Saturday, March 16. 2013
This is the second collection of forty of my little book blurbs in several days. Scratch file currently has 84 more, so I could very well dump two more of these next week. Not as important as the ones in Thursday's post -- in particular, no books that I've already managed to read -- but still noteworthy.
Anat Admati/Martin Hellwig: The Bankers' New Clothes: What's Wrong With Banking and What to Do About It (2013, Princeton University Press): Presumably covers Dodd-Frank and still finds it wanting, which seems right. I'm inclined to go back to the "banking is boring" days, but I doubt if they go that far.
Eric Alterman/Kevin Mattson: The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism From Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama (2012, Viking): One of the few political writers who remains an unapologetic, unreconstructed, proud liberal -- cf. his 2009 book, Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Most Important Ideals. One problem is that so many of his exemplars, not least the current president but also his first, have a checkered history, sometimes a mix of illiberal beliefs, sometimes just a willingness to chuck principle for political opportunism.
Ariella Azoulay: From Palestine to Israel: A Photographic Record of Destruction and State Formation, 1947-1950 (paperback, 2011, Pluto Press): On 200 photographs from the war when Israel not only achieved independence but reduced the Arab population of the nation from 70% to 15%. She also wrote The Civil Contract of Photography (2012, Zone Books) and Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography (2012, Verso).
Max Boot: Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present (2013, Liveright): Notorious war lover, back to his favorite subject. But while The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power (2002) was written to advance an argument -- that the US shouldn't think twice about getting into small wars because they always work out just fine -- it's not clear what the point is here (indeed, Boot's traditional fans tend to be on the COIN side (but not always, and results there haven't been so cheery).
Angus Burgin: The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets Since the Depression (2012, Harvard University Press): On economic theory, so markets are not so much reinvented -- they had never been banned -- as reideologized by various economists, from FA Hayek to Milton Friedman, especially through the Mont Pélerin Society.
John Burt: Lincoln's Tragic Pragmatism: Lincoln, Douglas, and Moral Conflict (2012, Belknap Press): Big book (832 pp.) to just cover the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, compared favorably to Harry Jaffa's Crisis of the House Divided (1959), long regarded as the standard work on the subject.
Jeff Connaughton: The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins (2012, Prospecta): Ever wonder why banks are too big to fail? Why they're too influential even to be reorganized under bankruptcy law when they're tottering? What about why Jamie Dimon still has his job? One big part is their lobby, which is the author's main target here. Another is the incest which has allowed them to capture the Treasury Dept., the SEC, other regulatory agencies, and most importantly the Fed. Of course they win. They personify the greed Washington aspires to.
Fawaz A Gerges: Obama and the Middle East: The End of America's Moment? (2012, Palgrave Macmillan): Moment to do what? The US hasn't had a moment to do anything constructive in the Middle East since 1991, when defeating Saddam Hussein led to the Madrid talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but even then Bush was too hamstrung by the Saudis on one side and the Israelis on the other, with festering wounds in Iraq and Iran unsettled. Obama made some concessions to Arab Spring, but ultimately couldn't support it, because the goal there would not just be to make the Arab world more democratic and prosperous but also more independent of the US.
Al Gore: The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change (2013, Random House): Smarter than he ever let on as a politician, but still . . . The six, more or less: "ever-increasing economic globalization" ("Earth Inc."); "worldwide digital communications" ("the Global Mind"); "the balance of power is shifting from a US-centered system to one with multiple emerging centers of power"; "unsustainable growth in consumption, pollution flows, and depletion of strategic resources"; "sciences revolutions are putting control of evolution in human hands"; "a radical disruption of the relationship between human beings and the earth's ecosystems, along with the beginning of a revolutionary transformation of energy systems, agriculture, transportation, and construction worldwide" -- no idea what that last one means, either.
Amy S Greenberg: A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 US Invasion of Mexico (2012, Knopf): Certainly a war of naked aggression by the US, aimed at removing Mexico if not yet the more numerous native population from the slice of North America from Texas west to California. Polk was president and orchestrated it. Clay was his most prominent Whig opponent, and Lincoln was a virtual unknown, but not for long.
