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.
Thursday, April 19. 2012
Another batch of 40 more/less new books. Last one came out on February 9, and as it turns out I almost have enough piled up for an immediate follow-up, so I mostly went with the most promising political, economic, and historical efforts. Next time, especially if it's sooner rather than later, will be more scattered.
Andrew J Bacevich, ed: The Short American Century: A Postmortem (2012, Harvard University Press): Collection with eight other contributors, including Walter LaFeber -- one of the first to document this century of hubris and folly.
Dean Baker: The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive (paperback, 2011, Center for Economic and Policy Reserach): Short (168 pp.), defines "loser liberalism" as policies that "want to tax the winners to help the losers," and argues that progressives would be better off working "to structure markets so that they don't redistribute income upward." Seems like the right idea to me.
Peter Beinart: The Crisis of Zionism (2012, Times Books): Liberal hawk, in fact made a big stink about the point, insisting that only liberals can "win the war on terror" -- a thesis that held up fairly well during the Bush reign but hasn't fared so well under Obama. Also a big-time Israel-lover, eager to defend Zionism even though its record is even more tattered than that of the liberal hawks, but again with a proviso -- something about how the occupation is destroying the soul of Zionism. Even goes so far as to argue for boycotting products from Israel's West Bank settlements, which has made him public enemy number one to the other big-time Israel lovers: the ones who really dig the Chosen People's dominance over the natives -- makes them feel that Old Testament virility.
Josh Bivens: Failure by Design: The Story Behind America's Broken Economy (2011, Cornell University Press): I doubt that America's economy was designed in any meaningful sense, but comparing it to a design -- which is to say determining whether it serves any purpose, and what -- should be good for some insight into its dysfunction.
Otis Brawley/Paul Goldberg: How We Do Harm: A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America (2012, St Martin's Press): An oncologist, practices in a hospital in Atlanta that is the last resort for patients without means, which is largely why he goes in for evidence-based medicine and doesn't go in for kickbacks. Turns out that some of the most lucrative cancer treatments in America do little good and/or much harm, and he's got cases.
David Brock/Ari Rabin-Havt/Media Matters for America: The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network Into a Propaganda Machine (paperback, 2012, Anchor): Probably the single most important factor in America since Obama was elected has been the existence of a full-time, full-press propaganda force dedicated to tearing him down. No other president has had to face such a persistent and unscrupulous foe -- well, Clinton, maybe, but that was during Fox's infancy, where these methods were first hatched but far from perfected. Evidently much of this comes from Brock's website, which exercises the proper level of due dilligence, so you and I don't have to.
Chuck Collins: 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality Is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It (paperback, 2012, Bennett-Koehler): Short (144 pp) book by the director of IPS's Program on Inequality and the Common Good, and he has other activist credentials. The fact of growing inequality should be beyond any doubt at this point. The bigger problem is explaining why it is such a problem, in large part because instead of there being one large reason, there are so many small ones.
Steven A Cook: The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square (2011, Oxford University Press): Survey of Egypt's history post-Nasser, made all the more timely by the revolt against Mubarak's sclerotic rule. Was looking for a book like this back when the revolution was unfolding, but such books always show up late. Cook previously wrote: Ruling but Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey (paperback, 2007, Johns Hopkins Press).
David Corn: Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party (2012, William Morrow): Starts with the 2010 elections and tries to turn that sow's ear into a silk purse (repealing Don't Ask/Don't Tell, passing New START, caving in on the Bush tax cuts, killing Bin Laden, etc.). A piece of political history, no doubt, but inspirational?
Douglas Dowd: Inequality and the Global Economic Crisis (paperback, 2009, Pluto Press): Another book on the consequences of inequality, making some of the connections to financial collapse that the new James Galbraith book (Inequality and Instability: A Study of the World Economy Just Before the Great Crisis) makes. I could append this there, as I do sometimes, but everything written on this topic is important.
Mary L Dudziak: War-Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences (2012, Oxford University Press): Looks at how we've traditionally thought of times at war, and why such concepts have become so confused as the US has warlike conflicts without any sort of formal nation-wide mobilization.
Russ Feingold: While America Sleeps: A Wake-Up Call for the Post-9/11 Era (2012, Crown): There are several books the former senator could have written now that he has the time, including one on the sordid influence of money in elections -- a big part of why he was turned out. This one appears to focus on how the Senate responded to 9/11: how little they knew, how they were handled by Bush's warmongers, how little they cared about the consequences of their (in-)actions. I doubt that he goes as far as he should, but he was one of the few people who didn't get totally swept up in the hysteria, so at least he should stake out that much.
James K Galbraith: Inequality and Instability: A Study of the World Economy Just Before the Great Crisis (2012, Oxford University Press): His last book, The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should To (2008) is my pick for the best political book of the last decade. This look to go deeper into the inequality chasm growth that preceded what he calls the Great Financial Crisis, and tries to show how one caused the other. I think that's right, and will move this to the top of my must-read list.
Joshua S Goldstein: Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide (2011, Dutton): I think the thesis is basically right, although I'm less certain about the effectiveness of international peacekeeping forces than I am about the general sense that war is a losing proposition, inimical to everything we aspire to in life today.
Arthur Goldwag: The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right (2012, Pantheon): Blurb talks more about the old hate -- "hysteria about the Illuminati," McCarthyism, Henry Ford's anti-semitism -- which leaves us short of understanding what's new about the new hate. No doubt there are plenty of examples, but why it resonates is more important. Only by skimming the surface can you treat Henry Ford as a populist.
Jonathan Haidt: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012, Pantheon): Heard a line recently that sums up politics these days: "either you're preaching to the choir, or talking to a wall." This psychologist thinks he knows why, something having to do with our tendency to react emotionally with our "moral taste buds" while only seeking post hoc reinforcement from reason. For an example of how people find what they want, an Amazon reader wrote: "This book is a fun read for conservatives because it pokes more holes in liberalism than it does in conservatism."
John Horgan: The End of War (2012, McSweeney's): Science writer, argues that war is not intrinsic to human nature nor inevitable, and that we are in fact trending towards ending war. I think one way to look at this is to look at the rationales that are used to advocate and serve in war: they've changed markedly over the last few centuries. One might point out that the US used to have a War Department that rarely went to war, but now that we've renamed it the Department of Defense it's always involved in one shootout or another, so this is a thorny subject, correct I think, but a habit hard to break.
Van Jones: Rebuild the Dream (2012, Nation Books): Obama's "green jobs" czar for a few days in 2009 until Obama left him high and dry, lynched on Rush Limbaugh's tree. He's back now, with an organization he named his book for, like the eery shadow of a campaign theme Obama used in 2008 and is unlikely to bring up ever again. Pitch: "America is still the best idea in the world. The American middle class is still her greatest invention. Rebuild the Dream is dedicated to the proposition that -- with the right strategy -- both can be preserved and strengthened for generations to come."
Michael T Klare: The Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for the World's Last Resources (2012, Metropolitan Books): The next logical evolution of his argument after Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict, Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum and Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Politics of Energy. I've long thought that the conflict part of the equation is overrated, in part because it is impossible to see any national public interest in what the US does to support capitalists (with virtually no distinction between US and foreign), in part because the US military posture is so counterproductive.
Robert Jay Lifton: Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir (2011, Free Press): A psychiatrist, b. 1926, studied brainwashing during the Korean War, went on to study survivors of Hiroshima and of several incidents of genocide, writing a number of remarkable books along the way: e.g., Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (1968); Revolutionary Immortality: Mao Tse-Tung and the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1968); Home From the War: Vietnam Veterans -- Neither Victims nor Executioners (1973); The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (1986); Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism (2000); Superpower Syndrome: America's Apocalyptic Confrontation With the World (2003). He didn't do a full book on Abu Ghraib, but did weigh in on the subject, so I expect there's some of that here.
