Barton bookshelf Summer 2018 700x200

Over the past year, I’ve recommended fiction and non-fiction titles in the run-up to the summer, Christmas, and Easter breaks. All of these titles have been defiantly not about education.

Every summer gives us the luxury of escaping briefly from the day job to spend time with family and friends, and to lose ourselves in books. So here’s a reading list containing no education titles. Instead, I’ve included five fiction and five non-fiction recommendations which I hope may entertain, amuse and inform you. Enjoy a well deserved break.


Jane Harper, The Dry
I’m not usually a fan of thrillers, but this one – set in the claustrophobic heat of a small Australian community – is a genuine page-turner

Robert Harris, Conclave
Swirling political intrigue at the Vatican as a new Pope is elected

Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
A funny, poignant study of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine

Jon McGregor, Reservoir 13
A haunting, relentless tale of a community dealing year after year with a child who has gone missing

Xan Brooks, The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times
A dark, deeply disturbing tale of victims of World War I living a secret life in the depths of the English countryside


Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist
Urging us to shake off ‘fashionable pessimism’, Ridley presents a forensically-described celebration of the achievements of humans

Juliet Nicolson, The Perfect Summer
A beautiful, occasionally heartbreaking, portrait of the long hot summer of 1911 – and the growing sense people have of a world on the brink of war

Caroline Slocock, People Like Us: Margaret Thatcher and Me
A fascinating political retrospective from a member of Mrs Thatcher’s inner team – and the UK’s first female private secretary

Mark Vanhoenacker, Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot
Vanhoenacker is a British Airways pilot who is simply in love with flying. This is his elegant, rapturous account of why

Rosamund Young, The Secret Life of Cows
If, like me, you didn’t know that cows have friends and enemies, play hide-and-seek, and sometimes bear grudges, you’ll love this. It’s charming

Barton bookshelf May 2018 700x200

For this year's May bank holiday and half-term, I recommended five uplifting books about education, plus five podcasts.

If you haven’t yet discovered the joy of listening to podcasts, try to make time, in the car, on a walk, or on a rowing machine; podcasts are a brilliant way to gain a glimpse into other interests, other worlds.

Five books about education

Daisy Christodoulou, Making Good Progress
Simply one of the best books about education, and an essential text in our campaign to reinstate teachers’ professional knowledge

Anthony Seldon, The Fourth Education Revolution
A superb and uplifting exploration of how artificial intelligence could help to reinvent education

Mary Myatt, Hopeful Schools
A dose of half-term optimism, reaffirming the centrality of values and humanity

Alex Beard, Natural Born Learners
A fascinating, energetic comparison of schools systems around the world

Tara Westover, Educated
A gritty autobiography of someone whose life is transformed by education

Five podcasts not about education

In Our Time
This weekly discussion of familiar and obscure topics remains unmissable. Start with this exploration of the lives and impact of George and Robert Stephenson.

This American Life and RadioLab
I’m cheating. These are two (not one) podcasts from the USA. They both brilliantly illuminate everyday life with audio storytelling skills that are amazing. Start with this RadioLab account of Diane Van Deren, an extraordinary ultra-runner.

Reasons to be Cheerful
Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd talk on a theme for an hour or so. It’s informative and entertaining. Start with this episode about not eating meat.

Political Thinking with Nick Robinson
In-depth conversations with a light touch. Robinson is a master interviewer. Start with this interview with shadow education minister Angela Rayner.

Desert Island Dishes
If, like me, you like to escape on holiday into food and cooking, you’ll love Margie Broadhead’s relaxed informal discussions about, er, food and cooking. Start with this one with Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers.

Barton bookshelf Easter 700x200

Easter 2018

Books, like holidays, are for escaping into, so I’ve included nothing directly about education. Instead, here’s a selection of titles I’ve enjoyed in the past year or so - chosen to entertain, inform and provoke. I hope you enjoy them.


Mary Beard, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
Mary Beard’s lucid style and personal voice illuminates the world of Ancient Rome in all its glory, ambition and hard-wired violence.

Jon Ronson, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
A compelling, if chilling, illumination of the way social media has triggered a return to the practice of public shaming. It’s a real page-turner.

Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens
A breathtakingly ambitious history of us, human beings, told with great verve, powerful storytelling and exuberant optimism.

Mary Aiken, The Cyber Effect
As a clinical psychologist, Dr Aiken explores what our obsession with screen and online life might be doing to our sense of identity and to the self-esteem of our children.

Henry Marsh, Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery
An elegant, fascinating set of reflection from a world-renowned neurosurgeon – an expert who, like so many experts, exudes confidence, neurotic worry about making mistakes, and deep humility.

Fiction and poetry

Julian Barnes, The Only Story
I’m a huge fan of Julian Barnes – writer of clever, polished stories that always take you by surprise. This new book – hilarious and then heart-breaking – is (in my view) his best novel to date.

Susan Hill, From the Heart
I’ve always loved Susan Hill’s writing. This new novel, illuminates the life and decisions of Olive Piper, a young woman growing up in a harsher, unforgiving era. It’s beautifully done.

Andrew Michael Hurley, The Loney
I noticed this writer when he won the Costa prize for ‘best first novel’. Be warned: it is a darkly funny but disturbing tale in the tradition of gothic horror novels.

Anita Brookner, Latecomers
Brookner is my favourite novelist – writing of London, of unravelling relationships, of loneliness. In this novel, two Jewish boys, Thomas Hartmann and Thomas Fibich, are sent to London as refugees in the war and become lifelong friends.

Helen Dunmore, Inside the Wave
Helen Dunmore was a much loved novelist who died of cancer last summer. This final collection of poetry is about her family and her encroaching illness. The poems are beautiful, understated and deeply poignant.