Wednesday, November 16. 2011
Last one June 21. I figured I was overdue for one of these 2-3 weeks ago. Indeed, without trying very hard I see I have 56 books left in the queue after separting out the 40 below, so I could do one more tomorrow and still have plenty of seed corn. I generally try to find books of possible interest on the current political state, but let my mind wander into other areas that interest me. I'm not very consistent in covering the right's rantings: sometimes I'll come up with something to say, often not. For instance, looking back at my collected book notes, I see that I've only written up one Ann Coulter book -- I guess I was struck by the image of "pro-Obamacare fanatics" rioting in the streets.
Alaa Al Aswany: On the State of Egypt: What Made the Revolution Inevitable (paperback, 2011, Vintage Books): Short book on the revolution in Egypt by a well-known novelist. I expect we will soon be deluged with books on Egypt: recent examples range from Joel Beinin/Frederic Vairel, eds: Social Movements, Mobilization, and Contestation in the Middle East and North Africa (paperback, 2011, Stanford University Press); to Alex Nunns/Nadia Idle, eds: Tweets From Tahrir: Egypt's Revolution as It Unfolded, in the Words of the People Who Made it (paperback, 2011, OR Books).
James R Arnold: The Moro War: How America Battled a Muslim Insurgency in the Philippine Jungle, 1902-1913 (2011, Bloomsbury Press): After the Spanish-American War (1898), after the long bloody fight to put down the Filipino independence movement (1898-1902), a group of Muslims fought on against the American colonizers. This is their story. Also available: Robert A Fulton: Moroland: The History of Uncle Sam and the Moros 1899-1920 (paperback, 2007, Tumalo Creek Press).
Stanley Aronowitz: The Jobless Future (second edition, paperback, 2010, University of Minnesota Press): Originally published in 1994, now "fully updated and with a new introduction": we all know that technology destroys more jobs than it creates, but rather than using it to eliminate workers from the economy we should take a look at the social conditions under which such relief from work would be a blessing.
Jay Bahadur: The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World (2011, Pantheon): Journalist, went to Somalia and worked his way into the pirate havens, met people, talked shop, managed to get out and write a book about it. Probably knows more about the subject than any of us ever will, although I've seen at least one more book that makes a similar claim: Peter Eichstaedt: Pirate State: Inside Somalia's Terrorism at Sea (2010, Lawrence Hill Books); and there are others that approach the subject from a safer distance, like Martin N Murphy: Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money: Piracy and Maritime Terrorism in the Modern World (paperback, 2010, Columbia University Press).
Abhijit V Banerjee/Esther Duflo: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (2011, Public Affairs): What's radical is that it looks at how poor people live, rather than trying to deduce that from economic theory.
Jeremy Ben-Ami: A New voice for Israel: Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish Nation (2011, Palgrave Macmillan): Founder of J Street, a "pro-Israel, pro-peace" lobby meant to challenge right-wing AIPAC. The problem with J Street isn't so much their slavish love for Israel (although that can get to be pretty annoying) as their self-delusion that Israel is in danger of destruction if peace isn't negotiated, whereas Israel has clearly proven that they can fight forever. Indeed, since their identity is so wrapped up in the conflict, one can just as well argue that the only way Israel can continue to be Israel is to keep the fight going: that peace would start some inexorable decay of the Jewish State.
Jimmy Breslin: Branch Rickey (2011, Penguin): Short profile (160 pp), probably focuses on Rickey's tenure with the Dodgers given that Breslin is very much a home-towner. That would leave so much uncovered one almost hopes the book is more about Breslin himself -- one could do worse.
Dick Cheney: In My Life: A Personal and Political Memoir (2011, Threshold Editions): Saw a pile of this in the bookstore recently. The person I was with pointed out it belonged in the true crime section.
