Friday, September 19. 2008
Another batch of notes on new/recent books of possible interest. I've been collecting these, and spitting them out in batches of 40. Last one was Aug. 7. The whole batch are here.
Tariq Ali: Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope (revised/expanded, paperback, 2008, Verso): Originally published in 2006, focusing on Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia, with Ecuador added for this edition. I've been reluctant to pick this up -- I have a lot of respect for Ali as a critic of American empire, but distrust advocacy of politicians even when they build their careers on the rejection of that same power. Still, the independence movements in Latin America make for a remarkable story.
Tariq Ali: The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (2008, Scribner): This, on the other hand, is the book I've been waiting for: Ali's home country, with the Musharraf regime caught between ham-handed American power, popular rebellion of more than one flavor, and its own peculiar interests. Was scheduled for early 2008, but Benazir Bhutto's assassination sent Ali back to the word processor. The situation is still volatile, impossible to keep on top of. This should certainly help one catch up. [On my to-be-read shelf.]
Robert D Auerbach: Deception and Abuse at the Fed: Henry B Gonzalez Battles Alan Greenspan's Bank (2008, University of Texas Press): Gonzalez is a D-TX congressman who chaired the House Financial Services Committee, one of the few politicians who ever tried to exert any oversight on the Fed.
Phoebe Ayers/Charles Matthews/Ben Yates: How Wikipedia Works: And How You Can Be a Part of It (paperback, 2008, No Starch Press): Big (600 page) book on Wikipedia. We've been needing some kind of book to provide an intro to the mechanics and conventions of contributing. I've put a couple of little things in, but have generally been inhibited. I bought John Broughton: Wikipedia: The Missing Manual, but haven't read much yet. (Also Mark S Choate: Professional Wikis, which is more about how to set up your own MediaWiki-based site, which may be the hardcore way to do it.)
Andrew J Bacevich, ed: The Long War: A New History of US National Security Policy Since World War II (2007, Columbia University Press): Academics only: 608 pages, list price $77.50. Twelve essays, only a couple of people I've heard of, none other than Bacevich I particularly respect.
Andrew J Bacevich: The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008, Metropolitan Books): Surprise bestseller. Looks short, and may idolize Jimmy Carter more than is really decent, but not a bad idea as a corrective. I think the key to the sales burst has been the way Bacevich has avoided any partisan association with the Democrats, who he correctly recognizes are a little too trigger happy. (Come election time we'll have to balance that off against McCain, who's easily the most trigger-happy presidential candidate since James Polk, maybe ever.) [On my to-be-read shelf.]
Dave Barry: Dave Barry's History of the Millennium (So Far) (2007, Putnam): Very funny guy, at least once upon a time. Whether that time includes the present, let alone the recent past, remains to be seen. But his biggest problem is likely the material: much of it is too weird to caricature, and too tragic to reduce to doo doo jokes. Jon Stewart seems to be a better fit for the times. Barry was fine back in the Reagan era when you weren't really sure you had to take it all seriously.
Matthew Connelly: Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population (2008, Belknap Press): History of the "underside" of the population control movement, especially the tendency to frame such programs in racial terms. Before the US right discovered the political utility of the "right to life" issue, it tended to be the right who promoted population control and the left who resisted them. I'm not sure where this book lands.
Drew Curtis: It's Not News, It's Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap as News (2007, Gotham): Easy enough to make that critique, but the main function of the book seems to be to collect as much fark as possible, and its attraction is how readily it digests all this crap that you may not otherwise bother to pay any attention to.
Julian Darley: High Noon for Natural Gas: The New Energy Crisis (paperback, 2004, Chelsea Green): It seems likely that peak oil will be followed by problems in the supply of natural gas, although the picture of how that will play out is less clear. This is one of the few books that specifically addresses natural gas.
Ross Douthat/Reihan Salam: Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream (2008, Doubleday): A little cognitive dissonance here. It's not really opposition to "the Democrats' cultural liberalism" that motivates the Republican Party. It's greed. So while they get a kick out of splitting the working class over cultural issues, the principle they're really serious about is picking workers' pockets. Arguing that Republicans should promote workers' economic interests goes so hard against the grain as to be laughable. Of course, if workers want to believe it, they'd be happy to hum a few bars. Just don't expect it to pay off. (In fairness, Kevin Phillips started down this line two decades ago. He never got it to work.)
Robert Engelman: More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want (2008, Island Press): More people, or more for each person? A book on population growth, and how women have throughout history have sought to manage their fertility to optimize their children's future. [Found this in library but didn't finish it.]
