Wednesday, September 17. 2014
Every year dozens of books are published about a topic that only a handful of Americans care about: specifically, those with cushy "think tank" jobs, plus a few military officers and State department bureaucrats who aspire to those jobs. Most assume that the US has a rightful role running the World Order, with some fretting that China or some other nation is going to butt in and offering sage advice on how the US can secure its rightful role. Against these stalwart hegemonists, now and then someone will argue that a "multipolar" isn't such a calamity, but they are in the minority, and are still so obsessed with dominance they needn't fear about losing their status as Very Serious Thinkers.
The books, of course, are nonsense, predicated on unexamined ideas: that chaos and war are the natural state of the world, that order is so valuable you have to accept it from whoever can impose it, that inequality is the best we can do given man's venal nature. That is, of course, the way conservatives think about everything. Unfortunately, it is also the way liberals usually think about the foreign world, given how readily they have sucked up the prejudices of the West's imperial past. In 2003 Jonathan Schell published an antidote to that kind of thinking, a book called The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People. It was published just as the neocon ideology had become fashionable and powerful enough to "create new reality" in Iraq, and predicted failure for such hubris. Ten years later the results should be clear, but still the foreign policy elite natters on, too absorbed in their own prejudiced thoughts to have noticed their failures.
Case in point: a new book called World Order by America's most venerable war criminal, Henry Kissinger. Fortunately, we don't have to actually read the book: we can skim through the New York Times' review by John Micklethwait -- editor-in-chief of The Economist, the kind of journalist who makes his living chronicling the rarefied world of conservative "think tanks." (Micklethwait's most famous book is The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, which every 4-5 pages reiterated the mantra that conservatives are America's "idea people." He also wrote A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalization  and God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World , extolling the wonders of free capital flows and fundamentalism, respectively. His latest is The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State, about how the future belongs to oligarchies that are able to usurp the powers of the state.) Rarely has reviewer and subject been so perfectly matched to bring out the worst in a book.
However, before we dive into the review, I should point out that there is an alternative approach to international relations that is wholly absent in the thinking of Kissinger and Micklethwait: the idea that order can be obtained through the consent of equal nations with a common commitment to basic, inalienable human rights and a just body of international law. In the wake of two horrific world wars, and the advent of even more destructive nuclear weapons, that idea got so far as the founding documents of the United Nations -- before that body got turned into a cartel of superpowers -- and the basic ideas have reappeared occasionally since. I could elaborate more, but for now just keep the idea in mind.
The first quarter of Micklethwait's review is sheer flattery:
It's not as if Kissinger didn't have the ear of the Bush Administration after 9/11. He was, after all, Bush's first pick to chair the commission that would report on the 9/11 attacks. (He turned the job down for fear of having to disclose who his consulting clients were.) If he had any reservations about Bush's approach to Iraq or anything, he was remarkably circumspect about voicing them. And since when has Churchill been an expert on anything? He always said he hadn't been elected to preside over the dismantling of the British Empire, but no one did more to wreck it, which he repeatedly did by insisting on substituting his prejudices for any understanding of or empathy for the empire's subjects. On the other hand, Kissinger's own record is nearly as bad. The suggestion that he would have handled Syria and Ukraine better than Obama has -- admittedly a low bar -- overlooks how much his own policies contributed to those conflicts today.
The Westphalia treaties ended the 30 Years War in 1648 with a set of agreements between nations/states/cities to respect each other's autonomy and work with each other in prescribed ways. This later led to an ever-adjusting set of alliances to maintain a balance of power -- which mostly worked to keep the peace in Europe (and to export war to the third world) until its colossal failure in 1914. Kissinger always thinks in the past, and far enough back as to ignore recent novelties like the European Union, so balance of power is the best he can do. Unlike the neocons, he recognizes that the US isn't the sole power in the world, one suspects this has less to do with realism than with the fact that it takes multiple powers to balance.
After all, while the neocons hate Kissinger, he has never really reciprocated. The reason, I think, is that both worship power. It's just that the neocons think they have so much power they can create their own reality, and Kissinger, well, he's never been to type to point out "the Emperor's new clothes" -- he's too much of a flatterer for that, too worshipful of power.
The review goes on and on iterating Kissinger's past examples, a litany of Richelieu, Metternich, Palmerston, Talleyrand -- curiously enough, courtiers like Kissinger and not the monarchs they served. Kissinger goes on to belittle the European Union:
For Kissinger, historical change not accomplished by force hardly counts. Then he explains Putin and Russia:
Again, nothing like a historical factoid to explain away current behavior or policy. This one is about as facile as trying to explain the Bush occupation of Iraq as the latest wrinkle on Manifest Destiny. It may indeed be that a nation capable of the former is predisposed to the latter, but that leaves a lot of intervening history unexamined in favor of a pat answer.
I suppose this is where you notice that Micklethwait is British: he can't quite fall for the poor, tiny, beleaguered Israel line that is political orthodoxy in the US. Kissinger has been around the block enough to know better too, but to say so would take principles, or courage, neither a Kissinger staple. Propounding ignorance about Islam, on the other hand, takes neither. It's right up his alley.
Another remarkable example of Kissinger's ability to look at al the complexities of history and only see power relationships, then to take the narrowest thread and explicate it through some totally unrelated event in European history. Sure, Britain united India politically -- more Bismarck than Napoleon, I'd say, until they also split it into two warring halves -- but they also destroyed India economically. (One thing I wonder is whether Kissinger would have been so successful had stayed in Europe, where his audiences and patrons might actually know much of the history he revels in.)
Middle Kingdom? Another example of forcing the present into the distant past so he can avoid having to understand what's happening there. I like the line -- "Good men do not become soldiers" -- but modern China does not lack for soldiers, or for nails. While modern China must in some sense continue to reflect and resonate ancient China, the nation's remarkable economic growth of the past 20-30 years is more due to forced modernization. This is a modern (perhaps even postmodern) phenomenon -- unexplainable through ancient history, but also non-analogous to the processes that created similar results in Europe and America. In particular, China (and most of East Asia, Japan a partial exception) achieved its wealth without building on imperialism, so is unlikely to look at the world the same way Europe and America do. Needless to say, that's a thought Kissinger is incapable of.
One of my favorite rock lyrics is from the band Camper van Beethoven, and goes like this: "If you weren't living here in America/you'd probably be somewhere else." There are several problems with being self-centered. One is that you can't see yourself as others see you, and as such you have no clue when you do something wrong. Back when the US army was smaller than Bulgaria's it still did things that were wrong -- 1890, the very year Micklethwait cites, was the date of the Wounded Knee Massacre -- but those wrong things were much smaller in scope and more isolated from the rest of the world than they are today. I don't know why Kissinger/Micklethwait complained about the size of the 1890 army. Back then, the US was already the most prosperous nation in the world, without getting into the trap of managing overseas colonies (although it often treated Central America like one). Nor was the US isolated: with the possible exception of the UK, no nation traded more all around the world. What more do they want?
The notion of America as an "indispensable nation" dates from WWII, when latent industrial might turned the tables against the Axis -- although we conveniently forget that most of the actual fighting was carried out by the Soviet Union and China. Unfortunately, Americans had too good a time in that war -- a massive Keynesian stimulus, strict profit controls, and a sense of common purpose pushed a previously depressed economy into overdrive, while all of the war's destruction took place elsewhere. By the time the war was over, over half of the world's industrial capacity resided in the US, and America alone had the financial power to jumpstart the world economy. After some early gestures to build a peaceful world community, Truman got distracted and decided that the US should side with capital in the international class war, so efforts like the Marshall Plan were turned into political weapons against not just the Soviet Union but the whole working class. The "Cold War" somehow managed not to destroy the world, but the US repeatedly supported desperate attempts by colonial powers to recapture their empires, and corrupt dictators and oligarchs when independence was inevitable, while isolating nations that had the gall to turn toward communism. Ultimately, the big loser of the Cold War wasn't the Soviet Union, which gave up the game, but America's own middle class democracy.
Micklethwait, possibly echoing but at least distilling Kissinger, described the Cold War thusly:
After the Soviet Union fell, America's foreign policy elites were beside themselves with triumphal glee -- proclaiming The End of History and looking forward to The Clash of Civilizations -- but their triumph was little more than a con. Had Reagan's rhetoric caused the Soviet Union to disintegrate, why did communist states the US confronted much more aggressively (like Cuba and North Korea) stay communist? If communism was a dead end, how was China able to post the world's strongest economic growth record over the last 25 years? Moreover, when you sift through the real rubble of the "Cold War" you find enormous chasms where the US took the wrong side of history and left enormous destruction in its wake: the "chaos in the Middle East" that Micklethwait bemoans is largely the result of America's Cold War embrace of Salafist jihadism -- a program, by the way, initiated in the 1970s when Henry Kissinger came up with the bright idea of propping the ultraconservative Saudi monarchy up as a US proxy in the Middle East (and soon thereafter Afghanistan). To say "America's moral order worked" is well beyond insane.
This isn't to say that the US should have no role in the world (although that would clearly be an improvement over the one the US has practiced for nearly seventy years now). Clearly there are useful and valuable things a large and rich nation can do in the world -- the $750 million Obama just proposed to fight the ebola epidemic is a nice gesture (although, as Nick Turse recently documented, the US has a terrible track record of running "humanitarian projects" in Africa). But what needs to be done is for the US to meet other countries in forums that give everyone a fair and equal shake, and for that to happen the US has to stop throwing its weight around, trying to bully everyone else into submission. More specifically, the US needs to develop a genuine commitment to peace and human rights, to equality and justice, to a sustainable stewardship of the earth. To do that, a good first step would be to stop listening to Henry Kissinger. In fact, a good step would be to extradite him to the Hague, to finally be tried as the war criminal he was (and is).
Thursday, July 3. 2014
Last New Book Notes was on April 2, the one before that on February 11, so this is about when I should be coming up with another collection of forty blurbs. If anything, I'm a little late, but then I always seem to be late. Actually, I have another batch of forty in the draft file, so I may well come up with a second post this week.
Anyhow, these are the most interesting titles I've noticed on real and virtual bookstore shelves recently:
Julia Angwin: Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance (2014, Times Books): A journalist surveys the surveillance nation -- not just the NSA but your phone company and Google too -- senses that the response to surveillance will be self-censorship to the point of losing freedom, and tries to figure out ways to cope, even to carve out some measure of privacy.
Gary J Bass: The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide (2013, Knopf): About the 1971 revolt and war that split Bangladesh off from Pakistan, and how Nixon and Kissinger were so wrapped up in their Cold War machinations they didn't notice (nor did they care) that millions of people were perishing. Bass has a rotten history as one of those liberal hawks who invariably wants the US to jump into wars everywhere there's a chance to save lives, and this is a case that suits him to a T. (As I recall, Noam Chomsky cited India's intervention as one of the very few cases where a war actually did some good.) And it never hurts to be reminded that Nixon and Kissinger were war criminals of the highest order. Still, beware the hidden agenda.
Michael Burleigh: Small Wars, Faraway Places: Global Insurrection and the Making of the Modern World, 1945-1965 (2013, Viking): Given the years covered, most of those faraway wars were revolts against European (and American) imperialism, many of which got caught up in the Cold War as the United States forsake liberalism in favor of any tinpot despot who could be counted as anticommunist. That adds up to a pretty big book (668 pp) with "18 distinct story lines of terrorism, counter-terrorism, intrigue, nationalism, and Cold War rivalry." Good chance he spreads himself thin, as well as missing the upshot -- which is that the Cold War was primarily responsible for undermining democracy and undoing the middle class in America.
Tyler Cowen: Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation (2013, Dutton): New York Times pundit, on the conservative side, does at least approach real problems while denying that they can be fixed (often by reassuring us that the right people are working on it). E.g., his brief on the economic decline of the middle class was The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better. This book is about how inequality is good because, well, it generates more millionaires.
Robert F Dalzell Jr: The Good Rich and What They Cost Us (2013, Yale University Press): The pictures on the cover depict George Washington, Oprah Winfrey, and two guys in the middle -- I gather one is John D. Rockefeller, who despite the enormous foundation that still bears his name was never much regarded as "good," for the public at least. Probes the contradiction between a public committed to democracy and one that seems to celebrate the rich.
John Demos: The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic (2014, Knopf): A study in racism, really, as Demos examines a school set up by New England evangelists for "heathens" from around the globe -- Henry Obookiah, from Hawaii, was a famous student here -- and how the Connecticut community reacted to that school.
Barbara Ehrenreich: Living With a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth About Everything (2014, Grand Central): A memoir of sorts, about the search for truth or knowledge or understanding. One of the few people I'd read anything by.
Graham Farmelo: Churchill's Bomb: How the United States Overtook Britain in the First Nuclear Arms Race (2013, Basic Books): One can argue that early in WWII Britain had the best shot at inventing the atomic bomb, and that Churchill for one reason or another ceded that lead to the US -- that seems to be the thrust here, and it would probably be interesting to find out what Churchill did and did not understand about the project, although in the end it's hard to see it mattering much. The British Empire could hardly stand on its own let alone pay for the mother country's disastrous wars, so it was no surprise that Britain emerged from the war reduced to America's loyal (and dependent) sidekick -- something else Churchill may or may not have understood, but ultimately couldn't do anything about.
Carlotta Gall: The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014 (2014, Houghton Mifflin): Longtime war reporter argues that the US war in Afghanistan failed because the "real enemy" wasn't the Taliban. It was Pakistan. That's not exactly news, but it opens up more questions than it answers, and more importantly it leaves unexamined America's contribution to its own failure.
Timothy F Geithner: Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises (2014, Crown): Obama's Secretary of the Treasury was already deeply involved in the struggle to save the big banks as head of the New York Fed in 2008. I doubt he has much to say about other financial crises, but for the one he experienced first hand he's happy to take credit for saving not only the banks but the bankers who ran them into the ground. As for the rest of the economy, well, that's more complicated, and as far as I can tell not something Geithner reflects on much, or even cares about.
Malcolm Gladwell: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (2013, Little Brown): Stories showing how underdogs can leverage their weakness to get ahead, or something like that. I don't have a strong opinion on him one way or the other: he has a knack for making trivial points, and a great fondness of success even when it's pretty superficial, but sometimes he runs across something interesting or important and he's rarely stupid or inelegant about it.
Anand Gopal: No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes (2014, Metropolitan): Focuses on three examples (a Taliban commander, a member of the US-backed government, and a village housewife), showing through each how the occupying Americans are viewed in Afghanistan, and therefore the limits of what they can hope to do.
Glenn Greenwald: No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State (2014, Metropolitan Books): A lawyer, Greenwald reacted to the Patriot Act by becoming a blogger focused on how the security state is encroaching on civil liberties -- a transformation he explained in his book How Would a Patriot Act? Since then he's found more and more to worry about, most dramatically when Snowden passed him leaked info about NSA spying.
David Harvey: Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (2014, Oxford University Press): English Marxist, has been picking at the scab of capitalism for many years, churning out books like Limits to Capital (2007), A Short History of Neoliberalism (2007), and The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (2010) -- I read the latter and found it tedious but deeply insightful. No surprise that he finds capitalism rife with contradictions -- many are obvious even casually -- or that they periodically crack up but that "end" has proven elusive.
Ann Jones: They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America's Wars: The Untold Story (paperback, 2014, Haymarket Books): Former NGO worker, wrote Winter in Kabul: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan about what she saw in Afghanistan in 2002, and two more books following the casualties: War Is Not Over When It's Over: Women and the Unseen Consequences of Conflict, and now this short book on maimed US soldiers -- the real VA scandal.
Robert D Kaplan: Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific (2014, Random House): Former travel writer to uncomfortable backwaters, has proven to be useful enough to the US security state he got appointed to the Defense Policy Board, where he's probably regarded as a deep thinker. No doubt he'd like nothing better than to stir up a Cold War with China, giving the Pentagon cover for buying up another generation of war toys.
Harvey J Kaye: The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great (2014, Simon & Schuster): The Four Freedoms -- "Franklin Roosevelt's vision of a truly just and fair America" -- was war propaganda and thus easily forgotten once FDR died and the war against Germany and Japan was concluded. They are, however, something we can and should aspire to today, especially given the beating at least two freedoms (from want and from fear) have taken from the right in recent decades. Kaye previously wrote Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (2005, Hill and Wang).
Lane Kenworthy: Social Democratic America (2014, Oxford University Press): Argues that the US has been progressing slowly toward the social democracy common in most wealthy nations, but isn't that a stretch given how hard it is to talk about such things in their customary terms? So I expect this is longer on prescription than description, but mapping popular programs like Social Security and Medicare into the social democratic matrix is a step toward realizing what we're missing.
Benjamin Kunkel: Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis (paperback, 2014, Verso): Short "crash course" in the latest Marxist/Leftist thinking on the economy -- names dropped include Zizek, Harvey, Graeber, Jameson. Previously wrote the novel Indecision.
Costas Lapavitsas: Profiting Without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All (paperback, 2014, Verso): British economist, previous book focused on Eurozone issues, sees "financialization" as the root of most of our current evils. There can be little doubt that most of the profits capitalism produces these days go to the financial sector, and it would be interesting to understand why.
Nathan Lean: The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims (paperback, 2012, Pluto Press): One of many (mostly but not all critical) books on the fear of and hatred against Muslims that has been cultivated in the US and Europe recently, concurrent with the US War on Terror and the termination of Israel's "peace process." Lean sees a right-wing conspiracy as responsible, with the Israel lobby at least complicit. I suspect it's uglier and dumber than that, in part because the hatred has overshot US neo-imperial goals, turning right-wingers anti-war (as we saw with Syria). Other recent books (no idea if they're any good or not): Chris Allen: Islamophobia (paperback, 2010, Ashgate); Carl W Ernst, ed: Islamophobia in America: The Anatomy of Intolerance (paperback, 2013, Palgrave Macmillan); John L Esposito/Ibraham Kalin, eds: Islamophobia: The Challenge of Pluralism in the 21st Century (paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press); Peter Gottschalk/Gabriel Greenberg: Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy (2007, Rowman & Littlefield); Deepa Kumar: Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire (paperback, 2012, Haymarket Books); Stephen Sheehi: Islamophobia: The Ideological Campaign Against Muslims (paperback, 2011, Clarity Press); John R Bowen: Blaming Islam (2012, MIT Press); Walid Shoebat/Ben Barrack: The Case FOR Islamophobia: Jihad by the Word; America's Final Warning (2013, Top Executive Media). I could also mention: Jack Shaheen: Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (2nd ed, paperback, 2009, Olive Branch Press); and Martha C Nussbaum: The New Religious Intollerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age (2012, Belknap Press).