Terry Eagleton: Why Marx Was Right (2011, Yale University Press): Longtime Marxist literary critic, from Ireland, kicks back agaisnt the assumption that Marx is irrelevant to the post-Soviet world. Strikes me as an academic argument, not that Marxists haven't had much of value in the critique of capitalism ever since Marx started sorting it out.
Peter Firstbrook: The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family (2011, Crown): Probably an interesting book in its own right; possibly the first such book to trace back the roots of an African family -- I imagine it being somewhat like Ian Frazier's Family, except most likely not as well documented. On the other hand, Barack Obama has always been so far removed from those roots that it's unlikely to shed any light on anything having to do with him or his administration. (Not that Dinesh D'Souza can't hallucinate.)
Thomas L Friedman/Michael Mandelbaum: That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back (2011, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Two of the stupidest people in America -- Friedman needs no introduction; Mandelbaum has written his share of nonsense too, like The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World's Government in the 21st Century and The Frugal Superpower: America's Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era.
John Geyman: Hijacked: The Road to Single Payer in the Aftermath of Stolen Health Care Reform (paperback, 2010, Common Courage Press): Doctor, prominent in PNHP (Physicians for a National Health Program), has written a series of books on how the practice of medicine has been corrupted by corporate interests. Argues that Obama's reform act is just another instance of this.
John Geyman: Breaking Point: How the Primary Care Crisis Endangers the Lives of Americans (paperback, 2011, Copernicus Healthcare): Longtime critic of America's health care racket, a doctor and advocate for single-payer health insurance, turns his attention to the increasingly lost art of primary care.
André Gorz: Ecologica (2010, Seagull Books), and The Immaterial (2010, Seagull Books): Two final books of critical theory by Gorz, who died in 2007. More than any other Marxist critic, Gorz saw the need to transform increased productivity into a shorter working life. I more or less figured that out on the basis of something Paul Sweezy wrote in the 1950s, but Gorz pushed the argument further than anyone else. Also newly available is the second edition of Critique of Economic Reason (1989; 2nd ed, paperback, 2011, Verso).
Rod Hill/Anthony Myatt: The Economics Anti-Textbook: A Critical Thinker's Guide to Microeconomics (paperback, 2010, Zed Books): Picks apart classical micro, most likely by comparing it to the messy reality the models try to abstract from.
J Hoberman: Army Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War (2011, New Press): Longtime Village Voice film critic, goes back to the 1946-56 period in search of demons -- a period of purges and black lists in the movie industry.
Eric Hobsbawm: How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism (2011, Little Brown UK): Intellectual history, with sections on Marx and his period and influence, the struggle against fascism, postwar Marxism, up to the recent. An historian who knows both the period and the lore well.
Russell Jacoby: Bloodlust: On the Roots of Violence From Cain and Abel to the Present (2011, Free Press): Barbara Ehrenreich wrote convincingly on this in 1997 (Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War), but Jacoby seems to stress the fratricidal aspect, extrapolating on to Hutu/Tutsi, etc.
Michio Kaku: Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 (2011, Doubleday): Physics writer, cosmology mostly; as I recall he got into the game with superstring theory, which is about the point when I lost interest in it. But this looks to be mere futurology, a literary genre that has never managed to get anything right.
Michael Kazin: American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation (2011, Knopf): Broad strokes history, but as Andrew Bacevich recently conceded, virtually every beneficial change in American history was advanced by the left and opposed by the right. Kazin's specialty is the populist period and William Jennings Bryan, but he also co-wrote with Maurice Isserman, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s.
David Kirkpatrick: The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World (2010, Simon & Schuster): Insider-ish history of the company and the thinking behind the social network tool.
Lawrence Lessig: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress, and a Plan to Stop It (2011, Twelve): Nothing could be more true. Tries to posit his critique of the corrupting influence of money outside of the right-left axis, but the essential point of the right is their subversion of democracy, which generally puts them in league with the corrupters -- at the very least, they figure the process works more for them than against them, and they're so desperate for power they'll take those odds.