Alvin S Felzenberg: The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn't): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game (2008, Basic Books): An exercise in such parlor games as "who's the worst president ever?" Breaks them down categorically rather than by just picking them off in order, which makes it more work to use, although possibly more useful to read.
Jonathan Fenby: Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 to the Present (2008, Ecco): Big, general history of China since 1850, which doesn't seem like a particularly interesting starting date -- sometime after the humiliation of the Opium Wars, if memory serves. It does sort of fill a need, but with all the new books on China coming out -- the Olympics may have something to do with it, but it's ovedue anyway -- I expect it will take a while to sort out which books are really worthwhile. Just as an indication, there's also Rana Mitter: Modern China: A Very Short Introduction (paperback, 2008, Oxford University Press), which covers the same ground in 144 pages.
Robert Fisk: The Age of the Warrior: Selected Essays (2008, Nation Books): Mostly short columns, 546 pages of them. Not sure how far they go back, but the first section includes one called "Be very afraid: Bush Productions is preparing to go into action." Fisk has covered what he called The Great War for Civilisation at least as far back as the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which he chronicled in Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon. The earlier book is absolutely essential. The later I bought but still haven't found time for. This covers the same ground in small bites, and carries forward -- toward the end is "Who killed Benazir?"
Thomas L Friedman: Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution -- and How It Can Renew America (2008, Farrar Straus and Giroux): More garbled clichés from the New York Times' village idiot. Looks like they copped the cover art from Hieronymous Bosch, another faux pas. A skyline shot of Sao Paulo would be much more effective.
Andrew Gelman: Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do (2008, Princeton University Press): Examines why Democrats win in most relatively wealthy states while Republicans win in most relatively poor states, despite the fact that rich people overwhelmingly vote Republican, and poor people primarily vote Democrat.
Aaron Glantz: Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations (paperback, 2008, Haymarket Books): Reports from US soldiers who took part in Iraq and Afghanistan, from hearings held by Iraq Veterans Against the War. Glantz previously wrote How America Lost Iraq, the first of several books on that theme.
Brian Hicks/Chris Nelder: Profit From the Peak: The End of Oil and the Greatest Investment Event of the Century (2008, Wiley): I don't normally go for books that bill themselves as investment guides, even if the occasion is a catastrophe, but is nearly encyclopedic on the peak oil issue, and looks to be pretty level headed. Haven't looked at it close enough to figure out what that investment angle might be. Some of the books in this genre are: Aric McBay: Peak Oil Survival: Preparation for Life After Gridcrash; Mick Winter: Peak Oil Prep: Prepare for Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Collapse; Stephen Leeb: The Coming Economic Collapse: How You Can Thrive When Oil Costs $200 a Barrell; Stephen Leeb: The Oil Factor: Protect Yourself and Profit From the Coming Energy Crisis; George Orwel: Black Gold: The New Frontier in Oil for Investors; more generally: Daniel A Arnold: The Great Bust Ahead: The Greatest Depression in American and UK History is Just Several Short Years Away/This is Your Concise Reference Guide to Understanding Why and How Best to Survive It; Peter D Schiff: Crash Proof: How to Profit From the Coming Economic Collapse; James Turk/John Rubino: The Collapse of the Dollar and How to Profit from It: Make a Fortune by Investing in Gold and Other Hard Assets; Addison Wiggin: The Demise of the Dollar . . . : And Why It's Even Better for Your Investments; Michael J Panzner: Financial Armageddon: Protecting Your Future From Four Impending Catastrophes; Howard J Ruff: How to Prosper During the Coming Bad Years in the 21st Century. [Got and read this from library.]
Nathan Hodge/Sharon Weinberger: A Nuclear Family Vacation: Travels in the World of Atomic Weaponry (2008, Bloomsbury): Another history-via-travel book, which includes stops in Pakistan, Iran, India, China, North Korea, Israel, Russia, France, UK, as well as numerous spots in the US. Weinberger previously wrote: Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon's Scientific Underground.
Kaylene Johnson: Sarah: How a Small Town Girl Turned Alaska's Political Establishment on Its Ear (paperback, 2008, Epicenter Press): Well, that was quick, even for a scant 159 pages, and no doubt obsolete by the time you read this.
Ishmael Jones: The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture (2008, Encounter Books): Evidently written by a long-time spook who never got his higher-ups to understand anything he was telling them, much less stuff they never found out about.
Sonali Kolhatkar/James Ingalls: Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence (paperback, 2006, Seven Stories Press): Co-directors of Afghan Women's Mission, a US-based NGO working with RAWA (Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan). They look to be ahead of the learning curve, but Amazon reviews are very polarized.