Michael Lewis: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (2014, WW Norton): A book on high-frequency trading, entertaining and informative no doubt, with something of a moral centre even though the journalist is inordinately fond of rich people.
Isaac Martin: Rich People's Movements: Grassroots Campaigns to Untax the One Percent (2013, Oxford University Press): That would be the Tea Party, the best irate mob money can buy, which gave an air of faux populism to some of the most extremely reactionary ideas of the last few decades, struggling above all against the idea that the government should serve the people who elected it. Title here reminds one of the Frances Fox Piven/Richard A Cloward classic, Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (1977; paperback, 1978, Vintage Books).
Mariana Mazzucato: The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths (paperback, 2013, Anthem): Two myths seem especially prevalent today: that public investment only comes at the expense of private investment, and that that's a bad thing. I can think of others, but that's not necessarily the point here: she seems to be focusing on technology and business subsidies governments give out that are ultimately snapped up by private sector investors -- an obvious case in point is support of "green energy" sectors like wind and solar (efforts so hated by the oil-bound Kochs).
Suzanne Mettler: Degrees of Inequality: How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream (2014, Basic Books): Until the 1970s public support of higher education tended to make American society and economy more equitable, but that has since changed. Personally, I think education has long been overrated, especially as a panacea, but lately it's higher costs and mountains of debt have turned into a cruel trap. The real roots of inequality are political, and the very suggestion that you can compensate for that by raising an educated caste is itself part of the problem -- maybe even one that prefigured the political shift?
Ian Morris: War: What's It Good For? (2014, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Edwin Starr could answer that in far less than these 512 pages: "absolutely nothing." Morris likes to jump all over the place, as in his previous Why the West Rules -- For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future, but his bottom line seems to be "war made the state, and the state made peace." I'm tempted to add: but only after making war unbearable, and even now way too many people haven't learned the lesson.
Ralph Nader: Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State (2014, Nation Books): Given how extensively the "grass roots" right has been underwritten by the same corporations Nader decries, I have to question the wisdom of any such "alliance" -- even when left and right may agree on a point, such as the TARP bailout slush fund, all the two sides can conceivably do is to block something particularly foul. What they can't do is to create something that would work fairly, because the right is fundamentally set on destruction of the public sphere. Still, if obstruction is the sole goal -- as in keeping Obama from bombing Syria, or allowing the NSA to spy on all Americans -- sure, there's some potential there.
Richard Overy: The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe 1940-1945 (2014, Viking): Attempts to broaden our understanding of the air war over Europe by including the experiences of the bombed, especially in horrific fire storms like Hamburg and Dresden. The US edition omits a complementary survey of the German bombing of England, some 300 pages from the UK edition (The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945).
Nomi Prins: All the President's Bankers (2014, Nation Books): Wrote one of the better books on the finance meltdown (It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses, and Backroom Deals from Washington to Wall Street). This seems to go deeper into the historic relationship between bankers and politics, as if JP Morgan had anything to do with our current mess. Of course, he probably did, and Andrew Mellon and David Rockefeller and Walter Wriston too.
David Reynolds: The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century (2014, WW Norton): One hundred years after the Great War (as it was known at the time, WWI as it was renamed, or the opening of the "30-years war of the 20th century" (as Arno Mayer reconceived it), we're suddenly seeing an avalanche of books on the subject, with much arguing over how it all started, and much detailing of the exceptional gore (WWII was much worse on civilians, but rarely matched the earlier war for pitched battles -- Stalingrad was an exception, but still couldn't match Marne). This book at least tries to make good use of the intervening century. I've noted a fair number of these books separately (Christopher Clark, Geoffrey Wawro), but also: Tim Butcher: The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War; Prit Butlar: Collision of Empires: The War on the Eastern Front in 1914 (Osprey); Charles Emmerson: 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (2013, Public Affairs); Peter Hart: The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War (2013, Oxford University Press); Max Hastings: Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War (2013, Knopf); Paul Jankowski: Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War (Oxford University Press); Philip Jenkins: The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade; Nick Lloyd: Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I (Basic Books); Margaret MacMillan: The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 (2013, Random House); Gordon Martel: The Month that Changed the World: July 1914 (7/1, Oxford University Press); Shawn McMeekin: July 1914: Countdown to War (2013, Basic Books); William Mulligan: The Great War for Peace (Yale University Press); Michael Neiberg: The Military Atlas of World War I (Chartwell); TG Otte: July Crisis: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914 (Cambridge University Press); William Philpott: War of Attrition: Fighting the First World War (Overlook); Ian Senior: Invasion 1914: The Schelieffen Plan to the Battle of the Marne (8/19, Osprey); Gary Sheffield: Morale and Command: The British Army on the Western Front (Pen and Sword); David Stone: The Kaiser's Army: The German Army in World War I (7/24, Conway); Kristian Coates Ulrichsen: The First World War in the Middle East (7/25, Hurst); Alexander Watson: Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I (10/7, Basic Books).
Amanda Ripley: The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way (2013, Simon & Schuster): Like TR Reid in The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, Ripley travels around the world searching out what seems to work and offering it as an alternative to what doesn't work in the US: an easy approach that avoids theory but also misses many of the pitfalls theory introduces. I doubt however that the process will work as well, because it's easier to define what a good health care system is -- one where fewer people get sick and stuck in that system -- than what would make for a good education system: indeed, much of the "theory" out there is really a dispute over what education should do (e.g., make people smarter vs. train people better to fill assigned slots).
Dana Roithmayr: Reproducing Racism: How Everyday Choices Lock in White Advantage (2014, NYU Press): Examines how racial advantages and disadvantages have persisted despite the establishment of supposedly color-neutral legal rights and systems.
Jake Rosenfeld: What Unions No Long Do (2014, Harvard University Press): Have much political clout for one thing, which is a problem given how much our system depends on countervaling powers to keep from going insane in favor of one interest group -- mainly business. But also they don't seem to care as much about the broader groups of people who aren't unionized, effectively leaving them without political representation. (Arguably, American unions have always been weak there, but still.)
Daniel Schulman: Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty (2014, Grand Central): Much in the news recently for their efforts to destroy democracy in the US (err, to safeguard the freedom of second-generation oil billionaires), this gives you some background on who they are, where they and all their money came from, and how they've evolved from John Birch Society paranoids to Tea Party astroturfers.
Rebecca Solnit: Men Explain Things to Me (paperback, 2014, Haymarket Books): Short (100 pp) collection of essays, the title one about male mistakes in talking to women, and others about war, Virginia Woolf, and the IMF.
Joshua Steckel/Beth Zasloff: Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty (2014, New Press): The author left his job at a ritzy private school to try to guide poor kids into college, and illustrates that task with profiles of ten students, the innumerable problems they faced, and some measure of success, sometimes.
Matt Taibbi: The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap (2014, Spiegel & Grau): Defines "the divide" as: "the seam in American life where our two most troubling trends -- growing wealth inequality and mass incarceration -- come together . . . what allows massively destructive fraud by the hyperwealthy to go unpunished, while turning poverty itself into a crime." So this expands upon his previous fraud-focused book, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America (2010), broadening the context, and probably looks back to his earlier work on politics.
Elizabeth Warren: A Fighting Chance (2014, Metropolitan): I don't put much stock on books by politicians, but before she ran for office she co-write The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are Going Broke (2004), a timely issue if ever there was one. This one is more of a memoir, but the path from where she came from to where she is now feels authentic, and her grip on how policy affects ordinary people is smart and shrewd.
Geoffrey Wawro: A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire (2014, Basic Books): Focuses on Austria-Hungary, which gambled on its ability to seize Serbia and lost everything in the first world war -- a failure he finds rooted in the previous decline of the empire.
John F Weeks: Economics of the 1%: How Mainstream Economics Serves the Rich, Obscures Reality and Distorts Policy (paperback, 2014, Anthem): Uh, sure. Even if economics somehow managed to only study the actual workings of the economy it would be most useful to the rich for uncovering opportunities to profit, but in fact most economists not only study capitalism but are in thrall to it and more than willing to propagandize on behalf of the rich, even making arguments that contradict well known maxims. Weeks is far from the first author to notice this.
Some books previously mentioned that have since come out in paperback. Normally I'd write a bit on each, but I've had trouble researching this section, and it turns out that my draft file is mostly stubs (some rather old), so for this time (at least) I figure I should just flush it:
Maybe with a fresh start I'll write more next time. Usually there's an implied recommendation in the paperback listings -- I don't go out and look to see if books I have no interest in have been reprinted -- but the only ones above I have read are: Louisa Thomas' fine book on her ancestors (most famously Norman Thomas); and three books on Israel (Rashid Khalidi, Shlomo Sand, and Patrick Tyler). I do, however, have Corey Robin, Christia Freedland, and Breaking the Silence on the shelf and mean to get to them sooner or later. Several others are things I'd like to read if I can find the time.
Saturday, June 28. 2014
Tweeted this today:
The book is Daniel Schulman: Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty. B&N has it on sale for 35% off -- a much better deal than Amazon offers (looks like the publisher is one of those Amazon's been trying to shake down). B&N's website lists is as the 7th best selling book in politics & current events, just ahead of Elizabeth Warren's A Fighting Chance and Glenn Greenwald's No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State. Wichita is the home turf of the Koch family and their company, probably the second (or third) largest employer in town, so you'd think their would be more than average interest in the book here -- certainly not zero. So you don't have to be paranoid to wonder whether someone's arm's been twisted a bit.
I've seen a couple excerpts from Schulman's book in Mother Jones, and they strike me as basically fair:
I've also seen a piece (don't have link) where Schulman speculates that the Koch's libertarianism could help steer the Republicans back to more moderate positions on "culture war" issues. I've never seen any evidence of this. Presumably, for instance, as libertarians the Kochs support abortion rights, but no enough to break with any Republican who comes close to them on money issues. And they should be against drug prohibition and every aspect of America's military presence in Asia and Africa, but those issues never seem to factor into their political patronage.
Wednesday, April 2. 2014
Another batch of new book notes. Last one came out on February 11 and cleared out a backlog of 52 books -- more than my usual 40 limit. I imagine I can do these posts monthly or so, and indeed with my research unfinished, a little less than two months has filled this post (40 titles) and left me with 33 in the queue. Notably, that queue includes a few books that are either just out (Michael Lewis: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt) or forthcoming (David Harvey: Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism [April 4]; Nomi Prins: All the President's Bankers [April 8]; Matt Taibbi: The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap [April 8]; Glenn Greenwald: No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State [May 13]). Given the importance of those books, another column should be due soon.
Sasha Abramsky: The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives (2013, Nation Books): Fifty years after Michael Harrington's The Other America, we still live in a land of poverty and want -- even more so now than then, as the trendline is getting worse and the political will to do something about it has vanished. Mixed views on this book suggest that jumping between anecdotal description and broadside prescription doesn't reall handle either end, but the problem is real enough.
Bill Bryson: One Summer: America, 1927 (2013, Doubleday): Pick a year, any year. Bryson picked the one when Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic, the Mississippi flooded, and Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs, among other things (e.g., "the four most powerful central bankers on earth met in secret session on a Long Island estate and made a fateful decision that virtually guaranteed a future crash and depression"). Good chance Bryson could turn any year into something vastly entertaining and deeply informative.
Ian Buruma: Year Zero: A History of 1945 (2013, Penguin Press): Every year things change a little, but an astonishing number of big things changed in 1945: the world war ended with Japan and Germany unconditionally defeated, the holocaust and the atom bomb were revealed, European colonial control over Europe and Asia had been undermined (but it would take some years to fully fracture), the map of Eastern Europe was quickly redrawn, various revolutions erupted, economies were in ruins (except for the US, which was never stronger), millions of people had been displaced, the "cold war" was quickly brewing (although at the same time the UN was forming). Much to write about, including the simultaneity of all that change.
David Brion Davis: The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation (2014, Knopf): The author's third The Problem of Slavery book, the trilogy spread out over 45 years -- hard to overstate how important the first volume was in changing our view of slavery and racism. This picks up the story around 1820, focusing on the UK and US with a side glance at Haiti.
Jared Diamond: The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies? (2012; paperback, 2013, Penguin): His two previous books -- Guns, Germ and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997), and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2004) -- were high concept comparative mega-histories, sweeping and thought-provoking. Here he returns to his anthropology roots, writing about primitive societies, no doubt including a lot of New Guinea, since that's his specialty. Still, big questions abide: the transition to agriculture 11,000 years ago was not without its down sides, and those problems percolate up to the present.
William Easterly: The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor (2014, Basic Books): Author writes on development economics -- e.g., The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good -- so he could be taken as one of the experts he disparages. But he cuts against the grain, and has no shortage of examples of ideas that haven't worked. Also, his argument for "respect of the individual rights of people in developing countries" seems right, as is his point that "unchecked state power is the problem and not the solution" (here we're talking about the predatory effect of dictators, not the fevers of the tea party).
Yuval Elizur/Lawrence Malkin: The War Within: Israel's Ultra-Orthodox (2013; paperback, 2014, Overlook): On the special roles and privileges of the ultra-orthodox in Israel, an often sore point for secular Jews in Israel, and I suspect one of the forces that relentlessly pushes Israel to the right, further estranging it from the rest of the world.
Lee Fang: The Machine: A Field Guide to the Resurgent Right (2013, New Press): The "vast right-wing conspiracy" (in Hillary Clinton's apt phrase) has been carefully built up since the 1970s, and swung into full gear in 2009 to disrupt and undermine newly elected president Obama and the Democrats' "fillibuster-proof" congressional majority, and they did a remarkable job of it. This book goes into how they did it, how they manufactured a viable critique and enough noise to pose as grass roots momentum.
Caroline B Glick: The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East (2014, Crown Forum): Not a single state in Israel/Palestine where everyone lives with equal rights under equitable laws, though Glick dresses up Jewish dominance in various guises, including her claim that census data "wildly exaggerated the numbers of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza." So this does start to shift away from the "two-state solution" that gets so much lip service but no actual support from liberal Zionists, including virtually all American politicians.
Frances Goldin/Debby Smith/Michael Steven Smith, eds: Living in a Socialist USA (paperback, 2014, Harper Perennial): A mixed bag of essays, none afraid of the "S-word" but while some take the traditional tack and blame capitalism (e.g., Paul Street's "Capitalism: The Real Enemy") and some try to imagine post-capitalist (Rick Wolff) or ecosocialist (Joel Kovel) economic forms, others are likely more reformist, either intent on mitigating excesses of capitalism or using government to make amends. A big part of the reason socialism has come to be more respected of late is that the right uses the scare word so loosely, it now covers all sorts of modest reforms few old leftists would even recognize.
Daniel Gordis: Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel's Soul (2014, Schocken): Born in Poland, in his youth joined the fascist Betar movement, emigrating to Palestine in the 1940s where he quickly rose to head the Irgun, an ultra-right-wing paramilitary organization responsible for many of the worst atrocities of Israel's "War for Independence." Once the Irgun was integrated into the IDF, he went into politics, establishing himself as an extreme right-wing demagogue until he was suddenly invited ("without portfolio") into the "unity government" which launched Israel's expansionist 1967 war. A decade later he became Israel's first Likud Prime Minister, consolidating and furthering the nation's drift into militarism. He reluctantly signed a peace agreement which returned the Sinai to Egypt, allowing reopening of the Suez Canal, then plotted to destroy the PLO once and for all by invading Lebanon -- the act which, for me at least, destroyed the last shred of credibility that Israel possessed. This looks to be a sympathetic biography, which doesn't mean you'll come away liking the little monster.
Gershom Gorenberg: The Unmaking of Israel (2011; paperback, 2012, Harper Perennial): I read this a few years ago and was surprised I hadn't mentioned it here before. You can think of this as a kinder, gentler version of (not alternative to) Max Blumenthal's Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. Both deal with the rot at the heart of a nation dedicated to the domination of one group over all others. The shadings differ a bit, with Gorenberg more concerned with the established religion, but religion wouldn't be so critical if it weren't needed to justify the occupation. Gorenberg previously wrote The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977, which similarly soft-pedaled the origins of the settler movement while at least acknowledging the facts.
Greg Grandin: The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World (2014, Metropolitan Books): One story here concerns New Englanders establishing colonial outposts in the south Pacific in the early 19th century, killing seals and selling them in China. Not sure what else you get here, but Herman Melville seems to be one prism into looking at early post-independence America, an "age of freedom" but also an "age of slavery."
Husain Haqqani: Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding (2013, Public Affairs): Of course, I doubt that the US could have done anything to make a success out of the 2001 Afghanistan intervention -- I think they sealed their fate in 1979 when they decided it would be such fun to arm religious fanatics to kill Russians -- but high on the Bush administration's list of tactical errors was their utter inability to come to a mutual understanding with Pakistan. (Nor did Obama do any better when he gave that pompous ass Richard Holbrooke the assignment.) Haqqani has been a Pakistani diplomat and is currently a professor at Boston U, so he's likely to be intimately acquainted with the sort of incomprehensible nonsense that makes for such epic misunderstandings.
Jacqueline Jones: A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race From the Colonial Era to Obama's America (2013, Basic Books): Rather than write a sketch history of racism in America, Jones takes six individuals including a slave in colonial Maryland and an auto worker in recent Detroit, real people to stand the various myths of race and the realities of power against.
John B Judis: Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict (2014, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Looks specifically at the years 1945-49, when the US had conquered the Axis powers and was starting to establish itself as a global hegemon, probing deep into why Truman sided with Israel and what that meant for the evolution of the Arab/Israeli conflict. Alison Weir: Against Our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of How the United States Was Used to Create Israel (paperback, 2014, CreateSpace) covers the same ground, much more briefly. I've been reading Judis and am impressed with his depth and balance.
Michael B Katz: The Undeserving Poor: America's Enduring Confrontation With Poverty (1989; updated and revised, paperback, 2013, Oxford University Press): One effective way to keep poor people poor is to blame their poverty on their supposed shortcomings -- perhaps the title should be The Deserving Poor, since that's the thrust of interests which seek to deflect blame for impoverishment.
Stephen Kinzer: The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War (2013, Times Books): A biography of two of the major architects of the Cold War, all the more potent when they controlled both the official (State Dept.) and clandestine (CIA) policy-making agencies, and weren't the least averse to going behind the back of the president who appointed them. Kinzer approached this story when he wrote one of the better accounts of the CIA coup against Iran in 1953 (All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror), then went on to take a longer look at American mischief (Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq).
