How Not to Be a Politician: A Memoir (Hardcover)

How Not to Be a Politician: A Memoir By Rory Stewart Cover Image
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Named a Best Book of 2023 by Financial Times and Kirkus Reviews

The #1 Sunday Times bestseller, published in the UK as Politics on the Edge.

“One of the best books on politics our era will see . . . A book of astonishing literary quality.” Matthew Parris, The TLS

“[Rory Stewart] walked across Asia, served in British Parliament, and ran against Boris Johnson. Now he gives us his view of what’s wrong with politics, and how we can make it right.” —Adam Grant, “The 12 New Fall Books to Enrich Your Thinking”

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.

About the Author

Rory Stewart was a member of the British Parliament for almost a decade. During that time he served as secretary of state for international development, prisons minister, minister for Africa, development minister for the Middle East and Asia, and minister for the environment. He also ran against Boris Johnson for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Earlier in his career he served briefly as an infantry officer and then as a diplomat for the British government in Indonesia, the Balkans and Iraq. He founded and ran the Turquoise Mountain foundation in Afghanistan, was the director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and the Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. From 2000 to 2002 he traveled six thousand miles on foot across Asia, including Afghanistan. Stewart has written four books: The Places in Between, The Prince of the Marshes, Can Intervention Work? (coauthor), and The Marches. He is a visiting Fellow at Yale’s Jackson school, hosts The Rest Is Politics podcast with Alastair Campbell and is the president of the nonprofit GiveDirectly.

Praise For…

“One of the best books on politics our era will see . . . A book of astonishing literary quality.” Matthew Parris, The TLS

“Stewart’s story of his nine years in Parliament is vastly superior to the standard windy self-justifications of many ex-politicians. For a start, he can write. How Not to Be a Politician is entertaining, fast-paced and easy to read without being patronizing.” The Washington Post

“Stewart has written an unsparing and brilliant portrait of his decade as a lawmaker, culminating in his failed bid to become prime minister. The lying, incompetence, and treachery he depicts are all so blatant that the book should be assigned to bright young things to rid them of any remaining illusions before they put their name on a ballot.” —Michael Ignatieff, The Atlantic
“Anyone with the slightest interest in politics should get a copy of Rory Stewart’s political memoir.” —Dominic Lawson, Daily Mail
“A brilliant insider portrait of a nation in decline, penned by an exasperated modern Boswell . . . A superbly readable book . . . [Stewart] deploys his literary skills in the manner of a superior assassin . . . After a memoir of such blistering frankness, there is no way the Conservative party will have Stewart back. Westminster is poorer without him, a wanderer turned prime minister manque. The world of ideas and letters is richer.” —Luke Harding, The Observer
“Rory Stewart [gave] . . . the inescapable impression that he said things because he genuinely meant them, rather than because a pollster had told them they would be popular. As a result, he was entirely unsuited to modern politics . . . A story of . . . how soul-sappingly difficult it is to get anything done.” —Michael Deacon, The Sunday Telegraph
“[Stewart] can write, a rare accomplishment in today’s politicians.” —Richard Coles, The Sunday Times

“Few political memoirs last for long. Rory Stewart’s . . . may be an exception. Alan Clark’s diaries left behind an indispensable record of the Thatcher years; Stewart’s memoir is a brilliant portrait of the Cameron-May-Johnson era. It is likely to become a classic on a par with Clark’s diaries.” Gideon Rachman, The Financial Times

“A personal, sharp exposé of British politics. Stewart, who once ran to become Britain’s prime minister, recounts his time as a politician . . . The culture was “inert, depressing, and shallow” . . . [and] with rapier wit, Stewart skewers many of his pompous, cynical colleagues. . . A biting, captivating memoir.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“Stewart is one of the most potent political figures in Britain . . . the oddball messiah of the centrist tribe. How Not to Be a Politician is an account of Stewart’s bitter quest through the sloughs and haunted forests of modern government . . . Disarmingly, he is in touch with his own absurdities . . . Stewart has the sensibility of a writer: he is a man of grand dreams and acute perceptions . . . Almost all will appreciate the book’s viciousness, eccentricity, wit and intelligence.” —James Marriott, The Times (London)
“A rallying call for those who think Westminster needs a kick up its saggy behind.” The Times (London), “The biggest books of the autumn”