Michael Lind: Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States (2012, Harper): Big subject, 592 pp. is likely to require much conceptualizing while still compressing the subject. Lind has usually nipped around the corners, sometimes usefully, sometimes not (I can't see ever forgiving his defense of the Vietnam War). [April 17]
Marc Lynch: The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East (2012, Public Affairs): After a rash of quickies last year, the books on the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and throughout the Arab world are starting to appear in earnest. Could try for a list, but they're still a bit scattered. Lynch has a longstanding understanding of the region, plus has some contacts with US diplomatic sources (given more play in the blurb than I suspect they're worth).
Tracie McMillan: The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table (2012, Scribner): Author worked in the fields of California, at Walmart in the produce isle, and in the kitchen at Applebee's, and got a sense of how we treat food these days, and as such how we treat ourselves.
Chris Mooney: The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Don't Believe in Science (2012, Wiley): A delicious title, but I doubt he can deliver the goods, and not just because brains don't seem to be the operative organ governing Republicans. By all accounts, his first book (The Republican War on Science) was spot on, but he's gotten sloppier as he's gotten more aggravated.
Cullen Murphy: God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World (2012, Houghton Mifflin): Murphy dates the Inquisition as an official process to 1231 and tracks it for nearly 700 years, but also points out that many more recent processes share its essential features -- McCarthyism is one that occurs to me, and the burgeoning US security state continues in its wake. Murphy is a "big picture" historian, as shown by his previous book, Are We Rome? The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America.
John Nichols: Uprising: How Wisconsin Reneweed the Politics of Protest From Madison to Wall Street (paperback, 2012, Nation Books): The American people did something monumentally stupid in November 2010, allowing a fanatic cadre of Republicans to take over the House of Representatives in Washington and to sweep nearly all of the state houses in the upper midwest. When the consequences of this lapse of sanity became obvious, the people of Wisconsin were first and foremost in standing up to right. This sketches out what happened there, in Ohio, and on to Occupy Wall Street: instant history, in case you weren't paying enough attention. Also see: Erica Sagrans, ed: We Are Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Uprising in the Words of the Activists, Writers, and Everyday Wisconsinites Who Made It Happen (paperback, 2011, Tasora Books); Mari Jo Buhle/Paul Buhle, eds: It Started in Wisconsin: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Labor Protest in America (paperback, 2012, Verso, with an intro by Nichols); Dennis Weidemann: Cut From Plain Cloth: The 2011 Wisconsin Workers Protests (2011, Manitenahk Books); Michael D Yates: Wisconsin Uprising: Labor Fights Back (paperback, 2012, Monthly Review Press).
Elaine Pagels: Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation (2012, Viking): The history of the odd book at the end of the Bible. The main points strike me as familiar, but it's helpful to spell them out at length -- to show how the historical specifics are reflected as hysterical prophecy. Pagels has written a lot on early Christianity, e.g., The Gnostic Gospels. One intriguing title: The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics.
Bill Press: The Obama Hate Machine: The Lies, Distortions, and Personal Attacks on the President -- and Who Is Behind Them (2012, Thomas Dunne): The key is the last clause: I don't see much point in rehearsing all the nonsense unless you can tie it all down to sources, especially ones that certainly must know better.
Ahmed Rashid: Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan and Afghanistan (2012, Viking): Wrote the standard book on the pre-2001 Taliban (Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia) and a major book on how the US war in Afghanistan has destabilized the region (Descent Into Chaos: The US and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia). More specifically on Pakistan, which as the US finally backs out is likely to remain as the main legacy of the near-sighted, myopic mess. Also new: Stephen P Cohen, et al: The Future of Pakistan (paperback, 2012, Brookings Institution Press).
Noam Scheiber: The Escape Artists: How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery (2012, Simon & Schuster): Reportedly some kind of inside story, like Ron Suskind's 2011 Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President, so much of it must be redundant other than carrying the story a bit further -- the lack of subsequent good news making the "fumbling" all the more pointed. Suskind's title was clever, but this one is nonsense.
Anthony Shadid: House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East (2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): American journalist, has covered the Middle East remarkably for many years -- cf. his book on the US invasion of Iraq, Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War -- before dying early this year in Syria. A memoir of rebuilding his family's ancestral home in Lebanon, thinking about the world around it.
Robert J Shiller: Finance and the Good Society (2012, Princeton University Press): Major economist, especially authoritative on bubbles and their consequences -- he was, I think, the first guy to smell out the housing bubble, but he had the advantage of having written Irrational Exuberance about the high-tech stock bubble, and also co-authored a book on behavioral economics called Animal Spirits. More big questions here.
David K Shipler: Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in Modern America (2012, Knopf): Quick sequel to his 2011 book, The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties. Has written big books in the past, and obviously felt like saying more here.
Jeffrey St Clair/Joshua Frank, eds: Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (paperback, 2012, AK Press): With so much room to snipe at Obama from the left, I'm disappointed that no one has really hit the mark. (I've read Tariq Ali, who rung up Bush like nobody's business; also Roger Hodge, Robert Kuttner, Tom Engelhardt, and Chris Hedges, but not Glenn Greenwald, at least in book form.) But this seems like a particularly cheap way to do it, not just by assembling pieces from such principled critics but by adopting that whole hope/illusion nonsense.
David C Unger: The Emergency State: America's Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs (2012, Penguin Press): For 60+ years now, the US has responded to every lapse and chink in its defense by building more defense, and by deploying it ever more aggressively around the world. The result has been a self-sustaining avalanche of failures for which we have but one answer: more, the inevitable answer given the stress on absolute security.
Katrina Vanden Heuvel: The Change I Believe In: Fighting for Progress in the Age of Obama (paperback, 2012, Nation Books): A collection of columns, blog posts, whatever, swept up over several years regardless of relevance.
Tim Weiner: Enemies: A History of the FBI (2012, Random House): Previously wrote Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, a useful book that could be more critical. The FBI should be more straightforward, but probably isn't. The first clue is that their preoccupation seems to be not criminals but "enemies."
Gary Weiss: Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul (2012, St Martin's Press): Looks into Rand's web of influence since her death in 1982 -- most obviously Alan Greenspan and various Tea Party crackpots. Not sure if Weiss is a believer or a critic, but you'd have to have an exaggerated sense of Rand's importance to bother exploring this matter.
Jeffrey A Winters: Oligarchy (paperback, 2011, Cambridge University Press): An enduring concept -- case studies include ancient Athens and Rome, medieval Venice and Sienna, and, of course, the modern US.
Matthew Yglesias: The Rent Is Too Damn High: What to Do About It, and Why It Matters More Than You Think (e-book, 2012, Simon & Schuster): Short essay (about 70 pp?) on urban planning, argues that rent control and zoning restrictions lead to high rents and high costs of living in dense cities. I've largely stopped reading his blog, in part because I zone out when he writes about these specific topics (and especially parking). I might care more if I lived in one of those cities, or if he got into the large picture of how rentier interests have corrupted public policy.
Some forthcoming books I'm looking forward to:
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010; paperback, 2012, Free Press): Now that racial discrimination has been formally banned, why is it that "more African Americans are under correctional control today . . . than were enslaved in 1850"? Why does the US (you know, "the land of the free") hold more of its people in prison than any other country in the world?
Adam Hochschild: To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (2011; paperback, 2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Focuses on England during the first World War, especially on those who opposed the folly of that war, in contrast to those who promoted and luxuriated in it.
Bethany McLean/Joe Nocera: All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis (2010; paperback, 2011, Portfolio Trade): One of the best-regarded of the scads of books on the financial meltdown of 2008, which political stupidity has compounded into the greatest depression of our lives.
Bill Moyers: Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues (2011; paperback, 2012, New Press): Interview transcripts, most with interesting people, get to many interesting questions. I've found that the interview format often offers an exceptionally focused yet friendly introduction to a person.
Jason K Stearns: Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa (2011; paperback, 2012, Public Affairs): I doubt that as many as one in five Americans who are aware of the Rwanda genocide have any idea that the subsequent war in neighboring Congo has wound up killing many more people. One of the few major books on the subject. Another is Gerard Prunier: Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe (2008; paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press).