David Harsanyi: Obama's Four Horsemen: The Disasters Unleashed by Obama's Reelection (2013, Regnery): The paranoid hate lit moves into its post-apocalyptic phase, oblivious to the fact that not much happened under Obama's first term and that even less is likely under the second. The "four horsemen" are "national debt, widespread dependence on government, turmoil in the Middle East, and expansion of the bureaucratic state" -- makes me think of GW Bush, but, well, you know. Also competing for the paranoid bigot's dollars: John R Lott Jr: At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge? (2013, Regnery); Wayne Allyn Root: The Ultimate Obama Survival Guide: Secrets to Protecting Your Family, Your Finances, and Your Freedom (2013, Regnery); Ken Cuccinelli: The Last Line of Defense: The New Fight for American Liberty (2013, Crown).
Dilip Hiro: Inside Central Asia: A Political and Cultural History of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tadjikistan, Turkey and Iran (2009; paperback, 2011, Overlook): Author of the encyclopedic The Essential Middle East: A Comprehensive Guide (2nd ed, paperback, 2003, Carroll & Graf), various books on Iran, Iraq, and oil, provides an overview to the ex-Soviet "-stans," which in addition to their continuing Russian (and Chinese) interests are also affected by Turkey and Iran. And yes, there's oil there, also Islamist militants, corrupt leaders, etc., everything you need for another round of "great games." Also available: Ahmed Rashid: Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia (2002, paperback, Penguin Books); Olivier Roy: The New Central Asia: The Creation of Nations (updated ed, paperback, 2007, NYU Press).
Michael Hudson: The Bubble and Beyond: Fictitious Capital, Debt Deflation and Global Crisis (paperback, 2012, Islet): Economist, has a bunch of books but is perhaps best known for his 2006 essay predicting "the coming real estate collapse." He has ahead of the curve back then, and likely still is.
Louis Hyman: Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink (2011; paperback, 2012, Princeton University Press): On the expansion of consumer credit in America. Also has another book, Borrow: The American Way of Debt (paperback, 2012, Vintage), which appears to cover the same ground. Don't know what his angle is, but one way to think of the expansion of consumer debt is as an ersatz wage substitute: it allows people to buy more without being worth more. As median incomes have stagnated over the last 30 years, consumer debt allowed the illusion that the wage progress of previous generations has continued. As that seems unlikely to be sustainable, one would expect some sort of crisis to follow.
Susan Jacoby: The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought (2012, Yale University Press): A prominent anti-religious speaker from the golden age of Jacoby's previous Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism.
Robert D Kaplan: The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate (2012, Random House): Good writer, interesting journalist, someone who tries to think deep and invariably fails, mostly because his mind is locked in ancient struggles for domination. How confused can he get? Try this: "Afghanistan's porous borders will keep it the principal invasion route into India, and a vital rear base for Pakistan, India's main enemy." That hasn't been true since Babur: the Brits came in boats, the Americans wired in dollars, Pakistan (for better or, mostly, worse) has a direct border, and Afghanistan doesn't.
Matt Kennard: Irregular Army: How the US Military Recruited Neo-Nazis, Gang Members, and Criminals to Fight the War on Terror (2012, Verso): Hard to tell how big a problem this is, given that no respectable US reporter would make a point of describing US soldiers as psychos, although you do have all those suicides, the occasional mass shooter, and it doesn't stretch the imagination much to wonder how many militia nuts got their basic training in overkill at public expense.
Daniel Klaidman: Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency (2012, Houghton Mifflin): A look at the politics behind Obama's retreat from his initial promises to close Guantanamo and prosecute terror suspects in the legal system, his use of drones to assassinate supposed enemies, leading up to the preference for killing over capturing Bin Laden.
Timothy W Luke/Ben Agger, eds: A Journal of No Illusions: Telos, Paul Piccone, and the Americanization of Critical Theory (paperback, 2011, Telos Press): I knew Piccone very well, joining him (and Telos) when he moved from Buffalo to St. Louis, and he had a deep impact on my thinking, mostly forcing me to be more critical of everything, not least of him and his volcanic eruptions of deep thoughts and profanity. A dozen essays, Russell Jacoby and Robert D'Amico the only names familiar from my days, figure this to be the authorized story. Also: Confronting the Crisis: Writings of Paul Piccone (2008, Telos Press), which at 396 pp. is probably far short of his collected works, but I always wondered why such a know-it-all never bothered to pull it all together into a signature book.