Elizabeth Kolbert: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2014, Henry Holt): Five massive waves of extinctions have occurred since the Cambrian period when most modern phyla came into existence, with each defining boundaries between geological ages, something we can discern with the perspective of millions of years. Kolbert is suggesting that the sheer quantity of species extinctions that have occurred in recent years is well on its way to adding up to a sixth major extinction event, and she's traveling around the world gathering and checking out evidence. Not the first book on this subject -- cf. Richard E Leakey: The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind (paperback, 1996, Anchor); Terry Glavin, The Sixth Extinction: Journeys Among the Lost and Left Behind (2007, Thomas Dunne); and for that matter a couple classics: David Quammen: The Song of the Dodo: Island Biography in an Age of Extinction (paperback, 1997, Scribner); and Paul S Martin/Herbert Edgar Wright, eds: Pleistocene Extinctions: The Search for a Cause (1967, Yale University Press) -- but likely a succinct, thought-provoking summary.
David Landau: Arik: The Life of Ariel Sharon (2014, Knopf): Having just referred to Begin as Israel's "little monster," it's no contest who the corresponding "big monster" was. Sharon could never be described as Begin's henchman: Begin bears responsibility for the Lebanon war, and more importantly for letting Sharon run it, but none for the actual details of how Sharon ran the war. Sharon had been a great favorite of Ben Gurion's and Dayan's, but what they loved him for wasn't doing what they wanted but invariably going much farther: he not only destroyed things, he did so at levels and degrees his "superiors" couldn't dream of asking for. His Lebanon War was like that, leading to the massacre of thousands of Palestinians, and his suppression of the second Intifada was like that. Still, it is important to realize that Sharon wasn't insane (unlike, say, Begin, whose tortured mind seemed to be stuck constantly replaying the Holocaust). He could make a tactical retreat when he needed to regroup, and on some level he seemed to be completely cynical about politics and everything else -- the real reason he was capable of such brutality was that he knew he would be adored for it, although it also helped that he was utterly indifferent to what anyone else thought or care about. And that he was so successful for so long ultimately says much more about his country than it does him. Reviewers say this is "scrupulously fair," which is to say it's mostly warts because that's what his supporters admired so much about him. Anything less would be a disservice.
Jill Lepore: Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin (2013, Knopf): Benjamin Franklin's sister, who unlike Shakespeare's sister was a real person we actually know a good deal about, not that anyone bothered to focus much on her before. Lepore started as a notable historian of 18th century America, but then developed a knack for semi-popular nonfiction pieces in the New Yorker and learned to bounce masterfully between past and present, as in The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History.
Antony Lerman: The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist: A Personal and Political Journey (2012, Pluto Press): British Jew, in 1960s worked on a kibbutz and served in the IDF, later returning to England, working in think tanks, eventually turning into a critic of current Israeli policies.
Ian Haney López: Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class (2014, Oxford University Press): For obvious examples, recall the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush (the "Willie Horton" one, not that the other was much better), then think of what else those elections delivered. López previously wrote White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race.
Bill McKibben: Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist (2013, Times Books): Author of one of the early books on global warming -- The End of Nature (1989) -- and many other books, writes about how he was increasingly drawn into political action, including leading protests against the Keystone XL pipeline. One step along the way was his activist manual: Fight Global Warming Now: The Handbook for Taking Action in Your Community (paperback, 2007, St. Martin's Griffin)
Betsy Medsger: The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI (2014, Knopf): The inside story of a small group of people who broke into an FBI office in Media, PA, and collected and leaked secret files about FBI operations aimed at harrassing the civil rights and antiwar movements. Hoover had used his extraordinary power base to blackmail presidents as well as to further his reactionary political goals, a secret program that couldn't survive exposure -- so this burglary was the beginning of the end of his reputation and reign of terror.
John Nichols/Robert W McChesney: Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America (2013, Nation Books): $10 billion spent on the last election, and what do we have to show for it? Politicians of two parties beholden to money. That money distorts politics is one of the few things virtually everyone agrees on, yet it never emerges as a reform issue because the candidates themselves are selected precisely for their ability to raise money.
William Nordhaus: The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World (2013, Yale University Press): Economist, has his name added to recent editions of Paul Samuelson's legendary economics textbook (at least since 1985), and previously weighed in on the economics of global warming in 2008: A Question of Balance: Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies; also Warming the World: Economic Models of Global Warming (2003), and Managing the Global Commons: The Economics of Climate Change (1994). A moderate and sensible guide to the science plus a lot of ideas on modeling risks and costs -- should be an important book.
Ilan Pappé: The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge (2014, Verso): A history of Zionism as ideology, how its fundamental ideas infuse Israeli culture, especially in institutions like the school system and reinforced through the media. Focuses on the framing of the 1948 "War for Independence" in its initial "official" narrative and later post-Zionist and Neo-Zionist incarnations.
Thomas Piketty: Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014, Belknap Press): Presumes not to update Marx but to dance on his grave, celebrating not only increasing inequality but the fact that wealth inequality is increasingly inherited -- with the risk that workers may once again feel that they have nothing to lose in revolution except their shackles. "The main driver of inequality -- the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth -- today threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values." Meanwhile, most Marxists will tell you that those returns are fraudulently jacked up, so not even more inequality can keep the machine running. Nonetheless, what happens at the bottom is all too real. Piketty's future is what he calls "patrimonial capitalism" -- pretty much the same sort of aristocracy the bourgeois revolutions struggled to overturn.
Kenneth Pollack: Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy (2013, Simon & Schuster): Ex-CIA analyst, wrote an influential book advocating war with Iraq, then turned around and became a dove rather than a "real man" on Iran in his book The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America. Evidently, he still feels we need his advice -- possibly because it wasn't taken last time, although diplomatic breakthroughs since this was printed have rendered much of the tough posturing he felt necessary to retain his credibility has suddenly become irrelevant.
Jonathan Porritt: The World We Made: Alex McKay's Story From 2050 (paperback, 2013, Phaidon Press): An expert on sustainable development strategies jumps ahead to 2050 to look back on how those strategies saved the world, through the eyes of a 50-year-old fictional Alex McKay, recalling not only what happened but how such change came about -- a mix of disasters and activism. Porritt previously wrote Capitalism as if the World Matters (paperback, 2007, Routledge), which gives business a positive role to play even if they don't seem up to it.
Gareth Porter: Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (paperback, 2014, Just World Books): One of the few journalists to see through Israel's relentless propaganda about Iran's "nuclear program" in what should be a very important book. Porter's Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam was an eye-opener in showing how US failure in Vietnam was rooted in arrogance.
Diane Ravitch: Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools (2013, Knopf): Follow up to The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010). Back in the late 1960s, after I dropped out of high school, I read a ton of books on education, of which the best was Charles Weingartner/Neal Postman: Teaching as a Subversive Activity, followed by Paul Goodman: Compulsory Mis-Education/The Community of Scholars. Those at least were books that recognized problems that I actually saw and attempted to overcome them. So my reaction here is that Ravitch is probably right as far as she goes, but, my oh my, has the level of discussion deteriorated. The last sensible thing I've read on education was Jane Jacobs: Dark Ages Ahead, and I don't see any indication that Jacobs is wrong. But I may be being too pessimistic, because the actual teachers and students I have known lately seem smarter and more dedicated than the ones I encountered back in the day. Unfortunately, I don't think they're getting those traits from school.
Barnett R Rubin: Afghanistan From the Cold War Through the War on Terror (2013, Oxford University Press): For many years one of the most insightful experts on Afghanistan, Rubin disappeared from public discourse when he signed on as an advisor to Richard Holbrooke and stayed on after Holbrooke died. His insider status -- he was also involved in the Bonn talks in 2001 and various other UN efforts -- no doubt informs this book, and probably compromises it as well. Leslie Gelb: "If published a decade ago, the insights in Barney Rubin's book could have prevented the Americanization of the war in Afghanistan." How lucky for Obama then to have co-opted the person he most needed as a critic?
Orville Schell/John Delury: Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the Twenty-first Century (2013, Random House): Goes back as far as the 19th century Opium Wars to get a handle on the intellectual threads that transformed China from peasant communism to a cutting-edge industrial powerhouse. Schell is one of the best-known historians of China.
Ari Shavit: My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (2013, Spiegel & Grau): A "feel good" book about Israel for a time when one has to wonder, but the heroic personal stories establish an air of such exalted wonderfulness that one can admit to historical atrocities like the forced exile of the entire Arab population of Lydda and then write it off by declaring it as one of the necessary founding blocks of today's wonderful Israel. Imagine something like Dee Brown rewriting Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and then turning around and explaining that every positive accomplishment in America since has only possible thanks to that act of slaughter.
Rebecca Solnit: The Faraway Nearby (2013, Viking Adult): Essays, I take it, "about arctic explorers, Che Guevara among the leper colonies, and Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein, about warmth and coldness, pain and kindness, decayand transformation, making art and making self." She has a dozen or more books, all on things that fascinate me, yet I've only managed to make it through one slim one.
Alan Weisman: Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? (2013, Little Brown): Previously wrote The World Without Us (2007, Thomas Dunne), a speculation on how the Earth would adjust if human beings were to vanish. In this sequel, he asks how likely that is, how many people can the Earth sustain, and whether exceeding those limits -- depleting resources, changing climate, etc. -- could cause a population crash.
Hugh Wilford: America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East (2013, Basic Books): Previously wrote The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (2008). Robert D Kaplan popularized the term "Arabists" some while back in his book about US State Dept. Arab experts and how they tended to align with their subjects, especially against Israel. (I don't know that anyone's bothered to coin a term for pro-Israelis in State and the CIA, but a comparably long list of names could be rounded up.) So one "great game" has been between Israel and the Arabs, another between the US and the UK over influencing the Arabs (a game the UK surrendered around 1970), and another between the US and the USSR -- any of which could be the subject here.
Tim Wise: Culture of Cruelty: How America's Elite Demonize the Poor, Valorize the Rich and Jeopardize the Future (paperback, 2014, City Lights): Obviously could write a lot more on this subject than 216 pages. Has mostly written on race politics in the past, a typical title: Speaking Treason Fluently: Anti-Racist Reflections From an Angry White Male (2008).
Some recent paperback reissues of book previously listed in hardcover. These are just a few of those I had noted, and I haven't done up-to-date research on them:
James Carroll: Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World (2011, Houghton Mifflin; paperback, 2012, Mariner Books): Sweeping history of both the real and imagined city in the various monotheistic religions and imperialist polities that try to claim her. Most recently, and importantly, that means Zionist Israel and its ongoing conflict, both for and against the past.
Lizzie Collingham: The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (2012; paperback, 2013, Penguin Books): Moves from a first book about Indian curries under the British imperium to a worldwide inquiry into how food and famine were considered and acted upon by all sides in World War II -- a story which certainly includes the great Bengal famine.
Joseph Stiglitz: The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future (2012; paperback, 2013, WW Norton): Important book by one of our most important economists, showing not only the structure of increasing inequality in America today but how that inequality stagnates the economy.
Patrick Tyler: Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country -- and Why They Can't Make Peace (2012; paperback, 2013, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Israel is the world's most militarized nation, its ruling caste so invested in its military identity that as soon as one supposed enemy folds they conjure up another: soon after they signed the peace treaty with Egypt they invaded Lebanon; unsatisfied they supported Iran in its 1980s war against Iraq, and when Iraq fell (to the US in 1990 and again in 2003) they started fantasizing that Iran was out to get them with nuclear weapons. Tyler dates this back to the early 1950s when David Ben-Gurion turned on his former protégé Moshe Sharrett for considering peace initiatives. I think Ben-Gurion's war lust goes deeper, and that it has been more deeply ingrained in Israeli society, but this book covers the basic history.
I've read three of these books (Carroll, Stiglitz, Tyler), and can recommend all of them. The Collingham book looks to be very interesting.
Tuesday, February 11. 2014
I knew I hadn't done a book thing in quite a while, but was surprised to check up and find the last one was on July 26. To try to force myself to do these things more regularly, I decided to limit them to 40 books each. This one actually runs a bit long (52 books) in an effort to clear out my backlog and get a fresh start. Not sure when I'll get the research done for the next one, but most likely the books are already out there.
By the way, I've actually read the Bacevich and Blumenthal books, as well as the three I list under new paperbacks (albeit in the illustrated hardcover editions). I recommend all five, especially Timothy Noah's The Great Divergence as a good general introduction to the inequality issue -- a topic Christopher Hayes' discussion of meritocracy feeds directly into.
Jack Abramoff: Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America's Most Notorious Lobbyist (2011, WND Books): Out of jail after 43 months, not like he killed anyone, just redistributed millions of dollars from the public till to needy clients ("a corporation, Indian tribe, or foreign nation"), congressmen, and himself and his fellow fixers. And now he's had a change of heart, trying to raise himself to muckraker from muck. Problem is, he hasn't had a change of character. As an Amazon reader put it: "This book could be really good if Abramoff wasn't such a total narcissist."
Akbar Ahmed: The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (2013, Brookings Institution Press): One thing US intervention under the "global war on terror" guise has done is to break down traditional tribal hierarchies, as jihadists vie with elders as to how to defend communities against foreign (and to some extent anything modern counts) attack. Author is Pakistani but solidly wedged into the US foreign policy estate.
Kjell Aleklett: Peeking at Peak Oil (2012, Springer): An extensive review of the peak oil theory: the idea that the maximum point of oil extraction occurs when about half of all recoverable oil has been pumped, and is followed by declining production at elevated prices. US oil production peaked, as the theory predicted, in 1969, after which the US had to import oil to meet increasing demand (plus decreasing production). Recent advances in recovery technology have complicated things a bit, and the world (unlike the US in 1969) lacks a cheap external source to fill unmet demand, so the world production peak (predicted to have occurred some time in 2000-2010) has been a bit bumpy, but the basic facts remain: oil fields deplete, new ones become increasingly difficult to find and develop, and virtually no new oil is being created, so sooner or later we will run out, and along the way oil will become expensive, a painful way of weaning us from its use. All that and more should be in here.
Daniel Alpert: The Age of Oversupply: Overcoming the Greatest Challenge to the Global Economy (2013, Portfolio): Contends "the invisible hand is broken" by an "oversupply of labor, productive capacity, and capital relative to the demand for all three." Strikes me as true, largely the effect of technology on productivity but also growing inequality which converts those gains almost exclusively to capital. Not sure what an investment banker like Alpert wants to do about that, but demand could be increased by more equitable income distribution, and oversupply of labor can be reduced by increasing leisure time (which, if adequately supported, would also help out on the demand front).
Jonathan Alter: The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies (2013, Simon & Schuster): Thought this might be one of those "centrist" tomes that balances loathing for the left against a few nitpicks with the right, but turns out this is just a campaign book, a recap of the 2012 election, where Obama's centrism worked because the right went crazy. Alter's previous books were on FDR's 100 days and on the 100 days he hoped Obama would have in 2009, so figure he's been disabused of some illusions.
Marc Ambinder/DB Grady: Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry (2013, Wiley): Several obvious questions here: how much of what Edward Snowden is now being hounded for leaking was known by the "inside" authors here? And how much of what they knew has been obsoleted by Snowden's revelations? I don't doubt that anyone who cared to look could have found various pieces of what the NSA has been up to, and this may help to understand it all. But most likely we're still far from understanding it all, so this and similar books are far from definitive. (I notice that Amazon wants to bundle this with Mark Mazzetti: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth and Jeremy Scahill: Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield -- two other key pieces to the puzzle.)
Scott Anderson: Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East (2013, Doubleday): Every decade or two someone returns to T.E. Lawrence for further confirmation of the insights they've finally tuned into after further mayhem in the Middle East, yet they always miss the basic point: what makes Lawrence an effective critic of British (and more recently American) intervention is that he was helplessly at the center of the problem: he was convinced he could make it work. This also focuses on Aaron Aaronson, Curt Prüfer, and William Yale.
Reza Aslan: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (2013, Random House): Wrote one of the more accessible histories of Islam, No God but God: The Origins and Evolution of Islam, and a book critical of the Jihadist impulse, Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization. Here he attempts a historical inquiry into the life of Jesus. Long ago I read Marcello Craveri's The Life of Jesus, a similar attempt to flesh out a historical character about whom little is known and much is imagined. Aslan must know this as well as anyone, but judging from the cover, I have to wonder whether the association of Jesus with the Jewish zealot movement isn't imposing something from the modern mind's must justified fear of violent fundamentalism.
Andrew J Bacevich: Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country (2013, Metropolitan Books): Continues the author's critique of American militarism -- cf. The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (2005), The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008), Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (2010) -- all useful books. Still, I think his argument here, that Washington has found it too easy to use (and abuse) the all-volunteer Army can be countered by restoring the draft, is misplaced. He surely recalls that having "citizen-soldiers" in Vietnam did little to prevent the politicians and brass from abusing them. Nor did the Army's later scheme to make itself unable to fight wars without calling up the reserves deter the Bushes. I don't doubt that the Afghanistan and Iraq wars have done immeasurable damage to the troops, but you're never going to end American militarism by fetishizing the troops -- they ultimately have too much stake in perpetuating the system to buck it, even if many wind up its victims.
Peter Baker: Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House (2013, Doubleday): Big (816 pp) instant history of the two Bush-Cheney terms, based on sympathetic insider interviews by a long-time White House correspondent. One angle seems to be questioning who called the shots when -- for much of this time Billmon commonly referred to the Cheney Administration, while only occasionally mentioning "Shrub." My impression is that after Cheney's chief of staff Libby was convicted the tables turned and we went from the Cheney menace to the Bush muddle, not that anything got better.
Max Blumenthal: Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (2013, Nation Books): The hidden, and rather embarrassing, story revealed by living a couple years in Israel, of talking to right-wingers in Knesset and in the streets, to peace activists, and to strange folk who invariably wind up "shooting and weeping" like David Grossman. I'm not sure he covers all the bases, but he shows, for instance, how the schools are used to train Jewish Israelis for military service, and how that reinforces right-wing political culture. The result is a grossly distorted society.
David Carey/John E Morris: King of Capital: The Remarkable Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone (2010; paperback, 2012, Crown Business): Puff book on the largest private equity company and its billionaire leader, and presumably a few words about his partner, Pete Peterson -- you know, the guy who wants to take your Social Security away. The authors buy into the great moral fallacy of our time: the belief that making obscene amounts of money is laudable no matter how you do it.
Thurston Clarke: JFK's Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President (2013, Penguin Press): Much speculation about what Kennedy would have done had he lived and been reëlected, especially given how poorly Lyndon Johnson fared with Vietnam. McGeorge Bundy later observed that LBJ's basic Cold War attitude was to make sure he wasn't perceived as weak, JFK's approach was to make sure he was right. The author argues that JFK's openness made him a different man at the end of his life than he was when he ran for president.