Trying to scratch up the paperbacks, which I was very short in, I've picked up a bunch more books, so the next installment should be sooner rather than later. It would be easier if one could just look for books in a bookstore, but that's becoming impossible. (I think books account for less than 40% of the floor space in our last remaining Barnes & Noble.)
Thursday, February 9. 2012
Another installment of recent book notes. Seemed like it had been a while, and indeed it has: last set ran on November 26, so this is probably the longest gap I've had in years. The problem is probably that I don't get out to bookstores as often as I used to, but then it's harder when the four big chain bookstores in Wichita we had last year have now been reduced to one -- and not a very good one at that. In fact, when I looked at my scratch file, I didn't even have the requisite 40 titles saved up, so I had to spend a few days scrambling through Amazon's recommendations. And while I'm in a complaining mood, I'm suspicious that their algorithms have gone south too -- especially when they make Charles Murray my number four (reportedly because I purchased Corey Robin's critique of The Reactionary Mind).
I need to do further research, but here's a start for the new year.
Bruce Bartlett: The Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform, Why We Need it and What It Will Take (2012, Simon & Schuster): Conservative ideologue, has somehow nudged himself into a position of relative sanity through a series of books that tried to argue that conservatives were actually nice guys, not racists, and concerned with everyone's economic well-being -- despite much evidence that real conservatives are anything but. This book is probably useful in sorting out who pays what taxes and how the US systems compares to others, and isn't knee-jerk anti-tax, but he has long had a supply-side bias.
Morris Berman: Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline (2011, Wiley): Not sure that's a bad thing, just as I'm not sure the Roman Empire was a good thing. I did read Berman's previous Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire (but not his The Twilight of American Culture) so I get the idea of cultural rot, and there is certainly a lot of that around.
Rodric Braithwaite: Afghantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89 (2011, Oxford University Press): Not the first book on the Russian war in Afghanistan, but the more the US occupation resembles the Soviet one, the more relevant they become. The early accounts assumed the US would do so much better, but here we are with "the most nuanced, sympathetic, and comprehensive account yet of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan" (says Rory Stewart).
Paula Broadwell/Vernon Loeb: All In: The Education of General David Petraeus (2012, Penguin): Like Michael Hastings, Broadwell was an embedded journalist attached to the general running Afghanistan, although she has been much better behaved, or maybe Petraeus is just better at snookering the press. Petraeus is about the only person who came up through the Bush wars and managed to look like a winner -- an iconic image I'm sure he's at pains to burnish here.
Jeffrey D Clements: Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It (paperback, 2012, Bennett-Koehler): An issue on the front burner thanks to the Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to buy elections with unlimited money, based on yet another dubious idea that constitutional protection of free speech gives individuals the right to buy elections. Related: Thom Hartmann: Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became "People" -- and How You Can Fight Back (paperback, 2nd ed, 2010, Bennett-Koehler).
Sherar Cowper-Coles: Cables From Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign (2011, Harper Collins): By the former British ambassador to Afghanistan, which makes him complicit in a war he had no real control over, which puts him in a fine position to blame everyone else -- assuming, of course, he realizes there was anything to blame anyone for.
Bruce Bueno de Mesquita/Alastair Smith: The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good Politics (2011, PublicAffairs): A really modern Prince, the dictators in question evidently not just the usual suspects but including a few Americans who have made a good living acting badly -- Amazon has a long comment on Robert Rizzo, a city manager in CA. Also makes clear that even the most flamboyant dictator depends on a fragile network of support, something useful to keep in mind as regimes like Egypt, Libya, and Syria break up.
Anthony DiMaggio: The Rise of the Tea Party: Political Discontent and Corporate Media in the Age of Obama (paperback, 2011, Monthly Review Press): Seems right here to focus on the media. Previously wrote Mass Media, Mass Propaganda: Examining American News in the "War on Terror", and co-wrote, with Paul Street, Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (paperback, 2011, Paradigm).
Thomas Byrne Edsall: The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics (2012, Doubleday): Author has written several useful books on the rise of the right, but he does have a tendency to be taken in by arguments he should be more skeptical of. There is a real scarcity problem creeping up in the future, and there's also a manufactured one, and we can use someone smarter than Edsall to sort them out. (Actually, I haven't yet read his suggestive early books, 1989's The New Politics of Inequality, and 1992's Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics, but probably should.)
Barry Estabrook: Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit (2011, Andrews McMeel): Lots of people -- my mother was one -- complain about industrialized tomatoes. Never bothered me that much, but I was never much of a tomato fan. Still, I am always intrigued by the industrial manipulation of agriculture, and this is certainly a case example.
Robin Fleming: Britain After Rome: The Fall and Rise 400 to 1070 (2011, Penguin): Volume 2 of a Penguin History of Britain series, filling the gap between David Mattingly: An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire, 54BC-AD 409 and David Carpenter: The Struggle for Mastery 1066-1284, both already out in paperback.
Robert H Frank: The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good (2011, Princeton University Press): Promotes Darwin as an economic thinker, contrasting him to Adam Smith. Hopefully this doesn't fall into the trap of 19th century Social Darwinism -- much depends on what he does with reference go "the common good" in the title.
William H Gass: Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts (2012, Knopf): Scattered literary essays by the philosopher-aesthete. I took a course from him once and came to regard him as an intellectual fraud, but he can turn a delicious phrase when he has a mind to.
Ronald J Glasser: Broken Bodies Shattered Minds: A Medical Odyssey From Vietnam to Afghanistan (paperback, 2011, History Publishing): Forty years of war, written by a doctor whose 365 Days is considered a classic on Vietnam, updated for Iraq and Afghanistan, which mostly means IEDs.
Michael Grabell: Money Well Spent? The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History (2012, PublicAffairs): I don't know about you, but I always have trouble believing any book that offers "Truth" in its title. This one's about the Obama stimulus program, which he inflates from $700 billion to $1 trillion, then attempts to dissect. As I understand it, his conclusion is that it didn't work as well as it should have less because it was too small -- which it was -- than because it was poorly designed -- which is also, uh, true.
Jonathan Gruber: Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It's Necessary, How It Works (paperback, 2011, Hill & Wang): Short book, illustrated, tries to walk through and explain the ins and outs of the Affordable Care Act. Someone complained that this is Obama's propaganda disguised as information. Hmm, information -- don't have much of that to go on.
Max Hastings: Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 (2011, Knopf): The author is knocking out huge WWII books at a furious clip, with this 729 pp. one following Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945 and Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45, plus Winston's War: Churchill 1940-1945, almost as if this is the Reader's Digest edition. Meanwhile, one of his chief competitors, Ian Kershaw, has rewritten the Germany book as The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945 (2011, Penguin Press).
Michael Hastings: The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan (2012, Blue Rider Press): Author interviewed Gen. Stanley McChrystal, supreme commander of US forces in Afghanistan, who made such an ass of himself he was sacked when the interview came out. Here, Hastings soldiers on, mopping up the rest of the US brass, their arguments over swank concepts that go nowhere on the ground.
Tony Judt/Timothy Snyder: Thinking the Twentieth Century (2012, Oxford University Press): Conversations between two historians, the senior Judt struck with ALS and filled with memories as well as expertise -- his Postwar itself covers a big part of the 20th century (Europe from 1945 to 2000). Looks like this rehashes a lot of subjects that came up in Judt's post-illness books. Billed as his last, this may be one to savor.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party From Eisenhower to the Tea Party (2012, Oxford University Press): Seems to be a history of the extinct moderate (and in some cases flat-out liberal) wing of the Republican Party, especially since the rise of Goldwater and Reagan threw them into disarray.
Michael Kranish/Scott Helman: The Real Romney (2012, Harper): I guess there is a real one, but that strikes me as a scary concept. Surprisingly few books about Romney at this point, given his prominence, but thus far there's this and a 2011 paperback by RB Scott: Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politics -- well, also a few paranoid books on his Mormonism. Isn't the free market supposed to fix this dearth? Or is interest so low we have to say the market has cleared?