Edward N Luttwak: The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy (2012, Belknap Press): Security strategist, best known for writing the manual on how to stage a Coup D'Etat, engages in the favorite parlor game of US security strategists: imagining China's out to top the US as the world's most bloated military power. Needless to say, he focuses much on Sun Tsu.
Greg Muttitt: Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq (2012, Free Press): The invasion and occupation of Iraq may or may not have been about oil -- like many things, depends on who you ask, and how candid they are -- but the oil is there, and the demand to book it, produce it, and market it is here. We know, for instance, from Steve Coll's Private Empire, that Exxon expected it would take ten years before they could move in and book oil properties, and that has proven about right, and that's just one example of what should be many.
Ralph Nader: The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future (paperback, 2012, Harper): Laundry list includes: reforming the tax system, making out communities more self-reliant, reclaiming science and technology for the people, protecting the family, getting corporations off welfare, creating national charters for corporations, reducing our bloated military budget, organizing congressional watchdog groups, enlisting the enlightened super-rich. I think I could do better than that, but probably wouldn't have thought of that last one. Previously wrote The Seventeen Traditions (2007), so has something about that number.
Greg Palast: Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps (paperback, 2012, Seven Stories Press): Leftist journalist/pundit, someone I've never bothered with because his past books -- The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Armed Madhouse, Vultures' Picnic -- seemed to offer a slightly sensationalized gloss on the obvious, but this year's election pretty much comes down to his targets: unlimited campaign spending and the efforts to suppress the vote as much as possible.
Kevin Phillips: 1775: A Good Year for Revolution (2012, Viking): Returning to his theses originally outlined in The Cousins' Wars (1999) -- before he spent his last few books dissecting the catastrophe the Bush family brought to America -- this focuses more narrowly on the first year of the American Revolution.
Lawrence N Powell: The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans (2012, Harvard University Press): A history of the Crescent City, especially its first century-plus, up to statehood in 1812. During that time it passed from France to Spain to the US, engaged in slavery and commerce, perched on some of the most marginal land in the country. The latter is also the subject of Richard Campanella: Bienville's Dilemma: A Historical Geography of New Orleans (paperback, 2008, University of Louisiana Press).
David Quammen: Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (2012, WW Norton): Natural science writer, has written a couple essential books (e.g., The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction). Bacterial and viral infectious don't just appear. They evolve within host species, and occasionally jump to other species, sometimes with deadly consequences. This is likely to be the book that finally makes all that make sense.
Robert B Reich: Beyond Outrage: What Has Gone Wrong With Our Economy and Our Democracy, and How to Fix It (paperback, 2012, Vintage): Cover says "Expanded Edition" but I'm not sure to what. Three essays: one on how the "game" has been rigged, one on "The Rise of the Regressive Right," a third on "What You Need to Do." Pretty basic stuff: Reich is becoming more focused as the obvious problems keep boxing him in ever tighter.
Carne Ross: The Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st Century (2012, Blue Rider Press): Well, that sounds pretty optimistic. Ross was a British diplomat, envoy to the UN, worked to mediate crises in the Balkans and the Middle East, previously wrote Independent Diplomat: Dispatches From an Unaccountable Elite (2007, Cornell University Press).
David E Sanger: Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power (2012, Crown): As Obama was taking office in 2009, Sanger threw down a challenge in the form of a book, The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power. An unabashed, unrepentant fan of American power, Sanger was worried that Bush's ineptness had squandered and poisoned it, so now he's delighted that competency has been restored, and the nation is bigger and bullier than ever. I'm afraid I'm less pleased by all this: I've long said that things not worth doing are not worth doing well, and this is one of them. (The drug war, which many people think Obama realizes is a crock, is another of them.)