Jonathan Crary: 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (2013, Verso): Short book (144 pp) on how capitalism's need to sell you things has chewed up the clock. I suspect this might dovetail nicely with James Gleick's Faster, had Gleick thought his book through better instead of just letting it bum rush him.
Diary of a Very Bad Year: Confessions of an Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager (paperback, 2010, Harper Perennial): Interviews with an anonymous hedge fund manager from September 2007 to late summer 2009: gives you a chance to view the panic from the inside, and also to lay out the perspective of a hedge fund trader, someone always on guard to exploit any given situation.
Barbara T Dreyfuss: Hedge Hogs: The Cowboy Traders Behind Wall Street's Largest Hedge Fund Disaster (2013, Random House): Another hedge fund disaster: Amaranth Advisors LLC, worth $9 billion one day, collapsed a few weeks later -- mostly the work of one trader's high-risk bets on natural gas prices. Hope there is some useful historical context. Amaranth collapse in 2006, before the crash; Galleon Group in 2009, after.
Terry Eagleton: Across the Pond: An Englishman's View of America (2013, WW Norton): One might think that the author's status as one of the world's foremost Marxist literary critics might have some bearing on how he views America, but most of the examples I see are stereotypically English views of generic Americans, easy to come by and more self-sure than is warranted. Other relatively recent Eagleton books (some reprints of older books, many university presses): How to Read Literature (2013, Yale); The Event of Literature (2012; paperback, 2013, Yale); Why Marx Was Right (paperback, 2012, Yale); On Evil (paperback, 2011, Yale); Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (paperback, 2010, Yale); The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction (paperback, 2008, Oxford); Literary Theory: An Introduction (3rd edition, paperback, 2008, Minnesota); Trouble With Strangers: A Study of Ethics (paperback, 2008, Wiley-Blackwell); How to Read a Poem (paperback, 2006, Wiley-Blackwell); Criticism and Ideology: A Study in Marxist Literary Theory (paperback, 2006, Verso).
Russell Faure-Brac: Transition to Peace: A Defense Engineer's Search for an Alternative to War (paperback, 2012, iUniverse): Short book (142 pp), but the basics seem obvious, requiring only a will to not do stupid and self-destructive things. Of course, coming out of a war culture, he probably has more stupidity to argue against.
Michael Fullilove: Rendezvous With Destiny: How Franklin D Roosevelt and Five Extraordinary Men Took America Into the War and Into the World (2013, Penguin Press): The "five" were envoys sent by Roosevelt to Europe to lay the foundations for the future US alliances in WWII, and ultimately the transformation of the US from isolationism to internationalism and ultimately to our hallucination of sole superpowerdom -- something that may have been more true in 1946 than in 1990 (or 2001). There has been a sudden confluence of eve-of-WWII books, including: Susan Dunn: 1940: FDR, Wilkie, Lindbergh, Hitler -- The Election Amid the Storm (2013, Yale University Press); Lynne Olson: Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941 (2013, Random House); David L Roll: The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler (2013, Oxford University Press); Maury Klein: A Call to Arms: Mobilizing America for World War II (2013, Bloomsbury Press).
Charles Gasparino: Circle of Friends: The Massive Federal Crackdown on Insider Trading -- and Why the Markets Always Work Against the Little Guy (2013, Harper Business): Fox business analyst, which is probably where the "massive federal crackdown" rhetoric comes from. More dirt on the Galleon Group case, which is probably better covered by Anita Raghavan: The Billionaire's Apprentice and Turney Duff: The Buy Side. Gasparino previously wrote Bought and Paid For: The Unholy Alliance Between Barack Obama and Wall Street, which is true enough, but hardly the only "unholy alliance" Wall Street has.
Rosemary Gibson/Janardan Prasad Singh: Medicare Meltdown: How Wall Street and Washington Are Ruining Medicare and How to Fix It (2013, Rowman & Littlefield): Given the alternatives it's tempting to give Medicare a free pass, but the program isn't immune from the profit-driven US healthcare industry, and the greed of the latter is as much a threat as the political right. So this is a real problem, but I'm not sure this book is much of a solution. Thumbing through it, the "Fifteen Medicare Facts That Will Astonish You" are mostly astonishing for their abuse of statistics. Gibson and Prasad also wrote Wall of Silence: The Untold Story of the Medical Mistakes That Kill and Injure Millions of Americans (2003, Lifeline Press), The Treatment Trap: How the Overuse of Medical Care Is Wrecking Your Health and What You Can Do to Prevent It (2011, Ivan R Dee), and The Battle Over Health Care: What Obama's Reform Means for America's Future (2012, Rowman & Littlefield).
Henry A Giroux: America's Education Deficit and the War on Youth: Reform Beyond Electoral Politics (2013, Monthly Review Press): Blames "four fundamentalisms: market deregulation, patriotic and religious fervor, the instrumentalization of education, and the militarization of society." The other three are right-wing ideology, but the third is less a theory than a consequence. Conservatives want to shift the responsibility for success from society to the individual, which means there will be less wealth and what there is spread more inequitably. They figure this to be a good thing: if success is rarer we should appreciate it, and the virtues that help individuals accumulate it, more, but the net effect is to create a declining economy where education becomes an ever more dear tool. That strikes me as less a "war on youth" than gross indifference to the future of civilization. Giroux has also written: Disposable Youth: Racialized Memories, and the Culture of Cruelty (paperback, 2012, Routledge), and Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future (paperback, 2013, Paradigm).
Doris Kearns Goodwin: The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (2013, Simon & Schuster): Follow-up to her ridiculously acclaimed Lincoln book, Team of Rivals, taking another juicy slice of hyperbole and puffs it up to 848 pp.
Laura Gottesdiener: A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home (2013, Zuccotti Park Press): How predatory lending and foreclosure have wracked black America, contributing to the failure to build real economic security on top of nominal civil rights gains.
Richard N Haass: Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America's House in Order (2013, Basic Books): Veteran foreign policy mandarin, realist division, but not realist enough to concede that the gig is up. But he does realize that American power has always been built on the American economy, so that's something worth paying some attention to, especially if you hope to remain a foreign policy mandarin.
Carl Hart: High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society (2013, Harper): A memoir, detailing the author's early interest in crack addiction as a user before he became a scientist and started researching others, rethinking how anti-drug laws work and what they are doing, especially given their racially-selective enforcement, and providing research on what drugs actually do, which is often not what you think.
Richard Heinberg: Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future (paperback, 2013, Post Carbon Institute): Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing promises to increase the amount of oil we can extract from already largely depleted oil fields, and to make the extraction of natural gas from widespread shale deposits economically attractive -- assuming you don't get too squeamish about the environmental risks, which for gas at least are considerable. Heinberg wrote a book in 2003 which declared The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies and followed that up in 2007 with Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines, and he's sticking to his guns here. For less dismal views of fracking, see: John Graves: Fracking: America's Alternative Energy Revolution (paperback, 2013, Safe Harbor); Vikram Rao: Shale Gas: The Promise and the Peril (paperback, 2012, RTI International); Tom Wilber: Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale (2012, Cornell University Press).
Rawn James Jr: The Double V: How Wars, Protest, and Harry Truman Desegregated America's Military (2013, Bloomsbury Press): One of the first important breakthroughs in post-WWII civil rights, partly because it could be done by executive order, but also, I suspect, because becoming gun fodder wasn't much of a step up, and trying to maintain segregation in a modern military as large as the US wanted for its "cold" and not-so-cold wars would have been a nightmare. Indeed, one can argue that segregation only survived in the South as long as feudalism did.
Gregg Jones: Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America's Imperial Dream (2012; paperback, 2013, NAL): Taking the Philippines from Spain was the easy part. Crushing their war for independence was a much larger and more arduous ordeal.
Simon Lack: The Hedge Fund Mirage: The Illusion of Big Money and Why It's Too Good to Be True (2012, Wiley): Formerly worked at JPMorgan making investments in hedge funds, only to find out that despite occasionally spectacular stories they didn't in general work out.
Mark Leibovich: This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral -- Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! -- in America's Gilded Capital (2013, Blue Rider Press): "There are no Democrats and Republians anymore in the nation's capital, just millionaires. That's the grubby secret of the place in the twenty-first century. You will always have lunch in This Town again. No matter how many elections you lose, apologies you make, or scandals you endure." So don't expect anything on the real problems America faces; just the surreal ones.
Michael Levi: The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America's Future (2013, Oxford University Press): Bullish on US energy from all corners, covering the oil and gas booms as well as the ever-more-competitive renewables, seeing bright futures in both. The "battle" is likely to be more political than economic, as the Kochs and other oil partisans, for instance, would love to see solar and wind power stamped out. No indication that nuclear comes into play here at all.
Jonathan Macey: The Death of Corporate Reputation: How Integrity Has Been Destroyed on Wall Street (2013, FT Press): When you hire a banker to manage your money, he is supposed to work for you, to serve your interest. When he uses your money to buy his bank's toxic securities, he's taken your trust and used it to screw you. That, in a nutshell, is what banks have turned into since the "greed is good" age took over. Sure, mostly they screw other people, but as that becomes habitual it ceases to matter to them who they screw, or how. And the more they've gotten away with it, the more they do it: one of Macey's big points is the SEC, created to stop securities fraud, "got captured," becoming "toothless."
Sebastian Mallaby: More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin Books): Big book on hedge funds, starts with the originators and tries to cover the field, taking a positive view and covering the "heroes" when the "villains" have become all the more noteworthy. Probably useful for all this history, even if the ethics seem a little shaky.
Jerry Mander: The Capitalism Papers: Fatal Flaws of an Obsolete System (paperback, 2013, Counterpoint): Former advertising executive, wrote Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television in 1977, In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations in 1992, and cowrote with Edward Goldsmith The Case Against the Global Economy: And a Turn Toward the Local in 1997. In the post-Cold War period the suggestion that capitalism is obsolete is rank heresy, but it isn't so hard to see that a system dependent on infinite growth cannot be indefinitely sustained, or that the way we practice capitalism -- where the rich make up for their inability to grow adequately by hollowing out everyone else -- leaves much to be desired.
Geoff Mann: Disassembly Required: A Field Guide to Actually Existing Capitalism (paperback, 2013, AK Press): Short book (160 pp), reprising economic theory from Marx to Gramsci, looking at capitalism as a self-destructive as well as productive engine, and expecting the worst.
Richard Manning: Rewilding the West: Restoration in a Prairie Landscape (paperback, 2011, University of California Press): Author of the marvelous Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics and Promise of the American Prairie (paperback, 1997, Penguin) returns with a book on a project to create an "American Serengeti" where a large chunk of Montana is rewilded replete with buffalo, wolves, elk, grizzly, much as it was when Lewis and Clark first traipsed through it a scant two hundred years ago.
Leslie McCall: The Undeserving Rich: American Beliefs About Inequality, Opportunity, and Redistribution (paperback, 2013, Cambridge University Press): Research on a topic I can only speculate about. My impression is that throughout most of US history Americans were quick to condemn the rich, at least in bad times, but over the last 30-40 years that populist reaction has diminished -- at least partly due to the success the Cold War has had in characterizing and championing capitalism as freedom. On the other hand, the rich have taken advantage of this free pass, and are ripe for revulsion once again.
Greg Muttitt: Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq (2012, Free Press): Denials to the contrary, oil was always a big subtext of the US decision to invade Iraq -- how could it have been otherwise when Bush and Cheney were so steeped in the oil industry culture? It's played out more slowly than those who carried "no war for oil" placards, or for that matter the rosy-eyed warmongers in the Bush administration, ever imagined, but ten years later most of the big western oil companies are doing business in Iraq, and booking reserves that have become increasingly hard to find anywhere else. So it's good that someone's finally pulling this history together. And, by the way, the oil companies made out on both ends: early on knocking Iraqi oil out of the market caused shortages and higher prices, and later the companies got those reserves.
Sönke Neitzel/Harald Welzer: Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing, and Dying (2012, Knopf): Based on 800 pages of declassified transcripts of interrogations of German POWs, the book offers "an unmitigated window into the mind-set of the German fighting man" -- before the Reich fell, before the "Final Solution" was final.
Anthony Pagden: The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters (2013, Random House): I'm not sure that the enlightenment ever achieved notably enlightened political rule, but the various insights gained proved (at least until recently) intractable, and as such moved the reference points for those in power, a considerable feat. Why it still matters may owe to my parenthetical: although conservatives have always opposed enlightenment, they have rarely been so successful as lately, so the story bears repeating. Indeed, the squalor of the past dark ages should argue strongly against the future dystopia that today's right-wingers so have their hearts set on.
Christopher S Parker/Matt A Barreto: Change They Can't Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America (2013, Princeton University Press): Argues that the Tea Party isn't "simple ideology or racism" but draws on the psychological sense of losing one's country, a "fear that the country is being stolen from 'real Americans.'" And who believes that? Well, mostly racists and devotees of simple right-wing ideologies. It is ironic that they've never come closer to running the country than they are now, but their worst enemy is their own success, because all they truly offer is ruination. Also see: Lawrence Rosenthal/Christine Trost: Steep: The Precipitous Rise of the Tea Party (paperback, 2012, University of California Press); Ronald P Formisano: The Tea Party: A Brief History (2012, John Hopkins University Press).
Anita Raghavan: The Billionaire's Apprentice: The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund (2013, Business Plus): Focuses on South Asian emigré hedge fund traders, especially Galleon Group founder Raj Rajaratnam, something the Malaysia-born author can relate to. For more on Galleon: Turney Duff: The Buy Side: A Wall Street Trader's Tale of Spectacular Excess (2013, Crown Business).
Jonathan Rowe: Our Common Wealth: The Hidden Economy That Makes Everything Else Work (paperback, 2013, Berrett-Koehler): Short book (144 pp) on the importance of "the commons" not just to the economy but to wealth and well-being of all. Published posthumously with forwards and afterwords by Bill McKibben, David Bollier, and Peter Barnes. I see numerous testimonies that Rowe was "a unique and original thinker," so it's nice to have him collected in a book.
Jeffrey D Sachs: To Move the World: JFK's Quest for Peace (2013, Random House): Focuses on four speeches Kennedy gave during his last days, covering similar ground to Thurston Clarke: JFK's Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President. Sachs is an economist, best known for his contentious work on world development, so this is something of a pet project.
Jonathan Schlefer: The Assumptions Economists Make (2012, Belknap Press): It's hard to avoid the impression that most of what passes for economics is applied logic based on unexamined assumptions -- it's not that there is no empirical data, but it's so messy you need models to make sense of it, and most economists wind up believing their seductively logical models over their lying eyes. The point here is to examine the unexamined assumptions, starting with Adam Smith's "invisible hand."
Kevin Sites: The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won't Tell You About What They've Seen, Done or Failed to Do in War (paperback, 2013, Harper Perennial): Interviews with eleven US soldiers who did time in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of memoirs from these wars -- way too many to list, and one thing they're unlikely to provide is any historical sense of how or why they were put into those wars. Karl Marlantes: What It Is Like to Go to War (2011, Atlantic Monthly Press; paperback, 2011, Grove Press) is similar on the Vietnam War. Nancy Sherman: The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Our Soldiers (2010; paperback, 2011, WW Norton) tries to cover both Vietnam and the Bush Wars.
Tom Standage: Writing on the Wall: Social Media -- The First 2,000 Years (2013, Bloomsbury): Looks at pre-Internet analogues to "social media" -- for instance, the much older practice of graffiti. Author previously wrote An Edible History of Humanity, A History of the World in 6 Glasses, and most relevantly, The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers.
Benn Steil: The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order (2013, Princeton University Press): The system of monetary exchanges set up at the Bretton Woods conference held up from 1944 to 1973, a period of tremendous and widespread growth for both the US and Europe, so how it came about is bound to be an interesting story.
Chuck Thompson: Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Succession (2012; paperback, 2013, Simon & Schuster): You're more likely to hear southerners urging secession -- Rick Perry is one who made headlines, but then as a Texan he felt doubly entitled -- but when you look at the political and economic splits you get a sense of how much of a drag the South places on the rest of the country. I'm just worried that, living in Kansas, I might wind up on the wrong side of the border -- Gov. Brownback's whole agenda amounts to nothing more than Texas-envy, so he for sure would want to stick with the South.
Euclid Tsakalotos/Christos Laskos: Crucible of Resistance: Greece, the Eurozone and the World Economy (paperback, 2013, Pluto Press): Greek leftists, the former an economic professor who previously wrote 22 Things That They Tell You About the Greek Crisis That Aren't So, explain the Greek popular revolt against the Eurobankers' imposition of austerity programs, meant to solve a problem largely caused by the Euro.
Richard Wolfe: The Message: The Reselling of President Obama (2013, Twelve): Insider book on the 2012 presidential election from within the victorious Obama camp, a good chance for the author to compliment his own brilliance, if you're into that sort of thing. Wolfe's memoir of the 2008 campaign was Renegade: The Making of a President. Guess he couldn't use that title again.
Some recent paperbacks of books previously listed in hardcover:
Kurt Eichenwald: 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars (2012; paperback, 2013, Touchstone): Figures the 18 months from 9/11/2001 to the invasion of Iraq tell us all we need to know about the emergence and development Bush administration's strategic thinking about war and terror, with a clarity that is only muddled by the subsequent 5-10 (and counting) years of grappling with the many failures and complications of such muddled thinking.
Christopher Hayes: Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (2012, Crown; paperback, 2013, Broadway): Shows how the idea of meritocracy is a two-edged sword: on the one hand, it accustoms you to thinking that inequality is due to merit; on the other, Hayes shows how the meritocracy game can be rigged, and inevitably degrades into oligarchy. He also shows that we're so far gone down this road one scarcely bothers with meritocracy any more, even as a shallow excuse.
Timothy Noah: The Great Divergence: America's Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It (2012; paperback, 2013, Bloomsbury Press): Probably the first book to start with if you want to understand how incomes and wealth have diverged since 1973, with the rich and the superrich pulling ever further ahead while everyone else stagnates or worse.
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.
Friday, July 19. 2013
I accumulate these things both on bursts and occasionally when I stumble across something, but I've had trouble getting them collated into regularly timed chunks of forty. Once again, I have at least another batch's worth in the queue, and in burst mode to see what I may have missed that backlog is growing. One indication that I've waited too long this time is that I've already read two of these books (Rashid Khalidi, Pamela Olson). One more I've bought and hope to read soon (Jeremy Scahill), and three more are likely to follow (Gar Alperovitz, David Graeber, Philip Mirowski). And several more are possibles (e.g., Robert Kuttner, Michael Pollan, Hedrick Smith), and there are others I'd like to read but don't forsee the time or opportunity (e.g., Mark Blyth, William Dalrymple, Michael Hudson, Gary May, Seamus McGraw). Even George Packer might prove interesting. So one advantage of waiting so long is the opportunity to be more selective. Next books post, at least if it happens soon, won't be so lucky.