Frank Ledwidge: Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan (2011, Yale University Press): Unlike the truly token efforts of so many "coalition partners," the British chewed off a large enough chunk of these wars to fail on their own terms. That hasn't been widely reported, nor deeply analyzed, but I gather from this the failure was utter.
Rachel Maddow: Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power (2012, Crown): Some sort of critique of the American military: overfunded, underregulated, possessing its own lobbying force allowing it to set direction relatively free of political concerns. Picturing this as simple "drift" seems too passive, as is the idea that correcting the "unmooring" solves the problem.
Suzanne Mettler: The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy (paperback, 2011, University of Chicago Press): Argues that one reason so many people are so confused about how government works is that policies and programs are often designed to be opaque, either to favor special interests or to undermine more general ones. She also wrote Dividing Citizens: Gender and Federalism in New Deal Public Policy, and Soldiers to Citizens: The G.I. Bill and the Making of the Greatest Generation.
Michael Moore: Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life (2011, Grand Central Publishing): Memoir, focusing on vignettes rather than trying to connect the dots.
Charles Murray: Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (2012, Crown Forum): The last major racist in US social science, evidently starting to worry that white people are divided into rich and poor, and that this might threaten their racial solidarity against you know who. There is, of course, a problem at the root of this, but the only solution you get from racial solidarity is a state like Mississippi, which is no solution at all.
James Palmer: Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao's China (2012, Basic Books): As Mao lay dying, the 1976 earthquake destroyed Tangshan, killing upwards of 500,000 people. Interesting to juxtapose those events, but we've seen from Katrina that nothing exposes the decrepitude of an inept, ideologically-bound regime like a natural disaster.
Trita Parsi: A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran (2012, Yale University Press): Author of the essential history of Israel and Iran, Teacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States, brings the story up to date. Same story, too, with Israel fabricating complaints about Iran's nuclear program and trying to goad the US into launching an utterly stupid war. What's new was how easily Obama was suckered into such a course.
William Patry: How to Fix Copyright (2012, Oxford University Press): Senior copyright counsel at Google, which gives him a unique view, which may or may not be a good thing. Copyright as we know it both fails to provide adequate remuneration for those who produce unique works of art, fails to provide for fair use of those works, and fails to allow for economical distribution, so one should be able to do much better. But companies like Google could also do even worse, and practical change seems to be under the thumb of companies one way or another. Also see: Patricia Aufderheide: Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put the Balance Back in Copyright (paperback, 2011, University of Chicago Press); Marcus Boon: In Praise of Copying (2010, Harvard University Press); Lewis Hyde: Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership (2010; paperback, 2011, Farrar Straus & Giroux).
Dana Priest/William Arkin: Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State (2011, Little Brown): And I thought the Old American Security State was scandalous. This one has "over 1,300 government facilities in every state in America; nearly 2,000 outside companies used as contractors; and more than 850,000 people granted 'Top Secret' security clearance."
Andrew Ross: Bird on Fire: Lessons From the World's Least Sustainable City (2011, Oxford University Press): Phoenix, Arizona; talk about sprawl. I have three cousins there: two live 40 miles apart, the third lives 70 miles from either of them. The city is in a desert, and its main water source isn't called the Salt River for nothing. And there's much more, much of it thanks to the right-wing political system. Also see: William Debuys: A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest (2011, Oxford University Press).
Douglas Rushkoff: Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age (paperback, 2011, Soft Skull Press): Interesting thinker who's managed to win awards named for Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman -- I first ran across his Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism which argues that the proper end point of Judaism is to wean people from belief in God -- tries to sort out the pluses and minuses of living through the internet.
Theda Skocpol/Vanessa Williamson: The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism (2012, Oxford University Press): Probably one of the better surveys of the Tea Party outburst that gave right-wing media hacks so much to talk about during Obama's early presidency. I've read several books about it, but have yet to read a good account of who put up the money and greased the media. On the other hand, I've read plenty of interviews with nitwits.
Jonathan Steele: Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground (2011, Counterpoint): Billed as "the first account of Afghanistan's turbulent recent history by an independent eyewitness"; not sure about that, but Steele's book on Iraq was called Defeat: Why American and Britain Lost Iraq, so he's not one to readily swallow the latest spin. He's covered Afghanistan since 1981, so he easily sees the echoes between Russian and American tactics, and expects the same futility. There's also Edward Girardet: Killing the Cranes: A Reporter's Journey Through Three Decades of War in Afghanistan (2011, Chelsea Green), by another longtime journalist, also familiar with the Russian experience -- in fact, he wrote a book called Afghanistan: The Soviet War.
Rory Stewart/Gerald Knaus: Can Intervention Work? (2011, WW Norton): They mean, can global reaching imperial powers, specifically the US and UK, invade third world countries, install crony leaders, back them with military clout, interface with them using smarter-than-average diplomats like the authors, and claim any sort of success? Well, if you're willing to count Yugoslavia as a success, maybe, but that's harder to say for someplace like Afghanistan. Stewart has been an eloquent critic of US/UK policy in Afghanistan, but while he ultimately pulls his punches with the suggestion that smarter people, like himself, would have done better. Still, those smarter people, sensitive to the history and mores of regions, aren't the ones who invade and occupy, and their arguments that intervention can work quickly lose their conditions and provisos when adopted by the people who do, which implicitly makes them complicit in the disasters they rationalize.
Philip Taubman: The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb (2012, Harper): In case you're wondering: Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, William Perry, and Sidney Drell. I don't quite get it, but then they haven't been all that effective, even if that was their intent.
John Tirman: The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars (2011, Oxford University Press): How many civilians have American troops killed, or less directly caused to die, in America's foreign wars? Between 5 and 6 million in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq alone -- the ambiguity in the answer, vs. the precision with which we could US deaths, starts to suggest our nonchalance about the subject.
Bryan Glyn Williams: Afghanistan Declassified: A Guide to American's Longest War (2011, University of Pennsylvania Press): Originally published by US Army "to provide an overview of the country's terrain, ethnic groups, and history for American troops," and "updated and expanded for the general public." Don't know whether that makes this propaganda -- probably some of that, but sounds to me like a tombstone.
Robin Wright, ed: The Iran Primer: Power, Politics, and US Policy (paperback, 2010, United States Institute of Peace Press): Fifty papers ("top-level briefings") on all aspects of Iran and its foreign relations, including pieces by such US insiders as Gary Sick, Richard Haas, Bruce Riedel, and Stephen Hadley. Looks like a lot of information, dry and succinct, on a topic where discussion is dominated by a lot of very ignorant people.
Daniel Yergin: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World (2011, Penguin Press): Wrote the standard history of the pre-OPEC oil era, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power. Since then he's mostly worked for the industry, shilling as a consultant, railing against the peak oil theory. Big book (804 pp.), probably a lot of useful history, just don't trust the guy any more.
I'll do a section on paperbacks next time. Don't really have it together right now.
Saturday, November 26. 2011
On average, my book roundups come out every 4-6 weeks, but my one on November 16 came after a longer-than-usual period, and left me with enough stuff to suggest doing another the next day. I didn't get that done so fast, owing more to the day than to any shortfall in data. So here's a second November set (limited to 40 books, otherwise this could get ridiculous):
Theodor Adorno/Max Horkheimer: Towards a New Manifesto (2011, Verso): A 1956 dialogue -- maybe a sketch, maybe just an argument -- from the long-dead founders of the Frankfurt School, on what a contemporary revision of The Communist Manifesto should say. I doubt that they got very far: both much more skilled at tearing down bad propositions than forming good ones.
Richard Alley: Earth: The Operator's Manual (2011, WW Norton): PBS television series companion book, focuses on climate change and future energy issues, which he is moderate and optimistic about.