Bernard Lewis: The End of Modern History in the Middle East (2011, Hoover Institute Press): The guy who understands so little about the Middle East that he's frequently consulted by neocons seems to be running out of things to write about.
Michael Lewis: Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World (2011, WW Norton): Travelogues relating to high finance, or mischief, or both. The "new third world" means old first world countries saddled with so much debt they're sinking fast: you know, Greece, Ireland, Iceland, the United States.
Anatol Lieven: Pakistan: A Hard Country (2011, Public Affairs): Financial Times journalist, covered the Chechen Wars. I thought his America Right of Wrong was an uncommonly smart book, but I'm less sure about his coverage of America's terrorism wars. Still, this could be one of the better books on Pakistan, a country that America's political and military leaders cavalierly fuck with but don't begin to understand. Other recent Pakistan books: MJ Akbar: Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan (2011, Harper Collins); Pamela Constable: Playing With Fire: Pakistan at War With Itself (2011, Random House); Imtiaz Gul: The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan's Lawless Frontier (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin Books); Steve Inskeep: Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi (2011, Penguin Books); Maleeha Lodhi, ed: Pakistan: Beyond the "Crisis State" (2011, Cambridge University Press); Iftikhar Malik: Pakistan: Democracy, Terrorism, and the Building of a Nation (paperback, 2010, Olive Tree Press); Bruce Riedel: Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of Global Jihad (2011, Brookings Institution Press); John R Schmidt: The Unraveling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad (2011, Farrar Straus and Giroux).
Dale Maharidge: Someplace Like America: Tales From the New Great Depression (2011, University of California Press): Photographs by Michael S Williamson. Starts back in the 1980s -- when GM had 618,000 employees and WalMart 23,000 -- and details the deliberate destruction of the middle class in America. Author previously wrote And Their Children After Them: The Legacy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: James Agee, Walker Evans, and the Rise and Fall of Cotton in the South; Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass; Denison, Iowa: Searching for the Soul of America Through the Secrets of a Midwest Town; and Heartland.
Charles C Mann: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (2011, Knopf): Previously wrote 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, which surveyed what little is known about American Indian history before 1492. This focuses on the exchanges between old and new worlds once regular contact was established, such as Europe's discovery of potatoes and tomatoes, and the introduction to the "new world" of smallpox, gunpowder, and slavery: truly an intercourse that profoundly changed both worlds.
Arno Mayer: The Persistence of the Old Regime: Europe to the Great War (1981; paperback, 2010, Verso): Part of a series reprinting prominent Marxist historical works. Mayer's classic works on the post-WWI settlement date from 1959 (Political Origins of the New Diplomacy) and 1967 (Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking), so this works backward, fleshing out his sketchy Dynamics of Counter-Revolution in Europe, 1870-1956. I've read most of the above plus Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? and Plowshares Into Swords but had missed this one.
Joe McGinniss: The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin (2011, Crown): Veteran journalist, wrote a book about Nixon's 1968 campaign, and later wrote a book about Alaska, so why not? Famously got on his subject's nerves by moving next door to her. Presumably dug up some dirt on her, rather than going for her more obvious political problems.
Siddhartha Mukherjee: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (2010; paperback, 2011, Scribner): Big (608 pp.) book, won a Pulitzer, by an oncologist who brings his patients in for a view as well as recalling the history -- mostly medical research and treatment since that's what we know the most about.
Sylvia Nasar: Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius (2011, Simon & Schuster): A survey of major economic thinkers. Not sure how many could be called geniuses, although some can. She previously wrote A Beautiful Mind about John Nash, a tighter focus that was converted into a successful movie. Maybe Ken Burns can find some old photos of Marx and Engels and Mayhew and Dickens and make something of this.
