Saturday, October 16. 2010
Time for another book report. Usual rules: forty listed up top, plus some paperback reissues, plus a new section that flags some future releases. Probably would have done future paperback reissues too if I had been paying more attention earlier. Still holding back some 65 more books, enough for a second post tout de suite, but I've done enough cherrypicking this time the rest can wait. Of the new books, I have Bryson and Hedges on the shelf, and have recent vintage book pages on Junger and Woodward (based on reviews, not on the books).
Tariq Ali: The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad (paperback, 2010, Verso): Cover image shows Obama's face breaking up with Bush's pushing through, an effect you'll recall from The Clash of Fundamentalisms, where the cover blended Bush and Bin Laden. Short (160 pp), probably predictable from a leftist who doesn't see much in liberalism, but also no doubt smart and to the point.
Kwame Anthony Appiah: The Honor code: How Moral Revolutions Happen (2010, WW Norton): Princeton philosophy professor, originally from Ghana, sketches out four cases where widely held moral views shifted over time, tied to changing codes of honor: dueling, Chinese foot binding, Atlantic slave trade, and honor killing in contemporary Pakistan. Previously wrote Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (paperback, 2007, WW Norton).
Dick Armey/Matt Kibbe: Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto (2010, William Morrow): The FreedomWorks astroturfers come out of the shadows to stake their claim on the tea party movement. They certainly feel entitled, although there are other pretenders to the throne, like Joseph Farah: The Tea Party Manifesto, and Charley Gullett: Official Tea Party Handbook: A Tactical Playbook for Tea Party Patriots.
Michael A Bellesiles: 1877: America's Year of Living Violently (2010, New Press): Not the only one, but featuring enough lynchings, homicides, attacks on Indians and striking workers to fill up 400 pages. The nation was mired in a depression, with Reconstruction ending in a deal that gave the presidency to a Republican (Hayes) who got far fewer votes than his Democratic opponent (Tilden). Author previously wrote Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture (2000; paperback, 2001, Vintage), a book still hated by gun nuts for puncturing cherished myths about frontier America.
Arthur C Brooks: The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future (2010, Basic Books): He means the romanticized idea of free enterprise and the draconian idea of big government, not real business and government which actually more often than not are in cahoots. Foreword by Newt Gingrich, which makes this more of a campaign manifesto.
Bill Bryson: At Home: A Short History of Private Life (2010, Doubleday): Back in England, living in a big old house which he tours room by room, tackling a world's worth of history and lore along the way. At 512 pp., I reckon short histories are relative.
Ian Buruma: Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents (2010, Princeton University Press): Short (142 pp) treatise on the use and misuse of religion in politics. Buruma's previous book was Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance, as well as several books on China and Japan, Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany & Japan, and Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies (with Avighai Margalit).
Charles Cockell: Impossible Extinction: Natural Catastrophes and the Supremacy of the Microbial World (2003, Cambridge University Press): Short, expensive, no doubt interesting book on how despite the worst the cosmos, let alone man, can throw at earth bacteria just keep on keeping on.
Jefferson Cowie: Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (2010, New Press): Labor history, with a soundtrack, cultural touchstones like Archie Bunker, probing the question of why the working class gave up their union legacy for goons like Nixon and Reagan. The 1970s are increasingly being viewed as the decade when America lost its way.
Lisa E Davenport: Jazz Diplomacy: Promoting America in the Cold War Era (2009, University Press of Mississippi): Short book (208 pp) on an interesting story. Looks like Dave Brubeck on the cover. Jazz, of course, became very popular around the world, and jazz musicians became much more popular in Europe than they were in the US -- which still didn't do much for the reputation of the US government.
Eric Foner: The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2010, WW Norton): The preeminent historian of the post-Civil War Reconstruction period backs up a bit to look at Lincoln.
Daniel Gordis: Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End (2009, Wiley): Propaganda, "a full-throated call to arms" -- blurb reviewers include Michael Oren, Cynthia Ozick, Natan Sharansky, and Alan Dershowitz -- but even on its own terms, I fail to see any valor in a war that can never end. Indeed, as even the US showed in WWII, the longer we fight the more debased we become. I sometimes wonder if reading such a book might offer some insight I lack, but what else is there other than the founding existential dread of Zionism?
