Thursday, September 27. 2012
Once again, it's been way too long since the last batch of new book notes -- July 21 -- and how far behind I've dropped is only beginning to sink in as I've spent the last few days searching around. Forty follow, all politics and history: many important, a few dangerous (or at least despicable). There's at least as many left in the file -- admittedly, some stubs -- plus I expect to find more the more I look. That could result in a follow-up next week or in a month or two.
Donald L Barlett/James B Steele: The Betrayal of the American Dream (2012, PublicAffairs): Journalists, wrote their first book on this subject back in 1992 (America: What Went Wrong?), then followed it up in 1996 (America: Who Stole the Dream?), and nothing's happened since then to take their subject away. They tend to lead with an onslaught of facts, so expect that. I used to be wary of Middle Class/American Dream arguments, partly because the implicit narrative behind them is one of aspiring to be ever richer. However, the new story line is one of struggling to avoid poverty, nipping at your heels, meaner than ever.
Michael Bar-Zohar/Nissim Mishal: Mossad: The Greatest Missions of the Israeli Secret Service (2012, Ecco): One of a rash of recent books on the world's best-publicized spy force, boasting of their great works, not just abductions and assassinations (although there have been plenty of those). Others include: Gordon Thomas: Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad (784 pp.; , sixth ed., paperback, 2012, St. Martin's Griffin); Dan Raviv/Yossi Melman: Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars (paperback, 2012, Levant Books); Ephraim Lapid/Amos Gilboa, eds.: Israel's Silent Defender: An Inside Look at Sixty Years of Israeli Intelligence (2012, Gefen). For a somewhat more balanced view, see Daniel Byman: A High Price: The Triumphs & Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism (2011, Oxford University Press).
The Bush Institute: The 4% Solution: Unleashing the Economic Growth America Needs (2012, Crown Business): After eight years as president with virtually no net growth once they blew away the housing bubble, Bush's advisers think they've finally figured out how to grow the economy. GW wrote the forward. The book proper claims five Nobel economists, starting with Robert Lucas -- probably the most completely discredited man in the profession -- and ending with Myron Scholes, the genius behind Long Term Capital Management (long since defunct).
James Carville/Stan Greenberg: It's the Middle Class, Stupid! (2012, Blue Rider Press): Note: comma omitted on front cover, suggesting several alternative parsings. Professional political hacks, i.e., people who somehow get paid for getting it all wrong. I've never liked Obama's middle class fetishism, but that's probably his idea of defensible ground, along with all the other God and patriotic gore he peddles. If Carville has any redeeming merit, it's that he's often crass, and once in a blue moon right.
Michael J Casey: The Unfair Trade: How Our Broken Global Financial System Destroys the Middle Class (2012, Crown Business): Australian reporter, takes an international view of the crisis. Not sure how well the "middle class" angle ties in here, although the drive of the financial elites to skim an ever greater slice of the profit and the race to the bottomn of the labor market are certain to take their toll on anyone in between.
Steve Coll: Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power (2012, Penguin Press): A corporate biography from the Exxon Valdez disaster to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, with plenty of bumps along the road. [link]
Gail Collins: As Texas Goes . . . : How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda (2012, Liveright): Political reporter, raised in Ohio, groomed in Connecticut, tramps around Texas in search of what stinks, which turns out to be pretty much everything, except perhaps the people's sense of humor. Previously wrote When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present (2009, Little Brown); before that America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines (2003, William Morrow), and Scorpion Tongues: Gossip, Celegbrity, and American Politics (1998, William Morrow), and most recently a biography of William Henry Harrison (in a Times Books series -- looks like she drew the short straw).
Edward Conard: Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You've Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong (2012, Portfolio): Romney's buddy at Bain Capital, takes pseudo-contrarian stands mostly to argue that he (and Romney) should be making even more money, that inequality is a great thing, and that if you don't believe him you're just a sore loser, an envious shithead.
