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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 December 2003, 11:14 GMT
Tony Blair's Big Read
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News Online Magazine

Tony Blair says he wants some "improving literature" for Christmas. But what would make a good literary gift for the Prime Minister? The Magazine scans the current bestsellers list for a few ideas.

Mr Blair is on record as being a PG Wodehouse fan and he is also reputed to pack a copy of the Koran and the Bible when going on foreign trips.

He is also known to enjoy a ripping yarn. Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe was a favourite of his as a lad, apparently, and he says he has re-read the Lord of The Rings books with his children.

Inspired choice?

But with David Blunkett and Gordon Brown already down as the Cabinet's official Harry Potter fans, Mr Blair might want to venture into more grown-up - but no less gripping - waters with Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, set in Oxford, where the PM attended university.

Sting cover
Echoes of Mr Blair's own career?
Mr Blair also loves his rock music, so Nick Hornby's 31 Songs, in which the About a Boy author discusses, erm, his favourite 31 songs, might prove an inspired choice.

But Hornby's tastes - which run to Nelly Furtado and Aussie experimentalists The Avalanches - may be a little too exotic for the guitar-strumming PM, who never tires of showing off his hard rock credentials (recent favourites are the Foo Fighters and The Darkness).

A safer bet could be Sting's autobiography, Broken Music. The Geordie warbler's journey from angry young punk to inoffensive, adult orientated rocker may strike a chord with the PM, and they both share a love of Newcastle United football club (allegedly).

Big sellers

Similarly, Serious, John McEnroe's much-praised autobiography might be a good choice for the tennis-loving premier. He has certainly heard enough of McEnroe's catchphrase over the past 12 months.

1. Guinness Book of World Records
2. A Royal Duty - Paul Burrell
3. The Beano
4. Rags to Richie - Shane Richie
5. My Side - David Beckham
6. Dude, Where's My Country
7. Lost Light - Michael Connelly
8. Schott's Food and Drink Miscellany - Ben Schott
9. Answered Prayers - Danielle Steel
10. Dr Atkins New Diet Revolution - Robert C Atkins
Source: Nielsen Bookscan
TV spin-offs, such as What Not to Wear (memo to Mr Blair: do not buy for Cherie) are doing well in the bestseller list, as is Shane Richie's autobiography Rags to Richie (memo to Mr Blair: think of better title than this for your autobiography).

Another big seller, How Clean is Your House? looks more promising, but turns out to be another Trinny and Susannah-style snobfest, and nothing to do with the register of members' interests.

The biggest selling political book is Dude, Where's my Country? (No, not George W Bush's first words on stepping on to the tarmac at Heathrow the other week, but the current bible of the militant anti-war brigade).

War stories

Mr Blair is unlikely to be impressed by author Michael Moore's scabrous account of his friend Mr Bush's rise to power. He will find a more sympathetic portrait of the US president in Bush at War, by veteran Watergate journalist Bob Woodward. But according to most reviewers, the book reduces Downing Street's role in the proceedings to that of a footnote.

Michael Moore
Probably not on Mr Blair's Christmas list
Robin Cook puts Downing Street firmly at the centre of events in his diary of the lead up to war, Point of Departure. But the former foreign secretary's version of history, described by one reviewer as "glancingly bitchy," is unlikely to do much for Mr Blair's blood pressure.

If he really wants a political tome to get his teeth into, Mr Blair could do worse than The Prudence of Mr Gordon Brown, William Keegan's study of the economic philosophy and psychological motivation of the PM's self-styled "best friend in politics". Mrs Blair may want to slip a copy into his stocking, in the interest of promoting neighbourly love and understanding.

Comedy choices

Or, if imagination and time run out, there is always the emergency stand-by comedy stocking filler.

Men apparently can't get enough of random, meaningless lists - so if Mr Blair fancies a break from compiling the New Year's Honours, he might enjoy Schott's Food and Drink Miscellany. Its mischievous - and virtually identical - twin Shite's Unoriginal Miscellany is also doing brisk business, as is The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Parenting.

But Mr Blair may find more use for the Oxford Dictionary of English, if an old CV unearthed by the press this week is anything to go by. The document was full of howlers, including a reference to Tony Glair, although the mistakes were blamed on "typing errors".

Crap Towns - a pictorial rundown of the 50 most miserable locations in the British Isles - is also doing well, and may provide a guilty snigger or two for Mr Blair.

Until he realises the main criteria for inclusion is the local crime rate and the quality of the schools.

Which book would you buy Mr Blair for Christmas? Add your comments using the form below.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, because it's a beautifully written book with something to say about identity and history and being true to yourself, as opposed to the allegedly funny crap that seems to be dominating the bestsellers' charts.
Amy Selwyn, UK

Hard Work by Polly Toynbee to demonstrate that even those in regular work can be impoverished and compromised in our society - and make him wonder if he really has the power to do something about it. And to lift his spirits, what about 'The Accidental Tourist' about a man trapped in himself gradually working free, a good read, gentle and honest.
Anita McCullough, Great Britain

Give him a new copy of Walter Scott's Ivanhoe and get him to read it again. It's about a man who has the courage to do what is right despite peer pressure and his own desire for glory.
C M Sheard, UK

Tomorrow Is Another Day, by Khalid Kishtainy, published in the UK by Elliot and Thompson Books. The Iraqi Candide: a satirical novel of life in Saddam's Iraq. We and the US would have been better prepared for the aftermath of the war if Tony Blair and George Bush had read this.
David, London, UK

Writing and Difference by Derrida - apparently it is only what you say that counts - an essential message for a politician, and written by a Frenchman so it has a Eurocentric feel. As a read, it's confusing and difficult so it has that 'it must be hurt to do you good' feel which Blair insists his policies are doing for us.
Trina, UK

