Saturday, November 26. 2011
On average, my book roundups come out every 4-6 weeks, but my one on November 16 came after a longer-than-usual period, and left me with enough stuff to suggest doing another the next day. I didn't get that done so fast, owing more to the day than to any shortfall in data. So here's a second November set (limited to 40 books, otherwise this could get ridiculous):
Theodor Adorno/Max Horkheimer: Towards a New Manifesto (2011, Verso): A 1956 dialogue -- maybe a sketch, maybe just an argument -- from the long-dead founders of the Frankfurt School, on what a contemporary revision of The Communist Manifesto should say. I doubt that they got very far: both much more skilled at tearing down bad propositions than forming good ones.
Richard Alley: Earth: The Operator's Manual (2011, WW Norton): PBS television series companion book, focuses on climate change and future energy issues, which he is moderate and optimistic about.
Robert B Archibald/David H Feldman: Why Does College Cost So Much? (2010, Oxford University Press): Interesting question, but this sounds like a piece of economic rationalization in service of the status quo. I have several rough theories, but not enough facts to judge them against.
Gilad Atzmon: The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics (paperback, 2011, O Books): Israeli-born, UK-based saxophonist writes a polemic about Jewish identity and the reflexive identification of so many Jews with Israel.
Thomas Barfield: Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History (2010, Princeton University Press): Anthropologist and "old Afghanistan hand" (isn't that a CIA term?) goes way back, emphasizes geography, "the bewildering diversity of tribal and ethnic groups," how it became "a graveyard of empires" for the British and Soviets, "and what the United States must do to avoid a similar fate." Get out?
Kim Barker: The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2011, Knopf): Five years reporting, starting in 2003 "when the war there was lazy and insignificant"; reported to be funny (at least P.J. O'Rourke thinks so), which is one way of coming to grips with stupid and indifferent -- terms I'm more inclined to find applicable.
Daniel Byman: A High Price: The Triumphs & Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism (2011, Oxford University Press): Right after 9/11, I recall both John Major and Shimon Peres pointing out that they could teach us some pointers on handling terrorism. At the time I thought the only thing they actually knew much about was spurring terror attacks along. I take it that this book is a brief intended to support Peres' assertion, although he would have been more circumspect about those failures.
W Joseph Campbell: Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism (paperback, 2010, University of California Press): One way to explore how journalism likes to indulge in its own mythmaking, from William Randolph Hearst and the Spanish-American War to Jessica Lynch.
Bill Clinton: Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy (2011, Knopf): To the limited extent to which presidents can claim responsibility for the economy's ups and downs, Clinton is the only living president who has anything positive he can point to. That doesn't make him a genius, or even allow him to escape the most inane clichés -- e.g., "We've got to get America back in the future business" could have been lifted from Thomas Friedman (and probably was).
Council on Foreign Relations/Foreign Affairs, ed: The New Arab Revolt: What Happened, What It Means, and What Comes Next (paperback, 2011, Council on Foreign Relations/Foreign Affairs): Collects sixty "seminal pieces" including op-eds, interviews, and congressional testimony from our leading officially sanctioned area experts -- you know, geniuses like Fouad Ajami, Bernard Lewis, Richard Haass, Martin Indyk, Elliott Abrams, Aluf Benn, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Gideon Rose, Max Boot, Michael O'Hanlon (fave title: "Winning Ugly in Libya: What the United States Should Learn From Its War in Kosovo"), and some documents featuring people who's primary association of "seminal" is with a certain red dress.
Tom Engelhardt: The United States of Fear (paperback, 2011, Haymarket Books): Probably another collection of his TomDispatch posts, rather quick on the heels of The American Way of War: How the Empire Brought Itself to Ruin, although it is a theme he knows as well as anyone and should be able to greatly expand upon.
Ezra F Fogel: Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (2011, Harvard University Press): Big (928 pp) bio, covers a big chunk of Chinese history up to Deng's death in 1997, especially after 1978 when he became China's "paramount leader." Applauded for his economic reforms, condemned for suppressing the pro-democratic demonstrations at Tianamen Square in 1989. Vogel is a longtime region expert, and this is most likely a major book in what's still a sparsely documented history. (Not that there aren't a lot of superficial books on China's challenge to the West and who will dominate the 21st century and all that nonsense.
