Thursday, April 19. 2012
Another batch of 40 more/less new books. Last one came out on February 9, and as it turns out I almost have enough piled up for an immediate follow-up, so I mostly went with the most promising political, economic, and historical efforts. Next time, especially if it's sooner rather than later, will be more scattered.
Andrew J Bacevich, ed: The Short American Century: A Postmortem (2012, Harvard University Press): Collection with eight other contributors, including Walter LaFeber -- one of the first to document this century of hubris and folly.
Dean Baker: The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive (paperback, 2011, Center for Economic and Policy Reserach): Short (168 pp.), defines "loser liberalism" as policies that "want to tax the winners to help the losers," and argues that progressives would be better off working "to structure markets so that they don't redistribute income upward." Seems like the right idea to me.
Peter Beinart: The Crisis of Zionism (2012, Times Books): Liberal hawk, in fact made a big stink about the point, insisting that only liberals can "win the war on terror" -- a thesis that held up fairly well during the Bush reign but hasn't fared so well under Obama. Also a big-time Israel-lover, eager to defend Zionism even though its record is even more tattered than that of the liberal hawks, but again with a proviso -- something about how the occupation is destroying the soul of Zionism. Even goes so far as to argue for boycotting products from Israel's West Bank settlements, which has made him public enemy number one to the other big-time Israel lovers: the ones who really dig the Chosen People's dominance over the natives -- makes them feel that Old Testament virility.
Josh Bivens: Failure by Design: The Story Behind America's Broken Economy (2011, Cornell University Press): I doubt that America's economy was designed in any meaningful sense, but comparing it to a design -- which is to say determining whether it serves any purpose, and what -- should be good for some insight into its dysfunction.
Otis Brawley/Paul Goldberg: How We Do Harm: A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America (2012, St Martin's Press): An oncologist, practices in a hospital in Atlanta that is the last resort for patients without means, which is largely why he goes in for evidence-based medicine and doesn't go in for kickbacks. Turns out that some of the most lucrative cancer treatments in America do little good and/or much harm, and he's got cases.
David Brock/Ari Rabin-Havt/Media Matters for America: The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network Into a Propaganda Machine (paperback, 2012, Anchor): Probably the single most important factor in America since Obama was elected has been the existence of a full-time, full-press propaganda force dedicated to tearing him down. No other president has had to face such a persistent and unscrupulous foe -- well, Clinton, maybe, but that was during Fox's infancy, where these methods were first hatched but far from perfected. Evidently much of this comes from Brock's website, which exercises the proper level of due dilligence, so you and I don't have to.
Chuck Collins: 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality Is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It (paperback, 2012, Bennett-Koehler): Short (144 pp) book by the director of IPS's Program on Inequality and the Common Good, and he has other activist credentials. The fact of growing inequality should be beyond any doubt at this point. The bigger problem is explaining why it is such a problem, in large part because instead of there being one large reason, there are so many small ones.
Steven A Cook: The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square (2011, Oxford University Press): Survey of Egypt's history post-Nasser, made all the more timely by the revolt against Mubarak's sclerotic rule. Was looking for a book like this back when the revolution was unfolding, but such books always show up late. Cook previously wrote: Ruling but Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey (paperback, 2007, Johns Hopkins Press).
David Corn: Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party (2012, William Morrow): Starts with the 2010 elections and tries to turn that sow's ear into a silk purse (repealing Don't Ask/Don't Tell, passing New START, caving in on the Bush tax cuts, killing Bin Laden, etc.). A piece of political history, no doubt, but inspirational?
Douglas Dowd: Inequality and the Global Economic Crisis (paperback, 2009, Pluto Press): Another book on the consequences of inequality, making some of the connections to financial collapse that the new James Galbraith book (Inequality and Instability: A Study of the World Economy Just Before the Great Crisis) makes. I could append this there, as I do sometimes, but everything written on this topic is important.
Mary L Dudziak: War-Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences (2012, Oxford University Press): Looks at how we've traditionally thought of times at war, and why such concepts have become so confused as the US has warlike conflicts without any sort of formal nation-wide mobilization.
