Friday, July 26. 2013
Threw this one together quick, with no new research, mostly to drain the scratch file -- which means, sure, these are leftovers from one or possibly several previous columns. I usually just run 40 books each time, but expanded that a bit here. Again, the idea is to drain the swamp, so I figured no need to be arbitrary about it.
By the way, one thing missing here is any listing of recent conservative books. I've started diverting them into a separate scratch file for a "special" edition. Only have six at present: historically I've ignored most I've seen, but occasionally found something to comment on. Will probably find more, and look at them then. On the other hand, there are quite a few Israel books below -- mostly, I suspect, relatively minor ones since I hit up the more important ones the time before. Thought about doing an Israel special, but again didn't have that many, and I think that when I do I'll want to do a "best of" rather than just sample what's passing in the stream. (Of course, with the US right as it is, no such thing is conceivable.)
Jeremy Adelman: Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman (2013, Princeton University Press): Cass Sunstein wrote a review of this book, extolling Hirschman as one of the century's "most original and provocative thinkers." Not at all clear to me why, although he had an interesting life, narrowly escaping the Holocaust to land in academia.
Elizabeth A Armstrong/Laura T Hamilton: Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality (2013, Harvard University Press): Focuses on women, tracking their various paths through higher education, where they find that "the dominant campus culture indulges the upper-middle class and limits the prospect of the upwardly mobile."
Charles V Bagli: Other People's Money: Inside the Housing Crisis and the Demise of the Greatest Real Estate Deal Ever Made (2013, Dutton): Focuses on BlackRock as one of the more spectacular busts of the banking collapse.
Jack Beatty: The Lost History of 1914: Reconsidering the Year the Great War Began (2012, Walker): Looks like an interesting reexamination of the not-so-inevitable origins of WWI -- an evident contrast to Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. Beatty previously wrote Age of Betrayal: The Triumph on Money in America, 1865-1900 (2007), an important book on how money subverted democracy in the Gilded Age.
Walden Bello: Capitalism's Last Stand? Deglobalization in the Age of Austerity (paperback, 2013, Zed Books): Leftist author recycles various themes on how capitalism is falling apart. Deglobalization? Age of Austerity? An excerpt I read argues that Obama should have paid heed to Paul Krugman, which is true as far as it goes, but is that all the further a Marxist wants to go?
Amy J Binder/Kate Wood: Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives (2012, Princeton University Press): Studies young conservatives and how they interact with universities, which for all their reputed liberalism don't seem to be very effective at brainwashing would-be right-wingers.
Joshua Bloom/Waldo E Martin Jr: Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party (2013, University of California Press): Black guys with guns serving free breakfast, now what could be scarier? -- at least if you can imagine being J. Edgar Hoover. Big book (560 pp), seems to cover all the angles.
Gary M Burge: Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to "Holy Land" Theology (paperback, 2010, Baker Academic): Previously wrote Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told about Israel and the Palestinians (paperback, 2004, Pilgrim Press). I find the very concept of a "holy land," "holy places," even a "holy mountain" appalling, but people do get wound up in such diversions, and if you do this may help disabuse you of such nonsense. The conflict itself is real.
Christian Caryl: Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century (2013, Basic Books): One of those attempts to turn history around in a key year, one that featured the Iranian Revolution and its attendant oil shock, a Russian coup in Afghanistan that tempted the US to start the Jihadist war against the West, the key reforms that led by capitalist growth in China, the elevation of a Polish cold warrior as pope, and the disastrous rise of Margaret Thatcher -- Ronald Reagan was still a year away.
Christopher Clark: The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (2013, Harper): Refers to the domino-like march to war following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. A more astute analysis would recognize that all the powers of Europe had been continuously engaged in war against Asia and Africa for most of the previous century, and that most had meddled in two wars in the Balkans within the last decade. Moreover, most of the imperial wars had been successful, so both sides expected only further success in bringing the war home, against their real rivals. They may have sleepwalked, but mostly they dreamed . . . foolishly. Also new and more narrowly focused, Sean McMeekin: July 1914: Countdown to War (2013, Basic Books); also new, Charles Emmerson: 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (2013, Public Affairs).
Laila El-Haddad/Maggie Schmitt: The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey (paperback, 2013, Just World Books): El-Haddad previously wrote a down-to-earth memoir of living (and watching people die) in Gaza (Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything in Between), so this sequel seems appropriate. Rest assured, the authors "traveled the length and breadth of the Gaza Strip to collect the recipes presented in this book" (that's 25 miles long and 3.7-7.5 miles wide, a bit larger than Manhattan).