Ervand Abrahamian: The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern US-Iranian Relations (2013, New Press): Of course it was, something never much understood at the time. Previously wrote A History of Modern Iran (2008), so this is a sort of prequel, an attempt to understand where all the later mess came from.
Gar Alperovitz: What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution (paperback, 2013, Chelsea Green): Historian -- the first to take a look at what the Hiroshima bombing meant for US-Soviet diplomacy -- but by now perhaps even better known for exploring the limits of conventional capitalism in America -- cf. America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy (2004; 2nd ed, paperback, 2011, Democracy Collaborative). Especially interested in worker-owned companies, cooperatives, etc.
Mark Blyth: Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (2013, Oxford University Press): Dangerously bad, and dangerously popular, both right-of-center where wrecking the economy is viewed as a political virtue, and among centrists like Obama who don't know what's good for themselves. John Quiggin added a chapter to his Zombie Economics to try to beat it down. More here.
Samuel Bowles/Herbert Gitlin: A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution (2011; paperback, 2013, Princeton University Press): Bowles is one of the best-known leftist economists, editor (with Gintis and Melissa Osborne Groves) of Unequal Chances: Family Background and Economic Success (paperback, 2008, Princeton University Press), and author of The New Economics of Inequality and Redistribution (paperback, 2012, Princeton University Press), as well as more general texts. Gintis has written a great deal on things like game theory and education. What they're trying to do here is situate the human capacity for cooperation within evolutionary theory, a tricky task as anyone who's bumped heads with sociobiology should be able to attest. Comes with a daunting amount of math, too.
Richard Breitman/Allan J Lichtman: FDR and the Jews (2013, Belknap Press): Digs deep into this limited topic, attempting to "banish forever the notion that Franklin Roosevelt was a blinkered anti-Semite who made little effort to stop the Holocaust" -- not that there isn't some truth in those accusations too.
Andrew Scott Cooper: The Oil Kings: How the US, Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East (2011, Simon & Schuster): Focuses on the 1970s, when two "oil shocks" hit the stagflationed US economy -- the OPEC embargo of 1973 and the Iranian revolution of 1979. Using newly declassified documents, tracks how the US tried to cope with these events: not very well, no surprise there.
William Dalrymple: Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42 (2013, Knopf): Historian, has mostly written about India -- e.g., The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857 (2007) -- here turns his attention to what is now called the First Anglo-Afghan War, when the British initially occupied Kabul with ease but wound up with their entire mission army destroyed -- only one soldier escaped. I suppose the Americans think they've done better, but they haven't got out yet.
Mary L Dudziak: Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (2000; paperback, 2012, Princeton University Press): Looks at the civil rights movement in light of America's cold war crusade. Communists had been first and foremost supporters of the civil rights movement in the US, and could make good propaganda use of US racism, ultimately becoming one reason the federal government intervened. Certainly not the only reason, but one.
Chrystia Freeland: Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (2012, Penguin Press): Inequality viewed from the top, the breakaway rise of the top 0.1%, and hopefully something on what this does to the rest of us. Author previously wrote Sale of the Century: The Inside Story of the Second Russian Revolution (paperback, 2005, Abacus), on the making of the post-Soviet oligarchy.
Joshua B Freeman: American Empire: The Rise of a Global Power, the Democratic Revolution at Home 1945-2000 (2012, Viking): Parenthetically, "Penguin History of the United States," suggesting a part in a series, but the only other such book I've seen is Hugh Brogan's one-volume (up through the 1980s). Covers a big chunk of history in 512 pp. -- about the same size and subject as HW Brands' American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (2010, Penguin Books).
Eduardo Galeano: Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History (2013, Nation Books): After his classic book Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, Galeano has written a number of elliptical meta-histories -- John Berger calls them "bedtime stories -- of which this is either more or perhaps some sort of summation: a vignette for each day of the year, meant to reveal much more. Other books in this vein: Genesis: Memory of Fire, Volume 1; Faces and Masks: Memory of Fire, Volume 2; Century of the Wind: Memory of Fire, Volume 3 (all three: paperback, 2010, Nation Books); Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone (same); Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World (paperback, 2001, Picador); Voices of Time: A Life in Stories (paperback, 2007, Picador).
Barbara Garson: Down the Up Escalator: How the 99 Percent Live in the Great Recession (2013, Doubleday): Not very well, but most working people have been practicing for the downfall for decades, as companies have squeezed them, cut down on benefits and kept up the pressure for more hours and more productivity. Garson talks of a "long recession" dating back to around 1970.
Martin Gilens: Affluence & Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America (2012, Princeton University Press): Another book on the effects of growing income inequality in the US, an effect that is not just reflected but amplified in terms of political power. Previously wrote Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy (1999; paperback, 2000, University of Chicago Press).
Melvin A Goodman: National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism (paperback, 2013, City Lights): Ex-CIA analyst, wrote Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA (2008), certainly a good place to start on his bigger theme.
David Graeber: The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement (2013, Spiegel & Grau): Anthropologist, wrote the widely admired (or at least debated) Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011, Melville House); was deeply involved in Occupy Wall Street, so this is first-draft history from the middle of the action, hopefully with some deep thinking tossed in, especially about democracy.
Raymond G Helmick: Negotiating Outside the Law: Why Camp David Failed (2004, Pluto Press): A Jesuit priest, Professor of Conflict Resolution, and mediator during the Camp David talks, places blame for the failure of the summit on the unwillingness of all parties to recognize applicable international law and position their goals within that framework. Based on what I know from Charles Enderlin: Shattered Dreams: The Failure of the Peace Process in the Middle East, 1995-2002 (2003, Other Press), and Clayton E Swisher: The Truth About Camp David: The Untold Story About the Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process (2004, Nation Boks), that makes sense.
Michael Hudson: Finance Capitalism and Its Discontents 1: Interviews and Speeches, 2003-2012 (paperback, 2012, Islet): Also wrote The Bubble and Beyond: Fictitious Capital, Debt Deflation and Global Crisis (paperback, 2012, Islet), and going back a ways, Super Imperialism: The Origin and Fundamental of US World Dominance (new edition, paperback, 2003, Pluto Press), an unorthodox economist who has been exceptionally sharp at predicting the 2008 collapse. This collects his map of the path to the brink, while The Bubble and Beyond shows us the chasm beyond.
Neil Irwin: The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire (2013, Penguin Press): Focuses on central banks in the US (Ben Bernanke), UK (Mervyn King), and Europe (Jean-Claude Trichet), how they've handled the financial meltdown from August 2007 forward -- and hopefully pointing out how they haven't handled it very well.
Daniel Cay Johnston: The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use "Plain English" to Rob You Blind (2012, Portfolio): Muckracker, previously wrote Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich -- and Cheat Everybody Else (2003), and Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill) (2007). Here he discovers what Woody Guthrie knew all along: some people will rob you with a fountain pen. Dylan Ratigan is stalking the same beast, but appears to have fried his brain on the title: Greedy Bastards: How We Can Stop Corporate Communists, Banksters, and Other Vampires From Sucking America Dry (paperback, 2012, Simon & Schuster).
Rashid Khalidi: Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East (2013, Beacon Press): Could be about any number of areas in the Middle East where the US has sold arms and worked against peace -- Khalidi's Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Hegemony in the Middle East (2009) takes such a general view -- but this one is specifically about Israel/Palestine, focusing on three episodes where the US not only failed to bring Israel to the peace table but arguably collaborated with Israel's right-wing hawks to undermine the US's own stated intentions: Reagan's 1982 plan, Bush's 1991 Madrid Conference, and Obama's 2009 initiative.
Mattea Kramer, et al. [National Priorities Project]: A People's Guide to the Federal Budget (paperback, 2010, Olive Branch Press): Basic info on what the budget is, how the process works, etc. -- subjects lots of people are woefully ignorant of. Doubt that it goes much further, but clearly fills a need.
Robert Kuttner: Debtor's Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility (2013, Knopf): Not only is austerity economically counterproductive, at least within a recession, its attraction is purely political, as is the decision to follow its dictates. Kuttner knows this, and presumably has some worthwhile suggestions, but right now it is mainly a test of political will -- something Obama, in particular, doesn't seem to understand.
Jaron Lanier: Who Owns the Future? (2013, Simon & Schuster): Previously wrote You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (2010), and is credited as "the father of virtual reality." Argues that "the rise of digital networks led our economy into recession and decimated the middle class," and proposes some things -- short of Luddism, which probably wouldn't work anyway -- to ameliorate all that. I don't buy the causal argument, but he may have some points on networks exacerbated other trends that are primarily political.
Gary May: Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy (2013, Basic Books): An important story in the civil rights movement: why voting mattered, how bitterly white supremacists fought it, how their violence turned much of the nation against them, resulting in a landmark law the Supreme Court has just gone out of its way to gut.
Mark Mazzetti: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth (2013, Penguin Press): Book cover has a helicopter but it's really the drone that has transformed the CIA's mission from gathering and analyzing "intelligence" to a rogue organization of assassins.
Seamus McGraw: The End of the Country: Dispatches From the Frack Zone (paperback, 2012, Random House): We're working through a cycle where as we deplete relatively easy oil and gas resources, we try to tap into more difficult resources with more advanced technology. One such is gas trapped in narrow seams of shale: only recently it's become possible to drill into those seams then horizontally to open up more of the seam; then a toxic chemicals is pumped into the well and an explosion set off, driving the chemicals to fracture the rock and release more gas (this is called "hydrofracturing" or "fracking"). This book focuses on Pennsylvania, where pretty much everything that could go wrong with this technology has gone wrong.
Philip Mirowski: Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown (2013, Verso): As I recall, there was a fleeting instant during the early days of the meltdown when at least a few people started to wonder whether there wasn't something seriously flawed in capitalism -- at least our recent, highly financialized version of it -- at the root of the crisis. But it turned out to be nothing like the air of revolution kicked up by the 1930s: no sooner than the banks got bailed out their apologists reverted to the party line.
Pankaj Mishra: From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia (2012, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Focuses on Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (from Iran, despite his assumed name), Rabindranath Tagore (India), and Liang Qichao (China), figures who became prominent around 1900, which is to say well before the major anti-imperialist successes following WWII. I know a fair amount about al-Afghani, who's been given wildly erratic interpretations depending on which axe which writer wanted to sharpen. Ultimately, while such early reactions (at once modernist and reactionary) to European imperialism are interesting, I suspect they are fleeting as later generations learned more about both their enemies and themselves. Mishra has several books poking at this beast; most recently, Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond (2007).
Pamela J Olson: Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair With a Homeless Homeland (paperback, 2013, Seal Press): American, from Oklahoma, graduated with a degree in physics then decided she wanted to see the world, picking Occupied Palestine in a perverse reaction to anti-American sentiments following Bush's invasion of Iraq. She lived in Ramallah for two years, collecting this informal, and increasingly politically astute, travelogue.
George Packer: The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (2013, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Character sketches: tobacco farmer turned "new economy evangelist" in the rural South; Rust Belt factory worker; Washington insider "oscillating between political idealism and the lure of money"; Silicon Valley billionaire; interweaved with "biographical sketches of the era's leading public figures, from Newt Gingrich to Jay-Z, and collages made from newspaper headlines, advertising slogans, and song lyrics" -- I mean, how else would someone who's proven himself incapable of critical thought go about taking the temper of the times?
Michael Pollan: Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (2013, Penguin): The food guy discovers chemistry. Unlikely there is a single thing here not already in Harold McGee: On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, not that he hasn't earned the right to tell the story his way.
Jeremy Scahill: Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield (2013, Nation Books): Previously wrote about US use of mercenaries in Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army (2007). Here goes from Afghanistan to Yemen, Somalia, the cutting edges of American "black ops" -- the undeclared, undebated skirmishes today that will become the quagmires of tomorrow.
James C Scott: Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play (2012, Princeton University Press): Examples of anarchist values against the backdrop of state-ruled society, a pragma for the real world, skepticism about the state rather than an idealist rejection of it. Previous books include: Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (1987); Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (1999); The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (2010).
Roger Scruton: How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism (2012, Oxford University Press): Acknowledges that environmental issues are real concerns, but insists on "local initiatives over global schemes, civil association over political activism, and small-scale institutions of friendship over regulatory hyper-vigilance." It would be easier to imagine such small-scale volunteerism working if corporations were also small-scale and local, and if communities were held together by mutual concerns instead of torn apart by the current inequitable distribution of wealth -- hitherto the main mission of conservatives.
Tavis Smiley/Cornel West: The Rich and the Rest of Us (paperback, 2012, Smiley Books): While the Middle Class is being decimated, those who don't quite rank with them are getting hit hard too, if for no other reason than to put the fear of failure into the Middle Class. Authors do some radio; they should have much to rant about.
Hedrick Smith: Who Stole the American Dream? (2012, Random House): Scottish journalist, previously wrote The Power Game: How Washington Works (1996) and Rethinking America (1995), as well as a couple books on Russia. Covers much the same material as Donald Barlett/Richard Steele: The Betrayal of the American Dream and several other books (some use Middle Class almost interchangeably).
Ehud Sprinzak: Brother Against Brother: Violence and Extremism in Israeli Politics from Altalena to the Rabin Assassination (1999, Free Press): Not a new book, but first I've seen of it, and it does cover many well known examples where Israelis resorted to murder to advance of their political agenda -- Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir being pivotal figures in wrecking the 1990s Peace Process, and one can think of other cases going back to the heyday of the Stern Gang.
Amelia Stein, ed: The American Spring: What We Talk About When We Talk About Revolution (paperback, 2012, Arcade): Brief "conversations with artists, activists, and thinkers," more or less tied to Occupy Wall Street but often notable in their own right. Occupy-themed books are starting to roll out, mostly short ones: Janet Byrne, ed: The Occupy Handbook (paperback, 2012, Back Bay Books); Carla Blumenkranz, ed: Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America (paperback, 2011, Verso); Lenny Flank, ed: Voices From the 99 Percent (paperback, 2011, Red and Black); Susan van Gelder, ed: This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement (paperback, 2011, Berrett-Koehler); Writers for the 99%: Occupying Wall Street: The Inside Story of an Action That Changed America (paperback, 2012, Haymarket); Todd Gitlin: Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street (paperback, 2012, It Books).
David Stuckler/Sanjay Basu: The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills (2013, Basic Books): Both authors are doctors, focused on public health and epidemiology. I've seen books that map out bad health outcomes from growing inequality (e.g., Richard Wilkinson/Kate Pickett: The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger). Austerity, a politico-economic doctrine that makes economics weaker, mostly at the expense of the poor, should have the same effect, and evidently does.
Cass R Sunstein: Simpler: The Future of Government (2013, Simon & Schuster): Maybe those people complaining about the Obama administration's hyperactive regulatory syndrome actually have something to talk about. The co-author of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, the manifesto of "libertarian paternalism," has long been a prominent Obama adviser, and headed the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for three years. Here he touts all the stuff he did, or wanted to do, and why it's good for you, even if you never noticed the difference. One problem with Sunstein's brand of paternalism is that it's something liberals are always accused of, and while it may be a good thing up to a point -- the opposite camp seems to want to go out of its way to make government complex and mysterious, to sabotage any sense that it might be good for things -- it's easy for people who think they know what's good for you to get carried away.
Odd Arne Westad: Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750 (2012, Basic Books): Survey of Chinese foreign policy since they invaded Burma in the 1760s to the present, not that you'd think there was much to write about before 1948 (or 1938). This may provide some fodder for those who see China as a big threat to yet another American Century. Hard to extrapolate, but history does come back in strange forms.
I haven't done any new research here, but it occurs to me that some of the paperback notes -- reprints of books I wrote about when they originally appeared -- are so dated I should kick them out as soon as possible. Don't have any book page notes to link to -- as you may have noticed, those pages disappeared after some authors and/or their lawyers got huffy about "excessive" quoting. So here goes:
Peter Beinart: The Crisis of Zionism (2012, Times Books; paperback, 2013, Picador): Liberal pundit with bad instincts but smart enough to sometimes think past them, as he did when the Iraq War soured, faces up to his beloved Zionism and finds a nation at war with his sense of justice, and even makes a case for limited BDS. Would be more useful if he didn't seem to be even more bothered by American Jews marrying goyim.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (2012, Knopf; paperback, 2013, Vintage): Focuses on Helmand, home of a longstanding, never fully successful US hydro-project called "Little America," showing how wave after wave of US military power never managed to do anything constructive in one of the most intensively patrolled areas in Afghanistan.
Steve Coll: Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power (2012; paperback, 2013, Penguin Press): Corporate biography from the Exxon Valdez disaster to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, with plenty of bumps along the way, as well as extraordinary profits, much on the tricky relationship between bookable reserves and stock price (with the reserves moving ever deeper into unconventional oil), tenacious defense against suits, and intense political lobbying, especially to keep the government from doing anything about greenhouse gasses and global warming.
Thomas Frank: Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right (2012, Metropolitan Books; paperback, 2012, Picador): Mostly focuses on the rise of the Tea Party movement, and how it was funded and manipulated by a few billionaires.
David Graeber: Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011; paperback, 2012, Melville House): Anarchist anthropologist argues that credit/debt goes way back, predating money, not to mention much of what we call civilization. Consensus seems to be that he's "a brilliant, deeply original political thinker" (Rebecca Solnit) who occasionally goes off the deep end.
Michael Hastings: The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan (2012, Blue Rider Press; paperback, 2012, Plume): The author's drinking binge with Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his staff in Europe got the hero of the COIN surge in Afghanistan sacked, but even more devastating is his coverage of McChrystal's succesor, Gen. David Petraeus -- who managed to get away with his incompetence in Kabul, only to blow up a few months later.
Tony Judt/Timothy Snyder: Thinking the Twentieth Century (2012; paperback, 2013, Penguin): Structured as an interview, laced with memoirs repeating others of Judt's post-ALS books (e.g., The Memory Chalet), but expanded to provide a final reckoning with 20th century European thought (and America, and Israel). His last book, one to savor.
Paul Krugman: End This Depression Now! (2012; paperback, 2013, WW Norton): Reasserts the important insights of macroeconomic theory, especially Keynes and Minsky, but he also cares about the human cost of letting the depression bottom out. Could have gone deeper into the political roots of the nonsense you hear about debt and inflation and austerity instead of just demolishing them on economic grounds.