Russ Feingold: While America Sleeps: A Wake-Up Call for the Post-9/11 Era (2012, Crown): There are several books the former senator could have written now that he has the time, including one on the sordid influence of money in elections -- a big part of why he was turned out. This one appears to focus on how the Senate responded to 9/11: how little they knew, how they were handled by Bush's warmongers, how little they cared about the consequences of their (in-)actions. I doubt that he goes as far as he should, but he was one of the few people who didn't get totally swept up in the hysteria, so at least he should stake out that much.
James K Galbraith: Inequality and Instability: A Study of the World Economy Just Before the Great Crisis (2012, Oxford University Press): His last book, The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should To (2008) is my pick for the best political book of the last decade. This look to go deeper into the inequality chasm growth that preceded what he calls the Great Financial Crisis, and tries to show how one caused the other. I think that's right, and will move this to the top of my must-read list.
Joshua S Goldstein: Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide (2011, Dutton): I think the thesis is basically right, although I'm less certain about the effectiveness of international peacekeeping forces than I am about the general sense that war is a losing proposition, inimical to everything we aspire to in life today.
Arthur Goldwag: The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right (2012, Pantheon): Blurb talks more about the old hate -- "hysteria about the Illuminati," McCarthyism, Henry Ford's anti-semitism -- which leaves us short of understanding what's new about the new hate. No doubt there are plenty of examples, but why it resonates is more important. Only by skimming the surface can you treat Henry Ford as a populist.
Jonathan Haidt: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012, Pantheon): Heard a line recently that sums up politics these days: "either you're preaching to the choir, or talking to a wall." This psychologist thinks he knows why, something having to do with our tendency to react emotionally with our "moral taste buds" while only seeking post hoc reinforcement from reason. For an example of how people find what they want, an Amazon reader wrote: "This book is a fun read for conservatives because it pokes more holes in liberalism than it does in conservatism."
John Horgan: The End of War (2012, McSweeney's): Science writer, argues that war is not intrinsic to human nature nor inevitable, and that we are in fact trending towards ending war. I think one way to look at this is to look at the rationales that are used to advocate and serve in war: they've changed markedly over the last few centuries. One might point out that the US used to have a War Department that rarely went to war, but now that we've renamed it the Department of Defense it's always involved in one shootout or another, so this is a thorny subject, correct I think, but a habit hard to break.
Van Jones: Rebuild the Dream (2012, Nation Books): Obama's "green jobs" czar for a few days in 2009 until Obama left him high and dry, lynched on Rush Limbaugh's tree. He's back now, with an organization he named his book for, like the eery shadow of a campaign theme Obama used in 2008 and is unlikely to bring up ever again. Pitch: "America is still the best idea in the world. The American middle class is still her greatest invention. Rebuild the Dream is dedicated to the proposition that -- with the right strategy -- both can be preserved and strengthened for generations to come."
Michael T Klare: The Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for the World's Last Resources (2012, Metropolitan Books): The next logical evolution of his argument after Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict, Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum and Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Politics of Energy. I've long thought that the conflict part of the equation is overrated, in part because it is impossible to see any national public interest in what the US does to support capitalists (with virtually no distinction between US and foreign), in part because the US military posture is so counterproductive.
Robert Jay Lifton: Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir (2011, Free Press): A psychiatrist, b. 1926, studied brainwashing during the Korean War, went on to study survivors of Hiroshima and of several incidents of genocide, writing a number of remarkable books along the way: e.g., Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (1968); Revolutionary Immortality: Mao Tse-Tung and the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1968); Home From the War: Vietnam Veterans -- Neither Victims nor Executioners (1973); The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (1986); Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism (2000); Superpower Syndrome: America's Apocalyptic Confrontation With the World (2003). He didn't do a full book on Abu Ghraib, but did weigh in on the subject, so I expect there's some of that here.
Michael Lind: Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States (2012, Harper): Big subject, 592 pp. is likely to require much conceptualizing while still compressing the subject. Lind has usually nipped around the corners, sometimes usefully, sometimes not (I can't see ever forgiving his defense of the Vietnam War). [April 17]
Marc Lynch: The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East (2012, Public Affairs): After a rash of quickies last year, the books on the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and throughout the Arab world are starting to appear in earnest. Could try for a list, but they're still a bit scattered. Lynch has a longstanding understanding of the region, plus has some contacts with US diplomatic sources (given more play in the blurb than I suspect they're worth).
