Tuesday, June 21. 2011
Sorry for backdating, but I had this almost ready to run on Tuesday, but got distracted that day, then wound up spending most of Wednesday in the hospital emergency room undergoing cardiac tests. Seems to have been a false alarm, but a painful one. However, since I had already moved these book notes to the notebook, it makes more sense to post them on the blog on the planned date than to shove them around.
I run these whenever I get enough collected, where enough is 40 new books. All the past ones are collected in one huge file here -- the one file is handy for me lest I write up redundant notes.
Sami Al Jundi/Jen Marlowe: The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian's Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Marlowe is a documentary filmmaker who has previously done work, including a book spinoff, on Darfur. Al Jundi is a Palestinian who spent 10 years in Israeli prison after a bomb he was working on misfired. Book documents his education in prison, his turn away from violence toward peaceable protest. Takes more than one to make peace, though.
Daniel Altman: Outrageous Fortunes: The Twelve Surprising Trends That Will Reshape the Global Economy (2011, Henry Holt): I wouldn't bother mentioning this futuristic speculation except that Altman previously wrote Neoconomy: George Bush's Revolutionary Gamble With America's Future (2004), which proved to be pretty scarry.
HW Brands: American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism 1865-1900 (2010, Doubleday): Historian, writes a lot of big books about politics and business -- I've read two recently, his biography of FDR (Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delany Roosevelt) and his postwar survey (American Dreams: The United States Since 1945) and find him to be a fair high-level chronicler. I expect this to be fair and comprehensive as well, but not to have quite as much edge as Jack Beatty: Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900, which covers the same years and doesn't scrimp on the downside.
Lawrence D Brown/Lawrence R Jacobs: The Private Abuse of the Public Interest: Market Myths and Policy Muddles (paperback, 2008, University of Chicago Press): Short book questioning conservative efforts to expand markets, showing that policy makers need "to recognize that properly functioning markets presuppose the government's ability to create, sustain, and repair them over time."
Bill Bryson, ed: Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, and the Genius of the Royal Society (2010, William Morrow): A collection of new essays retelling the 350 year history of the Royal Society of London, from its founding in 1660 by some chap named Isaac Newton.
Jennet Conant: A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS (2011, Simon & Schuster): Fourth in a series of WWII-era studies into security-issue people, starting with J. Robert Oppenheimer. The Childs became famous much later for reasons having little to do with the OSS, and they actually seem to be minor here -- most of the book delves into Jane Foster, but that would make for a less intriguing book title.
David T Courtwright: No Right Turn: Conservative Politics in a Liberal America (2010, Harvard University Press): Argues that there has been no conservative triumph with Reagan and Bush, that they (like Nixon) repeatedly compromised conservative values to get ahead. I'm not sure that labelling the mess they did leave as liberal does us much good. They certainly did something.
Gerald F Davis: Managed by the Markets: How Finance Re-Shaped America (2009, Oxford University Press): Contrasts periods of financial and managerial capitalism, where the latter builds things and the former steals you blind. One reviewer wrote: "as compact and clear a description of how we screwed up a fine economy as you will find."
Kenneth S Deffeyes: When Oil Peaked (2010, Hill & Wang): Geologist, first came to my attention searching for gold in John McPhee's Basin and Range, but has since become more notable as the serious geologist behind the peak oil controversy. Wrote Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage in 2001, followed that up with Beyond Oil: The View From Hubbert's Peak in 2005. With the economic churn of the last decade, it hasn't been clear just when oil production peaked, or whether it might peak again in the future, but Deffeyes argues for 2005. Book does seem kind of thin.
Darren Dochuk: From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (2010, WW Norton): Looks like Billy Graham on the cover; focus seems to be on Southern California, which swept up a lot of Bible Belt refugees. Seems like a substantial history, as much of the right as of the evangelicals (won Allan Nevins prize).
Geoffrey Dunn: The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind
Her Relentless Quest for Power (2011, St Martin's Press):
Gambling on her relevance and trying to get out early, at least ahead
of nosy neighbor Joe McGinniss's The Rogue: Searching for the Real
Sarah Palin. Lies? Is she really coherent enough for that? Some
less ambitious books might do just as well: Malia Litman: The
Geoff Dyer: Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews (paperback, 2011, Graywolf): A protege of John Berger's, as incisive a critic as I've ever read, and author of an idiosyncratic jazz book (But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz) I got quite a bit out of, with 432 pp of previously published essays. Sounds like a good idea, but I also bought his previous essay collection, Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It and never got past the first one.
Orlando Figes: The Crimean War: A History (2011, Metropolitan Books): A big history of a small war, remarkable for its indication of how the technology of war had developed during the 19th century when European armies rarely fought each other. One might have drawn the conclusion that World War would be a bad idea, but Europe's empires were in full swagger, unable to learn anything.
John Bellamy Foster/Bret Clark/Richard York: The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Environment (paperback, 2010, Monthly Review Press): Pretty hefty book (544 pp) just to blame it all on capitalism, but Foster's been working this line of inquiry for quite some time.