Michael Lewis: Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World (2011; paperback, 2012, WW Norton): Thumbnail portraits of several countries suffering from the the finance meltdown: Greece, Ireland, Iceland, the United States. Very readable, draws sensible conclusions.
Tracie McMillan: The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table (2012; paperback, 2012, Scribner): Research done by working for the companies that handle America's food.
Lawrence Mishel/Josh Bivens/Elise Gould/Heidi Shierholz: The State of Working America (12th edition, paperback, 2012, ILR Press): Since its first edition in 1988, the basic stats and analysis of what it's like to work in America.
Juliet B Schor: True Wealth: How and Why Millions of Americans Are Creating a Time-Rich, Ecologically Light, Small-Scale, High-Satisfaction Economy (paperback, 2011, Penguin Books): Reissue with new (and better) title of Schor's 2010 book, Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth. Schor previously wrote several books on how we are overworked and how we've been conditioned to overspend, so this is a proper summing up.
Ben Shephard: The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War (2011, Knopf; paperback, 2012, Vintage): A history of postwar relief efforts (mostly American) to deal with people displaced by WWII -- Jews you are probably vaguely familiar with, but there were many more, moved to escape armies, moved to work in plants (both voluntarily and impressed), some with homes to go to, many without.
Ron Suskind: Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (2011; paperback, 2012, Harper): Mostly on Obama and his inner circle of economic experts, especially the controlling influence of Larry Summers and the divided loyalties of Tim Geithner (actually, that's probably too charitable; Geithner actively sabotaged Obama orders that would have further curtailed the big banks). Could have done more with the title, since one of Obama's big mistakes was thinking that the economy would heal if only he could restore confidence in it, so therefore he projected an excessively optimistic stance, which crippled his options while fooling no one.
For the record, I've read most of the books in the paperback section (mostly in hard cover). Specifically: Beinart, Chandrasekaran, Coll, Frank, Hastings, Judt, Krugman, Lewis, Schor, Shephard, and Suskind; i.e., not Graeber, McMillan, Mishel. Wouldn't have bothered writing up the latter ones had I not been interested.
Tuesday, April 23. 2013
Still trying to unpack the overhang accumulated up to the March 14 post, with a second installment on March 16, although this one is delayed about as much as I should normally do -- one result is that the queue isn't getting noticeably shorter. So here's another batch of forty more/less recent book titles, with more to follow relatively soon.
Nicholson Baker: The Way the World Works: Essays (2012, Simon & Schuster): Fifteen years of short pieces by the mostly novelist, including a couple I would certainly want to read ("The Charms of Wikipedia," and "Why I Am a Pacifist," the first of three in the section on War). I haven't read his fiction, but Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization is a great book.
William J Baumol, et al: The Cost Disease: Why Computers Get Cheaper and Health Care Doesn't (2012, Yale University Press): An important subject, although it's not clear that Baumol has got the answer right: health care is a dysfunctional market with a lot of hidden (and frankly cancerous) monopolies. Other factors may add to this, including some Baumol identifies (labor costs, lack of productivity improvements).
William Blum: America's Deadliest Export: Democracy: The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else (paperback, 2013, Zed Books): Longtime critic of US foreign policy. Previous books include: The CIA: A Forgotten History (1986); Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower (2000); West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir (2002); Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (2000; revised 2003); Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire (2004).
David Byrne: How Music Works (2012, McSweeney's): Talking Heads frontman, Luaka Bop honcho, applies his experience to a big topic, although I can imagine lots of different tangents for "works" to take off in. Most likely: how music works for me. Still, a topic of some interest.
Caitlin Carenen: The Fervent Embrace: Liberal Protestants, Evangelicals, and Israel (2012, New York University Press): The US has lots of reasons for being exceptionally sympathetic to Israel, ranging from the founding bond of both being white settler nations to the symbiosis of our overbloated arms industries, but one of the most important is how Israel has played in protestant thought -- both early on with liberal guilt over the Holocaust and later with evangelicals pining for the apocalypse.
Victor Cha: The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future (2012, Harper Collins): Former Bush admin NSC Korea hand -- you know, the folks who concocted "the axis of evil" meme -- tries to explain North Korea, something I'm not sure anyone can do. A couple years ago, when Barbara Demick wrote Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (2009) there weren't many books, but that's started to change. Relatively new: Andrei Lankov: The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia (2013, Oxford University Press); BR Myers: The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters (2010; paperback, 2011, Melville House); Bruce E Bechtol Jr: The Last Days of Kim Jong-Il: The North Korean Threat in a Changing Era (2013, Potomac Books). Still, I doubt if any on these shed much light on the latest round of threats and condemnations.
Noam Chomsky: 9-11: Was There an Alternative? (2001; revised paperback, 2011, Seven Stories Press): Right then, right now. Wish he could write better, but decades of being right and ignored have taken a toll on his patience.
Noam Chomsky: Occupy [Occupied Media Pamphlet Series] (paperback, 2012, Zucotti Park Press): Short (128 pp.) pamphlet, meant to advise the Occupy movement. Looks like there will be a series of these things, with additional titles by Stuart Leonard (Taking Brooklyn Bridge), Mumia Abu-Jamal (Message to the Movement), and Marina Sitrin/Dario Azzellini (Occupying Language).
Noam Chomsky: Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to US Empire (paperback, 2013, Metropolitan Books): Continues a long series of interviews with David Barsamian, a context which draws out his wisdom without cluttering up the page.
Climate Central: Global Weirdness: Severe Storms, Deadly Heat Waves, Relentless Drought, Rising Seas, and the Weather of the Future (2012, Pantheon): Written by Emily Elert and Michael D Lemonick but credited to their "nonprofit, nonpartisan science and journalism organization"; with just-the-facts-style reporting, not that they ignore the applicable science.
Susan P Crawford: Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age (2012, Yale University Press): Argues that the 2011 merger of Comcast and NBC Universal "create the biggest monopoly since the breakup of Standard Oil a century ago." During much of that time AT&T monopolized the telephone industry, but at least it was recognized as such and tightly regulated -- so much so that it begged for breakup. The new monopoly combines content as well as networking, which is what makes it not just too expensive but far more dangerous.
Guy Debord: Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1987; third edition, paperback, 2011, Verso): Debord's original essay was written in 1967. When I first read it (in Radical America, 1970) it illuminated all sorts of things, but the basic idea is simple enough it requires little elaboration. The essay is short, as are the comments (94 pp.); still, I've never figured out what you do with the concept -- more likely than not it just leaves you awestruck.
John De Graaf/David K Batker: What's the Economy For, Anyway?: Why It's Time to Stop Chasing Growth and Start Pursuing Happiness (2011; paperback, 2012, Bloomsbury Press): Good question, one also explored by Robert Skidelsky/Edward Skidelsky: How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life (2012); Juliet B Schor: Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (2010); and Joseph E Stiglitz, et al., Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn't Ad Up (2010). [link]
Ross Douthat: Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (2012, Free Press): Conservative New York Times columnist, tries to appear reasonable and rarely succeeds, wants to bring back that old time religion, or something like that. We would at long last do us a favor if he helps break the binds between religion and partisanship, but the old time religion never was much good at respecting others.
Peter Dreier: The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (paperback, 2012, Nation Books): Thumbnail biographies, 4-6 pages each (adding up to 512 pp.), political people you should know at least something about, even though one can nitpick the roster coming and going. Only two are younger than me (Michael Moore and Tony Kushner). Three of the last ten are musicians, and two are athletes, so the spectacle seems to have won out, especially over the writers who have provided so much insight and kept the flame going (Chomsky and Ehrenreich are about it since C. Wright Mills).
Jeff Faux: The Servant Economy: Where America's Elite Is Sending the Middle Class (2012, Wiley): Previous book was The Global Class War: How America's Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future -- and What It Will Take to Win It Back, so presumably this returns to American specifics. Lots of recent books on the destruction of the middle class, the ripe corrollary to the same old, same old of rich-getting-richer and poor-getting-poorer.
Jonathan Fetter-Vorm: Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb (2012, Hill and Wang): Much shorter than Richard Rhodes' epochal The Making of the Atomic Bomb, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words. I've toyed with the idea of writing graphic histories on the Cold War and the Arab-Israeli Conflict -- critical assumption here is that I can get my nephew to illustrate -- mostly because I wish to sharply focus on key understandings rather than to just spew out a lot of narrative, and graphic histories seem to offer a unique opportunity to state and reinforce basic points.
Robert K Fitts: Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination During the 1934 Tour of Japan (2012, University of Nebraska Press): Previously co-edited Remembering Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game and wrote Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball, reports on one of the most famous exhibition tours in history: a key event in Japan's adoption of America's pastime as its own favorite sport, but also cover for Moe Berg's espionage. Not sure who got assassinated.
Stephen M Gardiner: A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (2011, Oxford University Press): A philospher's take on the problem, seeing ignorance and inaction as a lapse in ethics, looking into geo-engineering, etc.
Brandon L Garrett: Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong (2011; paperback, 2012, Harvard University Press): DNA evidence has shown that quite a few innocent people have been convicted of serious crimes. Analyzing those cases should help identify how the justice system gets it wrong and winds up creating injustice. Other recent books on this: Jim Petro/Nancy Petro: False Justice: Eight Myths That Convict the Innocent (2011, Kaplan); Daniel S Medwed: Prosecution Complex: America's Race to Convict and Its Impact on the Innocent (2012, NYU Press).
Wenonah Hauter: Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America (2012, New Press): "Local food" farmer, director of Food & Water Watch, explains how agricultural policy has been designed to aid Cargill, Tyson, Kraft, and ConAgra.
Tim Kane: Bleeding Talent: How the US Military Mismanages Great Leaders and Why It's Time for a Revolution (2012, Macmillan Palgrave): Right-wing economist (Hudson Institute, John McCain), former USAF "intelligence" officer, "startup maven" (to quote Bush economist Glenn Hubbard). I suspect his thesis is right, but I have my doubts that "great leaders" is something the we need the military to have, right now, or just about ever. Bean counters and shrinks, that's another story.
Frederick Kaufman: Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food (2012, Wiley): Starting with Domino's Pizza, hits all the usual stops surveying the contemporary food industry, how it's all related and tied more to finance than to old-fashioned interests like agriculture. Related: Kara Newman: The Secret Financial Life of Food: From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets (2012, Columbia University Press).
George Lakoff/Elisabeth Wehling: The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic (paperback, 2012, Free Press): Lakoff thinks we can solve all our problems by coming up with better terminology to frame our arguments -- i.e., something other than what Frank Luntz comes up with. Supposedly this is that.
Chris Lamb: Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball (2012, University of Nebraska Press): Previously wrote Blackout: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training, digs deeper here into the press attitudes that reinforced the color line in baseball, and a few journalists -- mostly blacks and/or communists, by the way -- who thought differently.
Charlie LeDuff: Detroit: An American Autopsy (2013, Penguin Press): Local journalist, has watched Detroit decline from 1.9 million people to fewer than 700,000, as people left the city for the suburbs or beyond while industry crumbled. I recall that when I was visiting Detroit it was hard to find books on the city, but that at least is looking up. For example, another is Mark Binelli: Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis (2012, Metropolitan).
Jonathan Lethem: The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc. (2011, Doubleday): A novelist based in Brooklyn dumps off scattered essays, mostly lit, some about music. Poking around Amazon's "look inside" I can't get a sense of the whole, but one fragment on "Disnial" is certainly sharp.
Jonathan Lethem: Talking Heads' Fear of Music (paperback, 2012, Continuum): Part of their 33 1/3 series of short books, where a writer picks out a single record and riffs on it. This is number 86, a rare case with a celebrity author.
Audrea Lim, ed: The Case for Sanctions Against Israel (paperback, 2012, Verso Books): Twenty essays here, including Omar Barghouti, Naomi Klein, Ilan Pappe, Joel Beinin, John Berger, Neve Gordon. Sanctions are a relatively non-belligerent way of expressing concern over Israel's manifest unwillingness either to free occupied Palestinians or to treat them equitably. Sanctions helped to tip the balance in South Africa to end the apartheid regime. At some point I fear they will be necessary to make any degree of progress toward peace and justice in Israel-Palestine. Also see: Omar Barghouti: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (paperback, 2011, Haymarket Books).
William Marsden: Fools Rule: Inside the Failed Politics of Climate Change (2011, Knopf Canada; paperback, 2012, Vintage Canada): Canadian journalist, so good chance this focuses more on Canadian politics than on riper targets in the US, not that the anti-science opposition in both countries isn't driven by the same oil and coal companies. Author previously wrote a book on oil shale: Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta Is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (and Doesn't Seem to Care).
GJ Meyer: The Borgias: The Hidden History (2013, Bantam): Of interest mostly, I suspect, if you've followed Neil Jordan's TV series and want to fill in some details, although it looks like this book takes some unexpected turns. Also available, and perhaps more conventional: Christopher Hibbert: The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1919 (2008; paperback, 2009, Mariner Books).
Loretta Napoleoni: Maonomics: Why Chinese Communists Make Better Capitalists Than We Do (2011; paperback, 2012, Seven Stories Press): Previously wrote Rogue Economics: Capitalism's New Reality (2008), and ups the snark quotient here. Certainly is the case that China's economic growth has outpaced ever corner of the capitalist world for at least the last decade.
Mark Owen/Kevin Maurer: No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden (2012, Dutton): Also subtitled, The Autobiography of a Navy Seal. Second guy up the stairs. First guy to cash in. Isn't that -- making a killing out of a killing -- what America is really all about?
Joel Salatin: Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World (2011; paperback, 2012, Center Street): The Virginia farmer who loomed so large in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma speaks for himself -- not for the first time, either: previous books include: You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start and Succeed in a Farming Enterprise (paperback, 1998, Polyface); Holy Cows & Hog Heaven: The Food Buyer's Guide to Farm Friendly Food (paperback, 2005, Polyface); Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front (paperback, 2007, Polyface); The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer (paperback, 2010, Polyface).
Josh Schonwald: The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches From the Future of Food (2012, Harper Collins): Enthusiastic survey of speculations about how food will be engineered and manufactured in 2035.
James Gustave Speth: America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (2012, Yale University Press): Environmentalist, previously wrote The Bridge at the Edge of the World, which questions growth for growth's sake. Should expand on that here.
John Swenson: New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans (2011; paperback, 2012, Oxford University Press): A rock critic of my generation goes to post-Katrina New Orleans and finds inspiration in the music -- where else would one work?
Gary Wills: Why Priests? A Failed Tradition (2013, Viking): Always an interesting writer, although his commitment to Catholicism has always baffled me, the issue here seeming like someone else's personal fight.
Bob Woodward: The Price of Politics (2012, Simon & Schuster): Another inside-out first draft of history, his second on Obama after four volumes on Bush, the first extolling his genius for leadership and the last wondering where all that went. Focuses on the budget battle with congressional Republicans, not anyone's best hour. New Yorker review: "Woodward, who has here the elements of a devastating study of Washingtonian pettiness, has instead written a book that in many ways exemplifies it."
Luigi Zingales: A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity (2012, Basic Books): Chicago economist, argues that American capitalism is dying as the market gets ever more regulated not just by "anti-market pitchfork populism" but by crony corruption he associates with "Europe and much of the rest of the world." Quick fix: trust the markets.
Still don't have the paperback report together. Maybe next time.
Saturday, March 23. 2013
In my books research, I came across a new anti-Obama hate book, David Harsanyi's Obama's Four Horsemen: The Disasters Unleashed by Obama's Reelection (2013, Regnery). The book description (at Amazon) reads:
I don't really feel like arguing these points, even though they are pretty severely disconnected from reality. The national debt, for example, is a problem -- and even then not much of one -- only if its growth isn't matched by growth of the economy, so attempts to "solve the debt crisis" by austerity, forcibly slowing down the economy, are counterproductive and irresponsible. One worries here that Obama and the Democrats, having bought into long-term national debt problem, will shy away from policies that would actually provide the necessary growth.
As for all those "takers" -- you know, the 47% who pay no income tax but live high on government hog -- that shouldn't be something one can argue about. If all those people consciously depend so much on government largesse, they should be aware enough to vote to protect their interest, since their votes and the national conscience are the only things that keep the dole coming. But do they vote? Most don't: because they aren't all that impressed by the federal bounty and/or because they regard the politicians of both parties are crooked.
The Inside Flap explains the four horsemen somewhat differently, with debt and dependency followed by "surrender" -- "the Obama administration kowtows to dictators, apologizes to those who hate us, refuses to defend American ideals, and is actively working to undo our superpower status" -- and "death" -- abortion, of course, which under Obama "is a positive good, to be subsidized and even exported at taxpayer expense." One only wishes, but that's another story.
As I've explained before, the whole mantra that "Obama hates America" is ridiculous from the start. America elected Obama president, twice, by substantial margins. How could someone with the ego to run for president have so little self-regard to hate a country that honors him so? You have to wonder if the real enemies of the real America -- the one that twice voted Obama president -- aren't the ones who hate Obama, and who have graduated from hating the leader to loathing all who voted for him. The right-wing may still love their idea of America -- it's just the folks who live and work here they can't stand.
Consider this: one of Amazon's reviewers quotes the book (p. 54):
Aside from the nonsensical evidence -- those mortgage bailouts never happened (unless, of course, you owned a bank), and "subsidized contraception" is a cost-savings measure for the still private health insurance racket; what's subsidized is health insurance for people who can't afford it, which is equally a subsidy for the whole health care industry -- the striking thing here is the complete inversion of common sense.
Harsanyi seems to believe that there is a state of nature without government where "we" are richer and more moral (ignoring the fact that much of western culture has been very suspicious of the morality of the rich). Let's be generous and call this state Eden, inasmuch as he seems to view government as Original Sin. Needless to say, his view is at odds with the traditional conservative position, which is that we need the state, both with its monopoly of force within the army and police and with its administrative bureaucracy, in order to force the masses to be more moral, to support the established social order, and to make (at least the leaders of that order) richer.
As for his fear of robbing the rich for the benefit of the poor, that classic trope (at least as "Robin Hood") dates back to the Middle Ages, way before liberalism and the modern bureaucratic state -- but alas not before the rich learned how to use state force and laws to exploit the poor. Throughout history, it's been the downtrodden, the poor, and those who imagined a more equitable order, who had most reason to fear the state. Only with the invention of democracy did it become possible for the masses to imagine using nonviolent votes to get a fairer shake. What Harsanyi and his ilk fear is that too many people -- especially young people -- have discovered how to do just that.