Paul Greenberg: Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food (2010, Penuin): Salmon, tuna, bass, cod. The world's major fisheries are overexploited, and aquaculture is, well, more than a bit messy. Amazon has an interview with Greenberg on the genetically-modified salmon controversy which shows a lot of insight into salmon farming.
Chris Hedges: The Death of the Liberal Class (2010, Nation Books): Most likely another fevered political screed on the deterioration of public morals in American life, continuing a theme from his Empire of Illusion and, for that matter, Losing Moses on the Freeway. The "liberal class" is a vague but juicy target: he identifies five "pillars" -- the press, liberal religious institutions, labor unions, universities, and the Democratic Party. Each has lost authority, especially since the 1960s, and with that their moral high ground, leaving a void that is being filled by all sorts of dangerous nonsense -- the relevant Hedges book there is undoubtedly American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.
Michael Hirsh: Capital Offense: How Washington's Wise Men Turned America's Future Over to Wall Street (2010, Wiley): Covers a couple decades of politically-connected economic thinking, basically the notion that all will be well if only you keep the financial markets happy. That's a mantra that's been followed lavishly and slavishly by presidents of both parties as we've lurched from one burst bubble to another. Newsweek writer, previously wrote At War With Ourselves: Why America Is Squandering Its Chance to Build a Better World (2003; paperback, 2004, Oxford University Press).
Roger D Hodge: The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism (2010, Harper): Found this while searching out right-wing lunatic attacks on Obama, and if you replaced "liberalism" with pretty much anything else this would look like one, but the blurb quotes include Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Barbara Ehrenreich ("should help wake up all those Obama-voters who've been napping while the wars escalate, the recession deepens, and the environment goes straight to hell").
Andrew L Johns: Vietnam Second Front: Domestic Politics, the Republican Party, and the War (2010, University Press of Kentucky): Nixon promised to solve the Vietnam War then kept it going so long the Republicans became the permanent war party. Covers 1961-73, so a big chunk of that time Republicans were in opposition, threatening to burn Johnson if he let down his guard. Wonder how this accords with now, when the Republicans are dead set obstructionists on everything Obama does except Afghanistan, where they have to be careful to keep him on the hook. Looks like Gerald Ford and Melvin Laird on the cover.
Sebastian Junger: War (2010, Twelve): Fighting the "good fight" in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, glorying in the cult of "rough men"; he frets over nearly getting blown up by an IED, while casually documenting the decimation of rural villages. Previously wrote the equally exclamatory Fire, and was responsible for the now-notorious cliché, The Perfect Storm.
Rhoda Ann Kanaaneh: Surrounded: Palestinian Soldiers in the Israeli Military (2008, Stanford University Press): This looks at the small number (about 3,000) of Palestinian citizens of Israel who volunteer to serve in Israel's military.
Efraim Karsh: Palestine Betrayed (2010, Yale University Press): Israeli historian, usually one that can be depended on to sculpt history to fit Israel's nationalist narrative. Not sure how this plays out, but a long litany of how Palestinian leaders disserved their people by opposing the creation of the Jewish State. Past books include: Islamic Imperialism: A History, Arafat's War: The Man and His Battle for Israeli Conquest, Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography, and his hatchet job on Israel's "new historians," Fabricating Israeli History.
David Kilcullen: Counterinsurgency (paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): Australian COIN consultant, wrote The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One, which could be read as reason not to, but for the author business is booming -- no surprise for someone who can write "Measuring Progress in Afghanistan" with a straight face, or update Lawrence of Arabia's 27 articles to a full 28.
Arthur B Laffer/Stephen Moore: Return to Prosperity: How America Can Regain Its Economic Superpower Status (2009, Threshold): A quick about face after warning of certain doom in his recession-timed The End of Prosperity: How Higher Taxes Will Doom the Economy -- If We Let It Happen. Laffer has one of those names like legendary toilet inventor Thomas Crapper. Laffer was responsible for the back-of-the-envelope calculations that led to the Reagan tax cut, justifying it on grounds that turned out to be flat out wrong. As far as I can tell, he's never been right since. So laff it off, or cry.