Robert B Archibald/David H Feldman: Why Does College Cost So Much? (2010, Oxford University Press): Interesting question, but this sounds like a piece of economic rationalization in service of the status quo. I have several rough theories, but not enough facts to judge them against.
Gilad Atzmon: The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics (paperback, 2011, O Books): Israeli-born, UK-based saxophonist writes a polemic about Jewish identity and the reflexive identification of so many Jews with Israel.
Thomas Barfield: Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History (2010, Princeton University Press): Anthropologist and "old Afghanistan hand" (isn't that a CIA term?) goes way back, emphasizes geography, "the bewildering diversity of tribal and ethnic groups," how it became "a graveyard of empires" for the British and Soviets, "and what the United States must do to avoid a similar fate." Get out?
Kim Barker: The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2011, Knopf): Five years reporting, starting in 2003 "when the war there was lazy and insignificant"; reported to be funny (at least P.J. O'Rourke thinks so), which is one way of coming to grips with stupid and indifferent -- terms I'm more inclined to find applicable.
Daniel Byman: A High Price: The Triumphs & Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism (2011, Oxford University Press): Right after 9/11, I recall both John Major and Shimon Peres pointing out that they could teach us some pointers on handling terrorism. At the time I thought the only thing they actually knew much about was spurring terror attacks along. I take it that this book is a brief intended to support Peres' assertion, although he would have been more circumspect about those failures.
W Joseph Campbell: Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism (paperback, 2010, University of California Press): One way to explore how journalism likes to indulge in its own mythmaking, from William Randolph Hearst and the Spanish-American War to Jessica Lynch.
Bill Clinton: Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy (2011, Knopf): To the limited extent to which presidents can claim responsibility for the economy's ups and downs, Clinton is the only living president who has anything positive he can point to. That doesn't make him a genius, or even allow him to escape the most inane clichés -- e.g., "We've got to get America back in the future business" could have been lifted from Thomas Friedman (and probably was).
Council on Foreign Relations/Foreign Affairs, ed: The New Arab Revolt: What Happened, What It Means, and What Comes Next (paperback, 2011, Council on Foreign Relations/Foreign Affairs): Collects sixty "seminal pieces" including op-eds, interviews, and congressional testimony from our leading officially sanctioned area experts -- you know, geniuses like Fouad Ajami, Bernard Lewis, Richard Haass, Martin Indyk, Elliott Abrams, Aluf Benn, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Gideon Rose, Max Boot, Michael O'Hanlon (fave title: "Winning Ugly in Libya: What the United States Should Learn From Its War in Kosovo"), and some documents featuring people who's primary association of "seminal" is with a certain red dress.
Tom Engelhardt: The United States of Fear (paperback, 2011, Haymarket Books): Probably another collection of his TomDispatch posts, rather quick on the heels of The American Way of War: How the Empire Brought Itself to Ruin, although it is a theme he knows as well as anyone and should be able to greatly expand upon.
Ezra F Fogel: Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (2011, Harvard University Press): Big (928 pp) bio, covers a big chunk of Chinese history up to Deng's death in 1997, especially after 1978 when he became China's "paramount leader." Applauded for his economic reforms, condemned for suppressing the pro-democratic demonstrations at Tianamen Square in 1989. Vogel is a longtime region expert, and this is most likely a major book in what's still a sparsely documented history. (Not that there aren't a lot of superficial books on China's challenge to the West and who will dominate the 21st century and all that nonsense.
David Graebner: Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011, Melville House): Anthropologist, argues that credit (therefore debt) goes back a long ways, predating even money. His is one of those ideas that threatens to turn around much about how we think real economies have functioned throughout history. Has a bunch of books, including Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion and Desire (paperback, 2007, AK Press), and Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (paperback, 2004, Prickly Paradigm Press).
Jennifer M Granholm/Dan Mulhern: A Governor's Story: The Fight for Jobs and America's Economic Future (2011, Public Affairs): Democratic Governor of Michigan during some especially tough times, while America's business elites were doing everything they could to break labor, especially by closing plants and moving production overseas. So she has something to talk about.
Glenn Greenwald: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful (2011, Metropolitan Books): Title suggests he's moved beyond his initial concerns over civil liberties into seeing how a legal system that money buys inequal access to -- starting with Congress and every other legislative body in the land, moving on to every executive authority, and even to the courts (where, to put it bluntly, representation costs money and is therefore more affordable to them that's got).
John Michael Greer: The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered (paperback, 2011, New Society): Bounces his title off Adam Smith and E.F. Schumacher ("economics as if people mattered"); should provide a primer on externalities and how to properly cost them out, but author isn't really an economist -- styles himself as an archdruid, is into organic farming and autarky, that most uneconomist of concepts.
Tim Groseclose: Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind (2011, St Martin's Press): Ph.D. invented some math that he calls PQ (for Political Quotient) to measure left and right political bias; discovers that the "maintream media" is way biased to the left, much more so than right-leaning media like Fox. I bet I could come up with a formula that would show the New York Times on the far right. For instance, they'd score points for lying in the Iraq War buildup. I could even factor in support for Israeli militarism. I don't doubt that there is bias in media, but how does that bias affect "the American mind"?
Richard Heinberg: The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality (paperback, 2011, New Society): Peak oil crank, got there early and has been one of the deepest analysts of what's happening and what it means. I think Heinberg is righ in the not-all-that-long-term, but I wouldn't say that growth is over at the moment, if only for the reason that most current constraints are politically driven. The key characteristic of growth has long been a rising standard of living. In the US that's been halted by the right's dominance of political discourse. On the other hand, one possible explanation why the right's political agenda has moved beyond enriching themselves to impoverishing everyone else may be the sense that it's all coming to an end, and they merely want to get theirs while the getting's still good.
Will Hermes: Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever (2011, Faber & Faber): 1973-77, basically the New York Dolls to Talking Heads, although there was also disco and funk and salsa and some jazz regrouping in downtown lofts -- not sure the author has the latter covered. I moved to NYC to hit the tail end of all that. I don't recall Hermes being around then, but he must have worked his way back there many times.
Owen Jones: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (paperback, 2011, Verso Books): Mostly on England, where "chavs" has become an epithet for ridiculing the working class, but the subtitle resonates here as well, especially when you look at the efforts of the Republican Party to defund not just labor unions but the workers as well.
Andrew Kolin: State Power and Democracy: Before and During the Presidency of George W Bush (2010, Palgrave Macmillan): How America became a police state, mostly under Bush, of course, but precedents go back to the Alien and Sedition Acts, more generally the distrust elites have always had about democracy.
Chris Lehmann: Rich People Things: Real-Life Secrets of the Predator Class (paperback, 2011, Haymarket): Looking at the TOC: Meritocracy, Populism, The Free Market, The Stock Market, "Class Warfare," David Brooks, Malcolm Gladwell, The New York Times. Each chapter is six pages long, suggesting a recycled stack of columns (or blog posts).
Giulio Meotti: A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism (2010, Encounter Books): Chronicles the long, sad story of Palestinian violence against Israelis -- attacks that have claimed 1700 lives and injured 10,000 people. Don't know whether it also notes that during the same period Israel has killed more than ten times as many Palestinians, injured many more, incarcerated many thousands, tortured many of them, driven nearly a million into exile, and enforced a regime where even nominal citizens of Israel are severely discriminated against. I'm sure those 1700 deaths have stories worth remembering, but it's a huge stretch to liken them to the six million victims of the Nazi Judeocide.
Immanuel Ness/Dario Azzellini: Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control From the Commune to the Present (paperback, 2011, Haymarket): A historical brief for worker-owned businesses, which I think is the way to go: the one scheme that ensures that workers and management will have the same interests, and align their interests for maximum productivity.
Martha C Nussbaum: Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach (2011, Harvard University Press): Political philosopher, draws on work by Amartrya Sen that emphasizes creating capabilities as as the primary path for human development. Much of this seems to boil down to common sense human rights, something a lot of people here in the US have trouble grasping.
