Friday, June 25. 2010
Slowly accumulating book notes since my last books post on April 23, but once again they've gotten out of hand. Actually have about 110 of them, so at 40 a pop this could go on for a while. First one hits the key points, and then some.
Gilbert Achcar: The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives (2010, Metropolitan Books): When the 1937-39 Palestinian revolt against the British failed, Haj Amin al-Husseini fled to safe havens open to him, Nazi Germany, thereby setting up a narrative that connected the Holocaust to Palestinian resistance to the creation and dominance of Israel. That at least is one thread the author must deal with -- practically the only one that seems to come up, but there must be more, even with most of the Arab world, including the future Israel, outside of WWII's grasp.
Jonathan Alter: The Promise: President Obama, Year One (2010, Simon & Schuster): Author wrote a previous book on FDR's first 100 days amidst tough times, so it must have seemed like a good idea to see how Obama fared under comparably difficult circumstances. There are too many differences to make the analogy work -- FDR came to Washington determined to try all sorts of things and both parties were in such a state of shock that he met with little opposition, while Obama came seeking only to fix what used to work and ran into a buzzsaw of partisan rancor and Tea Party nihilism.
John Amato/David Neiwert: Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane (paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press): I'm not sure what else you can call it but insane. They cannot grasp that eight years or conservatives in the White House and sixteen in command of Congress created one disaster after another; they can't imagine ever losing; they especially can't imagine losing to Obama. Amato runs the blog Crooks & Liars, and Neiwert wrote a useful book on the fringe right called The Eliminationists, so both are well positioned to write such an obvious book.
Jim Baggott: The First War of Physics: The Secret History of the Atom Bomb 1939-1949 (2010, Pegasus): The secrets presumably come from recently declassified documents, especially from Russia. Otherwise it would seem that this story has been told many times over, perhaps best by Richard Rhodes' trilogy: The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, and Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race.
Paul Berman: The Flight of the Intellectuals (2010, Melville House): A leftist in his own mind, still fighting the good fight against Nazism, which he bravely sees lurking in every Islamic nook and cranny. Focuses especially on Tariq Ramadan, often angling through his grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, finding everyone who thinks otherwise traitorous. Previously wrote Terror and Liberalism in a feverish frenzy following 9/11, one of the ur-texts of the Global War on Terror.
Kai Bird: Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978 (2010, Scribner): Son of an American foreign service officer stationed in Jerusalem, a divided city to start, with the Jordanian (or Palestinian) half occupied from 1967. He also lived in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Lebanon. Bird has written several interesting biographical books, notably American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J Robert Oppenheimer.
Anthony Bourdain: Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook (2010, Ecco): Wrote a couple of novels, then a breakthrough book on the gritty side of working in restaurants, Kitchen Confidential, which made him famous, got him a TV show, turned him into a globetrotting celebrity -- cf. A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines. Another book about all that. I've read the two I named, and would probably relish this.
Noam Chomsky: Hopes and Prospects (paperback, 2010, Haymarket Books): Scattered essays and lectures, one part on Latin America, the other (larger) on North America, the latter including excursions to Iraq and Israel-Palestine and much on Obama's first year, where the promise of change devolved into "meet the new boss, same as the old boss." (Not that Chomsky quotes the Who, but that's likely the gist of his argument.)
Tom Engelhardt: The American Way of War: How the Empire Brought Itself to Ruin (paperback, 2010, Haymarket): Subtitle from book cover; other sources say: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's. Probably recycled from TomDispatch posts, where Engelhardt has tenaciously kept his finger on the pulse of America's warpath to oblivion.
Norman G Finkelstein: 'This Time We Went Too Far': Truth & Consequences of the Gaza Invasion (2010, OR Books): On Israel's December 2008 siege of Gaza, a one-sided war occasioned by the desire of Israel's ruling coalition -- especially Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak -- to impress Israel's voters with their toughness, and possibly to dig incoming US president Barack Obama a deeper hole from which any peace initiatives would be even more difficult. The destruction was senseless and extreme, leading to an international backlash including the Goldstone Report finding Israel guilty of war crimes. Expect Finkelstein to set the record straight with his usual merciless thoroughness.