Sylvia Federici: Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (paperback, 2012, PM Press): Scattered essays dating back to 1975, on issues that were kicked around excitedly back then, less so now. Author was involved in Telos, which I also worked on way back in the day. She also wrote Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation (paperback, 2004, Autonomedia).
John Bellamy Foster/Robert W McChesney: The Endless Crisis: How Monopoly-Finance Capital Produces Stagnation and Upheaval From the USA to China (2012, Monthly Review Press): Foster is a Marxist economist who's been writing variations on this all his life. McChesney is a media critic who started out worried about the untoward influence of money -- e.g., Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times (1999; paperback, 2000) -- and wound up collaborating with the likes of Foster and Noam Chomsky -- Profit Over People: Neoliberalism & Global Order (paperback, 2011, Seven Stories Press).
Robert Gellately: Stalin's Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War (2013, Knopf): Claims access to newly declassified documents tracking Stalin's strategic moves as head of Comintern and the Soviet Union, although the assumption that his regime's power interests had anything to do with communism is far-fetched and annoying. Gellately blames the Cold War on Stalin, ignoring the fact that conflict existed only if you grant that the US had interests that conflicted with Stalin's interests -- the pre-WWII "isolationist" US would have made no such claims.
Richard Hell: I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp: An Autobiography (2013, Ecco): One of the key musicians in the mid-1970s New York rock revolution, originally a founder of Television, later ran the Void-Oids. Seems to be a good writer as well as a focal point.
Dilip Hiro: Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia (2012, Yale University Press): Author continues working his way around the troublespots of Asia, focusing here on the Kashmir border, which is to say India and Pakistan, although I wouldn't discount Afghanistan, which in some ways is the shadow of this long-lived, stubbornly fought dispute.
Joel Isaac/Duncan Bell, eds: Uncertain Empire: American History and the Idea of the Cold War (paperback, 2012, Oxford University Press): A dozen scattered essays, no one I recognize and no clear political bent, but a couple look interesting -- "War Envy and Amnesia: American Cold War Rewrites of Russia's War"; "God, the Bomb, and the Cold War: The Religious and Ethical Debate Over Nuclear Weapons, 1945-1990"; "Blues Under Siege: Ralph Ellison, Albert Murray, and the Idea of America" -- and one that I wonder about: "Cold War culture and the Lingering Myth of Sacco and Vanzetti."
Walter Johnson: River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (2013, Belknap Press): A history of slavery in the US South, especially after the Revolution, the opening of the west, and the cotton boom.
Daniel Stedman Jones: Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics (2012, Princeton University Press): The other two pictures on the cover: Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, both looking much younger than Hayek and Friedman. Neoliberalism is a term that never caught on among its right-wing adherents, but this is about them. Idea seems to be to illustrate Keynes' famous maximum about politicians in thrall to dead economists.
Paul Kennedy: Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War (2013, Random House): WWII was won with Russian (and Chinese) blood and guts, with American industry, and with western engineering -- especially in the atom bomb project one can count a lot of significant refugees from the fascist powers. The Manhattan Project has been much written about elsewhere, so this most likely focuses on less esoteric technology, like radar, and pontoon bridges, and possibly decryption and logistics and the scientific approach to management, some stuff we've even forgotten about as the right has turned against government.
Razmig Keucheyan: The Left Hemisphere: Mapping Critical Theory Today (2013, Verso): A broad survey of Marxist thinkers in the post-Communist era (since 1993), prefaced by a brief history of the new left (1956-77) and the 1977-93 period "of decline." Not sure how important this is, but one thing that is clear is that post-Cold War triumphalism didn't have much to stand on: capitalism remained alienating, crisis-prone, and only got more so as political alternatives melted away.
Denise Kiernan: The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II (2013, Touchstone): Oak Ridge, TN, home of the Manhattan Project's uranium enrichment facility, focusing on the numerous women who worked there.
William K Kingaman/Nicholas P. Kingaman: The Year Without a Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History (2013, St Martin's Press): The volcano was Tambora, in what is now Indonesia, which ejected a vast amount of ash and sulfur dioxide gas into the atmosphere, altering weather patterns all around the world.
