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]
Wednesday, September 7. 2011
Last ran this on June 21, although actually nearly everything here was left over then. I haven't been going to bookstores except to pick over Borders' bones. That has left me with more stuff than I can expect to read anytime soon, but it's also dulled my interest in whatever else is out there. So these are a bit old, and tend to be of minor interest. (Still, I managed to nab three of them at Borders: Jeff Madrick, Louisa Thomas, and Gordon Wood -- all on my shelf waiting for some time to open up -- plus one more I got at the library and actually did read: Matthew Moten's collection.) This leaves 26 in the scratch file, so let the research begin.
Peter Baldwin: The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe Are Alike (2009, Oxford University Press): A contrarian view, arguing that the differences between Europe and the US are much ado about not very much. In particular, he finds health care outcomes pretty much equivalent, which suggests he's not factoring in cost or inequality, or losing something like that. Of course, there are similarities, such as the general level of technology, science, and culture -- which makes the differences all the more interesting.
Omar Barghouti: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (paperback, 2011, Haymarket Books): Advocating for a global BDS campaign to put pressure on Israel to come to terms with the fact that Palestinians deserve human and civil rights like everyone else, something that Israel's occupation and settlements have denied. Modelled on the BDS efforts that helped to isolate and reform South Africa's Apartheid regime.
Charles Bowden: Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields (2010; paperback, 2011, Nation Books): A portrait of dystopia just across the border from El Paso. Not sure what the point or take is, but most likely the War on Drugs is implicated. Publisher seems to be fascinated by violence in the wake of globalization: other recent titles are Ian Thomson: The Dead Yard: A Story of Modern Jamaica and Molly Molloy/Charles Bowden, eds: El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin.
Andrew Breitbart: Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World! (2011, Grand Central): Title all caps on cover, with "RIGHT" and "NATION" in blood red while everything else but "BREITBART" is white-on-black, including the scumbag's photo.
Susan A Brewer: Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq (2009; paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press): From McKinley to Bush (and Bush), how wars have been sold to the American people. I suspect that one thing you'll find is that the propaganda lines are all much the same -- more racist early on, but there's still plenty of that. Another is that the reasons change once you're in, and do so in predictable ways (with minor variations on whether you're winning or getting quagmired). See also: Alan Axelrod: Selling the Great War: The Making of American Propaganda (2009, Palgrave Macmillan); also Stewart Halsey Ross: Propaganda for War: How the United States Was Conditioned to Fight the Great War of 1914-1918 (paperback, 2009, Progressive Press).
Douglas Brinkley: The Quiet World: Saving Alaska's Wilderness Kingdom 1879-1960 (2011, Harper): The dates start with John Muir's first visit to Alaska, a little more than a decade after Seward's Folly, and end with statehood. Brinkley is a journalist with a long and scattered bibliography, most recently The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, so he's on something of a wilderness roll.
Stephen L Carter: The Violence of Peace: America's Wars in the Age of Obama (2011, Beast Books): Parses what is new (and what is same old same old) in Obama's pontificating over war and direction thereof. Evidently aludes much to Michael Walzer, our most notorious justifier of just war theorizing, a theorist that gives Obama plenty of rope to hang himself. I don't trust Carter on this, but Obama hasn't earned any trust either.
Paul Clemens: Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant (2011, Doubleday): The Budd Stamping Plant, to be specific, although it's much like lots of other mothballed factories dotting a land where people used to make things. I'm reminded that the last book I read about working in a car plant was Ben Hamper: Rivethead: Tales From the Assembly Line, which came out in 1991. Clemens previously wrote Made in Detroit (2005, Doubleday; paperback, 2006, Anchor).
Ann Coulter: Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America (2011, Crown Forum): She's slowed down, but it's hard to make this stuff up: "Citing the father of mob psychology, Gustave Le Bon, Coulter catalogs the Left's mob behaviors: the creation of messiahs, the fear of scientific innovation, the mythmaking, the preference for images over words, the lack of morals, and the casual embrace of contradictory ideas." "Similarly, as Coulter demonstrates, liberal mobs, from student radicals to white-trash racists to anti-war and pro-ObamaCare fanatics today, have consistently used violence to implement their idea of the 'general will.'"
JR Dunn: Death by Liberalism: The Fatal Outcome of Well-Meaning Liberal Policies (2011, Broadside): A "novelist and military encyclopedist," concocts something he calls "democide" or "mass negligent homicide" and tallies up some 260 million dead bodies, the victims of liberal schemes, including the banning of DDT.
Francis Fukuyama: The Origins of Political Order: From Prehistoric Times to the French Revolution (2011, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Big picture history of everything, from a neocon whose brain is so large he transcends history he understands virtually nothing of. His subject, "political order," is one dear to his heart: how people with power screw others without. While it's easy to make fun of him, his 1995 book might have been onto something important: Trust: The Social Virtues and the Culture of Prosperity.