Roger Ford: Eden to Armageddon: World War I in the Middle East (2010, Pegasus): Key events were the destruction of the Ottoman Empire, the birth of nationalist Turkey, the entry of the French and especially the English into the Arab parts of the Ottoman Empire, and the rise of the Saudis in the Arabian peninsula. David Fromkin covered this same ground in his prophetically titled A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East.
Naeim Giladi: Ben-Gurion's Scandals: How the Haganah and the Mossad Eliminated Jews (paperback, 2003, Dandelion): Written by an Iraqi Jew, whose starting point was the desire to expose how the Mossad orchestrated the transfer of Iraqi Jews to Israel, which among other things involved promoting the threat of Arab pogroms to motivate Jews to immigrate to Israel. I've never seen much detail about this history, although there is no doubt that Ben-Gurion was ruthless in pursuing his demographic goals, ranging from negotiating with the Nazis to deliver Jews to organizing Mossad to penetrate the Arab world to ordering the expulsion of Palestinians during the 1948 war.
David Hirst: Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East (2010, Nation Books): Previously wrote The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East, originally published in 1977 and revised for a third ed. in 2003, mostly about the Israel-Palestine conflict, which has repeatedly overflowed into Lebanon -- in 1978, in 1982 followed by a partial occupation that lasted until 1999, and again in 2006. It would be hard to improve on Robert Fisk's Pity the Nation for the 1980s period, but there's much to add since then.
Robert Jervis: Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons From the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War (2010, Cornell University Press): It always amuses me that they call this intelligence. More like scattered and imperfect information, some deliberately falsified, selected and distorted through all sorts of cultural and intentional filters. In particular, intelligence rarely argues against desired acts, no matter how foolhardy they're retrospectivally recognized as. Plenty of examples here. Jervis evidently wrote the Iran section up while working for the CIA thirty years ago. Don't know if that's a plus or a minus.
Robert Kuttner: A Presidency in Peril: The Inside Story of Obama's Promise, Wall Street's Power, and the Struggle to Control Our Economic Future (2010, Chelsea Green): After rushing out his campaign hype, Obama's Challenge: America's Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency, Kuttner owes us a revisit on the many ways Obama has failed to achieve (or even much attempt) anything like what Kuttner envisioned. Maybe those of us who bought the earlier book should get some sort of price break on the new one?
George Lipsitz: Midnight at the Barrelhouse: The Johnny Otis Story (2010, University of Minnesota Press): An old friend and mentor, long since disconnected -- was it something I said about his plunge into academia, or was I right that it made us non-academics irrelevant? First I ever heard of Johnny Otis was when George played "Signifying Monkey" for me -- took me years to find that on CD (Ace's 2002 twofer, Cold Shot/Snatch and the Poontangs) -- which makes him an expert in my book. Otis was Greek by birth but "black by persuasion" at a time when that was a tough proposition. Lipsitz wrote the introduction to the 2009 reprint of Otis's book, Listen to the Lambs.
Edward N Luttwak: Virtual American Empire: War, Faith, and Power (paperback, 2009, Transaction): Essay collection from a military theorist who once wrote something called Coup D'État: A Practical Handbook, and has lately turned into one of the more obnoxious op-ed warmongers around. [Although he seems to have turned against Afghanistan.]
Martha C Nussbaum: Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (2010, Princeton University Press): Short (178 pp) broadside. I don't doubt that the basic premise is true, although I've always been turned off by those who presume to judge what humanities to teach, and I've sometimes suspected that their choices were meant to turn me off. Author has a fairly long list of prior books, like Cultivating Humanity: A Classica Defense of Reform in Liberal Education (1997) and Hiding From Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (2004).
Daniel Okrent: Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (2010, Scribner): Seems like a topic that has been ripe for a comprehensive history. Probably worth a second book to look at drug prohibition in the same context. One thing I'm fascinated by is how flexible and open to change most people were in the 1930s. The chances that one could go from a consensus big enough to pass a constitutional amendment to one big enough to repeal it in a mere 13 years seems inconceivable now. It's not even clear we'll get out of Afghanistan (or for that matter Iraq) so soon.