Daniel C Kurtzer, ed: Pathways to Peace: America and the Arab-Israeli Conflict (2012, Palgrave Macmillan): "This book is the antidote to the fatalism and pessimism" -- or so says Tony Blair, who as much as anyone is the cause. Bill Clinton, Javier Solana, and Chuck Hagel also support the book. Kurtzer is a long-time US diplomat, former ambassador to Egypt and Israel, a guy with much experience talking the talk, none at walking the walk. Also wrote the lead piece in The Peace Puzzle: America's Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace, 1989-2011 (2013, Cornell University Press).
Les Leopold: How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away With Siphoning Off America's Wealth (2013, Wiley): How hedge funds work, and how their managers skim billions off nothing more substantial than bets with other people's money. Author previously wrote The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity (2009).
Bruce Levine: The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South (2013, Random House): A Civil War history that emphasizes changes in the structure of southern society, presumably the end of the slaveholder aristocracy and its replacement by, well, what exactly? By the time Reconstruction was ended and Jim Crow laws were imposed it doesn't seem like much changed, does it?
Antony Loewenstein/Ahmed Moor, eds: After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine (paperback, 2012, Saqi): The "one state" case. One should recall that it was "facts on the ground" that made the "two state" scenario plausible. Before the segregation enforced by expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians during the 1948 war and the subsequent military occupation, the only fair solution was one nation with equal rights for all.
Robert W McChesney: Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet Against Democracy (2013, New Press): The internet cuts both ways, opening up previously unimagined amounts of information, allowing extraordinarily wide participation, but also a tempting target of control, especially for the rich media empires and their political allies. So it's hard to overstate how important the struggle over control is. Relevant here: Rebecca MacKinnon: Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom (2012; paperback, 2013, Basic Books).
Jeffrey Melnick: 9/11 Culture (paperback, 2009, Wiley-Blackwell): Attempts to work out the reflections and resonances of the 9/11 attacks on the popular arts. Lots there to chew through, although now I think we over-indulged, aiding a political agenda intent on making the world worse than it was. My own thought from the very beginning was how do you contain this. Then Black Hawk Down came out.
Moisés Naím: The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be (2013, Basic Books): Every tyrant ultimately depends on willing and competent obedience, and the author detects various trends that make such obedience harder to come by. Jonathan Schell seemed to be turned into this notion when he write The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People (2003, Metropolitan), but he neither explained it well enough nor drew many implications from the insight.
Vali Nasr: The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat (2013, Doubleday): Bloomberg Review columnist, former advisor to Richard Holbrooke, author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future and Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World, trying to position himself as a forecaster, has managed to posit this as "a wake up call" rather than a done deal. Seems a little glib to me: the US remains crazy-dangerous, and is almost oblivious to world opinion, even in the relatively sane hands of Obama, as opposed to the nutters he beat along the way. [April 23]
Annalee Newitz: Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction (2013, Doubleday): Meteor strikes, cosmic radiation, whatever it was that ended the Permian, those are all examples of events so colossal they wiped out the majority of the world's living species, and given that they have happened, you have to concede that they could. So how would humans fare under such brutal circumstances? This is all speculative, of course, but there is a lot one can do with the set up -- like get things wrong, evidently. Still another question might be whether humans will survive the the ongoing mass extinction event they are primarily responsible for -- something for which there is no historical evidence.
Diana Pinto: Israel Has Moved (2013, Harvard University Press): Tries to provide a broad strokes portrait of Israeli society today, something likely to be surprising given how profoundly strange Israel has become: it is by far the world's most militarized society; it is perhaps the most rigidly ethnocentric and racist; it is not quite the most isolated (that would be North Korea), but its view of the map is profoundly warped; it is well educated and technologically advanced, but has a profoundly powerful and reactionary religious sector. I have no idea how this sorts out, and doubt that this is anywhere near definitive.
Sam Pizzigati: The Rich Don't Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph Over Plutocracy That Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970 (paperback, 2012, Seven Stories Press): Yeah, but what would you rather have: a boring old middle class where most people are pretty much interchangeable, or Donald Trump?
Devon Powers: Writing the Record: The Village Voice and the Birth of Rock Criticism (paperback, 2013, University of Massachusetts Press): Focuses on the early work of Richard Goldstein and Robert Christgau at the Village Voice and the founding of rock crit as a serious (as well as fun) intellectual activity. Wasn't much later when I gave up on the Frankfurt School and read little but rock crit.
