Wednesday, July 14. 2010
Another batch of book notes, starting to drain the backlog I had accumulated before my last post on June 25. Doesn't include a couple of eagerly awaited forthcoming books: Andrew Bacevich: Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (Aug. 3), and Chalmers Johnson: Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope (Aug. 17). I've pre-ordered both.
Joseph Adler: R in a Nutshell: A Desktop Quick Reference (paperback, 2009, O'Reilly): Presumably R is a free software version of S, a very sophisticated programming language for statistics that was developed at Bell Labs back around 1975. [Yes, see here and here.] Big (640 pp), pricey ($49.95), most likely worthwhile if you use it a lot. I think I'd like to dabble, but haven't figured out how to break through. (I do have an ancient S manual but never could afford the software. I may even still have a videotape on a later commercial implementation of S Plus.)
Dean Baker: Taking Economics Seriously (2010, Boston Review Books): A prolific author of short books, one more (136 pp), a basic primer, probably suffices for Econ 101, but he focuses on especially relevant ideas. In particular, he pushes for marginal cost pricing, which would take a lot of hot air out of medical costs.
Gary S Becker/Richard A Posner: Uncommon Sense: Economic Insights, from Marriage to Terrorism (2009, University of Chicago Press): Mostly uncommon because it's mostly wrong. Leading ideologues of the rational expectations cult reason their way through all sorts of ordinary quandries. I read one section on CEO pay and found that it wasn't even wrong because it never got to a conclusion that could be disproved.
Peter Beinart: The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris (2010, Harper): Another sermon on why bad things happen to good countries, this one featuring Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, and George W. Bush -- three presidents who led us into regretted wars with high-minded rhetoric. In some ways that cuts Bush too much slack, reflected by Beinart's enthusiasm for the Iraq War -- a mistake, Beinart admits, but one good enough to fuel his first book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War on Terror. (He was on to something there with the implicit realization that conservatives like Bush couldn't do the right things, but failed to recognize that the only way you "win" a war is by keeping it from happening.)
Adam J Berinsky: In Time of War: Understanding American Public Opinion from World War II to Iraq (paperback, 2009, University of Chicago Press): Tries to make sense out of public opinion poll data going back to the US entry into WWII. Claims a lot of continuity between prewar and war fever attitudes, but I don't quite see how that works.
Tom Bissell: Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter (2010, Pantheon): I've read two historically significant travel books by him (Chasing the Sea and The Father of All Things) so tend to take him seriously, much more so than his subject this time, which I tend to find abhorent.
Howard Bloom: The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism (2009, Prometheus Books): Big (607 pp), sprawling jumble of everything connected to everything else, but mostly to capitalism past, present, and future. Spent some time working in PR before wandering into quasi-science books; previously wrote The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From the Big Band to the 21st Century. Could be interesting, could be nuts, or both.
Mark Philip Bradley/Marilyn B Young, eds: Making Sense of the Vietnam Wars: Local, National, and Transnational Perspectives (paperback, 2008, Oxford University Press): Eleven essays on various aspects of the war, including some from Vietnamese perspectives.
HW Brands: American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (2010, Penguin): Big subject, succinct at 432 pp. Author has written biographies on Ben Franklin, Andrew Jackson, and both Roosevelts -- I read the latter, A Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and found he did a good job of managing his space, neatly tying up two parts that I had recently read detailed books on. Read a few pages of this book, on Nixon and Watergate, where he quickly got to the point and got the main points -- not that I wouldn't have preferred more venom.
John Broven: Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock 'n' Roll Pioneers (2010, University of Illinois Press): Big book (640 pp), based on 100 interviews with industry makers and shakers. Author is a consultant to Ace Records in the UK, high up on the list of reissue labels I wish would send me records.
Nicholas Carr: The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (2010, WW Norton): Well, something is making us stupid(er), so why not blame the Internet? The thesis is that constant stimulation shortens attention span leading to shallow thinking, but that seems equally or even more true of other media, e.g. radio and television. I'd say that the worst thing about web pages is how so many attempt to emulate television. I suppose you can blame the net for making stupid people louder, but that's, well, if not democracy at least levelling, which is a price we (more/less gladly) pay for access.
Harvey G Cohen: Duke Ellington's America (2010, University of Chicago Press): Big biography of Ellington (720 pp), 1899-1974, with sideward glances at the country that change around him.
Tyler Cowen: Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World (2009, Dutton): Economist/blogger turns out a jumbled book of future think related somehow to autism -- Temple Grandin seems to understand what he's up to, but I don't. But then I've never been much impressed by his economics blog.
Elizabeth Fox Genovese/Eugene D Genovese: Slavery in White and Black: Class and Race in the Southern Slaveholders' New World Order (paperback, 2008, Cambridge University Press): Sums up what started as an innovative Marxist analysis of the slave South and turned into what? -- some kind of celebration of the slaveholders' conservative anticapitalism? I read Genovese early on and he had a big impact on my thinking. I understand he veered far to the right around 1990, but don't know what that was about. This looks much like another late book, The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders' Worldview.