David Crist: The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran (2012, Penguin Press): Latest news charges Iran with launching denial-of-service cyberattacks against New York banks. Wonder where they got that idea? Google "stuxnet": a computer virus the US developed and Israel used against Iran. Cyberattacks are effectively acts of war, even though they have yet to escalate to guns and rockets. There is much to complain about the Iranian government, but the 30-year conflict Crist writes about was born of ineptness at how badly the US reacted to the ouster of a Shah originally installed by the CIA but who had mutated into an embarrassment -- a wound that the US has continued to ineptly pick at, mostly hubris but aggravated once Israel decided to make Iran their public enemy number one. Today we seem closer than ever to war -- arguably with the cyberattacks, assassinations of Iranian scientists, support for the MEK terrorists, and above all sanctions meant to cripple Iran's economy, the US is already committed to war by one means or another.
Christopher de Bellaigue: Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup (2012, Harper): Background on the man who may have been the best hope ever for a democratic, peaceful Iran, except that he objected to Britain's fraudulent control of Iranian oil -- a 19th-century grant of the long-defunct Qajjar dynasty -- so the British pressured the US to orchestrate a coup in 1953.
EJ Dionne Jr: Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (2012, Bloomsbury): Liberal-leaning political journalist, gives more credit to conservatives than they deserve, but that doesn't necessarily lead to the sort of confused centrism that is the norm of the socalled liberal media. Seems likely that Dionne will make the point that sometimes people back conservatives for good reasons -- although most clearly what they get are ignorant brutes set on destroying what's left of civilization.
John Dower: Ways of Forgetting, Ways of Remembering: Japan in the Modern World (2012, New Press): Wrote two important books on Japan (War Without Mercy and Embracing Defeat, then took his eye off his niche when the Bush people tried to claim Japan as a model for how well they'd do rebuilding Iraq, but here he returns to his chosen field. Looks like this carries the first two books forward in history as both countries made mental and cultural adjustments that allowed them to work together (even if not on equal terms).
Dinesh D'Souza: Obama's America: Unmaking the American Dream (2012, Regnery): Having previously discerned Obama's inner Mau-Mau (Newt Gingrich: "the most profound insight I have read in the last six years"), right-wing America's favorite adopted con man further discovers that Obama "wants a smaller America, a poorer America, an America unable to exert its will, an America happy to be one power among many, an America in decline so that other nations might rise -- all in the name of global fairness." Of course, as a matter of principle, the right's against anything that smacks of fairness, but four years into Obama's presidency, that's the best case they can make? I should probably do a full post on the latest round of Obama hate literature, but it's so uninspired and empty. Some examples: Deneen Borelli: Backlash: How Obama and the Left Are Driving Americans to the Government Plantation; Ann Coulter: Mugged: Racial Demagoguery From the Seventies to Obama; Bruce Herschensohn: Obama's Globe: A President's Abandonment of US Allies Around the World; Hugh Hewitt: The Brief Against Obama: The Rise, Fall & Epic Fail of the Hope & Change Presidency; Paul Kengor: The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor; Aaron Klein: Fool Me Twice: Obama's Shocking Plans for the Next Four Years Exposed; Edward Klein: The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House; Stanley Kurtz: Spreading the Wealth: How Obama Is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities; David Limbaugh: The Great Destroyer: Barack Obama's War on the Republic; Richard Miniter: Leading From Behind: The Reluctant President and the Advisors Who Decide for Him; Kate Obenshain: Divider-in-Chief: The Fraud of Hope and Change; Katie Pavlich: Fast and Furious: Barack Obama's Bloodiest Scandal and the Shameless Cover-Up; Michael Savage: Trickle Down Tyranny: Crushing Obama's Dream of the Socialist States of America; Phyllis Schlafly: No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.
Peter Edelman: So Rich, So Poor: Why's It's So Hard to End Poverty in America (2012, New Press): Could it be because once Nixon appointed Donald Rumsfeld to head up Equal Opportunity nobody cared and nobody tried? Edelman worked for Robert Kennedy in the 1960s, much later for Bill Clinton in the 1990s before resigning when Clinton signed the 1996 "welfare reform" bill -- Clinton's own term for it, as I recall, was "a sack of shit."