So they rail against the people's choice, damning all government, decrying any hint of redistributing the nation's wealth, declaring the very thought to be immoral, and damning those who dare think it to their long-winded, deeply paranoid wrath. In effect, what they are saying is that the people made the wrong choice, so to hell with the people. They're admitting that democracy worked against them, so they aim to subvert democracy. (Examples abound, from voter ID laws to unlimited campaign spending to Scalia's campaign to void civil rights law.) And most ominously, they insist on taking absolutist positions: their opposition to abortion becomes a defense of rapists, their absolute defense of gun rights becomes cover for criminals and license for crackpots, their "line in the sand" on taxes bankrupts the country and denies even themselves real services of government. They're nuts, divorced from reality, estranged from their neighbors, and spiteful, willing to cut off their own legs to make sure you immoral sluts can't catch a break.
A couple years ago John Amato and David Neiwert wrote a short book: Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane (paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press). They barely scratched the surface, and never quite got to the heart of the problem. That seems to be here, in Harsanyi's delusions.
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.
Thursday, March 14. 2013
Again, way too long since the last 40-deep book prospecting post -- September 27 -- possibly because over the last couple months this has degenerated into a music blog (and a grumpy one at that). I'll try to catch up here in a hurry. Since I only do 40 books at a time, I should run about four of these in rapid succession. For the first helping, I've cherry picked the most important books in history, politics, and economics. I'll hold up on doing paperback reissues until I get that section sorted better.
Some of this stuff is so old I've managed to get it through my reading list, hence the illustrations. Chandrasekaran I even have notes on. Most likely the notes were written before I read the books -- Azoulay is the exception, and I added a line on Economix. The Avi Raz and Daniel Kurtzer books are in the queue.
Elliott Abrams: Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2013, Cambridge University Press): A self-serving memoir in the manner of Dennis Ross and so many other failures, but Abrams didn't fail -- he was pure evil, and was remarkably successful not just at wrecking any prospects for peace in Israel's neighborhood but in making everyone involved, including the US, much meaner and crazier. No idea how much of this he admits to -- such creatures usually prefer to dwell in the dark.
Stanley Aronowitz: Taking It Big: C Wright Mills and the Making of Political Intellectuals (2012, Columbia University Press): Mills was the most influential sociologist of his generation, at least on left-oriented students of my generation, so Aronowitz is well positioned to look both at what Mills did and what we made of him.
Ariella Azoulay/Adi Ophir: The One-State Condition: Occupation and Democracy in Israel/Palestine (paperback, 2012, Stanford University Press): Abridged from a much larger book in Hebrew, this is a theory-heavy structural analysis of Israel's occupation -- how various legal and military regimes have been evolved to repress revolt and manage the Palestinian population both within the Green Zone and in the occupied territories. They make no bones that the key is violence, sometimes naked (their term is "eruptive"), more often implicit (what they call "withheld"). Moreover, this violence is so much a part of Israeli rule that the only way to make peace is to replace the Israeli regime.
Bernard Bailyn: The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675 (2012, Knopf): Should as much be the story of the de-peopling of North America, as the native population died off while surrendering land to European (and African) newcomers. Especially in the early years, the population balance was treacherous.
Sheila Bair: Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street From Wall Street and Wall Street From Itself (2012, Free Press): A Kansas Republican, appointed by Bush to head the FDIC in 2006, Bair distinguished herself as damn near the only government official who attempted to do something about the financial collapse before the bottom fell out.
Antony Beevor: The Second World War: The Definitive History (2012, Little Brown): Big book (880 pp.), but the subject has been so exhaustively explored that this promises to be a primer, a reduction to bare essentials, which probably means one battle after another. Beevor himself has written whole (and pretty large) books on Stalingrad, D-Day, and The Fall of Berlin 1945, as well as his other "definitive" The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939.
Peter L Bergen: Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden: From 9/11 to Abbottabad (2012, Crown): Author interviewed Bin Laden back when he was nobody, and managed to ply that association into a lengthy career -- Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama Bin Laden (2001); The Osama bin Laden I Know (2006), The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and al-Qaeda (2011) -- so this book was pretty much inevitable. Also inevitable was the deluge, some specific to Bin Laden, some more general: Mark Bowden: The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden; Mark Owen: No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden; Aki Peritz/Eric Rosenbach: Find, Fix, Finish: Inside the Counterterrorism Campaigns That Killed Bin Laden and Devastated Al Qaeda; Chuck Pfarrer: SEAL Target Geronomo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama Bin Laden; Eric Schmitt/Thom Shanker: Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda.
Alan S Blinder: After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead (2013, Penguin Press): Clinton economist, spent some time (1994-96) as vice chair of the Fed, reviews the 2008 meltdown and the various steps the Fed and Treasury took to save the big banks. He defends those unprecedented steps, but also finds need for further reform.
Breaking the Silence, ed.: Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies From the Occupied Territories, 2000-2010 (2012, Metropolitan Books): Oral history, interviews with Israeli soldiers, witnesses to occupation from the top down.
Naomi Cahn/June Carbone: Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture (2010; paperback, Oxford University Press, 2011): A look at how American families have been polarized by the red-blue culture divide.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (2012, Knopf): Mild-mannered journalist, laid back then wrote a damning chronicle of US incompetence in Iraq, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone, moves on to Afghanistan. There, he focuses on Helmand, home of America's prewar "Little America" hydro-project, watching wave after wave of American power unable to do anything constructive. [link].
Joseph Crespino: Strom Thurmond's America (2012, Hill & Wang): The Dixiecrat's presidential candidate lived a full 100 years, and did something unspeakably vile in nearly every one of them. He was the first southern Democrat to switch parties, starting a trend that brought the GOP the likes of Jesse Helms, Trent Lott, Richard Shelby, and Phil Gramm.
Michael Dobbs: Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman, From World War to Cold War (2012, Knopf): The death of Franklin Roosevelt and the succession of Harry Truman was probably the key event in turning the US-Soviet alliance sour, even if most Cold War histories push the dates out a bit, all the easier to blame the Soviets. Trying to cram this transformation into the last six months of WWII -- from Yalta to Hiroshima, which as Gar Alperowitz argued was a diplomatic gesture aimed as much as Moscow as at Tokyo -- forces the issue, but I'm not sure it doesn't fit.
Robert Draper: Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the US House of Representatives (2012, Free Press): Previously wrote Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush (2007), one of the better books on that sorry subject. This goes deep inside the 112th House, which the Republicans took over following the 2010 elections. At this point I'd say wait for the paperback, out in May hopefully with some extras, also with a new title: When the Tea Party Came to Town: Inside the US House of Representatives' Most Combative, Dysfunctional, and Infuriating Term in Modern History (paperback, 2013, Simon & Schuster) -- not that the 113th won't give it a run for the money.
Jesse Ferris: Nasser's Gamble: How Intervention in Yemen Caused the Six-Day War and the Decline of Egyptian Power (2012, Princeton University Press): Nasser referred to his five-year intervention in Yemen as "my Vietnam": no doubt it both weakened and unfocused Egypt's military, which only added to the confidence Israel's generals felt in launching their 1967 blitzkrieg. Still, while everyone acknowledges that it aided Israel's win, it is rare to see anyone argue that it caused Israel's aggression, not least because it calls into question Nasser's motives and priorities.
Michael Goodwin/Dan E Burr: Economix: How and Why Our Economy Works (and Doesn't Work), in Words and Pictures (paperback, 2012, Abrams Comic Arts): Comix-style, more history than theory, which probably helps both the illustrator and the reader. For many years Larry Gonick had a corner on scholarly (or at least nerdy) comix, but others are appearing: aside from this one on, Yoram Bauman and Grady Klein have two volumes of The Cartoon Introduction to Economics, one micro, the other macro. I've just finished reading this one, and it is a remarkably concise primer on nearly everything you need to know about politics and the economy since Adam Smith (plus it's a big help on Smith).
Michael R Gordon/General Bernard E Trainor: Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq From George W Bush to Barack Obama (2012, Pantheon; paperback, 2013, Vintage): Authors of Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, back when they were embedded in high command, their typical viewpoint for all things military. Once again, they claim the inside story, backed by "still-classified documents" their sources don't trust to the public.
Michael Grunwald: The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era (2012, Simon & Schuster): Mostly on Obama's stimulus bill, now widely understood to have been way too small, not to mention oversold. Not sure what more has been hidden about the story, other than Obama's penchant for negotiating himself down while imagining that he's working up a bipartisan deal. There were no meaningful bipartisan deals during his watch -- only more or less egregious capitulations, which showed how little he was willing to stand up for the very people who elected him, even so much as speaking out in defense of their (and supposedly his) principles. Grunwald previously wrote The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise (paperback, 2007, Simon & Schuster), which I bought long ago but never got around to reading.
James Inhofe: The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future (2012, WND Books): Cover introduces Inhofe as "US Senator"; actually he's just a Republican from Oklahoma, but since the opposition to the science of climate change is overwhelmingly political, why not let a real politician (as opposed to a hack like Roy Spencer) do the talking: "Americans are over-regulated and over-taxed. When regulation escalates, the result is an increase in regulators. In other words, bigger government is required to enforce the greater degree of regulation. Bigger government means bigger budgets and higher taxes. 'More' simply doesn't mean 'better.' A perfect example is the entire global warming, climate-change issue, which is an effort to dramatically and hugely increase regulation of each of our lives and business, and to raise our cost of living and taxes." Nothing here about whether the science is true. Nothing about future effects. Nothing about whether it can be mitigated or controlled. The whole case for opposition is that it runs against Inhofe's political agenda, which is itself nonsense. There are many other books that oppose the supposed political agenda riding on top of climate science, and even a few that try to "debunk" that science. I published a long list in 2010; some more recent ones include: Larry Bell: Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax (2011, Greenleaf); Patrick J Michaels: Climate Coup: Global Warming's Invasion of Our Government and Our Lives (2011, Cato Institute); Brian Sussman: Eco-Tyranny: How the Left's Green Agenda Will Dismantle America (2012, WND Books); Robert Zubrin: Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism (2012, Encounter Books).
Robert Kagan: The World America Made (2012, Knopf): A right-wing view of America as the world's indispensible nation, without which the whole world declines into war and chaos -- as opposed, I suppose, to the universe where the US causes all that war and chaos, i.e., the one we live in today.
Fred Kaplan: The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War (2013, Simon & Schuster): Kaplan wrote an important book a few years back on the "revolution in military affairs" which was put to the test when Bush invaded Iraq -- Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power -- so he should be fairly critical at reporting the military's latest theoretical hubris, COIN (counterinsurgency theory and practice). Petraeus was the marquis star of COIN: he wrote the book, which got him back in the game, not that he ever practiced what he preached. The guy suckered into that was Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whose memoir is also newly available (My Share of the Task: A Memoir). No word from Petraeus yet, but Paula Broadwell: All In: The Education of General David Petraeus turns out to be more authorized than was initially imagined.
Ira Katznelson: Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time (2013, Liveright): A substantial history of the New Deal. Previously wrote When Affirmative Action Was White, which showed how the New Deal shortchanged blacks, so I don't expect him to pull his punches on race.
Ian Kershaw: The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945 (2011, Penguin Books): He's written a lot of books about the Third Reich -- I have one on the shelf unread called Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941 -- so it seems he's focusing now on hypotheticals. In this case: what held the Nazis together until Berlin was overrun, allowing no thought of trying to negotiate surrender terms. Looks like the publisher already has a sequel prepared: Gerald Steinacher: Nazis on the Run: How Hitler's Henchmen Fled Justice (2011, Penguin Books).
Daniel C Kurtzer/Scott B Lasensky/William B Quandt/Steven L Spiegel/Shibley Z Telhami: The Peace Puzzle: America's Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace, 1989-2011 (2013, Cornell University Press): Could be sub-subtitled "An Autopsy" -- that at least is what the subject calls for, with some additional pieces on how Israel inspired the neocons, how Israel's flagrantly illegal counterterrorism tactics were adopted by the Americans, and how Israel played the Iran atomic issue to distract Bush and especially Obama from the real gaping sore in the Middle East. The authors shouldn't be uncritical, but Kurtzer (in particular) may have been too close to the process to call it the sham it has been.
Flynt Leverett/Hillary Mann Leverett: Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms With the Islamic Republic (2013, Metropolitan Books): Sensible appeal from diplomats and analysts who know more than a little about Iran. They've been arguing this for some time: lost some credibility when they told us to deal with Iran back when there were massive demonstrations against Ahmadinejad's reëlection, but they were right, and hoping for regime change has yielded nothing.
Richard Lingeman: The Noir Forties: The American People From Victory to Cold War (2012, Nation Books): The selling of the cold war is one of the most important, least debated topics in American history, undoing and reversing 160 years of isolation and anti-militarism in American culture and politics, undermining significant gains by workers and the poor, many of whom could aspire to "middle class" status, and leading to the calculated insanity of the new right. I'm sceptical of trying to argue politics through culture, but it is a puzzle. Otherwise, this is just a guide to the period's film noir.
Fredrik Logevall: Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam (2012, Random House): Huge (864 pp.) history of the French war, ending in defeat in 1954, to reassert imperialist control over Vietnam, a war the US supported and continued for another 21 years. Author has written about Vietnam before: Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam (1999; paperback, 2001, University of California Press), and The Origins of the Vietnam War (paperback, 2001, Longman). In the former, Logevall argues that the war could have been negotiated away in 1963-65, but that US leaders chose to bet on war instead. We all know how that worked out (or should: the right has veered toward senescence here, as elsewhere).
Ami Pedhazur: The Triumph of Israel's Radical Right (2012, Oxford University Press): By "radical right" he means the followers of Meir Kahane, who were marginal (illegal even) a few decades ago, but following martyred mass murder Baruch Goldstein have wedged themselves into a stranglehold position over Israeli politics, making it impossible to dismantle the settlements, ensuring that the conflict will never end, and (in their minds) ultimately leading to an Israeli state purged of Palestinians. Netanyahu and Lieberman are pikers compared to them -- useful idiots, as Stalins liked to say. Author previously wrote The Israeli Secret Services & the Struggle Against Terrorism (paperback, 2010, Columbia University Press).
Harvey Pekar/JT Waldman: Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me (2012, Hill and Wang): Comic-style book, traces Pekar's coming to terms with his parents' embrace of Zionism -- his mother "by way of politics," his father "by way of faith," neither preparing him for the reality of the state, its belligerence, its paranoia, its domination and occupation.
Eyal Press: Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times (2012, Farrar Straus and Giroux): A book on conscience-driven acts of disobedience, including a Swiss police captain allowing Jewish refugees to enter "neutral" Switzerland in 1938, and Israeli soldiers refusing to participate in the Occupation. Turns out to be a slim book (208 pp).
Avi Raz: The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War (2012, Yale University Press): Focuses on the first two years of postwar occupation, when Israeli thinking about the future was in great flux yet notably rigid: they had, after all, conquered the land of their dreams (well, excepting the East Bank, and South Lebanon up to the Litani), and as neocolonial settlers were reluctant to part with any of it.
Thomas E Ricks: The Generals: American Military Command From World War II to Today (2012, Penguin Press): Military journalist, wrote two books on being embedded with the high command that invaded and occupied Iraq (the first appropriately called Fiasco), extends his historical ruminations back to WWII, hoping he can finally find some generals worth flattering.
Shlomo Sand: The Invention of the Land of Israel: From Holy Land to Homeland (2012, Verso): A logical successor to the author's The Invention of the Jewish People (2009), which questioned whether the Jews returning to Zion were in fact descendents of the Jews who left Palestine in Roman times.
Amity Shlaes: Coolidge (2013, Harper): Partisan hack historian as "revisionist," took on Franklin Roosevelt in The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (2007), goes one step further in attempting to lionize "Silent Cal" -- US president during the fat years of the roaring 1920s then got out before his bubble burst. Also new: Charles C Johnson: Why Coolidge Matters: Leadership Lessons From America's Most Underrated President (2013, Encounter Books). One reason Coolidge matters is as that he's an icon against public sector unions. Another is how steadfastly he served the rich under Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon.
Nate Silver: The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail -- But Some Don't (2012, Penguin Press): Author writes an influential blog about election polling, useful to consult in season, in part because he has an uncanny track record of getting those things correct, no matter how unpleasant the results. This promises to offer more method, and the title issue is the crux of the matter. Most folks have a lot of trouble with statistics, so this promises to be helpful.
Oliver Stone/Peter Kuznick: The Untold History of the United States (2013, Gallery Books): The footnotes, a mere 784 pp, behind Stone's documentary series. Aside from some glances at the notion of "American exceptionalism," this starts with the imperialist grab of the Spanish-American War, the advent of "gunboat diplomacy," and Woodrow Wilson's World War as viewed through Smedley Butler's notion that "war is a racket" -- a truth that no amount of Cold War propaganda could ever erase. Also available: On History: Tariq Ali and Oliver Stone in Conversation (paperback, 2011, Haymarket), after Ali collaborated with Stone on the documentary South of the Border.
Nick Turse: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (2013, Metropolitan): Author has written several books on how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have changed the US military. Here he reexamines the grandaddy of those wars, Vietnam, reminding us how brutal and morally debilitating that war was. Christian Appy: "Nick Turse has done more than anyone to demonstrate -- and document -- what should finally be incontrovertible: American atrocities in Vietnam were not infrequent and inadvertent, but the commonplace and inevitable result of official U.S. military policy." Marilyn Young: "Until this history is acknowledged it will be repeated, one way or another, in the wars the U.S. continues to fight."
Joan Walsh: What's the Matter With White People: Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was (2012, Wiley): Well, you know, they let themselves be manipulated by rich people they have nothing but race in common with, to shaft dark people who they have more in common with than they recognize. In short, dumb.
Michael Walzer: In God's Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible (2012, Yale University Press): Political scientist, best known for writing the book on "just war" theory -- Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations (1977, revised 1992, 2000, 2006) -- then renting out his blessings for the "war on terror." Most likely he'll prove equal ingenious in his support for Israel.
Eli Zaretsky: Why American Needs a Left: A Historical Argument (2012, Polity): Brief survey of the many things the American left has fought for and, in many cases, achieved -- the end of slavery, progressivism, the New Deal, civil rights. Don't know how well he covers the New Left, which I'd argue was substantially successful on all front except that our distrust of power kept us from establishing a base for defending those gains. Needless to add, even in times when such successes are few the need for a left continues -- in many ways, more than ever.
As I said, paperback reissues later.