Jill Lepore: The Whites of Their Tyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History (2010, Princeton Unversity Press): A well-regarded historian of late colonial/revolutionary America (The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity, New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, an Conspiracy in Eighteen-Century Manhattan) takes a look at the historical assertions of Tea Party ideologues -- claims that the Founding Fathers hated centralized government, weren't serious about church-state separation, etc.
Ussama Makdisi: Faith Misplaced: The Broken Promise of U.S.-Arab Relations: 1820-2008 (2010, Public Affairs): One of several recent long histories of the US in the Middle East, probably more solid on the early period which the author covered in more detail in Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East (2008; paperback, 2009, Cornell University Press).
Istvan Meszaros: The Structural Crisis of Capital (paperback, 2010, Monthly Review Press): A Marxist take on the current state of the economy, by a Yugoslav philosopher still optimistic over the prospects for socialism.
Dana Milbank: Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America (2010, Doubleday): A portrait of the broadcaster/book entrepreneur as "a sad, troubled, and dangerous extremist crackpot who is validating and feeding paranoid delusions of millions of Americans" (as an Amazon reviewer puts it). Looks to be more melodramatic than Alexander Zaitchik's competing book: Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance.
Michael Jason Overstreet: 71 Days: The Media Assault on Obama (paperback, 2009, BookSurge): Amazon reviews are evenly split between 5 and 1 stars, the latter coming from cons who take it as an article of faith that the media foisted Obama on an unsuspecting nation -- Bernard Goldberg pitched this line in his A Slobbering Love Affair: The True (and Pathetic) Story of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream Media. This is a day-by-day journal watching the media spin their stories on Obama from the opening of the Democratic Party convention to election day. I suspect that what this shows is media bias less for either candidate than for the stupid and the trivial, which come to think of it is bias against Obama.
Jeff Potter: Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food (paperback, 2010, O'Reilly): Computer book publisher, also responsible for things like Make magazine (or journal?). Lots of sidebars, a few recipes, basic science and some interesting details, a lot of practical advice. Looks like my kind of book.
John Quiggin: Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us (2010, Princeton University Press): Australian economist, has an occasional blog I sometimes look at and much admire. The endless recirculation of economic ideas that not only don't work but are flat-out evil is, well, that's why they call it political economy. No doubt covers much of the same territory as recent important books by John Cassidy: How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities and Yves Smith: Econned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism, but should go for the kill instead of just pointing out economic absurdities.
Robert Reich: Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future (2010, Knopf): Trendy liberal. I figure this is a necessary course correction after calling his last book was Supercapitalism. That is, it's not looking so super now.
Heather Rogers: Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy Is Undermining the Environmental Revolution (2010, Scribners): I think the point here is that "green businesses" are more business than green, leading to a lot of activity that has little net (or even good) effect on the environment. Sections on food, shelter, transportation. Rogers previously wrote Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, about how garbage never really goes away.
Paul Ryan/Eric Cantor/Kevin McCarthy: Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders (paperback, 2010, Threshold Editions): Some title to apply to your own book, but I suppose it polled better among their target audience than Swinging Dicks. McCarthy ("the strategist") doesn't look so young with all that gray hair; but then Ryan ("the thinker") can't read, much less construct, a roadmap, and Cantor ("the leader") has a brighter future in slapstick comedy.
Anthony Shaffer: Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan and the Path to Victory (2010, Thomas Dunne): Lt. Col., claims he was on the verge of destroying the Taliban in their safe havens in Pakistan until the military bureaucracy got wind of what he was up to and fucked it all up. How he managed to do all that in a five month tour isn't clear, but he called his group the Jedi Knights and has been called "the real Jack Bauer." The book evidently dates from 2003, so none of this is recent history. That it's only coming out now is due to the Pentagon insisting on censoring the book, buying up the original printing and forcing various changes. As I understand it, you can find the redacted bits somewhere or other.