Kurt Eichenwald: 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars (2012, Touchstone): Focuses on 18 months, a little over 500 days, from 9/11/2011 to the invasion of Iraq, following Bush and company through their tortured logic leading to tortured prisoners, countering terror with "shock and awe" -- as someone must have said, "the mother of all terrors." Digs up some juicy quotes, my favorite so far Chirac's "Does anyone know what he was talking about?"
Charles H Ferguson: Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America (2012, Crown Business): Director of the Oscar-winning film Inside Job -- in his acceptance speech Ferguson pointed out that three years into the depression no one has gone to jail for the financial manipulations that nearly bankrupt the country, so the point here seems to be to name names and lay out the case for the prosecution.
Norman G Finkelstein: Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance With Israel Is Coming to an End (2012, paperback, OR Books): Hard to guess how this will play out as political prophecy, but it certainly is the case that there has been a steady erosion of Jewish-American support for Israel as the David-Goliath table has turned, as Israel's has become more right-wing anti-democratic, as Israel's political leaders become ever more contemptuous of human rights and the desire for peace -- in short, as Americans learn more about what actually goes on under the aegis of The Jewish State. At the very least, Finkelstein can be counted on to help understand the history. Finkelstein also has another short (100 pp) book, What Gandhi Says: About Nonviolence, Resistance and Courage (paperback, 2012, OR Books).
Richard L Hasen: The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown (2012, Yale University Press): Book came out in August, but would be much longer if author had waited until after November to assess the rash of voter ID laws Republicans put in place after winning so many 2010 elections. Say what you will about Obama, the economy, health care reform, and the Tea Party, the difference between 2008 and 2010 came down to a massive drop in voting, from 116 to 83 million: the more people the Republicans can keep away from the polls, the better their chances. Don't know whether Hasen spells this out or not, but "gaming the system" is no less than an attack on the fundamentals of democracy.
Christopher Hayes: Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (2012, Crown): The idea that anyone could rise in America commensurate with their talent, effort, and achievement, is passé. America is an oligarchy, not a meritocracy, and Hayes at least has finally figured that out. Lots of reasons are possible here: the simplest is that in a declining economy -- the measure of which is median wages and wealth, and both in real terms have declined for more than 30 years -- the elites have fewer job slots available, and the rich want them for their own idiot offspring. By the way, it wasn't Obama and Clinton who decided to tank the country -- they were poster boys for the meritocratic impulse, or would have been if their politics were more right-wing; it was the business elites who thought they were maligned in the 1970s and who thought they were brilliant in the 1980s who pushed their short-term self-serving game way past its limits and luck.
Chris Hedges/Joe Sacco: Days of Destruction Days of Revolt (2012, Nation Books): Pine Ridge, SD; Camden, NJ; southern WV; Imoakalee, FL; Occupy Wall Street. Hedges reports, and rails; Sacco illustrates (although he has a book in his own right called Journalism).
Tom Holland: In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire (2012, Doubleday): Wrote two books of ancient history, one on Rome (Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic) and one on the Middle East (Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West), and now has two more even more complementary, The Forge of Christendom: The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West, which runs from Otto to the Crusades, so this adds to the back story, the rise of Islam. When I read Forge, I was struck by the nastiness of his take on Islam, which doesn't bode well here.
Seth G Jones: Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of Al Qa'ida Since 9/11 (2012, WW Norton): RAND analyst, wrote a useful book on Afghanistan (In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan), but lately has turned into a full-time apologist for the US occupation of Afghanistan. If this book is honest, one thing you will see is how little the US military contributed to the "hunt" -- even granting that the Bin Laden kill was their action. Still, you won't find Jones questioning the whole mission, or how the US earned Al-Qaeda's enmity in the first place.
