Most authors don’t make a thing of highlighting the books they used while writing their own. For good reason, it’s all our own genius! But while writing mine, there were some books and articles I found really useful, especially those which illuminated the political histories of countries. So for those interested in investigating the countries I write about further, please check out the selected books and articles below.


Isabel Hilton’s brilliant article on the Nepalese royal massacre is here if you’ve got a New Yorker subscription.
Josh Whelpton’s History of Nepal – one of the only sweeping histories of the country – is here, although look at the ‘similar books’ section as many newer titles cover the Maoist uprising in more depth.


My favourite history of the Star-Spangled Banner is by a man called George Svejda who did it for the National Parks Service in 1969. It reads like the product of the man who spent the entire ’60s in dusty libraries rather than experiencing the sexual revolution. You can read all 570 pages of it for free here. But if you want a more up-to-date take on the song that includes more facts than you could dream of, look up Marc Ferris’ Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America’s National Anthem. We disagree about why this song ended up being the country’s anthem, but then I’m a Brit!


To learn about Japan’s anthem and the controversies in its schools, I benefitted a lot from the work of Robert Aspinall, a very funny professor at the University of Shiga. You can read his paper, ‘Lowering the flag’, on the bizarre events at Japanese high schools in the ’90s here.

I’d also really recommend John Dower’s Pultizer-winning Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War Two. Not because it says anything about the anthem – it doesn’t! – but because it is an amazingly eye-opening account of America’s seven-year occupation of the country.


In this chapter, I make a lot of accusations about President Nazarbayev’s past. Some of them – the musical plagiarism – no one’s written about before. But for the others, I recommend you see Human Rights Watch’s reports on the country or Seymour Hersh’s The Price of Oil, a piece he did for the New Yorker on the country’s dodgy dealings after the Soviet Union collapsed (subscription required unfortunately). For the completely opposite take, read this wonderful hagiography!

This chapter also talks about a lot of other dictatorships. You’d have to go to a university library to see most of the sources I used while writing it, but you can helpfully read Natasha Huang’s fascinating thesis on China’s old anthem, The East is Red, here.


Read German? Brilliant! Here’s a very nice man called Josef Frommelt’s history of his country’s national anthem, which also includes lots of stuff about God Save the King. Read English? Even better! Then here’s William Cummings’ great history of God Save the King from 1902. I have no idea if Cummings was a nice man or not!

The Islamic State

If you’re insane and want to get an idea of all the songs the Islamic State put out, just visit from time to time. It’s an academic resource, but it puts up all their anasheed (songs) as well as those of other jihadists. does this to a lesser extent, but includes translations of the more important ones.

Behnam Said’s a person I quote in this chapter and his great history of nasheeds, originally published in a journal called Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, can be downloaded here.

I would also recommend  that you immediately stop reading this and head here for Oriana Fallaci’s New York Times’ interview with Ayatollah Khomeini undertaken just days after the Iranian Revolution. It’s an exhilarating read and will teach you a lot about one of the Middle East’s most important recent moments. But if you prefer books, read Michael Axworthy’s ones on the country like this.


I write a lot about politicians and music in this chapter. One academic who seems similarly obsessed by these links is Joel Gordon of the University of Arkansas. Here’s his history of the former President Nasser that also talks a lot about music during his time. If you want to learn more about Umm Kulthum, the only English biography of her is here, but it’ll teach you more about her music than you’ll ever need or want to know!

South Africa

This man does not need my support. He’s a journalist who’s won enough awards and made a lot of money from Hollywood. But sod it, John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Changed the Nation, is a brilliant telling of South Africa’s modern history. It’s not just about a rugby tournament. He talks a lot about the country’s anthem in it, and I stole one anecdote from it, so I probably should give him a plug!


The most enjoyable book I read during my research was this: The Paraguay Reader: History, Culture, Politics. It’s the only decent history of the country and is based on excerpts from books (academic ones all the way through to Graham Green novels), diaries, speeches and even songs. It’s wonderful. Except the bit about the Chaco War from the 1930s when it talks a lot about soldiers demanding their superiors piss in their mouths to quench their first – an image I still haven’t got out of my mind and it’s been over a year since I first read it. My chapter about the country would have been far poorer if I hadn’t seen this.

The end of my book talks a lot about Uruguay’s dictatorship of the 1980s. It really is one of the most horrific dictatorships you could come across, where the whole country seemed to be taking part in a psychological experiment. A New Yorker journalist called Lawrence Weschler wrote two huge articles on it in 1989 and you should read both now if you have a subscription (here’s part I and here’s part II).

Why so few people are interested in the histories of these two countries is beyond me as they really are insane.


Just in case any academics or students are passing through here, yes, I have read Michael Billig’s Banal Nationalism and Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities – two of the most important books about nation states and how they survive. Although notably both barely mention anthems. Thank God, otherwise I perhaps would never have written my own book!