David Graebner: Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011, Melville House): Anthropologist, argues that credit (therefore debt) goes back a long ways, predating even money. His is one of those ideas that threatens to turn around much about how we think real economies have functioned throughout history. Has a bunch of books, including Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion and Desire (paperback, 2007, AK Press), and Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (paperback, 2004, Prickly Paradigm Press).
Jennifer M Granholm/Dan Mulhern: A Governor's Story: The Fight for Jobs and America's Economic Future (2011, Public Affairs): Democratic Governor of Michigan during some especially tough times, while America's business elites were doing everything they could to break labor, especially by closing plants and moving production overseas. So she has something to talk about.
Glenn Greenwald: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful (2011, Metropolitan Books): Title suggests he's moved beyond his initial concerns over civil liberties into seeing how a legal system that money buys inequal access to -- starting with Congress and every other legislative body in the land, moving on to every executive authority, and even to the courts (where, to put it bluntly, representation costs money and is therefore more affordable to them that's got).
John Michael Greer: The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered (paperback, 2011, New Society): Bounces his title off Adam Smith and E.F. Schumacher ("economics as if people mattered"); should provide a primer on externalities and how to properly cost them out, but author isn't really an economist -- styles himself as an archdruid, is into organic farming and autarky, that most uneconomist of concepts.
Tim Groseclose: Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind (2011, St Martin's Press): Ph.D. invented some math that he calls PQ (for Political Quotient) to measure left and right political bias; discovers that the "maintream media" is way biased to the left, much more so than right-leaning media like Fox. I bet I could come up with a formula that would show the New York Times on the far right. For instance, they'd score points for lying in the Iraq War buildup. I could even factor in support for Israeli militarism. I don't doubt that there is bias in media, but how does that bias affect "the American mind"?
Richard Heinberg: The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality (paperback, 2011, New Society): Peak oil crank, got there early and has been one of the deepest analysts of what's happening and what it means. I think Heinberg is righ in the not-all-that-long-term, but I wouldn't say that growth is over at the moment, if only for the reason that most current constraints are politically driven. The key characteristic of growth has long been a rising standard of living. In the US that's been halted by the right's dominance of political discourse. On the other hand, one possible explanation why the right's political agenda has moved beyond enriching themselves to impoverishing everyone else may be the sense that it's all coming to an end, and they merely want to get theirs while the getting's still good.
Will Hermes: Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever (2011, Faber & Faber): 1973-77, basically the New York Dolls to Talking Heads, although there was also disco and funk and salsa and some jazz regrouping in downtown lofts -- not sure the author has the latter covered. I moved to NYC to hit the tail end of all that. I don't recall Hermes being around then, but he must have worked his way back there many times.
Owen Jones: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (paperback, 2011, Verso Books): Mostly on England, where "chavs" has become an epithet for ridiculing the working class, but the subtitle resonates here as well, especially when you look at the efforts of the Republican Party to defund not just labor unions but the workers as well.
Andrew Kolin: State Power and Democracy: Before and During the Presidency of George W Bush (2010, Palgrave Macmillan): How America became a police state, mostly under Bush, of course, but precedents go back to the Alien and Sedition Acts, more generally the distrust elites have always had about democracy.
Chris Lehmann: Rich People Things: Real-Life Secrets of the Predator Class (paperback, 2011, Haymarket): Looking at the TOC: Meritocracy, Populism, The Free Market, The Stock Market, "Class Warfare," David Brooks, Malcolm Gladwell, The New York Times. Each chapter is six pages long, suggesting a recycled stack of columns (or blog posts).
Giulio Meotti: A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism (2010, Encounter Books): Chronicles the long, sad story of Palestinian violence against Israelis -- attacks that have claimed 1700 lives and injured 10,000 people. Don't know whether it also notes that during the same period Israel has killed more than ten times as many Palestinians, injured many more, incarcerated many thousands, tortured many of them, driven nearly a million into exile, and enforced a regime where even nominal citizens of Israel are severely discriminated against. I'm sure those 1700 deaths have stories worth remembering, but it's a huge stretch to liken them to the six million victims of the Nazi Judeocide.
Immanuel Ness/Dario Azzellini: Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control From the Commune to the Present (paperback, 2011, Haymarket): A historical brief for worker-owned businesses, which I think is the way to go: the one scheme that ensures that workers and management will have the same interests, and align their interests for maximum productivity.