Gary Giddins: Warning Shadows: Home Alone With Classic Cinema (paperback, 2010, WW Norton): Mostly a collection of short DVD reviews. Best known as a jazz critic, Giddins has dabbled in film reviews for quite a while.
Risa L Goluboff: The Lost Promise of Civil Rights (paperback, 2010, Harvard University Press): Argues that before Brown v. Board of Education the civil rights movement was much broader than just a legal challenge to racial discrimination -- that it had a lot to do with economic rights.
Alan Hart: Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, Vol. 3: Conflict Without End (paperback, 2010, Clarity Press): Previous volumes were subtitled The False Messiah (up to 1948) and David Becomes Goliath (1948-1967). This focuses on Israel after 1967, the occupation and its perpetuation of conflict. It's worth noting that each of these periods offered a somewhat different Zionism, with the utopian ideology giving way to the practical politics of dominance and occupation.
Christopher Hitchens: Hitch 22: A Memoir (2010, Twelve): Somehow I have no picture in my mind of Hitchens as a leftist journalist, which he was rumored to be before he got all gonzo and signed up for Bush's Iraq adventure. Since then he's mostly distinguished himself as a noisy atheist and a lout, which makes him a poor example for atheism. Presumably he explains, or more likely exemplifies, this here, not that either strikes me as reason to read further.
Jack Horner/James Gorman: How to Build a Dinosaur: The New Science of Reverse Evolution (2009; paperback, 2010, Plume): Original subtitle: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever. I went through a phase reading a lot of paleontology books, including Horner's Digging Dinosaurs: The Search That Unraveled the Mystery of Baby Dinosaurs. The Jurassic Park angle strikes me as nuts, but Horner's made major contributions to figuring out how dinosaurs functioned, especially advancing the "warm-blooded" hypothesis which I find makes a lot of sense.
Richard B Immerman: Empire for Liberty: A History of American Imperialism From Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz (2010, Princeton University Press): Subtitle reminds me of Sorel's cartoon of the evolution of presidents from FDR on, but this looks to be more episodic, with six figure singled out: Franklin, Henry Seward, Henry Cabot Lodge, John Foster Dulles, and Wolfowitz. Not sure how Franklin qualifies, but in his time expansion was largely conceived as contiguous and homogenizing. Not so with Seward's drive across the Pacific, Lodge's militarization of that drive, or the global megalomania of Dulles and Wolfowitz.
Jon Jeter: Flat Broke in the Free Market: How Globalization Fleeced Working People (2009, WW Norton): Former Washington Post bureau chief for South Africa, offers numerous examples of how globalization has hurt South Africans and others, especially in the third world.
Marilyn Johnson: This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All (2010, Harper Collins): A book about librarians and what's happening to their world as it becomes increasingly digital -- a more complicated and ambiguous story than the wishful subtitle suggests.
Wayne Karlin: Wandering Souls: Journeys With the Dead and the Living in Viet Nam (2009, Nation Books): Starts with a diary a US soldier took off a Vietnamese soldier he killed in 1969, then follows the soldier and diary back to Vietnam to see what he has done. Karlin tags along, writes it up.
Rashid Khalidi: Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (1998; paperback, 2009, Columbia University Press): New introduction to Khalidi's 1998 book on how the Palestinians came to think of themselves as Palestinian -- long the standard book on the subject.
Stephen Kinzer: Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future (2010, Times Books): Not major powers, but not chopped liver either: two nations with about 75 million subjects each, major empires in their pasts, and revolutions which set them apart from the crowd. In other words, nations to be reckoned with if we want to be realistic (which doesn't seem to be the case). Kinzer previously wrote on both countries: Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds and All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.
Gideon Levy: The Punishment of Gaza (paperback, 2010, Verso): Short (160 pp) report on Israel's 2009 assault on Gaza and the policies that led to it, based on 40 weekly columns from Haaretz. One of the most conscientious Israeli journalists working the beat. Several books on Gaza are trickling out, like Norman G Finkelstein's 'This Time We Went Too Far': Truth & Consequences of the Gaza Invasion, James Petras: War Crimes in Gaza and the Zionist Fifth Columin in America, and (scheduled for November) Noam Chomsky/Ilan Pappé: Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel's War Against the Palestinians. (Pappé has a bigger book scheduled further out: The Bureaucracy of Evil: The History of the Israeli Occupation.)
Andrew Moore/Philip Levine: Detroit Disassembled (2010, Damiani/Akron Art Museum): Short (136 pp), expensive coffee table photography book, with photos by Moore and text by Levine. Detroit has become such a symbol for urban collapse that this seems skimpy. Moore has another book, Russia: Beyond Utopia.
Vali Nasr: Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World (2009, Free Press): Uh, more petit bourgeoisie? Bothers me a bit that his prime example is Abu Dhabi, about as representative of the Middle East as Las Vegas is of America.
John M O'Hara: A New American Tea Party: The Counterrevolution Against Bailouts, Handouts, Reckless Spending, and More Taxes (2010, Wiley): Sort of a manifesto and how-to guide, blessed with a foreword by Michelle Malkin. Expect many more books like this.