Ilan Pappé: The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of Palestinians in Israel (2011, Yale University Press): The Palestinians who didn't flee from Israeli armed forces during the 1947-49 war -- a story Pappé covered in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine -- were given citizenship in Israel at the same time those who left were barred from ever returning. Supposedly the "Palestinian citizens of Israel" were integrated into the enlightened liberal democracy, but from 1948-67 they lived apart under military rule. In 1967 military administration shifted to the occupied territorites, but separation and discrimination against Palestinians within Israel has hardly stopped, and in some ways is worse now than it was, especially before the Intifada.
Christian Parenti: Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (2011, Nation Books): An effort to recast current and future conflicts as resource wars, the rate of which will increase as climate change stresses the peoples of the planet. There is possibly some truth to that, but there's also a wide room for error. Author previously wrote The Soft Cage: Surveillance in America From Slavery to the War on Terror.
Corey Robin: The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (2011, Oxford University Press): "Tracing conservatism back to its roots in the reaction against the French Revolution, Robin argues that the right is fundamentally inspired by a hostility to emancipating the lower orders. Some conservatives endorse the free market, others oppose it. Some criticize the state, others celebrate it. Underlying these differences is the impulse to defend power and privilege against movements demanding freedom and equality." That's about right.
Jack Ross: Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism (2011, Potomac Books): Berger was a reform rabbi, head of American Council for Judaism, a forceful critic of Israel from before its founding up through the 1967 war.
Shlomo Sand: The Words and the Land: Israeli Intellectuals and the Nationalist Myth (paperback, 2011, Semiotext(e)): Focuses on the charged meaning of words in constructing the Zionist world view -- exile, return, Aliyah (which adds an exalted flavor to immigration. It's remarkable both how successful these semantics have been, and how effectively they imprison thought. Another book could be written on the Palestinian side, exile for exile, return for return, Nakba for Shoah.
Ron Suskind: Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (2011, Harper): Great reporter, able to worm his way into inside info, which he plied into a couple eye-opening books on the Bush administration. Here takes on Obama and his crew, most evidently leaving their hearts and wallets back on Wall Street.
Peter Tomsen: The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers (2011, BBS): Former US Special Envoy to Afghanistan 1989-92, Ambassador to Armenia 1995-98, which may (or may not) give him some insight into the failures of the Muhajadeen warlord regime that gave rise to the Taliban. Huge (912 pp.) book, probably starts with Alexander but focuses on US difficulties with its nominal Pakistani and Saudi allies. Thinks "it is still possible to achieve an acceptable outcome, but only if our policies respect Afghan history and culture and we heed the lessons of past foreign interventions."
Robin Wright: Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World (2011, Simon & Schuster): Journalist, has written several books about the rising tide of Islamism in Iran and the Middle East, now turns around and discovers the Arab Spring movements.
Fareed Zakaria: The Post-American World: Release 2.0 (2011, WW Norton): Looks like the answer book to the new Thomas Friedman/Michael Mandelbaum fiasco: whereas the other boys are stuck in their adolescent fantasy that the world can't work if America doesn't run it, Zakaria sees that it's too late for that, and to rub his point in he didn't even write a new book -- he just polished up one that his fellow pundits should have already read as a matter of due dilligence. The links are so obvious that Amazon has an "author one-on-one" between Friedman and Zakaria.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
David Harvey: The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (2010; paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press): English Marxist critic of neoliberalism, has a longer term and deeper view of the 2008 meltdown than your average analyst. Also writes a bit dryer, which makes this somewhat of a slog, but it's one of the most worthwhile books I've read on the subject. Paperback adds on a new afterword. [link]
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; paperback, 2011, Bloomsbury Press): Not just a range of issues that PR firms hired scientist-hacks to obfuscate: we keep seeing the same scientists going from one con to the next.
Matt Taibbi: Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History (2010; paperback, 2011, Spiegel & Grau): New subtitle -- old one was Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America. Some extra material too: the greed of the banking industry is a story that never ends. [link]
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