Tracie McMillan: The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table (2012, Scribner): Author worked in the fields of California, at Walmart in the produce isle, and in the kitchen at Applebee's, and got a sense of how we treat food these days, and as such how we treat ourselves.
Chris Mooney: The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Don't Believe in Science (2012, Wiley): A delicious title, but I doubt he can deliver the goods, and not just because brains don't seem to be the operative organ governing Republicans. By all accounts, his first book (The Republican War on Science) was spot on, but he's gotten sloppier as he's gotten more aggravated.
Cullen Murphy: God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World (2012, Houghton Mifflin): Murphy dates the Inquisition as an official process to 1231 and tracks it for nearly 700 years, but also points out that many more recent processes share its essential features -- McCarthyism is one that occurs to me, and the burgeoning US security state continues in its wake. Murphy is a "big picture" historian, as shown by his previous book, Are We Rome? The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America.
John Nichols: Uprising: How Wisconsin Reneweed the Politics of Protest From Madison to Wall Street (paperback, 2012, Nation Books): The American people did something monumentally stupid in November 2010, allowing a fanatic cadre of Republicans to take over the House of Representatives in Washington and to sweep nearly all of the state houses in the upper midwest. When the consequences of this lapse of sanity became obvious, the people of Wisconsin were first and foremost in standing up to right. This sketches out what happened there, in Ohio, and on to Occupy Wall Street: instant history, in case you weren't paying enough attention. Also see: Erica Sagrans, ed: We Are Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Uprising in the Words of the Activists, Writers, and Everyday Wisconsinites Who Made It Happen (paperback, 2011, Tasora Books); Mari Jo Buhle/Paul Buhle, eds: It Started in Wisconsin: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Labor Protest in America (paperback, 2012, Verso, with an intro by Nichols); Dennis Weidemann: Cut From Plain Cloth: The 2011 Wisconsin Workers Protests (2011, Manitenahk Books); Michael D Yates: Wisconsin Uprising: Labor Fights Back (paperback, 2012, Monthly Review Press).
Elaine Pagels: Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation (2012, Viking): The history of the odd book at the end of the Bible. The main points strike me as familiar, but it's helpful to spell them out at length -- to show how the historical specifics are reflected as hysterical prophecy. Pagels has written a lot on early Christianity, e.g., The Gnostic Gospels. One intriguing title: The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics.
Bill Press: The Obama Hate Machine: The Lies, Distortions, and Personal Attacks on the President -- and Who Is Behind Them (2012, Thomas Dunne): The key is the last clause: I don't see much point in rehearsing all the nonsense unless you can tie it all down to sources, especially ones that certainly must know better.
Ahmed Rashid: Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan and Afghanistan (2012, Viking): Wrote the standard book on the pre-2001 Taliban (Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia) and a major book on how the US war in Afghanistan has destabilized the region (Descent Into Chaos: The US and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia). More specifically on Pakistan, which as the US finally backs out is likely to remain as the main legacy of the near-sighted, myopic mess. Also new: Stephen P Cohen, et al: The Future of Pakistan (paperback, 2012, Brookings Institution Press).
Noam Scheiber: The Escape Artists: How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery (2012, Simon & Schuster): Reportedly some kind of inside story, like Ron Suskind's 2011 Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President, so much of it must be redundant other than carrying the story a bit further -- the lack of subsequent good news making the "fumbling" all the more pointed. Suskind's title was clever, but this one is nonsense.
Anthony Shadid: House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East (2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): American journalist, has covered the Middle East remarkably for many years -- cf. his book on the US invasion of Iraq, Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War -- before dying early this year in Syria. A memoir of rebuilding his family's ancestral home in Lebanon, thinking about the world around it.