Chris Hedges: The World as It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress (2011, Nation Books): Short, unhappy pieces -- someone describes them as sermons, and the former divinity student cops to the charge -- written 2006-10 and published on TruthDig.com. "It's Not Going to Be OK," "The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free," "Liberals Are Useless," "A Culture of Atrocity," "War Is Sin," "War Is a Hate Crime," "No One Cares" -- sample chapters. One I read was less lofty: about a guy charged with stealing $9, held in jail two years before trial, acquitted of all charges, left with $12,000 in debts and no job or prospects.
Steven Hill: Europe's Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age (paperback, 2010, University of California Press): The Soviet sphere has been taken as proof positive that one form of socialism -- centralized state-commanded economies -- was dysfunctional, why do we still deny the widespread success of capitalist social democracies in north and western Europe? They've managed to solve many of our worst problems in a manner that is both humane and efficient, and when we consider future crises they look to be positioned in much more sustainable ways. Several people have written this basic book, but it's been slow to sink in.
Adam Hochschild: To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (2011, Houghton Mifflin): The so-called Great War, with its mechanized slaughter, utopian rhetoric, and brutal assault on free thought. Focuses on the dispute between those who opposed the war and those who furthered it, especially in Britain, where the former were mostly jailed.
Nathan Hodge: Armed Humanitarians: The Rise of the Nation Builders (2011, Bloomsbury): Journalist on the war beat, seems to have backed into the notion of "nation building" as it has slipped into the Pentagon's counterinsurgency dogma -- as a tactic to prolong stalemated wars; whereas we're more used to "humanitarian intervention" as a political excuse to enter new wars. So I figure this could be more critical, but the military's adoption of the conceit could prove more damaging than ever.
Susan Jacoby: Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age (2011, Pantheon): A less than rosy look at old age these days, and the issues it raises. Tough issues to get clear headed on; not even sure it's worth the effort.
Lawrence M Krauss: Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science (2011, WW Norton): Another bio of the famous physicist, always an entertaining and enlightening subject, fits into the publisher's "Great Discoveries" series, by the author of such semi-unserious books as The Physics of Star Trek.
Greta R Krippner: Capitalizing on Crisis: The Political Origins of the Rise of Finance (2011, Harvard University Press): Argues that the growth of finance since the 1970s was encouraged by politicians trying to solve other problems (e.g., compensating for trade imbalances by encouraging capital inflows), and that one things led to another as opposed to the government being captured by the bankers or anyone having a bright idea.
James Livingston: The World Turned Inside Out: American Thought and Culture at the End of the 20th Century (2009, Rowman & Littlefield): Interesting, far-ranging survey; talks a lot about the conservative thrust, but finds the nation more liberal now than ever before, clinging to a form of socialism few actually admit to. If this sounds confused, well there is that.
Harold McGee: Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to the Best of Foods and Recipes (2010, Penguin): Author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, the first book to make a thorough survey of the science of cooking -- a book I'd say everyone should own. (I read the original when it came out in 1984 and own the revised edition from 2004.) No recipes. Just a lot of condensed expertise, basic rules of thumb.
John J Mearsheimer: Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (2011, Oxford University Press): Short book (160 pp), only so far you can push the analysis when you're a realist; i.e., someone who believes that lying is OK when you get away with it, not so good when you don't.
Branko Milanovic: The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality (2010, Basic Books): Within nations, between nations, around the world, up and down through history, even ventures into fiction.
Walter Mosley: Twelve Steps Toward Political Revelation (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Novelist, mostly mysteries, briefly sketches out some thoughts on politics drawing on 12-step programs.
John Nichols: The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition . . . Socialism (paperback, 2011, Verso): Of course it's short, but not empty. Did you know Horace Greely used to publish a stringer from Europe named Karl Marx? Probably the same author of Dick: The Man Who Is President (2004, New Press).
Robert A Pape/James K Feldman: Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism & How to Stop It (2010, University of Chicago Press): Pape's Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (2005) is the now-standard book on suicide terrorism, so this extends the franchise, adding a defense policy/decision analyst in Feldman. Before he got into suicide, Paper wrote Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (1996, just in time for Kosovo).
Michael Perelman: The Invisible Handcuffs [of Capitalism]: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers (paperback, 2011, Montly Review Press): The title words in brackets aren't evident on the cover scan, but the listed title includes them. Perelman has a long list of interesting left-ish takes on economic matters, including The Confiscation of American Prosperity: From Right Wing Extremism and Economic Ideology to the Next Great Depression, published in 2007 when said depression was iminent. The only system I've ever seen where workers weren't stifled and stunted is the rare case of employee ownership, probably because it's the only one where the interests of owners and workers are fully aligned.
Jack Rakove: Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America (2010, Houghton Mifflin; paperback, 2011, Mariner Books): Covers 1773-92, from the Tea Party to the election of George Washington to his second term as president. Focuses on key figures, the obvious ones and a few more like George Mason and Henry and John Laurens. Won a Pulitzer Prize for his earlier Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution.
Daniel K Richter: Before the Revolution: America's Ancient Past (2011, Harvard University Press): Big, general book on pre-revolution North America, much like Alan Taylor's 2001 American Colonies: The Settling of North America (which I read recently), even down to its short chapters on "progenitors."