Martha C Nussbaum: Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach (2011, Harvard University Press): Political philosopher, draws on work by Amartrya Sen that emphasizes creating capabilities as as the primary path for human development. Much of this seems to boil down to common sense human rights, something a lot of people here in the US have trouble grasping.
William Parry: Against the Wall (paperback, 2011, Lawrence Hill Books): An art book, drawing attention to Israel's gargantuan wall project by drawing on the wall. Also see: Zia Krohn/Joyce Lagerweij: Concrete Messages: Street Art on the Israeli-Palestinian Separation Barrier (2010, Dokument Press); and Mia Gröndahl: Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics (paperback, 2009, American University in Cairo Press).
Ilan Peleg/Dov Waxman: Israel's Palestinians: The Conflict Within (paperback, 2011, Cambridge University Press): Same subject as Ilan Pappé The Forgotten Palestinians, but more concerned with maintaining Israel's "Jewish identity" while at least ameliorating some of the more blatant discrimination.
Paul R Pillar: Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform (2011, Columbia University Press): Career CIA spook, retired army reserve officer, had second thoughts about invading Iraq and became a prominent critic of Bush's Global War on Terror boondoggle.
Steven Pinker: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011, Viking): I think the general thesis -- that today we are far more likely to reject and abjure violence than at any time in the past -- is correct, but worry that pontificating on the subject for 832 pp is likely to weigh it down in too much complexity, especially the kind that gets confused with human nature.
Frances Fox Piven: Who's Afraid of Frances Fox Piven?: The Essential Writings of the Professor Glenn Beck Loves to Hate (paperback, 2011, New Press): I first noticed Piven when she cowrote the eye-opening Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare in 1971, which has a second edition revised in 1993. Other books with Cloward: Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (1977, Pantheon); New Class War: Reagan's Attack on the Welfare State and Its Consequences (1982, Pantheon); Why Americans Don't Vote (1988, Pantheon); The Breaking of the American Social Compact (1997, New Press); Why Americans Still Don't Vote: And Why Politicians Want It That Way (2000, Beacon); also several books on her own (since Cloward died in 2001), including The War at Home: The Domestic Costs of Bush's Militarism (2004, New Press); and Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America (2006, Rowman & Littlefield). Someone everyone should take seriously.
Alex Prudhomme: The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Freshwater in the Twenty-First Century (2011, Scribner): Supply is relatively fixed, or actually declining as we deplete aquifers, and would get worse wherever global warming caused droughts. Demand is growing and not very elastic, which leads us to, well, what? Other water crisis books have been gathering since Fred Pearce's When the Rivers Run Dry: Water -- The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century (2007): Robert Glennon: Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What to Do About It (2009; paperback, 2010, Island Press); Cynthia Barnett: Blue Revolution: Unmaking America's Water Crisis (2001, Beacon); Peter Rogers/Susan Leal: Running Out of Water: The Looming Crisis and Solutions to Conserve Our Most Previous Resource (2010, Palgrave Macmillan); Susan J Marks: Aqua Shock: The Water Crisis in America (2009; paperback, 2011, Bloomberg Press); and Tony Allen: Virtual Water: Tackling the Threat to Our Planet's Most Precious Resource (paperback, 2011, IB Tauris).
Michael Ratner/Margaret Ratner Kunstler: Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in Twenty-First-Century America (paperback, 2011, New Press): From the Center for Constitutional Rights, basic info on what your rights are when the government tries to shut down your right to dissent.
Jeremy Sarkin: Germany's Genocide of the Herero: Kaiser Wilhelm II, His General, His Settlers, His Soldiers (2011, James Currey): Germany's late entry into the colonial partition of Africa left them with scraps, including South West Africa (now Namibia), where Germany instituted the first genocide of the 20th century in their effort to exterminate the Herero people. I actually first read about this in Thomas Pynchon's novel V, where it fills a key chapter. Sarkin also wrote Colonial Genocide and Reparations Claims in the 21st Century: The Socio-Legal Context of Claims Under International Law by the Herero Against Germany for Genocide in Namibia, 1904-1908 -- in contrast to Germany's deal with Israel, Germany has refused to pay reparations on this relatively obscure but truly brutal event. See also: David Olusoga/Casper W Erichsen: The Kaiser's Holocaust: Germany's Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism (2010, Faber & Faber), which goes on to explore how the Nazis remembered Germany's prior experience with genocide.
