and despair when watching news bulletins about Iraq. What hope is there amidst the increasing violence?

Bizarrely some hope at least can bee found by way of a circus. After visiting Iraq just before the impending bombardment of 2003, Wilding had to do something. Unusually she chose to take a circus out to Iraq to entertain children.

This might appear an odd thing to do when there are seemingly more important needs to be met. However it is clear that not just the children were often entranced by the antics of the group of clowns that travelled and lived amongst ordinary Iraqis. Communities torn apart by bombs, suspicion and recriminations stand together laughing.

It is such antics that bring an intense lightness of being to world Wilding inhabits. Not that they take away at all from the horrors crushing Iraq.

She shows that even during the most distressing times we need smiles, laughter and love. Medicine, water and food are not the only essentials.

Alongside the laughs are also observations of the world that is going on around her. Not being imbedded with one force or another, but rather living within communities such as Fallujah under siege, Wilding provides a rare insight to the country.

Superbly written and wonderfully inspirational, this is a great gift for those who want more than just headlines.

Inside World Religions; An Illustrated Guide
Kevin O’Donnell, Lion, £16.99

Did you know that some Hindu traditions are not actually polytheistic? Some see the different deities are seen as different aspects of God, not unlike the Christian trinity.

This and other facts are covered as O’Donnell takes the reader through the major religions of the world with sympathy and care.

Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all covered in depth with shorter but still useful sections covering smaller faiths including Baha’i and Taoism.

For each faith we are taken through their history, goal, teachers and paths to peace amongst other facets. There is no triumphalism but a genuine interest and respect for those of different faiths.

Whilst openly Christian, he argues for the understanding of each other’s religion and that in turn this will enrich our faith rather than diminish it.

It is particularly striking how many central tenets of all these faiths are so similar. At a time when understanding of other faiths is vital, this book is both beautiful and essential reading.

The Bitter Sweet World of Chocolate; with 50 recipes
Troth Wells and Nikki van der Gaag, New Internationalist, £14.99

I love to cook, I love chocolate and my favourite books are those that explain the world to me. This book unusually addresses all three, I really couldn’t ask for more.

If you are a surefish regular you’ll know that chocolate isn’t all sweetness and light, often hiding a myriad of human misery in its production. Hence the increasingly popularity of Fairtrade chocolate.

This is a chocolate book with a difference. Recipes are interspersed with the history, politics, and information on fairtrade. I thought I was well informed on the subject until I read this.

The recipes are something else too. Yes there are plenty of the requisite chocolate treats; Chocolate carrot cake, cup cakes, shortcakes etc. However, of far more interest is the discovery of using chocolate for savoury dishes.

I know to add a spoonful of cocoa to my chilis but chocolate as a main ingredient? I look forward to entertaining people with “Chili sin carne con chocolate” – i.e. chilli without meat with chocolate. Indeed it contains 100g of real chocolate!

A deliciously provoking gift.