Andre Gerolymatos: Castles Made of Sand: A Century of Anglo-American Espionage and Intervention in the Middle East (2010, St Martin's Press): Britain literally handed their assets over the the US around 1970, so the Anglo-American continuity is even better established here than elsewhere. The motives of the two empires were slightly different, except as regards greed for oil. Hard to say who made the greater cock-up, but the arrogance and folly never ends.
Paul Gilding: The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World (2011, Bloomsbury Press): Former Greenpeace director, tryies to lay out a schemes for a sustainable economy that can survive not just global warming but all the other resource constraint issues facing us.
Lawrence Goldstone: Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1865-1903 (2011, Walker): The Supreme Court rulings that struck down the civil rights laws of the reconstruction and paved the way for Jim Crow segregation.
Leah McGrath Goodman: The Asylum: The Renegades Who Hijacked the World's Oil Market (2011, William Morrow): On the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), where speculators set the price of oil. No surprise that the author finds dirt and grime there.
Istvan Hargittai: Judging Edward Teller (2011, Prometheus Books): Author previously wrote a collective biography on five eminent Jewish-Hungarians, Martians of Science: Five Physicists Who Changed the Twentieth Century (2006; paperback, 2008, Oxford University Press) -- Theodore von Kármán, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, John Von Neumann, and Teller; here he goes into much more depth on Teller, the implication that he would not only explore Teller's science but also his mania for Defense politics; not clear that he does. An alternative is Peter Goodchild: Edward Teller: The Real Dr Strangelove (2004, Harvard University Press); another is PD Smith: Doomsday Men: The Real Dr Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon (2007, St Martin's Press).
Robert Henson: The Rough Guide to Climate Change: The Symptoms, the Science, the Solutions (3rd ed, paperback, 2011): A broad, general purpose primer on the issues and the controversies; recommended by Duncan Clark as the first book to read on the subject. Has some picture but nothing as slick as Al Gore has done.
Mike Hulme: Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity (paperback, 2009, Cambridge University Press): The argument here seems to be that when we argue about climate change, we're actually arguing about something else: about what "the human project" is all about.
Mark Kurlansky: Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want to Be One (2011, Yale University Press): Kurlansky seems like a history factory, with far-ranging books like Salt: A World History, Cod: A Biography of the Fish, A Basque History of the World, The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell, 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, a half-dozen more, but for a hack he's remarkably good -- I've read 4 of those 6 -- and his new books are as likely as not to fill in gaps in his established web of interests: for instance, his new book on the famous Jewish slugger follows his book on Jewish history (A Chosen Few: The Ressurrection of European Jewry) and a previous baseball book (The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro Macoris, itself following up his A Continent of Islands: Searching for the Caribbean Destiny).
Jeff Madrick: Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present (2011, Knopf): Former New York Times columnist, has a pile of books at least some expressing doubts about where the US economy was headed before it fell into that chasm, tries his hand at a deeper and broader history, at least one deep and broad enough not to have forgotten Ivan Boesky.
Paul Midler: Poorly Made in China: An Insider's Account of the China Production Game (2009; paperback, 2011, Wiley): Comes out at a time when we've seen a rash of scandals about Chinese manufacturing quality lapses. Seems to me likely to be a phase, but I don't doubt that there are real reasons that will take considerable effort to overcome.
Gretchen Morgenson/Joshua Rosner: Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon (2011, Times books): Pulitzer-winning New York Times business columnist rehashes the same old story, "character-rich and definitive in its analysis," traits you need when you're this late to the party.
Evgeny Morozov: The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom (2011, Public Affairs): Bravely battling "cyberutopians" -- those who foolishly think something good might come out of the Internet: nothing like beating up strawmen to show off your intellectual brawn.
Matthew Moten, ed: Between War and Peace: How America Ends Its Wars (2011, Free Press): Various writers on various wars, starting with Yorktown and winding up with Iraq (by Andrew Bacevich) -- nothing in Afghanistan. It's always been easier to get into a war than to get out, partly because the imagination of what you wanted at the start rarely squares with the reality you're left with at the end. One chapter is called "The Cold War: Ending by Inadvertence" but like many of these wars (Korea is the most obvious example) it didn't really end even when the other side stopped fighting (and in the Cold War case dissolved). Maybe the title admits that for the US peace isn't even imaginable: there's only war and states "between." [link]
Dambisa Moyo: How the West Was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly -- and the Stark Choices Ahead (2011, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Cover shows a $100 bill with a portrait of Mao in the middle. Moyo, originally from Zambia, previously wrote Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa (2009; paperback, 2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux), which can't be immediately dismissed as a conservative excuse, but does look like she likes to be provocative. This strikes me as little else.
Joseph S Nye Jr: The Future of Power (2011, Public Affairs): Foreign policy mandarin from the Carter and Clinton eras, pontificating on the wonderfulness of American Power since WWII, fretting about the rising spectre of China, concocting a new approach he calls "smart power" -- no doubt a book all smart powermongers in Washington will be debating earnestly for weeks to come.