Jeff Sharlet: C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy (2010, Little Brown): Follows up on his earlier The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (2008, Harper). C Street House is a conclave in DC ("where piety, politics, and corruption meet") that was recently home for KS Senator-designate Jerry Moran, among others. I make it a point not to begrudge other folks' religion, but I do find this stuff seriously creepy. Before Sharlet honed in on DC, he co-wrote (with Peter Manseau) a road book seeking out the weirdos of American religion: Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible (2003; paperback, 2004, Free Press), which Sharlet and Manseau have returned to in their anthology: Believer Beware: First-Person Dispatches From the Margins of Faith (paperback, 2009, Beacon Press).
Rob Sheffield: Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut (2010, Dutton): One of the more successful, probably because he's one of the better, rock critics of his generation, which unfortunately was the one that grew up in the 1980s, about the only excuse anyone has yet come up with for taking Duran Duran seriously. Turned out a previous book, Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time. Were I still in my twenties, I'd be reading him like I read Paul Williams and Ed Ward back when I actually was. Hard to find time now.
Paul Street: The Empire's New Clothes: Barack Obama and the Real World of Power (paperback, 2010, Paradigm): Formerly with Urban League in Chicago, previously wrote Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics, now has a chance to see what Obama as president is really like -- far short of any sort of progressive agenda he might have imagined.
Richard Toye: Churchill's Empire: The World That Made Him and the World He Made (2010, Henry Holt): Churchill lived from 1874-1965, roughly from the pinnacle of the British Empire through its final demise, and he did more than hardly anyone else both to foolishly perpetuate the empire and to manifest the need to dismantle it. He tends to be idolized, especially in America where conceits about empire are still if not quite cherished at least discretely ignored, so anything that helps tie empire and Churchill together is welcome. Other recent Churchilliana: Max Hastings: Winston's War: Churchill 1940-1945 (2010, Knopf); Richard Holmes: Churchill's Bunker: The Cabinet War Rooms and the Culture of Secrecry in Wartime London (2010, Yale University Press); Barbara Learning: Churchill Defiant: Fighting On: 1945-1955 (2010, Harper); Madhusree Mukerjee: Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II (2010, Basic Books); and, and couple years back, Carlo D'Este: Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945 (2008, Harper).
Francis Wheen: Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Days of Paranoia (2010, Public Affairs): On the cover: Nixon, Brezhnev, Idi Amin, maybe Mao (much smaller); lots of fringe politics, some terror, distrations like UFOs, movies like Jaws, lots of stuff to make no sense of.
Sean Wilentz: Bob Dylan in America (2010, Doubleday): Eminent historian, wrote the monumental The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln and the somewhat lesser The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2008. Not sure if this is a lark or a flight of fancy since it doesn't make sense to me as a prism, but at 400 pp. he may give it a fling. Probably better than Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010 (2010, Public Affairs), due out Oct. 19.
Bob Woodward: Obama's Wars (2010, Simon & Schuster): Another insider-ish, who's fighting with whom, tome in Woodward's neverending series -- his four volumes on Bush are Bush at War, Plan of Attack: The Definitive Account of the Decision to Invade Iraq, State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III, and The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008. I occasionally wonder whether I should take the time to dig through these books for their occasional revelations -- the best documentation I've seen of Bush's initial post-9/11 belligerence comes from Bush at War -- but Woodward's fawning court reporter style is a turn-off. The big revelation here appears to be the CIA's assassination squad operating in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Max Blumenthal: Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party (2009; paperback, 2010, Nation Books): Focuses on right-wing religious leaders and their sugar daddy patrons, while scarcely letting a sex scandal get away. There is far more wrong with the GOP than the slime covered here, but the book gives you a good whiff. [link]
Juan Cole: Engaging the Muslim World (2009; paperback, 2010, Palgrave Macmillan): A brief tour through the Middle East, by the foremost blogger on Iraq and Iran. Revised and updated from the hardcover version I read last year. [link]
Chris Hedges: Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009; paperback, 2010, Nation Books): Hard-hitting screed on the moral decline of America. [link]
Bethany Moreton: To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (2009; paperback, 2010, Harvard University Press): Not the first writer to recognize religion as the opiate of the masses, but a detailed case study showing that there's more to Wal-Mart than smart inventory management, shopping for cheap goods in China, and busting unions.
Future new releases:
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