Daniel T Rodgers: Age of Fracture (2011, Harvard University Press): Intellectual history in America, tracking how the consensus beliefs of the 1950s fractured into so many shards, leaving an empty space where it is impossible to put coherent groups together again. Something I'm intrinsically suspicious of, which if his point is right is something of a point.
Donald Rumsfeld: Known and Unknown: A Memoir (2011, Sentinel): 832 pages of "snowflakes" -- mental dandruff slicked back with lots of Brylcreem. Slightly less disingenuous (but no briefer) is Bradley Graham: By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld (2009; paperback, 2010, Public Affairs). Finally available in paperback (to cash in on the excitement of the new memoir, no doubt): Andrew Cockburn: Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy (2007; paperback, 2011, Scribner).
Dominic Sandbrook: Mad as Hell: The Crisis of the 1970s and the Rise of the Populist Right (2011, Knopf): One more in a string of recent books trying to blame Reagan and the 1980s on all sorts of messes in the 1970s ("America's humiliating defeat in Vietnam, an uptick in serious crime, economic malaise, rising fuel costs, environmental degradation, the Iranian hostage crisis, and an overall breakdown in respect for institutions, among others"). Most of that makes little sense, but it might be worth giving more consideration to Jimmy Carter's prefiguring of Reagan -- the outsider promise, the moralism, the lack of commitment to the party base, the ineffectual embrace of conservative motifs from deregulation to anti-Soviet demagoguery. Sandbrook, a British historian, also recently wrote the even larger (768 pp) State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain, 1970-1974 (2010, Allen Lane), and the previous Eugene McCarthy: And the Rise and Fall of Postwar American Liberalism (2004; paperback, 2005, Anchor).
Tom Segev: Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends (2010, Doubleday): A biography of the famous Nazi hunter, which entails sorting out various "legends" -- remarkable stories, some true and some inventions.
David K Shipler: The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties (2011, Knopf): Big book on how waging war against crime and terrorism has eroded civil rights we used to take for granted.
Jason E Stearns: Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa (2011, Public Affairs): Another book on the vast destruction in the Congo -- coverage had long been scarce, even compared to the better publicized Rwanda genocide that was something of a side show to the Congo, but we now have a handful of books like Gerard Prunier's Africa's World War.
Alan Taylor: The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels & Indian Allies (2010, Alfred A Knopf): A substantial history on what's sometimes considered America's weirdest war, declared over shipping conflicts but effectively a war to firm up America's borders, most significantly the one that doomed the Indians. Taylor has always been one historian you could count on not to count out the Indians, nor is it surprising that he would factor in recent Irish immigration.
Alex von Tunzelmann: Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder, and the Cold War in the Caribbean (2011, Henry Holt). Author's first book was Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire which focused a bit too narrowly on the Mountbattens in the partition of India. Here she jumps to the other side of the globe, picking up the CIA and its various targets -- not just Castro but Duvalier and Trujillo, neither Red but more trouble than they were worth.
Sarah Vowell: Unfamiliar Fishes (2011, Riverhead): A history of Hawaii, at least from the point American missionaries showed up to the American takeover in 1898, and then some -- seems to have a thing or two on favorite son Barack Obama. I reckon the missionary focus seems like a logical extension from her previous book, The Wordy Shipmates, on the New England puritans.
R Christopher Whalen: Inflated: How Money and Debt Built the American Dream (2010, Wiley): Even before the mortgage scams of the early 2000s, Americans lived on the expectation of inflation, which would among other things allow them to pay back debt cheaper; moreover, the government rarely paid today for what it could borrow and pay back later. Bankers take a dim view of this, and politicians can get all demagogic about it, but it's hard to see how else it all could work out -- the main alternatives to debt and inflation are redistribution and/or bankruptcy.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Anthony Bourdain: Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook (2010; paperback, 2011, Harper Collins): Scattered writings from the guy who wrote Kitchen Confidential and parlayed it into a TV career traveling around the world, eating, and not cooking. [link]
Tony Judt: Ill Fares the Land (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin): A short tract arguing for the virtues of social democracy, at least when he's not preoccupied with slandering the New Left. [link]
Robert G Kaiser: So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government (2009, Knopf; paperback, 2010, Vintage): A book on the Washington DC lobbying business. Starts with Gerald Cassidy, as good an example as any, at least a relatively innocuous figure compared to Jack Abramoff, who also appears. I read this, wrote some notes and copied down some quotes, then got a letter from the publisher threatening dire consequences if I didn't take it down. Only time that's ever happened, so someone's touchy.
Robert Perkinson: Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire (2010; paperback, 2010, Picador): A history of the US prison system, the world's largest since the Soviet Gulag was shut down, focusing on the South and Texas in particular, where prison labor was seen as the next best thing to slavery. [link]
Geoffrey Wawro: Quicksand: America's Pursuit of Power in the Middle East (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin Books): Sprawling book on US involvement in the Middle East, especially with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Finds lots of problems, deals with them reasonably enough, although I found he missed some details along the way. [link]
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