Landon RY Storrs: The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left (2013, Princeton University Press): The McCarthy period, like the original 1919 "red scare" a piece of postwar nostalgia aimed at preserving the nation's martial spirit by starting another war, and ultimately a far worse one in that it succeeded in not only establishing the nation's cold war stance but in purging the post-New Deal government of its leftist rank and file. The effect was not only to militate the nation against the Soviet Union but to turn the US against the working class everywhere, including in the US.
William J Stuntz: The Collapse of American Criminal Justice (2011, Harvard University Press): Famous legal scholar, died shortly before this was released, offering a broad rethinking of the entire criminal justice system as it exists in the US. Much reviewed and commented upon, some things that make sense to me and some that don't.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder (2012, Random House): Author's day job is Professor of Risk Engineering, but he has built a reputation in mathematics and economics by writing books that cut against the grain of expectations (e.g., The Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness). This looks like another.
Göran Therborn: The World: A Beginner's Guide (paperback, 2011, Polity): Swedish sociologist, one of the New Left Review Marxists, offers a short primer on everything.
Evan Thomas: Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World (2012, Little Brown): Portrait of the president as a sly peacemaker, which is a bit of a stretch, but as Thomas points out, when Eisenhower took office many top military strategists were advocating a first strike against the Soviet Union, China too, and use of nuclear bombs in the still hot but stalemated Korea War. He's onto something there, but I wouldn't push it too far, given what the CIA did during those years (Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, the U-2 incident), and given what a rabid hawk Eisenhower turned into when advising Johnson on Vietnam. Previously wrote The War Lovers, about 1898.
Jeffrey Toobin: The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court (2012, Doubleday): Journalist, specialist in the Supreme Court -- previously wrote: The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court -- a subject of perpetual interest given how the right has taken over and radicalized the Court.
Nick Turse: The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Spies, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare (paperback, Haymarket, 2012): Short (107 pp) essay on the latest changes in US tactics, which keep the old imperial interface intact while reducing exposure and public consciousness of what the military is up to.
Craig Unger: Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove's Secret Kingdom of Power (2012, Scribner): Author has written a couple books on Bush, the first on his Saudi connections, the second on the Iraq war and other misdeeds, so he's been turning over rocks to see what he might find, and finally he's discovered Turd Blossom. Rove has spent his post-Bush days building a modern political machine, which is to say money laundering and propagandizing. Not clear to me that he's had a whole lot of success, but that's mostly because the crazies have out-crazied him. But he'll be back, not least because no one's more opportunist, nor corrupt.
Mark K Updegrove: Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency (2012, Crown): I reckon one reason Johnson's legislative record seems more impressive these days is that Obama's seems so thin.
Craig Whitney: Living With Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment (2012, Public Affairs): Rationalization for accepting a compromise with the gun industry in America, not that any are forthcoming. Like many on the left, I decided that this wasn't an issue worth the political fight: one better step would be to disengage from war and reduce the military, another would be economic justice (equalizing incomes and putting a floor under the impoverished areas), another would be to reduce crime by ending drug prohibition, another would be more realistic study and public information of the risks and benefits to gun ownership. This book may be useful, especially for historical background and insight into the constitutional issue. Related books: Adam Winkler: Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America (2011, WW Norton); Mark V Tushnet: Out of Range: Why the Constitution Can't End the Battle Over Guns (2007, Oxford University Press); Brian Doherty: Gun Control on Trial: Inside the Supreme Court Battle Over the Second Amendment (2009, Cato Institute); Saul Cornell: A Well Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America (paperback, 2008, Oxford University Press); Stephen P Halbrook: The Founders' Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms (2012, Ivan R Dee); David Hemenway: Private Guns, Public Health (2004; paperback, 2006, University of Michigan Press); Robert J Spitzer: The Politics of Gun Control (5th ed, paperback, Paradigm). Of course, lots of books by John R Lott Jr, too (e.g., More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws).
Richard Wolff: Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism (paperback, 2012, Haymarket Books): Marxist economist, his previous book about the 2008 meltdown was titled, Capitalism Hits the Fan, so he's not afraid to use the C-word derogatorily. As for that D-word, for over 200 years now the right has fretted that common folk would use their votes in support of their own interests.
As I said, paperback reissues later.
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