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From a great writer—legendary for his expeditions into some of the world’s most forbidding places—a wise, honest, and sometimes absurdist memoir of a most remarkable journey through British politics at the breaking point
Rory Stewart was an unlikely politician. He was best known for his two-year walk across Asia—in which he crossed Afghanistan, essentially solo, in the months after 9/11—and for his service, as a diplomat in Iraq, and Afghanistan. But in 2009, he abandoned his chair at Harvard University to stand for a seat in Parliament, representing the communities and farms of the Lake District and the Scottish border—one of the most isolated and beautiful districts in England. He ran as a Conservative, though he had no prior connection to the politics and there was much about the party that he disagreed with.
How Not to Be a Politician is a candid and penetrating examination of life on the ground as a politician in an age of shallow populism, when every hard problem has a solution that’s simple, appealing, and wrong. While undauntedly optimistic about what a public servant can accomplish in the lives of his constituents, the book is also a pitiless insider’s exposé of the game of politics at the highest level, often shocking in its displays of rampant cynicism, ignorance, glibness, and sheer incompetence. Stewart witnesses Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and its descent into political civil war, compounded by the bad faith of his party’s leaders—David Cameron, Boris Johnson, and Liz Truss.
Finally, after nine years of service and six ministerial roles, and shocked by his party’s lurch to the populist right, Stewart ran for prime minister. Stewart’s campaign took him into the lead in the opinion polls, head-to-head against Boris Johnson. How Not to Be a Politician is his effort to make sense of it all, including what has happened to politics in Britain and the world and how we can fix it. The view into democracy’s dark heart is troubling, but at every turn Stewart also finds allies and ways to make a difference. A bracing, invigorating mix of irony and love infuses How Not to Be a Politician. This is one of the most revealing memoirs written by a politician in living memory.
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