David W Orr: Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse (2009, Oxford University Press): Another global warming book, from a founder of the Presidential Climate Action Project (where the President seems to be hypothetical, but they were hopeful about Obama, and have another book: William S Becker: The 100 Day Action Plan to Save the Planet: A Climate Crisis Solution for the 44th President).
Clifford A Pickover: The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension, 250 Milestones in the History of Mathematics (2009, Sterling): There was a day when I mostly read pop science, making up for the path I didn't take (thanks to Willard Brooks, I might add, the world's most uninspiring science teacher), and this would have been an automatic purchase (probably right after Simon Singh's matching The Science Book, which has the advantage of already being out in paperback). Pickover has a large number of previous math books. Most strike me as trashy -- like: The Alien IQ Test; Calculus and Pizza: A Cookbook for the Hungry Mind; The Mathematics of Oz: Mental Gymnastics From Beyond the Edge; and Sex, Drugs, Einstein, & Elves: Sushi, Psychedelics, Parallel Universes and the Quest for Transcendence -- but this looks like a touchstone.
Andrew Potter: The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves (2010, Harper): Living in a world where nearly everything is prepackaged, artificial, fraudulent, fake, we have developed a craving for something else, like authenticity -- a strawman Potter has fun ripping to shreds. Which leaves us with, like, what?
William Poundstone: Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It) (2010, Hill and Wang): Looks like a book about pricing and all the weird psychology wrapped up with prices. Author has written a bunch of books, many focusing on game theory.
Bill Press: Toxic Talk: How the Radical Right Has Poisoned America's Airwaves (2010, Thomas Dunne): So true, but Press, who has a bunch of anti-conservative books like Bush Must Go: The Top Ten Reasons Why George Bush Doesn't Deserve a Second Term, has never struck me as someone who knows things I don't already know.
Raghuram G Rajan: Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy (2010, Princeton University Press): Not sure how I missed this in the banking crisis book roundup -- perhaps that I was growing weary of Chicagoans? Rajan chases the causes back past the industry shenanigans to stagnant wages and rising inequality, for which easy debt was necessarily only a short-term paliative. This at least is a key insight.
Ruth Reichl: For You, Mom, Finally (paperback, 2010, Penguin Press): Short (144 pp) semi-memoir, actually a reprint of last year's Not Becoming My Mother: And Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way. This presumably adds to Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, the first of three delightful memoirs with recipes that traced her life up to leaving the New York Times and landing at Gourmet.
Matt Ridley: The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (2010, Harper): Science writer, wrote a biography of Francis Crick and several books on genetic evolution, including a couple that veer toward sociobiology (The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture and The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation). Draws on past successes, which are undeniable, to project a future where we will solve all our problems for the benefit of everyone. Sounds like cornucopianism; indeed, Amazon links this to Julian Simon's The State of Humanity and Indur Goldany's The Improving State of the World (Cato Institute), which are mostly ruses of denial, but there is something to be said for Ridley's tack.
Michael C Ruppert: Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World (paperback, 2009, Chelsea Green): If economic growth correlates with energy use on the way up, what happens when we run out of our primary source of energy, oil? A lot of unpleasant options, which I'm sure Ruppert manages to lay out. More troubling to me is how we decide among those options, given a political system that stifles reasonable public-interest options and has trouble choosing, even debating, anything. Turned this into a video, Collapse.
Randall Sandke: Wher the Dark and the Light Folks Meet: Race and the Mythology, Politics, and Business of Jazz (2010, Scarecrow Press): Randy to his friends and fans, plays some serious trumpet on several dozen good-to-great records, including examinations of Bix Beiderbecke -- he named his son Bix -- and Count Basie. Tackles the nasty issue of race, which runs deep in every aspect of jazz history except for the music, which pretty much transcended race, and pointed the way so we could too.
Juliet B Schor: Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (2010, Penguin Press): This looks to sum up where her series of books have been headed: The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need, and Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture. In between she's thought about sustainability, but the key there has less to do with efficiency than in deciding when enough's enough. Fortunately, if we can just cut back on the overspending and overworking we may find plenitude is an easy reach.