William Parry: Against the Wall (paperback, 2011, Lawrence Hill Books): An art book, drawing attention to Israel's gargantuan wall project by drawing on the wall. Also see: Zia Krohn/Joyce Lagerweij: Concrete Messages: Street Art on the Israeli-Palestinian Separation Barrier (2010, Dokument Press); and Mia Gröndahl: Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics (paperback, 2009, American University in Cairo Press).
Ilan Peleg/Dov Waxman: Israel's Palestinians: The Conflict Within (paperback, 2011, Cambridge University Press): Same subject as Ilan Pappé The Forgotten Palestinians, but more concerned with maintaining Israel's "Jewish identity" while at least ameliorating some of the more blatant discrimination.
Paul R Pillar: Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform (2011, Columbia University Press): Career CIA spook, retired army reserve officer, had second thoughts about invading Iraq and became a prominent critic of Bush's Global War on Terror boondoggle.
Steven Pinker: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011, Viking): I think the general thesis -- that today we are far more likely to reject and abjure violence than at any time in the past -- is correct, but worry that pontificating on the subject for 832 pp is likely to weigh it down in too much complexity, especially the kind that gets confused with human nature.
Frances Fox Piven: Who's Afraid of Frances Fox Piven?: The Essential Writings of the Professor Glenn Beck Loves to Hate (paperback, 2011, New Press): I first noticed Piven when she cowrote the eye-opening Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare in 1971, which has a second edition revised in 1993. Other books with Cloward: Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (1977, Pantheon); New Class War: Reagan's Attack on the Welfare State and Its Consequences (1982, Pantheon); Why Americans Don't Vote (1988, Pantheon); The Breaking of the American Social Compact (1997, New Press); Why Americans Still Don't Vote: And Why Politicians Want It That Way (2000, Beacon); also several books on her own (since Cloward died in 2001), including The War at Home: The Domestic Costs of Bush's Militarism (2004, New Press); and Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America (2006, Rowman & Littlefield). Someone everyone should take seriously.
Alex Prudhomme: The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Freshwater in the Twenty-First Century (2011, Scribner): Supply is relatively fixed, or actually declining as we deplete aquifers, and would get worse wherever global warming caused droughts. Demand is growing and not very elastic, which leads us to, well, what? Other water crisis books have been gathering since Fred Pearce's When the Rivers Run Dry: Water -- The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century (2007): Robert Glennon: Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What to Do About It (2009; paperback, 2010, Island Press); Cynthia Barnett: Blue Revolution: Unmaking America's Water Crisis (2001, Beacon); Peter Rogers/Susan Leal: Running Out of Water: The Looming Crisis and Solutions to Conserve Our Most Previous Resource (2010, Palgrave Macmillan); Susan J Marks: Aqua Shock: The Water Crisis in America (2009; paperback, 2011, Bloomberg Press); and Tony Allen: Virtual Water: Tackling the Threat to Our Planet's Most Precious Resource (paperback, 2011, IB Tauris).
Michael Ratner/Margaret Ratner Kunstler: Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in Twenty-First-Century America (paperback, 2011, New Press): From the Center for Constitutional Rights, basic info on what your rights are when the government tries to shut down your right to dissent.
Jeremy Sarkin: Germany's Genocide of the Herero: Kaiser Wilhelm II, His General, His Settlers, His Soldiers (2011, James Currey): Germany's late entry into the colonial partition of Africa left them with scraps, including South West Africa (now Namibia), where Germany instituted the first genocide of the 20th century in their effort to exterminate the Herero people. I actually first read about this in Thomas Pynchon's novel V, where it fills a key chapter. Sarkin also wrote Colonial Genocide and Reparations Claims in the 21st Century: The Socio-Legal Context of Claims Under International Law by the Herero Against Germany for Genocide in Namibia, 1904-1908 -- in contrast to Germany's deal with Israel, Germany has refused to pay reparations on this relatively obscure but truly brutal event. See also: David Olusoga/Casper W Erichsen: The Kaiser's Holocaust: Germany's Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism (2010, Faber & Faber), which goes on to explore how the Nazis remembered Germany's prior experience with genocide.
Robert Skidelsky: Keynes: A Very Short Introduction (paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): Short pocket-sized intro (144 pp, but rather densely packed), by the guy who wrote the premier biography on Keynes as well as a tightly argued brief on his continued relevance: Keynes: The Return of the Master (2009, Public Affairs).
Paul Starr: Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle Over Health Care Reform (2011, Yale University Press): Historical overview of the various attempts to reform health care in America. In 1983 Starr won a Pulitzer Prize for his The Social Transformation of American Medicine: The Rise of a Sovereign Progression and the Making of a Vast Industry, which established him as the expert in the field. In 1993-94 Starr was on the inside of Clinton's reform team, which may (or may not) be good for some insight.
Mark Steyn: After America: Get Ready for Armageddon (2011, Regnery): "A modern day Jeremiah" says Mark Levin. Ripostes Ann Coulter: "Only Mark Steyn can write about the decline of America and leave you laughing." Sample Steyn wit: "When in Rome, do as the Visigoths do."
Clayton E Swisher: The Palestine Papers: The End of the Road? (paperback, 2011, Hesperus Press): Based on 1600 pages of papers leaked to Al-Jazeera in January 2011, detailing diplomatic moves that stalled any attempt at peace talks. Swisher previously wrote: The Truth About Camp David: The Untold Story About the Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process (paperback, 2004, Nation Books).
Joseph A Tainter/Tadeusz W Patzek: Drilling Down: The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma (paperback, 2011, Springer): Starts with the Deepwater Horizon disaster and attempts to explain why it was all but inevitable. Also see: John Konrad/Tom Shroder: Fire on the Horizon: The Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster (2011, Harper); Stanley Reed/Allison Fitzgerald: In Too Deep: BP and the Drilling Race That Took It Down (2011, Bloomberg); Joel Achenbach: A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher (2011, Simon & Schuster); Bob Cavnar: Disaster on the Horizon: High Stakes, High Risks, and the Story Behind the Deepwater Well Blowout (paperback, 2010, Chelsea Green); Loren C Steffy: Drowning in Oil: BP and the Reckless Pursuit of Profit (2010, McGraw-Hill); Peter Lehner/Bob Deans: In Deep Water: The Anatomy of a Disaster, and the Fate of the Gulf, and Ending Our Oil Addiction (paperback, 2010, The Experiment); William R Freudenburg/Robert Gramling: Blowout in the Gulf: The BP Oil Spill Disaster and the Future of Energy in America (2010, MIT Press); Carl Safina: A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout (2011, Crown); Antonia Juhasz: Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill (2011, Wiley); Mike Magner: Poisoned Legacy: The Human Cost of BP's Rise to Power (paperback, 2011, St Martin's Press); and, of course, The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling's "report to the president": Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling (paperback, 2011, self-published).
Peter Van Buren: We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (2011, Metropolitan Books): State Department insider, spent a year in Baghdad -- not sure which one, they were all so promising, so memorable, but more likely the recent year of the surge than the year of Paul Bremer. To quote: "pointless projects, bureaucratic fumbling, overwhelmed soldiers, and oblivious administrators secluded in the world's largest embassy, who fail to realize that you can't rebuild a country without first picking up the trash." After all, who wants to pick up trash?
Elizabeth Warren/Amelia Warren Tyagi: The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are Going Broke (paperback, 2004, Basic Books): Written before the recent/current recession, this now looks like one of the definitive political tomes of the last decade (although others, like Tamara Draut and Juliet B. Schor, have written similar analyses). Another book along these lines: Kevin T Leicht/Scott T Fitzgerald: Postindustrial Peasants: The Illusion of Middle-Class Prosperity (paperback, 2006, Worth).