Naomi Oreskes/Erik M Conway: Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues From Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2010, Bloomsbury Press): The tobacco case must seem like old hat by now, but the authors claim some of the same scientists are now working for energy companies still practicing denialism. The climate change case something else. No doubt paychecks bias analyses, but it would still be useful to see just how that works, especially in cases (unlike marketing) where there is some sense of professional standards. Related: David Michaels: Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health, and Stephen H Schneider: Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save the Earth's Climate.
Sasha Polakcw-Suransky: The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship With Apartheid South Africa (2010, Pantheon): Actually, the whole history of Israel's foreign policy has been to find common cause with fellow colonial settler states, notably the French in Algeria, but also the Afrikaners in South Africa. What's been a secret was the details of Israel's alliance with Apartheid South Africa, especially nuclear proliferation.
Richard A Posner: The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy (2010, Harvard University Press): Further thoughts on A Failure of Capitalism, lest anyone take his criticism of capitalism's failure too literally.
George Prochnik: In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise (2010, Doubleday): Argues that "noise pollution" results in "insomnia, aggression, heart disease, decreased longevity," not to mention annoyance. Lives in New York City, which provides plenty of examples. Reminds me that when I moved to the 23rd floor in Waterside on the East River in NYC, I discovered I had found the only place in Manhattan where I could open the windows and not hear road noise. Now, if only we got ride of those damn helicopters.
Michael Radu: Europe's Ghost: Tolerance, Jihadism, and the Crisis in the West (2010, Encounter Books): Looks like another contribution to Europe's anti-Muslim immigration hysteria, maybe with less of blatant racism than usual, maybe not. The notion that Muslims cannot be assimilated into Europe (or America) is certainly wrong, as is the equation of Islam with Jihad.
Jeremy Rifkin: The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis (2009, Tarcher): I see him described as a "social thinker" -- I guess that means a guy whose imagination is untethered to reality even though he works hard to pretend to be relevant. This one looks to be exceptionally frothy, as evidence by the final chapter titles: The Climb to Global Peak Empathy, The Planetary Entropic Abyss, The Emerging Era of Distributed Capitalism, The Theatrical Self in an Improvisational Society, Biosphere Consciousness in a Climax Economy.
Andrew J Rotter: Light at the End of the Tunnel: A Vietnam War Anthology (3rd ed, paperback, 2010, Rowman & Littlefield): Old history but not inseparable from the present, partly because we never learned the right lessons, partly because the tables have turned on Afghanistan: instead of critics citing Vietnam as a caution against quagmire, now we have generals who again see light at the end of the tunnel precisely because they think Vietnam holds the key to winning counterinsurgent wars.
Ed Schultz: Killer Politics: How Big Money and Bad Politics Are Destroying the Great American Middle Class (2010, Hyperion): TV pundit, started right, now leans left, like most likes to keep it simple and loud: "The middle class, where the greatness of this nation is rooted, is under siege by an increasingly unethical system, managed by economic vampires who are sucking the lifeblood out of the American family and ripping the heart out of democracy itself." Much of that is true enough, but I tend to look at the Middle Class as a mirage -- an intellectual artifice that tries to imbue unionized workers with petit bourgeois values while separating them from the dreaded poor. As with most mirages, it fades on close inspection, but politicians -- like Obama with his "middle class tax cuts" -- still try to work it.
Rachel Shabi: We Look Like the Enemy: The Hidden Story of Israel's Jews from Arab Lands (paperback, 2009, Walker): In 1948, with most of Europe's Jews slaughtered by the Nazis and their Fascist allies, Ben-Gurion attempted to bolster the number of Jews in Israel by getting Jews from Arab countries to move to Israel. Once in Israel, Mizrahi Jews found themselves the butt of discrimination by European Jews and their Sabra descendents, so that's one big thing this book deals with. The more interesting part is how they see themselves fitting into both Israel and the Arab world: I think they tend toward the religious right, but actually I've read very little about them.
Mark Thomas: Belching Out the Devil: Global Adventures with Coca-Cola (paperback, 2009, Nation Books): Author is "a less-than-hilarious BBC comedian" and/or "libertarian anarchist"; he corrects a Coca Cola flack, saying that he's picking on the company not because it's an easy target but because it's a big target. It's also a broad one, doing business in nearly every country, so there are bits on India and Colombia and all over.
Paul Wapner: Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism (2010, MIT Press): Bill McKibben, who coined the "end of nature" meme, contributes a favorable blurb quote. Short (184 pp), like he's trying to make it too simple.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Reza Aslan: Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization (2009; paperback, 2010, Random House): Reprint of How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror, with a more straightforward and self-explanatory title, although I do miss the bit about ending the war. [book page]
Saree Makdisi: Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation (2008; paperback, 2010, WW Norton): Occupation is a word describing an abstract process, one that cannot begin to convey the subtle and pervasive layers of control and manipulation Israel exercises over the Palestinian territories.
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