Daniel J Levitin: The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature (2008, Dutton): Follow-up to the author's This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, which I bought but haven't read. Six song classes: friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, love.
Elvin T Lim: The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W Bush (2008, Oxford University Press): Lots of things have declined, not least intellectual integrity. Rhetoric, however, still seems to be very much with us -- it's just grown emptier and more clichéd.
Mark London/Brian Kelly: The Last Forest: The Amazon in the Age of Globalization (2007, Random House): Dispatches from the world's largest tropical forest, fast disappearing as it's chewed up to support the local and world economy.
Larry McMurtry: Books: A Memoir (2008, Simon & Schuster): Memoirs of a small-town Texas bookseller, who writes novels and movies on the side.
Karl E Meyer/Shareen Blair Brysac: Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East (2008, WW Norton): Authors of Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia, a 1999 book I bought back when it was still an intellectual curiosity and never got around to reading. Another sweeping history of (mostly English) imperial adventures in the Middle East.
Mark Crispin Miller, ed: Loser Take All: Election Fraud and The Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008 (paperback, 2008, Ig): I haven't paid much attention to the various stolen election arguments, which Miller has contributed much to, but this at least is short and convenient and covers a bunch of ground.
Michael Moore: Mike's Election Guide 2008 (paperback, 2008, Grand Central Publishing): A straightforward book, but still feels weird. Moore is a mainstream celebrity, but still is regarded as fringe political, so you never quite know whether his endorsements of relatively mild-mannered Democrats helps or hurts.
Retort: Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War (paperback, 2005, Verso): San Francisco-based group, attempts to explain post-9/11 history through the Situationist concept of spectacle. As I recall, the theory's original attraction was its ability to expand upon the ordinary. I'm not sure how that applies here.
Eric Roston: The Carbon Age: How Life's Core Element Has Become Civilization's Greatest Threat (2008, Walker): A biography of an element, from the origins of life to the threat of global warming.
Michael Schwartz: War Without End: The Iraq War in Context (paperback, 2008, Haymarket Books): Schwartz has written a number of posts at TomDispatch, some of the most insightful analysis on Iraq around. In particular, he was one of the first to point out the economic impact of Bremer's early reforms, which on top of the initial bombing and looting had disastrous effects on the Iraqi economy.
Nancy Soderberg/Brian Katulis: The Prosperity Agenda: What the World Wants From America -- and What We Need in Return (2008, Wiley): Soderberg held NSC and UN Ambassador posts in the Clinton administration. Wrote a previous book, The Superpower Myth: The Use and Misuse of American Might, with foreword by Clinton. Seems like an insider trying to think her way out of the box. Obviously, being a superpower wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Now can we negotiate?
Gary Stewart: Rumba on the River: A History of Popular Music of the Two Congos (paperback, 2004, Verso): Saw this cited in the liner notes to Tabu Ley Rochereau's The Voice of Lightness. Not a lot of good books on African music, but this looks like it might be very useful.
Allegra Stratton: Muhajababes (paperback, 2008, Melville House): 25-year-old reporter tramps all across the Middle East, talking to young women, collecting the stories she finds into a book. Easy as that.
Charles Tripp: A History of Iraq (3rd edition, paperback, 2007, Cambridge University Press): Could have been the standard history when it came out in 2000. A lot has happened since then, resulting in a second edition in 2002, and now this third pass. Tripp also wrote Islam and the Moral Economy: The Challenge of Capitalism (2006).
Phil Valentine: The Conservative's Handbook: Defining the Right Position on Issues From A to Z (2008, Cumberland House): Some kind of right-wing radio pundit. The A-to-Z approach to the issues gives it a comprehensive air, and it's serious enough and cogent enough -- most likely a combination of half truths and slick posturing -- to tempt one to argue with it instead of dismissing it out of hand. Bible-like binding strikes me as inconvenient and pretentious.
Michael Waldman: A Return to Common Sense: Seven Bold Ways to Revitalize Democracy (2008, Sourcebooks): FYI: End voter registration as we know it; Fix electronic voting; Increase voter turnout; Campaign finance reform; End partisan gerrymandering; End the electoral college; Curb the imperial presidency and fix Congress. Author used to write speeches for Clinton, where I'm sure he was every bit as bold.
Bob W White: Rumba Rules: The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu's Zaire (paperback, 2008, Duke University Press): Mobutu loved to see his people sing and dance. Kept them from paying too much attention while he stole the country blind.
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