Erik Olin Wright: Envisioning Real Utopias (paperback, 2010, Verso): John Quiggin: "The general idea of the book was in line with my thinking that technocratic rationality, of the kind offered by, say Obama or Blair, is not a sufficient answer to the irrationalist tribalism of the right -- the left needs a transformative vision to offer hope of a better life, both for the increasing proportion of the population in rich countries who are losing ground as a result of growing inequality and for the great majority of the world's population who are still poor by OECD standards. So, Utopia matters."
No time to do a paperback section right now -- wouldn't be much on top of two weeks ago, unless I dug further, which is what I don't have time for. But given that I have nearly 30 books left over, plus another 15 that I have open tabs on, the next report shouldn't be too distant in the future.
Wednesday, November 16. 2011
Last one June 21. I figured I was overdue for one of these 2-3 weeks ago. Indeed, without trying very hard I see I have 56 books left in the queue after separting out the 40 below, so I could do one more tomorrow and still have plenty of seed corn. I generally try to find books of possible interest on the current political state, but let my mind wander into other areas that interest me. I'm not very consistent in covering the right's rantings: sometimes I'll come up with something to say, often not. For instance, looking back at my collected book notes, I see that I've only written up one Ann Coulter book -- I guess I was struck by the image of "pro-Obamacare fanatics" rioting in the streets.
Alaa Al Aswany: On the State of Egypt: What Made the Revolution Inevitable (paperback, 2011, Vintage Books): Short book on the revolution in Egypt by a well-known novelist. I expect we will soon be deluged with books on Egypt: recent examples range from Joel Beinin/Frederic Vairel, eds: Social Movements, Mobilization, and Contestation in the Middle East and North Africa (paperback, 2011, Stanford University Press); to Alex Nunns/Nadia Idle, eds: Tweets From Tahrir: Egypt's Revolution as It Unfolded, in the Words of the People Who Made it (paperback, 2011, OR Books).
James R Arnold: The Moro War: How America Battled a Muslim Insurgency in the Philippine Jungle, 1902-1913 (2011, Bloomsbury Press): After the Spanish-American War (1898), after the long bloody fight to put down the Filipino independence movement (1898-1902), a group of Muslims fought on against the American colonizers. This is their story. Also available: Robert A Fulton: Moroland: The History of Uncle Sam and the Moros 1899-1920 (paperback, 2007, Tumalo Creek Press).
Stanley Aronowitz: The Jobless Future (second edition, paperback, 2010, University of Minnesota Press): Originally published in 1994, now "fully updated and with a new introduction": we all know that technology destroys more jobs than it creates, but rather than using it to eliminate workers from the economy we should take a look at the social conditions under which such relief from work would be a blessing.
Jay Bahadur: The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World (2011, Pantheon): Journalist, went to Somalia and worked his way into the pirate havens, met people, talked shop, managed to get out and write a book about it. Probably knows more about the subject than any of us ever will, although I've seen at least one more book that makes a similar claim: Peter Eichstaedt: Pirate State: Inside Somalia's Terrorism at Sea (2010, Lawrence Hill Books); and there are others that approach the subject from a safer distance, like Martin N Murphy: Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money: Piracy and Maritime Terrorism in the Modern World (paperback, 2010, Columbia University Press).
Abhijit V Banerjee/Esther Duflo: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (2011, Public Affairs): What's radical is that it looks at how poor people live, rather than trying to deduce that from economic theory.
Jeremy Ben-Ami: A New voice for Israel: Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish Nation (2011, Palgrave Macmillan): Founder of J Street, a "pro-Israel, pro-peace" lobby meant to challenge right-wing AIPAC. The problem with J Street isn't so much their slavish love for Israel (although that can get to be pretty annoying) as their self-delusion that Israel is in danger of destruction if peace isn't negotiated, whereas Israel has clearly proven that they can fight forever. Indeed, since their identity is so wrapped up in the conflict, one can just as well argue that the only way Israel can continue to be Israel is to keep the fight going: that peace would start some inexorable decay of the Jewish State.
Jimmy Breslin: Branch Rickey (2011, Penguin): Short profile (160 pp), probably focuses on Rickey's tenure with the Dodgers given that Breslin is very much a home-towner. That would leave so much uncovered one almost hopes the book is more about Breslin himself -- one could do worse.
Dick Cheney: In My Life: A Personal and Political Memoir (2011, Threshold Editions): Saw a pile of this in the bookstore recently. The person I was with pointed out it belonged in the true crime section.
Terry Eagleton: Why Marx Was Right (2011, Yale University Press): Longtime Marxist literary critic, from Ireland, kicks back agaisnt the assumption that Marx is irrelevant to the post-Soviet world. Strikes me as an academic argument, not that Marxists haven't had much of value in the critique of capitalism ever since Marx started sorting it out.
Peter Firstbrook: The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family (2011, Crown): Probably an interesting book in its own right; possibly the first such book to trace back the roots of an African family -- I imagine it being somewhat like Ian Frazier's Family, except most likely not as well documented. On the other hand, Barack Obama has always been so far removed from those roots that it's unlikely to shed any light on anything having to do with him or his administration. (Not that Dinesh D'Souza can't hallucinate.)
Thomas L Friedman/Michael Mandelbaum: That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back (2011, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Two of the stupidest people in America -- Friedman needs no introduction; Mandelbaum has written his share of nonsense too, like The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World's Government in the 21st Century and The Frugal Superpower: America's Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era.
John Geyman: Hijacked: The Road to Single Payer in the Aftermath of Stolen Health Care Reform (paperback, 2010, Common Courage Press): Doctor, prominent in PNHP (Physicians for a National Health Program), has written a series of books on how the practice of medicine has been corrupted by corporate interests. Argues that Obama's reform act is just another instance of this.
John Geyman: Breaking Point: How the Primary Care Crisis Endangers the Lives of Americans (paperback, 2011, Copernicus Healthcare): Longtime critic of America's health care racket, a doctor and advocate for single-payer health insurance, turns his attention to the increasingly lost art of primary care.
André Gorz: Ecologica (2010, Seagull Books), and The Immaterial (2010, Seagull Books): Two final books of critical theory by Gorz, who died in 2007. More than any other Marxist critic, Gorz saw the need to transform increased productivity into a shorter working life. I more or less figured that out on the basis of something Paul Sweezy wrote in the 1950s, but Gorz pushed the argument further than anyone else. Also newly available is the second edition of Critique of Economic Reason (1989; 2nd ed, paperback, 2011, Verso).
Rod Hill/Anthony Myatt: The Economics Anti-Textbook: A Critical Thinker's Guide to Microeconomics (paperback, 2010, Zed Books): Picks apart classical micro, most likely by comparing it to the messy reality the models try to abstract from.
J Hoberman: Army Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War (2011, New Press): Longtime Village Voice film critic, goes back to the 1946-56 period in search of demons -- a period of purges and black lists in the movie industry.
Eric Hobsbawm: How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism (2011, Little Brown UK): Intellectual history, with sections on Marx and his period and influence, the struggle against fascism, postwar Marxism, up to the recent. An historian who knows both the period and the lore well.
Russell Jacoby: Bloodlust: On the Roots of Violence From Cain and Abel to the Present (2011, Free Press): Barbara Ehrenreich wrote convincingly on this in 1997 (Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War), but Jacoby seems to stress the fratricidal aspect, extrapolating on to Hutu/Tutsi, etc.
Michio Kaku: Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 (2011, Doubleday): Physics writer, cosmology mostly; as I recall he got into the game with superstring theory, which is about the point when I lost interest in it. But this looks to be mere futurology, a literary genre that has never managed to get anything right.
Michael Kazin: American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation (2011, Knopf): Broad strokes history, but as Andrew Bacevich recently conceded, virtually every beneficial change in American history was advanced by the left and opposed by the right. Kazin's specialty is the populist period and William Jennings Bryan, but he also co-wrote with Maurice Isserman, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s.
David Kirkpatrick: The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World (2010, Simon & Schuster): Insider-ish history of the company and the thinking behind the social network tool.