Yaakov Katz/Yoaz Hendel: Israel Vs. Iran: The Shadow War (2012, Potomac Books): Documents Israel's ongoing activities to wage war against Iran -- assassinations, computer viruses, sanctions, political subversion -- as well as various Israeli wars against supposed Iranian fronts like Syria, Hamas in Gaza, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, finding them all inadequate, favoring a full-out attack. For more pro-war propaganda, see Robert D. Blackwill/Elliot Abrams, et al., Iran: The Nuclear Challenge (paperback, 2012, Council on Foreign Relations Press).
Paul Krugman: End This Depression Now! (2012, WW Norton): A basic, straightforward guide to what is wrong with the economy today, and what can (and should) be done about it. Analysis is basic macroeconomics from Keynes to Minsky to Bernanke (who used to know something about this before he became the bankers' tool). Doesn't put as much emphasis on the role of inequality as I would, but does at least recognize that the recovery is stalled mostly by political design, and can prove that. Also lots on the Euro, which is a different problem, also political.
Mike Lofgren: The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted (2012, Viking): Some sort of Washington insider, which may be why he's stuck in the trap of blaming both parties, when the main thing wrong with the Democrats is that they let Republicans play them for suckers -- a problem exacerbated by the middle-of-the-roaders who keep legitimizing the right, but it's deeper than that: in a system where success depends on chasing money, the Democrats who are most successful are most easily estranged from their constituents. In that, the main difference between the parties isn't their common ideology, but how they shape that message to be palatable by their voters. No idea whether Lofgren gets this, but at least he's started to notice that the collateral damage is getting close to home.
Keith Lowe: Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II (2012, St Martin's Press): Focuses on the turmoil Europe suffered after the defeat of the Third Reich -- the massive destruction, the displaced people, the more/less punitive (or sometimes just inept) occupations (especially the Soviets in eastern Europe), the struggles between partisans and collaborators, etc. Quite a few books have started to focus on this, perhaps because way too many policy people had such a rosy view of occupation going into Iraq in 2003.
James Mann: The Obamians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power (2012, Viking): Wrote a book about the Bush administration which was less inside story than useful background (Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet). This suggests less coherence, which is likely true, especially as one tries to fathom the depths of the military-security state and how intractable it seems -- not that it helps that Obama doesn't have a coherent view in the first place.
Thomas E Mann/Norman J Ornstein: It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism (2012, Basic Books): The US Constitution predates the development of political parties, assuming that a delicate balance of powers would lead reasonable men to compromise. This system has failed several times, notably over the issue of slavery leading to the 1861-65 Civil War, and is failing again, as the Republicans have combined a winner-takes-all view of tactics with an ideology that argues that anything government does is likely to be bad so there is no downside to obstructing a government led by their enemies. Previously wrote The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track (2006; paperback, 2008, Oxford University Press).
David Maraniss: Barack Obama: The Story (2012, Simon & Schuster): Big bio (672 pp.) that doesn't get very far: he leaves off with Obama still in his 20s, leaving plenty of room for future volumes, a project I've seen likened to Robert A Caro's still-unfinished LBJ series, expecting him to spend most of his career digging up trivia about Obama and his family.
Miko Peled: The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine (2012, Just World Books): Memoir, touching on his father's complicated role in Israel's wars and postwar politics, and on his niece, the victim of a suicide bomber, but mostly on the country he grew up in.
Paul Preston: The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain (2012, WW Norton): Less well known than the early Inquisition launched in 1492 to rid Spain of its Jews and Muslims, but actually linearly connected, the rubric under which Franco executed tens of thousands from 1936 to 1945, a period when he was allied with Nazi Germany. Preston previously wrote, The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution, and Revenge (2nd ed, paperback, 2007, WW Norton).
Seth Rosenfeld: Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power (2012, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Another big book (752 pp.), but the author managed to get hold of 250,000 pages of FBI files on student radicals from Berkeley's Free Speech Movement into the 1970s. J. Edgar Hoover got his first taste of power in the Palmer Raids of 1919, so he rarely missed an opportunity to sniff out subversives -- an obsession with thought control you'd think un-American. One story uncovered is how close Hoover was to Reagan, who built at least one leg of his career on bashing students. Seems like an important book.