Clay Shirky: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (2010, Penguin Press): Follow up to his book on social networking tools, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Cognitive surplus reflects the fact that "we've had a surfeit of intellect, energy, and time" for a while now but had mostly been squandering it on passive media like television, but now all that resource is starting to turn productive with the internet.
Lee Smith: The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations (2010, Knopf): Middle East correspondent for the neocon Weekly Standard, argues that tensions and strife in the Middle East have more to do with internal politics than anything that the US and/or Israel does. That would be more plausible if the US and/or Israel did less to distort the region, but I don't see how you can say that. Which isn't to say that internal dynamics are irrelevant; just that the terrain is severely distorted by the US and Israel.
Steven Solomon: Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization (2010, Harper): Global history, going back to the early river civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia, forward to the Panama Canal and the big dam on the cover. Sounds like too much ground, but reminds me of Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, a more delimited story that still qualifies for its epic struggles.
Joseph E Stiglitz/Amartya Sen/Jean-Paul Fitoussi: Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn't Ad Up (paperback, 2010, New Press): Report of a commission set up by French president Nicolas Sarkozy. The limits and follies of using GDP to gauge anything meaningful about human welfare should be obvious to anyone giving it the least thought.
TJ Stiles: The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (paperback, 2010, Vintage): Big (736 pp) bio of the original robber baron. Author has previous wrote about lesser crooks, like Jesse James.
Yuki Tanaka/Marilyn B Young, eds: Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth-Century History (2009, New Press): Wonder if there's a postscript on the 21st century, where bombing civilians has been practiced with remarkable frequency if not quite the intensity of 20th century peak periods.
Evan Thomas: The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898 (2010, Little Brown): If this is limited to 1898, that would be the Spanish-American War, where the US "liberated" Cuba and snatched Puerto Rico and the Philippines from Spain. Roosevelt is associated with the war as a Rough Rider fighting in Cuba, but he wasn't a professional soldier before or after the war, more like a politically ambitious blowhard. And the principals here didn't stop loving war after 1898: Roosevelt in particular pursued it avidly as president, and all three pitched in to drag us into the World War. This was a fateful moment, although one should also look at those who opposed the war and ultimately managed to muddle if not to defeat the imperial program.
Geoffrey Wawro: Quicksand: America's Pursuit of Power in the Middle East (2010, Penguin Press): Author of generic books on The Austro-Prussian War and The Franco-Prussian War, some kind of figure on History Channel, Wawro attempts a broad-based, systematic account of America's involvement in the Middle East. Sees the relationships with Saudi Arabia and Israel has key, and everything else as complication, of which there is quite a lot.
Richard Whittle: The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey (2010, Simon & Schuster): This gets likened to Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine for how it follows engineers in developing a product, but it should be much weirder given that the product is a vertical takeoff jet for the Marines and that the consequences of errors include deaths, and not just of those targeted by the Marines. Your tax money at work.
The Worldwatch Institute: State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability (paperback, 2010, WW Norton): DC-based think tank stakes out their position, as they've done every year since 1984.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Greg Grandin: Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City (2009; paperback, 2010, Picador): The peculiar story of Henry Ford's rubber plantation in the Amazon, an example of imposing your fancies on nature and watching it all backfire. Possibly also a prism into a lot of related topics, such as America's imperious relationship to Latin America and Ford's own fervent belief in mechanics.
Philip Longman: Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours (2007; 2nd ed, paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press): Of the several health care systems (and non-systems) we juggle in America, the Veterans Administration is the cheapest, produces the best results, in other words is the most socialist. It was radically overhauled under Clinton putting conscientious professionals in charge, and stressed but survived under Bush. Longman sees it as a model for a real "public option."
Idith Zertal/Akiva Eldar: Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 (2007; paperback, 2009, Nation Books): The history of the Israeli settler movement, focuses on Gush Emunim and the religio-political baggage that makes the settlements seem so intractable.
Tom Zoellner: Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock That Shaped the World (2009, Viking; paperback, 2010, ?): Science, history, politics -- mostly history, probably more on mining and processing than on the supposedly clean energy and terrifying power the rock releases. Previously wrote The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire.
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
The author does not allow comments to this entry