Lawrence Lessig: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress, and a Plan to Stop It (2011, Twelve): Nothing could be more true. Tries to posit his critique of the corrupting influence of money outside of the right-left axis, but the essential point of the right is their subversion of democracy, which generally puts them in league with the corrupters -- at the very least, they figure the process works more for them than against them, and they're so desperate for power they'll take those odds.
Bernard Lewis: The End of Modern History in the Middle East (2011, Hoover Institute Press): The guy who understands so little about the Middle East that he's frequently consulted by neocons seems to be running out of things to write about.
Michael Lewis: Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World (2011, WW Norton): Travelogues relating to high finance, or mischief, or both. The "new third world" means old first world countries saddled with so much debt they're sinking fast: you know, Greece, Ireland, Iceland, the United States.
Anatol Lieven: Pakistan: A Hard Country (2011, Public Affairs): Financial Times journalist, covered the Chechen Wars. I thought his America Right of Wrong was an uncommonly smart book, but I'm less sure about his coverage of America's terrorism wars. Still, this could be one of the better books on Pakistan, a country that America's political and military leaders cavalierly fuck with but don't begin to understand. Other recent Pakistan books: MJ Akbar: Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan (2011, Harper Collins); Pamela Constable: Playing With Fire: Pakistan at War With Itself (2011, Random House); Imtiaz Gul: The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan's Lawless Frontier (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin Books); Steve Inskeep: Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi (2011, Penguin Books); Maleeha Lodhi, ed: Pakistan: Beyond the "Crisis State" (2011, Cambridge University Press); Iftikhar Malik: Pakistan: Democracy, Terrorism, and the Building of a Nation (paperback, 2010, Olive Tree Press); Bruce Riedel: Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of Global Jihad (2011, Brookings Institution Press); John R Schmidt: The Unraveling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad (2011, Farrar Straus and Giroux).
Dale Maharidge: Someplace Like America: Tales From the New Great Depression (2011, University of California Press): Photographs by Michael S Williamson. Starts back in the 1980s -- when GM had 618,000 employees and WalMart 23,000 -- and details the deliberate destruction of the middle class in America. Author previously wrote And Their Children After Them: The Legacy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: James Agee, Walker Evans, and the Rise and Fall of Cotton in the South; Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass; Denison, Iowa: Searching for the Soul of America Through the Secrets of a Midwest Town; and Heartland.
Charles C Mann: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (2011, Knopf): Previously wrote 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, which surveyed what little is known about American Indian history before 1492. This focuses on the exchanges between old and new worlds once regular contact was established, such as Europe's discovery of potatoes and tomatoes, and the introduction to the "new world" of smallpox, gunpowder, and slavery: truly an intercourse that profoundly changed both worlds.
Arno Mayer: The Persistence of the Old Regime: Europe to the Great War (1981; paperback, 2010, Verso): Part of a series reprinting prominent Marxist historical works. Mayer's classic works on the post-WWI settlement date from 1959 (Political Origins of the New Diplomacy) and 1967 (Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking), so this works backward, fleshing out his sketchy Dynamics of Counter-Revolution in Europe, 1870-1956. I've read most of the above plus Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? and Plowshares Into Swords but had missed this one.
Joe McGinniss: The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin (2011, Crown): Veteran journalist, wrote a book about Nixon's 1968 campaign, and later wrote a book about Alaska, so why not? Famously got on his subject's nerves by moving next door to her. Presumably dug up some dirt on her, rather than going for her more obvious political problems.
Siddhartha Mukherjee: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (2010; paperback, 2011, Scribner): Big (608 pp.) book, won a Pulitzer, by an oncologist who brings his patients in for a view as well as recalling the history -- mostly medical research and treatment since that's what we know the most about.
Sylvia Nasar: Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius (2011, Simon & Schuster): A survey of major economic thinkers. Not sure how many could be called geniuses, although some can. She previously wrote A Beautiful Mind about John Nash, a tighter focus that was converted into a successful movie. Maybe Ken Burns can find some old photos of Marx and Engels and Mayhew and Dickens and make something of this.
Ilan Pappé: The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of Palestinians in Israel (2011, Yale University Press): The Palestinians who didn't flee from Israeli armed forces during the 1947-49 war -- a story Pappé covered in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine -- were given citizenship in Israel at the same time those who left were barred from ever returning. Supposedly the "Palestinian citizens of Israel" were integrated into the enlightened liberal democracy, but from 1948-67 they lived apart under military rule. In 1967 military administration shifted to the occupied territorites, but separation and discrimination against Palestinians within Israel has hardly stopped, and in some ways is worse now than it was, especially before the Intifada.
Christian Parenti: Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (2011, Nation Books): An effort to recast current and future conflicts as resource wars, the rate of which will increase as climate change stresses the peoples of the planet. There is possibly some truth to that, but there's also a wide room for error. Author previously wrote The Soft Cage: Surveillance in America From Slavery to the War on Terror.
Corey Robin: The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (2011, Oxford University Press): "Tracing conservatism back to its roots in the reaction against the French Revolution, Robin argues that the right is fundamentally inspired by a hostility to emancipating the lower orders. Some conservatives endorse the free market, others oppose it. Some criticize the state, others celebrate it. Underlying these differences is the impulse to defend power and privilege against movements demanding freedom and equality." That's about right.
Jack Ross: Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism (2011, Potomac Books): Berger was a reform rabbi, head of American Council for Judaism, a forceful critic of Israel from before its founding up through the 1967 war.
Shlomo Sand: The Words and the Land: Israeli Intellectuals and the Nationalist Myth (paperback, 2011, Semiotext(e)): Focuses on the charged meaning of words in constructing the Zionist world view -- exile, return, Aliyah (which adds an exalted flavor to immigration. It's remarkable both how successful these semantics have been, and how effectively they imprison thought. Another book could be written on the Palestinian side, exile for exile, return for return, Nakba for Shoah.
Ron Suskind: Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (2011, Harper): Great reporter, able to worm his way into inside info, which he plied into a couple eye-opening books on the Bush administration. Here takes on Obama and his crew, most evidently leaving their hearts and wallets back on Wall Street.
Peter Tomsen: The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers (2011, BBS): Former US Special Envoy to Afghanistan 1989-92, Ambassador to Armenia 1995-98, which may (or may not) give him some insight into the failures of the Muhajadeen warlord regime that gave rise to the Taliban. Huge (912 pp.) book, probably starts with Alexander but focuses on US difficulties with its nominal Pakistani and Saudi allies. Thinks "it is still possible to achieve an acceptable outcome, but only if our policies respect Afghan history and culture and we heed the lessons of past foreign interventions."
Robin Wright: Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World (2011, Simon & Schuster): Journalist, has written several books about the rising tide of Islamism in Iran and the Middle East, now turns around and discovers the Arab Spring movements.
Fareed Zakaria: The Post-American World: Release 2.0 (2011, WW Norton): Looks like the answer book to the new Thomas Friedman/Michael Mandelbaum fiasco: whereas the other boys are stuck in their adolescent fantasy that the world can't work if America doesn't run it, Zakaria sees that it's too late for that, and to rub his point in he didn't even write a new book -- he just polished up one that his fellow pundits should have already read as a matter of due dilligence. The links are so obvious that Amazon has an "author one-on-one" between Friedman and Zakaria.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
David Harvey: The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (2010; paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press): English Marxist critic of neoliberalism, has a longer term and deeper view of the 2008 meltdown than your average analyst. Also writes a bit dryer, which makes this somewhat of a slog, but it's one of the most worthwhile books I've read on the subject. Paperback adds on a new afterword. [link]
Naomi Oreskes/Erik M Conway: Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2010; paperback, 2011, Bloomsbury Press): Not just a range of issues that PR firms hired scientist-hacks to obfuscate: we keep seeing the same scientists going from one con to the next.
Matt Taibbi: Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History (2010; paperback, 2011, Spiegel & Grau): New subtitle -- old one was Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America. Some extra material too: the greed of the banking industry is a story that never ends. [link]