Monte Reel: Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debates, and the African Adventures That Took the Victorian World by Storm (2013, Doubleday): Paul Du Chaillu, who explored equatorial Africa 1856-59, discoverng the gorilla just in time for the debate over Charles Darwin's Origin of Species.
Marie-Monique Robin: The World According to Monsanto (2010; paperback, 2012, New Press): Pesticides, PCBs, patented GMO seeds, growth hormones, etc. Focuses on one key company.
Brant Rosen: Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi's Path to Palestinian Solidarity (paperback, 2012, Just World Books): Author is a rabbi in Evanston, IL, with a blog called Shalom Rav which he has written since 2006.
Douglas Rushkoff: Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now (2013, Current): Media theorist, won a career achievement award named after Neil Postman, although the only book of his that I've read was his unconventional take on Judaism (Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism). Thesis here seems to be that when you have to absorb everything at once you get overwhelmed.
William J Rust: Before the Quagmire: American Intervention in Laos, 1954-1961 (2012, University Press of Kentucky): Not so sure about the period in question, but during 1961-63 Laos was more frequently an object of US anti-communist concern than Vietnam. Same sort of muddle and overkill, of course.
Robert O Self: All in the Family: The Reallignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s (2012, Hill & Wang): Buys into the notion that American politics turns on "family values" and that was the reason for the conservative surge -- sure they'll be flattered by that magic word -- from the 1970s until the Bush crash (and later? maybe the Tea Party was just shrapnel). There's something to that, but I wouldn't bet much on it.
Yehuda Shenhav: Beyond the Two-State Solution: A Jewish Political Essay (paperback, 2012, Polity): An engineered solution, most likely astute in its critique of all other so-called solutions, then myopic on its own. What the author is looking for is some sort of binational federation combining autonomy and coexistence in a fair and reasonable way.
William L Silber: Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence (paperback, 2013, Bloomsbury Press): The architect of the biggest recession between the 1930s and 2008, done on purpose to slay inflation, which effectively translated to crippling the working class. Democrats keep recycling the same hacks over and over, so it wasn't too surprising to see Obama leaning on the man who ensured Jimmy Carter was a one-term president. Maybe not all that bad, but it sure could have been done better.
Chip Walter: Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived (2013, Walker): The story of human evolution, such as we understand it, over the period of time that separates us from our nearest surviving ape kin, during which many closer species evolved and became extinct, leaving just humans as we know and love/hate them.
Ben White: Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy (paperback, 2011, Pluto Press): From 1948-67 Palestinians in Israel (those who avoided the expulsions) were subject to military rule, roughly similar to those in the occupied territories since 1967, and even after 1967 they've remained segregated, nominally citizens but constantly aware that "the Jewish State" isn't for them. And as the right wing has grown more powerful (and more extreme) they are increasingly threatened. Previously wrote Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide (2009).
Curtis White: The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers (2013, Melville House): Previously wrote The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don't Think for Themselves (2003; paperback, 2004, Harper One), which would be important if he came up with an answer, but I gather he didn't. (Evidently the book was scaled up from an essay deriding Terry Gross as a "schlock jock.") He also wrote one called The Barbaric Heart: Faith, Money, and the Crisis of Nature (paperback, 2009, Paradigm), so you can get a sense of his sense of big questions. Science doesn't satisfy him, nor does religion, nor do "the new atheists." Nothing easy here, but that doesn't make it right.
Keith W Whitelam: Rhythms of Time: Reconnecting Palestine's Past (2013, Ben Black Books): Short (124 pp, looks like Kindle-only) essay on ancient Palestinian history. Author previously wrote The Emergence of Early Israel in Historical Perspective (1987), The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History (1996), and edited Holy Land as Homeland? Models for Constructing the Historic Landscapes of Jesus (2011).
James Wolcott: Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in the Seventies (2011; paperback, 2012, Anchor): Journalist/culture critic, wrote for the Village Voice in the 1970s, where he made a strong impression on me. Later went on to be one of the first successful bloggers, probably out of scope here.
Lawrence Wright: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (2013, Knopf): Author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006), a fine book which has no special relevance here, other than to show his skill at making a strange ideology comprehensible without undue sympathy. Still, I've managed to go through life without needing to know a thing about L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics, or Scientology, and figure I'll leave well enough alone.
No paperbacks this time.