Michael J Sandel: What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (2012, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Philosopher, previously wrote Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? (2009), poses various questions about what should or should not be up for sale. If he can find anything, the notion that markets have limits is significant.
Kay Lehman Schlozman/Sidney Verba/Henry E Brady: The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Policy (2012, Princeton University Press): Argues that "American democracy is marred by deeply ingrained and persistent class-based political inequality," and backs that up with enough statistics to choke a horse (728 pp). True, of course, as is the intuition that democracy depends on an effort to effect and affirm equality even if it isn't strictly factual. This isn't impossible, or even terribly difficult: for most of US history the notions that we were created equal, that we stand equal before the law, that we should enjoy equal opportunities, that the government is subject to the will of the people, etc., has been ensconced in patriotic myth -- anything else would be un-American.
Robert Skidelsky/Edward Skidelsky: How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life (2012, Other Press): Pivotal question, one that should provide against all sorts of other obsessions, including working yourself to death. It should help that Robert Skidelsky is the biographer of John Maynard Keynes, who thought even more about the good life than he did about the pursuit of money.
Joseph E Stiglitz: The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future (2012, WW Norton): The top 1 percent of Americans control 40 percent of the nation's wealth, which makes that wealth unavailable for remedying the real problems we face. Let's go a bit further and say that that much inequality is itself a problem, which I hope Stiglitz manages to demonstrate. Nor is the problem just numbers, as Stiglitz's Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn't Add Up shows.
Charles Townshend: Desert Hell: The British Invasion of Mesopotamia (2011, Harvard University Press): The original Gulf War, 1914-24, when Britain drove the Ottomans out of Iraq and found their colonial intentions quite unwelcome and imperial cronies unwelcome -- "a cautionary tale for makers of national policy."
Nick Turse/Tom Engelhardt: Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare 2001-2050 (paperback, 2012, CreateSpace): What it says, although maybe not the first. See also: Medea Benjamin: Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control (paperback, 2012, OR Books). There is also a small shelf full of drone techie books, like Bill Yenne: Birds of Prey: Predators, Reapers and America's Newest UAVs in Combat (paperback, 2010, Specialty), and Matt J Martin: Predator: The Remote-Control Air War Over Iraq and Afghanistan: A Pilot's Story (paperback, 2010, Zenith Press).
Patrick Tyler: Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country -- and Why They Can't Make Peace (2012, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Nearly everyone in Israel (women as well as men, but not Palestinians, and not some Ultra-Orthodox) is drafted into the military, most remaining in the reserves until they're 49 -- a degree of militarization unknown anywhere else in the world. The military in turn becomes a stepping stone toward career success, especially in politics but also in business. The net effect is to drive Israel ever more to the right politically, into a bind where the greatest threat to the system that so many key people benefited from is peace. So this in itself is a big part of why there is no peace in the region.
Richard Wolff: Occupy the Economy: Challenging Capitalism (paperback, 2012, City Lights): Economic professor, doesn't like the way things have been going, "in conversation with David Barsamian," so he likely keeps it basic and to the point. In 2009, Wolff wrote Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
James Carroll: Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignored Our Modern World (2011; paperback, 2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): The city in history and myth, from Abraham through the Assyrians and Romans and Crusaders to Arafat and Olmert, a sad tale -- an object lesson in fetishism, don't you think? [link]
Thomas Frank: Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right (2012, Metropolitan Books; paperback, 2012, Picador): Disgraced by reality -- the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the inept government response Katrina, the revolt against Bush's "mandate" to gut social security, the collapse of the entire Western economy followed by trillions of dollars of bailouts -- the right bounced back by embracing fantasy, and cowed the media (much wholly owned by the right anyway) to go along and pump up the "tea party" effort. [link]
Richard Wilkinson/Kate Pickett: The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger (2009; paperback, 2011, Bloomsbury Press): Important book on how greater inequality is bad for your health, as well as general well being. [link]
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