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]
Saturday, July 21. 2012
Forty more book squibs. Last one was April 19, so I figured another one was overdue. Looking back at my scrach file, I found about sixty piled up, but many were just stubs with future publication dates starting in late April: examples include Paul Krugman's End This Depression Now, Steve Coll's Private Empire, John De Graaf/David K Batker's What's the Economy For, Anyway? -- books that I've managed to read while my research lagged. Normally, I'd dive in and fill out those stubs, but then I'd wind up with two columns worth of books, and I don't really have time right now. So here's what I do have.
Daron Acenoglu/James Robinson: Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (2012, Crown Business): The answer they find is "man-made political and economic institutions" -- an easy case study is to compare North and South Korea; harder ones go back to ancient Rome and medieval Venice, and try to predict where the US and China are going (mostly down, I gather). Authors previously wrote Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (2005, Cambridge University Press).
Terry H Anderson: Bush's Wars (2011, Oxford University Press): An attempt at a big view synthesis of Bush's seven-year war path, plus a bit more on Obama's prosecution of same, but at 312 pp he'll also have to boil a lot down. Billed as a "balanced history," that also means he'll have to tidy up the manifest failures of policies that could hardly have been more deranged.
Ken Ballen: Terrorists in Love: The Real Lives of Islamic Radicals (2011, Free Press): Can't fault one for wanting to get a broader, deeper look at the people castigated as terrorists, even a federal prosecutor. Foreword by Peter L. Bergen.
Jason Burke: The 9/11 Wars (2011, Allen Lane; paperback, 2011, Penguin Global): British journalist, based in New Delhi, reports on various conflicts of the last decade, but mostly in and around Afghanistan. Previously wrote Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam (paperback, 2004, IB Tauris).
Susan Cain: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (2012, Crown): Reassurance, support, defense, therapy for the one-third of all people classified as introverts, touting their little-appreciated advantages. Written by an introvert with a Harvard Law degree. She compares her book to Betty Friedan's, which is a bit of a stretch, but as someone who's explicitly been denied more than one job because he wasn't considered outgoing enough, I appreciate the effort.
William D Cohan: Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World (2011; paperback, 2012, Anchor): Finance writer, wrote House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street (2009, Doubleday) when the abyss opened his eyes. Big book on why Goldman Sachs was not just too big but too ruthless (and too well connected) to fail.
Nancy L Cohen: Delirium: How the Sexual Counterrevolution Is Polarizing America (2012, Counterpoint): Counterrevolution? The main thing that the political successes of the anti-abortion crowd shows is that the nation is becoming less democratic, less respectful of personal views, and less tolerant -- more eager to take advantage of temporary accidents (like the mass insanity of the 2010 elections) to impose an anti-popular straitjacket of law.
Lizzie Collingham: The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (2012, Penguin): Covers the whole world during the war, focusing on how the armies and civilians were fed, or in many cases not -- the Bengal famine one famous case, far away from any front but linked nonetheless.
Peter Corning: The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice (2011, University of Chicago Press): Tries to build a human nature case for equality, equity, and reciprocity as the basic building blocks of society. I'm always leery of biosociology, but the political case for the same strikes me as if not quite self-evident about the only one that can be reasoned. Another book along these lines is Samuel Bowles/Herbert Gintis: A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution (2011, Princeton University Press).
John D'Agata/Jim Fingal: The Lifespan of a Fact (paperback, 2012, WW Norton): Short argument over the difference between truth and facts, with D'Agata billed as the "author" and Fingal as the "fact checker." D'Agata previously wrote About a Mountain, on the Yucca Mountain nuclear dump, and evidently had some trouble with his facts (and fact-checkers).
Emanuel Derman: Models. Behaving. Badly.: Why Confusing Illusion with Reality Can Lead to Disaster, on Wall Street and in Life (2011, Free Press): A Goldman Sachs quant looks back on the art of model building, discovering some limits to models, and rethinking their usefulness. Mostly finance with some asides on science and philosophy -- Derman started out as a physicist. Would be interesting to look at other areas where modelling puts people out on a limb. Previously wrote My Life as a Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance (2004; paperback, 2007, Wiley).
John Patrick Diggins: Why Niebuhr Now? (2011, University of Chicago Press): American cold war-era theologian, died in 1971, has returned lately as a touchstone for both pro- and anti-war politicians and polemicists -- Andrew J. Bacevich keyed one of his recent books off Niebuhr and wrote an intro to a reprint of Niebuhr's The Irony of American History, while Diggins also starts with laudatory quotes from McCain and Obama.
Peter Eichstaedt: Consuming the Congo: War and Conflict Minerals in the World's Deadliest Place (2011, Lawrence Hill): Valuable minerals, corrupt politicians, expendable people, you can focus on the post-1994 war that killed five million, or go back all the way to King Leopold, or for that matter earlier when Kongo was one of Africa's most prodigious slave entrepots.
Charles Fishman: The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water (2011, Free Press): Something on the future water crisis, more on the oddities of current use, and bits about Saturn and other esoteric sources. Previous book was The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works -- and How It's Transforming the American Economy, which suggests a journalist's eye and a quest for big pictures.
Don Fulsom: Nixon's Darkest Secrets: The Inside Story of America's Most Troubled President (2012, Thomas Dunne Books): Not quite the same thing as Nixon's Greatest Crimes -- most of which were hard to keep secret, and some were even bragged about -- but related in all sorts of dark and deviously backhanded ways.
Jonah Goldberg: The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas (2012, Sentinel HC): More from the guy who taught you that Fascism is friendly. Of course, liberals cheat: they use facts, logic, argue for the public good, advocate change in favor of greater fairness and more equal opportunity. And they don't go around calling people Fascists, except when they are.
Michael Grabell: Money Well Spent? The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History (2012, Public Affairs): Refers to the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009," which as I recall proposed well less than $1 trillion, and was further watered down with tax breaks that translated poorly into spending. (Grabell claims the higher figure "when extensions and inflation adjustments are factored in.") It's a fair question which deserves a fair treatment; doubt this is it.
Elizabeth Holtzman/Cynthia L Cooper: Cheating Justice: How Bush and Cheney Attacked the Rule of Law, Plotted to Avoid Prosecution -- and What We Can Do About It (2011, Beacon Press): Former prosecutor and congresswoman, wrote a book during the Bush reign laying out the case for impeachment, remains hot on the miscreants' tails. Good thing someone is. Nothing Obama did or didn't do has disappointed me so much as his unwillingness to look back at the Bush years and expose the malfeasances there -- and not just because had he done so he would have been forced to think twice before repeating so many of them.
Robert Johnson: The Afghan Way of War: How and Why They Fight (2011, Oxford University Press): A survey of the changing tactics used by Afghan warriors since the 19th century to fight off foreign aggression, which since 2001 means the US (and its NATO allies).
Peter D Kiernan: Becoming China's Bitch: and Nine More Catastrophes We Must Avoid Right Now (2012, Turner): Another self-declared "centrist" (and former Goldman Sachs partner) out to save the nation from problems like, "our semiconscious dependency on China, our lack of a centrally coordinated intelligence effort, our downward-spiraling health-care system, and the continually expanding problem of illegal immigration."
Andrew Kilman: The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession (paperback, 2011, Pluto Press): A Marxist critique of the Great Recession -- author previously wrote Reclaiming Marx's Capital: A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency. Title seems a bit misleading: I doubt that there was a problem with production so much as declining profits sent capitalists elsewhere in search of higher gains, especially into finance where it was easy to create imaginary value, at least while it lasted.
Kristin Kimball: The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love (2010; paperback, 2011, Scribner): NY journalist moves to a 500 acre farm in Vermont, resolves to grow everything one needs for "a whole diet" -- meat and dairy as well as veggies and grains, so there's an element here of moving off the grid.
Charles A Kupchan: No One's World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn (2012, Oxford University Press): An antidote to the silly genre of books predicting who will dominate whom in the coming century, as domination itself becomes both less possible and less desirable.
Kwasi Kwarteng: Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World (2012, Public Affairs): British historian and politician (Conservative MP), parents came to England from Ghana, so he knows a bit about the late empire from both ends, but like many of his countrymen may tend to the effect, most of all the benefit, of having experienced British rule.
Walter Laqueur: After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent (2012, Thomas Dunne Books): Historian, now in his 90s, has written about Fascism, anti-semitism, Zionism (which he strongly identifies with, having escaped pre-WWII Poland for Palestine). Predicts gloom and doom for Europe.
David Marsh: The Euro: The Battle for the New Global Currency (paperback, 2011, Yale University Press): The background on how the Euro came about, and why it's not working out so well. Revised and updated from some previous book, possibly Marsh's 2010 The Euro: The Politics of the New Global Currency. Also related: Johan van Overtveldt: The End of the Euro: The Uneasy Future of the European Union (2011, Agate B2).
Chris Martenson: The Crash Course: The Unsustainable Future of Our Economy, Energy, and Environment (2011, Wiley): Peak oil, of course, and peak damn-near-everything else, plus the notion of tipping points, suggest that the economic collapse may differ from previous recessions not just because we're treating it with uncommon stupidity -- there may be insurmountable structural problems beneath the usual cycles. I think there's some truth to this.
Richard Martin: Super-Fuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future (2012, Palgrave Macmillan): Tries to make the case for nuclear power plants fueled by thorium instead of uranium. Thorium is at least as plentiful as uranium. It is radioactive, but less so than uranium, which makes it a more expensive fuel, but also safer -- both in the reactor and as waste -- and has less proliferation risk. India has done the most work toward commercializing thorium power plants, and expects to get 30% of its electricity from thorium by 2050. Looks like the book greatly exaggerates its prospects.
Ralph Nader: Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win (paperback, 2011, Common Courage Press): Don't know whether he's running for president again, but it doesn't to hedge your bets with a campaign book. And I'm sure it was a hell of a lot easier to write than anything Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich brokered. Even has some value if he doesn't run.
James Lawrence Powell: Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West (2011, University of California Press): Lake Powell is currently about half-full, or half-empty if that's your preference, its needs tapped out by cities like Las Vegas that wouldn't exist but for Colorado River water (and hydroelectric power). It supply has long failed to satisfy the Colorado Compact which optimistically divvied up the water to various states, and global warming only promises drier years ahead. Also on the subject: Jonathan Waterman: Running Dry: A Journey From Source to Sea Down the Colorado River (2010, National Geographic); and Norris Hundley Jr: Water and the West: The Colorado River Compact and the Politics of Water in the American West (paperback, 2009, University of California Press).
Dylan Ratigan: Greedy Bastards: How We Can Stop Corporate Communists, Banksters, and Other Vampires from Sucking America Dry (2012, Simon & Schuster): Author has a daytime talk show, evidently left of center despite the hallucinatory title. I understand that "vampires" may be some sort of metaphor, but "corporate communists" is impossible to pin down (despite the smell).
Simon Reynolds: Bring the Noise: 20 Years of Writing About Hip Rock and Hip Hop (paperback, 2012, Soft Skull Press): Scattered essays and interviews -- looks like a reprint of his 2010 Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews. Also wrote Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past (paperback, 2011, Faber & Faber); Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 (paperback, 2006, Penguin); Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture (paperback, 1999, Routledge); and, with Joy Press, The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion, and Rock 'n' Roll (1995, Harvard University Press).
David Rothkopf: Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government -- and the Reckoning That Lies Ahead (2012, Farrar Straus and Giroux): What rivalry? Doesn't he know that government's been bought and paid for? That the only real conflicts left are between the corporate sponsors? That there is no such thing as a "public interest" anymore? Previously wrote Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making.
Ellen E Schultz: Retirement Heist: How Corporations Plunder and Profit From the Nest Eggs of American Workers (2011, Portfolio): I was enrolled in a pension plan only once in my working career -- with a company that wound up under Chapter 11. (Everything else has been 401k, if even that.) No sooner than the papers were filed, the creditors decided that the pension was "overfunded" and moved to dissolve it. I got a small check, and that was the end of it. So that's one example of the "plunder and profit" Schultz writes about. No doubt there are many more.
Martin Sieff: That Should Still Be Us: How Thomas Friedman's Flat World Myths Are Keeping Us Flat on Our Backs (2012, John Wiley): Refuting Friedman's nonsense should be the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how people dumb enough to buy into Friedman actually did things. That they turned out to be damaging, well, that's easier.
Francis Spufford: Red Plenty (paperback, 2012, Oxford University Press): A novel (of some sort) based on the promise of central economic planning in the Soviet Union, a concept you probably expected to have been expunged in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nick Hornby called it "a hammer-and-sickle version of Altman's Nashville." Crooked Timber has done a whole series of posts on this book.
Barb Stuckey: Taste What You're Missing: The Passionate Eater's Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good (2012, Free Press): The science of taste, possibly the psychology, maybe even a bit of art. Possibly similar but heavier: Gordon M Shepherd: Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters (2011, Columbia University Press); older: Hervé This: Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor (paperback, 2005, Columbia University Press).
David Swanson, ed: The Military Industrial Complex at 50 (paperback, 2011, self-published): It bogles the mind to think what Eisenhower might make of his Military-Industrial Complex fifty years and many wars later. An interesting list of contributors, most of whom have elsewhere registered how appalled they are.
Nicholas Wapshott: Keynes/Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics (2011, WW Norton): Actually, when both were alive it wasn't much of a clash: Hayek was obsessed with communism, which Keynes properly regarded as irrelevant. Keynes was an immensely important analyst of the Great Depression, and Hayek was a right-wing crank -- someone who wouldn't be remembered today except that other right-wingers find him useful. So trying to square the two against each other is a bit far fetched. Why? Wapshott previously wrote Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: A Political Marriage.
Colin Woodard: American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (2011, Viking): Books indulging this impulse to hack us up and sort us out come every few years -- cf. Joel Garreau: The Nine Nations of North America and, maybe, Dante Chinni: Our Patchwork Nation: The Surprising Truth About the "Real" America. This one promises more history, hence more overdetermination.
My paperback notes are all stubs too, so will hold until next time. I shouldn't wait three months to do one of these, then not have the time to bring it up to date.
Friday, July 6. 2012
Several stories going around recently about Jonathan Krohn, one-time 13-year-old conservative wunderkind, now at 17 some sort of movement apostate supporting Obama and gay marriage -- e.g., this one by Benjy Sarlin, and another by Alex Pareene. Reminds me that I wrote a squib on his 2010 book:
I remember that when I was nine I gave a speech, on the occasion of Wichita being selected as an "All American City," to my entire elementary school that was full of patriotic platitudes, and when I was thirteen I fell under the influence of a close friend who was a rabid Barry Goldwater supporter -- although I seriously doubt that even then I had any sympathy for Goldwater's anti-civil rights views, nor for his rabid belligerence, especially vs. Vietnam. (Within a year, my views on those subjects firmed up, and by the time I was seventeen I was solidly new left -- a stance I eventually moderated but never disowned.)
So I was familiar with the notion that one could shift political views after age thirteen. On the other hand, I'm not sure how often it actually happens. I doubt, for instance, that my Goldwater friend ever moved much, although I haven't heard of him in 45 years. Among what passes for thinkers on the conservative side, nearly all were born to the calling, and few ever gave it a second thought (Buckley Jr. and Bill Kristol certainly didn't). After all, it could hardly be easier to think that all is right in a world you were born to lord over.
Wednesday, June 20. 2012
The New York Times Sunday Book Review once again went out of its way to reestablish its centrist (conservative) credentials by recruiting Matthew Bishop to pan Paul Krugman's book, End This Depression Now! The key paragraph with his laundry list of objections:
Bowles-Simpson is "widely respected"? They were rejected out of hand by virtually all Republicans for even suggesting the need to raise taxes, and they fared little better among Democrats for their insistence on gutting what's left of the safety net. They're toxic enough that even the president who appointed them had had virtually nothing to do with them, although there's little reason to think that he wouldn't relish a "grand bargain" of the sort they imagine if indeed they enjoyed any respect at all.
The important thing to understand about any such "grand bargain" is that the context precludes any real compromise. If left and right were in some sort of equilibrium, some sort of tit-for-tat exchange could be negotiated and might prove advantageous. However, since the mid-70s we have been subjected to a systematic onslaught by moneyed interests which has materially damaged the working class, permitted the rentier class to greatly aggrandize its wealth, and undermined democracy here and abroad, and every time you compromise with this onslaught you give up ground, and hope.
At some level Krugman understands this. He does, after all, recall a time -- he calls it the Great Compression -- when income and wealth was much more equable in the U.S., and becoming more so, and he notes that even such conventional economic indicators as GDP growth were much stronger then than they've become under conservative hegemony. And he also understands, and cares, that high unemployment rates entail real human costs as well as economic ones. But Bishop's idea that Krugman "the gifted economist" gives way to Krugman "the populist polemicist" in this book is precisely wrong. Krugman focuses almost exclusively on basic macroeconomics here. The irritating stylistics is all Bishop's, as should be clear from the weasel-wording.
For instance, "the rise in unemployment may be largely the result of inadequate demand": not "largely," but as Krugman shows, plainly. The drop in demand is due to deleveraging, which is what happens when an asset bubble bursts and everyone invested in it suddenly has to retrench to recover solvency. Also, "the austerians may be excessively fearful of so-called 'bond vigilantes'": Krugman shows that during a liquidity trap -- the technical term for the desperate deleveraging we are still in -- there can be no "bond vigilantes" because during such times only government bonds are safe havens for investible cash. Nor is this just theory: Krugman repeatedly points to actual interest rates to show that there is no "bond vigilante" effect. (The Eurozone is somewhat different in this respect, which Krugman also explains at length.)
Krugman's assertion "that any extra government borrowing probably 'won't have to be paid off quickly, or indeed at all'" also isn't cavalier: he points to historical examples where even greater debt had little or no consequence. On the other hand, Bishop's insistence that present unemployment has a "structural" component is nothing but a hapless red herring. On the one hand, it's impossible to see how a structural flaw would have manifested itself so suddenly as the economy collapsed. On the other, such a problem could easily be remedied by public investment to provide the missing skills, but no one who talks about "structural" unemployment seems to want to fix that particular problem.
Indeed, that's true of a lot of the things that Krugman's "Very Serious People" say. Mike Konczal has done useful work in mapping out the various things all sides have to say about the current depression. He maps them out into two clusters, one called "demand-based solutions" -- the sorts of things Krugman favors doing -- and "supply-based explanations," which aren't solutions at all, just rationalizations for letting the depression run its course. Krugman, of course, points out the falsity of each of those arguments, but striking them down is a futile task, because the right is committed to repeating them endlessly -- whatever it takes to prevent politicians from trying to solve the crisis by shifting wealth and power from those who have too much to those who don't have nearly enough. And if that means perpetuating the depression indefinitely, that's a price the rich are fully prepared to let the poor pay.