Review: Usborne’s Politics for Beginners

Recently, the British Election Study team published a report discussing the ‘youthquake’ of the 2017 election. In the weeks and months after June 8th, it was largely thought that Corbyn’s ‘success’ was due to an overwhelming turnout by the 18-24 demographic, but it turns out that this wasn’t exactly the case. Instead, the youth vote didn’t significantly change between the 2015 and the 2017 elections, but rather there was a bigger jump for the 30-40 age group. But there still seems to be general opinion that the youth just aren’t interested in politics. That isn’t good, so what do we do about it?

Luckily, the lovely people over at Usborne Publishing have put together Politics for Beginners, a no-nonsense guide to politics for children (and adults). It’s being published this month, and they sent me a copy to have a look through. At first glance, the book is instantly tackling the ‘politics is boring’ stereotype. With bright colours, captions, and cartoons, it looks exciting and intriguing, but in a sophisticated way. It may be aimed towards children, but not once does it talk down to them. From the off, it’s asking the basics: ‘what do kings and queens do?’ ‘am I a citizen?’ and ‘who decides what is legal?’ These are the fundamental foundations that we so often assume we already know, but we can’t study politics if we haven’t nailed down the answers to these questions.

Inside, Politics for Beginners is split into six sections: All kinds of governments, political systems, elections and voting, political change, political ideologies, and big questions. It goes back to ancient political systems of Greece and Rome, and continuously cites historical examples when discussing ideology and big political questions: from the Russian Revolution to the Iraq War, to the story of Hannah Arendt. Most importantly, it doesn’t pass too much judgement on different ideas, but rather subtly presents the pros and cons, which aims stimulates thought and discussion for the reader.

I expected it to be more based on modern British politics, but this isn’t the case. It has international scope, and provides the foundations for readers to go on to engage in the British system. There are charts of ‘where do you stand’ as either a socialist, conservative, communist, fascist, classical liberal, or anarchists, and questions on whether you’re a capitalist or not. So hopefully it leaves the reader with some confirmation of their views, it certainly did for me.

The last section, on ‘big questions’ is by far the most relevant to contemporary politics. And the questions are tricky to answer: is there such a thing as human rights? Why are some countries richer and some countries poorer? What is freedom of speech? And is underrepresentation a problem? Even as someone heavily involved in politics, I’m still not entirely sure about these issues, and Politics for Beginners introduced the discussions well. It leaves the reader thinking hard, even if they don’t come to any conclusions about issues.

So to put it simply, Politics for Beginners is great, and I recommend it to every child and adult who wants to learn a little bit more about politics. It’s informative, and it really gets you thinking. It’s exciting, and it’s layout doesn’t make you feel like you’re reading about politics. It’s rich with content, but never feels overwhelming. It inspires, offering suggestions of ways you can get involved in the political system, from writing letters to your representatives, to protesting, or even standing for office. I loved reading this book, and I hope so many others do too.

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