Robert Skidelsky: Keynes: A Very Short Introduction (paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): Short pocket-sized intro (144 pp, but rather densely packed), by the guy who wrote the premier biography on Keynes as well as a tightly argued brief on his continued relevance: Keynes: The Return of the Master (2009, Public Affairs).
Paul Starr: Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle Over Health Care Reform (2011, Yale University Press): Historical overview of the various attempts to reform health care in America. In 1983 Starr won a Pulitzer Prize for his The Social Transformation of American Medicine: The Rise of a Sovereign Progression and the Making of a Vast Industry, which established him as the expert in the field. In 1993-94 Starr was on the inside of Clinton's reform team, which may (or may not) be good for some insight.
Mark Steyn: After America: Get Ready for Armageddon (2011, Regnery): "A modern day Jeremiah" says Mark Levin. Ripostes Ann Coulter: "Only Mark Steyn can write about the decline of America and leave you laughing." Sample Steyn wit: "When in Rome, do as the Visigoths do."
Clayton E Swisher: The Palestine Papers: The End of the Road? (paperback, 2011, Hesperus Press): Based on 1600 pages of papers leaked to Al-Jazeera in January 2011, detailing diplomatic moves that stalled any attempt at peace talks. Swisher previously wrote: The Truth About Camp David: The Untold Story About the Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process (paperback, 2004, Nation Books).
Joseph A Tainter/Tadeusz W Patzek: Drilling Down: The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma (paperback, 2011, Springer): Starts with the Deepwater Horizon disaster and attempts to explain why it was all but inevitable. Also see: John Konrad/Tom Shroder: Fire on the Horizon: The Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster (2011, Harper); Stanley Reed/Allison Fitzgerald: In Too Deep: BP and the Drilling Race That Took It Down (2011, Bloomberg); Joel Achenbach: A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher (2011, Simon & Schuster); Bob Cavnar: Disaster on the Horizon: High Stakes, High Risks, and the Story Behind the Deepwater Well Blowout (paperback, 2010, Chelsea Green); Loren C Steffy: Drowning in Oil: BP and the Reckless Pursuit of Profit (2010, McGraw-Hill); Peter Lehner/Bob Deans: In Deep Water: The Anatomy of a Disaster, and the Fate of the Gulf, and Ending Our Oil Addiction (paperback, 2010, The Experiment); William R Freudenburg/Robert Gramling: Blowout in the Gulf: The BP Oil Spill Disaster and the Future of Energy in America (2010, MIT Press); Carl Safina: A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout (2011, Crown); Antonia Juhasz: Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill (2011, Wiley); Mike Magner: Poisoned Legacy: The Human Cost of BP's Rise to Power (paperback, 2011, St Martin's Press); and, of course, The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling's "report to the president": Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling (paperback, 2011, self-published).
Peter Van Buren: We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (2011, Metropolitan Books): State Department insider, spent a year in Baghdad -- not sure which one, they were all so promising, so memorable, but more likely the recent year of the surge than the year of Paul Bremer. To quote: "pointless projects, bureaucratic fumbling, overwhelmed soldiers, and oblivious administrators secluded in the world's largest embassy, who fail to realize that you can't rebuild a country without first picking up the trash." After all, who wants to pick up trash?
Elizabeth Warren/Amelia Warren Tyagi: The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are Going Broke (paperback, 2004, Basic Books): Written before the recent/current recession, this now looks like one of the definitive political tomes of the last decade (although others, like Tamara Draut and Juliet B. Schor, have written similar analyses). Another book along these lines: Kevin T Leicht/Scott T Fitzgerald: Postindustrial Peasants: The Illusion of Middle-Class Prosperity (paperback, 2006, Worth).
Erik Olin Wright: Envisioning Real Utopias (paperback, 2010, Verso): John Quiggin: "The general idea of the book was in line with my thinking that technocratic rationality, of the kind offered by, say Obama or Blair, is not a sufficient answer to the irrationalist tribalism of the right -- the left needs a transformative vision to offer hope of a better life, both for the increasing proportion of the population in rich countries who are losing ground as a result of growing inequality and for the great majority of the world's population who are still poor by OECD standards. So, Utopia matters."
No time to do a paperback section right now -- wouldn't be much on top of two weeks ago, unless I dug further, which is what I don't have time for. But given that I have nearly 30 books left over, plus another 15 that I have open tabs on, the next report shouldn't be too distant in the future.
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