Michael Moore's Stupid White Men. It must be the most widely read anti-bush bible so at least if Tony read it he'd know what we're all worried about. What I'd really like to see is Paxman grilling Tony after he's read it to force him to address the concerns. While you're at it get him to counter Pilger's description of the PNAC website texts.
Susie Keith, UK

How to Win Friends & Influence People - Dale Carnegie, because he needs a little help right now.
Paul Vile, UK

A hardback edition of the Hutton Inquiry findings. To treasure long into his imminent retirement from politics.
Si Tickner, UK

Given the current state of the country and the constant pressure to introduce ID cards, as well as the fact we have more CCTV cameras per head than any country on earth. I'd recommend Mr Blair reads 1984.
Joe, UK

The Student Survival Guide by Lucy Clarke & Jenny Hawkins. Just to remind Blair, who had his degree paid for in full, just what life is like for modern students coping with loans, tuition fees and five figure debt.
Andy Baxman, UK

Cervantes's "Don Quixote". In this epic tale of misguided adventures and over-inflated egos in the time of chivalry, the deranged Don Quixote's arrogance is matched only by the ignorance of his sycophantic side-kick - Sancho Panza. A cautionary tale for their modern day equivalents.
Mark Allen, UK

'War And Peace' - not for any particular messages he may or may not pick up from the book, but just because it would hopefully take him ages to read it, during which time we might get some legislation through that the people of this country actually agree with.
Paul Shrimpton, UK

The draft European Constitution so that he can see how far from a "tidying up exercise" it really is. It would also help him get to sleep.
Iain, UK

Mutiny on the Bounty. What happens when you fail to listen to the rebels.
Amanda, London, UK

Labour Party Manifesto, 1997.
Chris, UK

He's already got a book - why does he need another one?
Kevin, England

Any railways time-table, especially in south-east London and he can read the biggest fairy tales of all times.
Peter H. Hoare, England

Given all the cabinet dissent and backbench mutiny that Mr. Blair is currently facing, how about 'The Life of Isambard Brunel'? He might learn how to build a few bridges.
Mark Pengelly, Northern Ireland

Hard Times by Charles Dickens To remind Mr Blair of the limits of ethics free utilitarian values and the consequences of failing to redistribute wealth- wealth is like manure, only of use if spread around liberally. Blowback by Chalmers Johnson An explanation of the unforeseen consequences of the current policy towards the middle east and radical Islam, best the PM finds out what he's let us all in for. The Last Empire by Gore Vidal -infact any one of the three recent books of polemic by GV: a clear assessment of the global oil aspirations of George W and friends in Afghanistan and Iraq, just in case somewhere in his heart Mr Blair thinks it's about wmds and improving the lot of the people - ask your self who is building the oil pipeline from the Caspian reserves to Pakistan.
Kelvin Corcoran, UK

The Lion and the Unicorn, by George Orwell, for any number of reasons but including reminding him of the essence of the British people and of being British and what it means.
David Bruce, UK

Any cookbook that contains a good recipe for humble pie.
Ian, England

Brick Lane, by Monica Ali. It's a non-political book - I'm sure Tony could do with a break from politics - which is written from the viewpoint of a British Muslim. Although not central to the plot, it deals with issues around 9/11 and its aftermath in a sensitive way, reflecting the puzzlement and frustration of the Muslim community. Economic and political issues can come and go, but in five years time or even 10 years time Britain will still be struggling with multiculturalism.
Bob Pedley, UK

Anything by Noam Chomsky - tremendous critiques on the world order, and in particular on terrorism (of the state variety). With the preponderance of global terrorism in the world today, I think Chomsky should be required reading for our leaders.
Paddy Pope, UK

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, by Robert Tressel. It inspired a generation to vote Labour in 1945 and ensured the were educated enough to demand the welfare state. Maybe Tony needs to have a shot in the arm from the same source. It is also a great read.
John Cook, UK

"The Blind Watchmaker" by Richard Dawkins would balance out the Koran and Bible and show Mr. Blair that there actually is a third way.
Duncan Jones, Ireland

The Prince by Niklolai Machiavelli. Then again, I'm sure he already he owns a copy.
Wil, UK

The Shape of Ice by Douglas Hurd. It is a book about a prime minister with a comfortable majority facing a large number of crises. You read the book wondering which of his various problems will be fatal.... (may sound a bit familiar)..
Roy Adams, UK

How about Billy Liar?
D W Armitt, UK

Catch 22. He might take comfort from the absurdity of it all. He's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. He can't win this argument because the public really don't care less about the complexity and reality of governance. Sadly, for us we're fickle.
Simon Cave, England

The Winter of our Discontent - John Steinbeck. Then again, he probably read it last year, and the year before, and....
Mark, UK

Things Can Only get Better by John O'Farrell. It's a hilarious account of a Labour activist who got involved with politics just as his party was falling apart and who watched it eventually return to power. He might read it and remember what his party used to stand for.
Simon Grayson, UK

My bank book. It will show him just how much I owe after being through university. I am sure it will make interesting reading.
Shelley Deignan, England

You may loathe him or love him as a politician but he is also a fellow human being and deserves an opportunity to lighten up at this time, what with his recent health blips to add to his political travails. So, perhaps Tragically I was an Only Twin - The Complete Peter Cook will help achieve that over the Christmas family break. Since he's a Tolkien fan Michael White's gentle biography of the great man might make an appropriate additional offering.
Rohan De Silva, England

Any car mechanic book. He needs to learn what a 'Reverse Gear' is.
Mike, UK

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