Robert J Shiller: Finance and the Good Society (2012, Princeton University Press): Major economist, especially authoritative on bubbles and their consequences -- he was, I think, the first guy to smell out the housing bubble, but he had the advantage of having written Irrational Exuberance about the high-tech stock bubble, and also co-authored a book on behavioral economics called Animal Spirits. More big questions here.
David K Shipler: Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in Modern America (2012, Knopf): Quick sequel to his 2011 book, The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties. Has written big books in the past, and obviously felt like saying more here.
Jeffrey St Clair/Joshua Frank, eds: Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (paperback, 2012, AK Press): With so much room to snipe at Obama from the left, I'm disappointed that no one has really hit the mark. (I've read Tariq Ali, who rung up Bush like nobody's business; also Roger Hodge, Robert Kuttner, Tom Engelhardt, and Chris Hedges, but not Glenn Greenwald, at least in book form.) But this seems like a particularly cheap way to do it, not just by assembling pieces from such principled critics but by adopting that whole hope/illusion nonsense.
David C Unger: The Emergency State: America's Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs (2012, Penguin Press): For 60+ years now, the US has responded to every lapse and chink in its defense by building more defense, and by deploying it ever more aggressively around the world. The result has been a self-sustaining avalanche of failures for which we have but one answer: more, the inevitable answer given the stress on absolute security.
Katrina Vanden Heuvel: The Change I Believe In: Fighting for Progress in the Age of Obama (paperback, 2012, Nation Books): A collection of columns, blog posts, whatever, swept up over several years regardless of relevance.
Tim Weiner: Enemies: A History of the FBI (2012, Random House): Previously wrote Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, a useful book that could be more critical. The FBI should be more straightforward, but probably isn't. The first clue is that their preoccupation seems to be not criminals but "enemies."
Gary Weiss: Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul (2012, St Martin's Press): Looks into Rand's web of influence since her death in 1982 -- most obviously Alan Greenspan and various Tea Party crackpots. Not sure if Weiss is a believer or a critic, but you'd have to have an exaggerated sense of Rand's importance to bother exploring this matter.
Jeffrey A Winters: Oligarchy (paperback, 2011, Cambridge University Press): An enduring concept -- case studies include ancient Athens and Rome, medieval Venice and Sienna, and, of course, the modern US.
Matthew Yglesias: The Rent Is Too Damn High: What to Do About It, and Why It Matters More Than You Think (e-book, 2012, Simon & Schuster): Short essay (about 70 pp?) on urban planning, argues that rent control and zoning restrictions lead to high rents and high costs of living in dense cities. I've largely stopped reading his blog, in part because I zone out when he writes about these specific topics (and especially parking). I might care more if I lived in one of those cities, or if he got into the large picture of how rentier interests have corrupted public policy.
Some forthcoming books I'm looking forward to:
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010; paperback, 2012, Free Press): Now that racial discrimination has been formally banned, why is it that "more African Americans are under correctional control today . . . than were enslaved in 1850"? Why does the US (you know, "the land of the free") hold more of its people in prison than any other country in the world?
Adam Hochschild: To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (2011; paperback, 2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Focuses on England during the first World War, especially on those who opposed the folly of that war, in contrast to those who promoted and luxuriated in it.
Bethany McLean/Joe Nocera: All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis (2010; paperback, 2011, Portfolio Trade): One of the best-regarded of the scads of books on the financial meltdown of 2008, which political stupidity has compounded into the greatest depression of our lives.
Bill Moyers: Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues (2011; paperback, 2012, New Press): Interview transcripts, most with interesting people, get to many interesting questions. I've found that the interview format often offers an exceptionally focused yet friendly introduction to a person.
Jason K Stearns: Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa (2011; paperback, 2012, Public Affairs): I doubt that as many as one in five Americans who are aware of the Rwanda genocide have any idea that the subsequent war in neighboring Congo has wound up killing many more people. One of the few major books on the subject. Another is Gerard Prunier: Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe (2008; paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press).
Trying to scratch up the paperbacks, which I was very short in, I've picked up a bunch more books, so the next installment should be sooner rather than later. It would be easier if one could just look for books in a bookstore, but that's becoming impossible. (I think books account for less than 40% of the floor space in our last remaining Barnes & Noble.)
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