“[Rory Stewart] walked across Asia, served in British Parliament, and ran against Boris Johnson. Now he gives us his view of what’s wrong with politics, and how we can make it right.” —Adam Grant, “The 12 New Fall Books to Enrich Your Thinking”

How Not to be a Politician is one of the most enjoyable and revelatory political memoirs to appear in ages—beautifully written, self-mocking but insistently principled. Stewart manages to make a life in professional politics seem laughable, entirely indefensible, and yet ennobling. This is a book that will be read for decades, as a document of its time and as timeless literature.” —Steve Coll
How Not to be a Politician offers a ringside view of recent geopolitics, through the eyes of an insider who simultaneously manages to maintain a wry distance. The result is a mix of high-minded (even utopian) idealism combined with gritty (and sometimes deflating) realism. This book is far more than a political memoir; it’s an ethnography of the corridors of power, an honest, hilarious, and sometimes lacerating exposition that explains why the world is the way it is.” —Akash Kapur, Better to Have Gone: Love, Death, and the Quest for Utopia
“Rory Stewart’s book is essential reading for our times. In this age of populism, nostalgic nationalism, and the routine distortion of truth, Stewart reminds us that politics (and politicians) can still inspire and change our world. Stewart manages to whisk us into the antechambers of power and provide a behind-the-scenes look at politics, in the manner that the best science and medicine books reveal insiders’ views of those realms. And he leaves us with optimism, hope, faith, and a genuine desire to engage with political systems. Like his previous books, this one is also the chronicle of a journey—and it’s unputdownable’” —Siddharta Mukerjee
“Brilliantly written, completely gripping, and darkly funny—this is one of the most devastating insider accounts of Westminster I have ever read. An instant classic of political memoir, and an absolute must for anyone who wants to understand how British politics works—and why it really, really doesn’t. Rory Stewart is deeply unsparing, including of himself. I have to warn you that this book contains mind-boggling scenes featuring some of the leading politicians we’ve been cursed with over the past few years, several of which were so excruciating I had to read them through my fingers.” —Marina Hyde
"If you want to know what it’s like—really like—to be a politician, read Rory Stewart's intense, funny, savage and profound account.  It's the best there is on life inside the modern palaces of power.” —Michael Ignatieff, author of Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics
“Enthralling, appalling and occasionally hilarious.” —Tom Stoppard
“Within politics and without, Rory Stewart has always worked to reconcile opposing interests. This powerful memoir counts the costs as well as measuring the rewards of his efforts, in ways that are themselves paradoxical: it’s engaged but objective, candid but not gossipy, and braced with strong conviction while accepting limitation. It’s hard to imagine anyone better placed to report on the convulsions of the last twenty-odd years in British politics (and their effects overseas as well as at home); Rory Stewart has written a book that breathes life back into the cliché ‘essential reading’.” —Andrew Motion
“Any combination of insight, humanity, self-awareness and style in a political memoir is valuable. To achieve them all, as Rory Stewart has done, is exceptional.” —Rafael Behr                                     
“At last a politician who can write. In a decade at Westminster, Rory Stewart worked alongside—indeed for—most of the con-artists and dimwits of recent governments. The problem is not just one of personal calibre, however.  The book suggests it is the party political system itself that tends to stifle innovation and practical change. Opinionated, lucid and thought-provoking.” —Sebastian Faulks

Product Details
ISBN: 9780593300329
ISBN-10: 0593300327
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication Date: September 19th, 2023
Pages: 464
Language: English