Walid Phares: The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East (2011, Threshold): First book out presumably related to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, by a Fox News talking head who sees democracy in the Middle East as the fulfillment of Bush's vision and a rebuke to Obama's coziness with dictators. Too early for anyone to really understand what's happening, nothing to stop someone well stocked with prefab answers.
Ted Rall: The Anti-American Manifesto (paperback, 2010, Seven Stories Press): A desperate screed against the Zombie Empire, with occasional drawings that aren't funny enough to be cartoons, like the guy who dumped his peace sign in the trash and is throwing a molotov cocktail. Guess there is a "loony left" after all.
Paul Reyes: Exiles in Eden: Life Among the Ruins of Florida's Great Recession (2010, Henry Holt): The Florida housing bust, from the viewpoint of a guy who picked up small change "trashing out" foreclosed houses -- cleaning them out to remove all evidence of their previous owners. That's a different view of the same old story.
Michael Riordon: Our Way to Fight: Israeli and Palestinian Activists for Peace (paperback, 2011, Lawrence Hill): Author makes documentary films. Here he talks to Israelis and Palestinians who have joined in nonviolent resistance against Israel's occupation and political destruction of Palestine.
Ben Shephard: The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War (2011, Knopf): Focuses on the millions of Europeans driven from their homes during WWII -- refugees, or "displaced persons" -- and the postwar efforts to settle them. Big subject, little told except for Jews and Israel which turns out to be a small part of the story. A similar book could be written for Asia.
Harry Stein: I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican: A Surival Guide for Conservatives Marooned Among the Angry, Smug, and Terminally Righteous (paperback, 2010, Encounter): Previously wrote How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace), but maybe didn't find as much "inner peace" as he originally thought, or maybe he's just real confused, still trying to blame liberals for being "angry, smug, and terminally righteous" when the right has all those traits on steroids.
Jonathan Steinberg: Bismarck: A Life (2011, Oxford University Press): The big cheese of 19th century European politics, united Germany, advanced if not invented the bureaucracy and the welfare state. Did so in the service of a monarchy that was due to self-destruct. The sort of guy every generation needs to go back and review or revile.
John Szwed: Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World (2010, Penguin): One of the best jazz historians working, has previously done biographies of Sun Ra and Miles Davis. Lomax wasn't a folkie so much as the guy who invented the mold: he came early enough he could imagine recording a world unspoiled by modern technology like his own recordings. Thought doing so was politically significant too.
Helen Thomas/Craig Crawford: Listen Up, Mr President: Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do (paperback, 2010, Simon & Schuster): Well, I doubt that, not just because this is squeezed into 208 pp, but glad to see Thomas keeping active after she got unceremoniously retired following a minor misstatement on Israel.
Louisa Thomas: Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family -- a Test of Will and Faith in World War I (2011, Penguin): A Thomas family history, evidently the author's a few generations removed, where two brothers rushed to join Wilson's War -- you know, the one that made the world safe for democracy -- and two dissented, one jailed for his conscience. The eldest, Norman, was a Presbyterian minister who later ran on the Socialist Party ticket for president. Evan I know less about, but he appears to be the namesake of the author's father, which could well be the same Evan Thomas who wrote The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898, a book which ends with TR bullying his own sons into fighting (and dying) in Wilson's War.
Sherry Turkle: Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other (2011, Basic Books): Author has written a number of books on how people relate to technology, including Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, and Simulation and Its Discontents. Easy to say that computers debase human relationships; harder to work out whether they're worth it.
Martin Van Creveld: The Age of Airpower (2011, Public Affairs): Israeli military historian, traces the history of air warfare from Italy's bombing of Libya in 1911 to NATO's bombing of Libya in 2011 (probably not quite, but the 100-year circle did get tied up awfully neatly). One could also neatly point to Israel's 1967 blitzkrieg as a highpoint of effectiveness -- WWII was more grossly destructive but also far messier, and the many US air war missions have more often than not proved fruitless.
Daniel Williams: God's Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right (2010, Oxford University Press): Seems like a bunch of books on this subject out lately, one that can quickly grow tiresome.
Gordon S. Wood: The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States (2011, Penguin Press): I learned more about US history from John Garraty's book of interviews with old historians -- guys like Edmund Morris and C. Vann Woodward -- than I got from anywhere else, because after a career of work they finally got a chance to say what they thought. At the time, Wood was a young lion, having debuted with the best book ever written about the founding of the constitution -- something our Tea Partiers should bone up on; little do they know but they're really just a bunch of anti-federalists. Now Wood's an old-time master, so I'd say he's earned his right to reflect and interpret.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Joyce Appleby: The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism (2010; paperback, 2011, WW Norton): Big general history of capitalism, going back to early industrialization and up to the 2007-08 financial crisis, attributed to deregulation.
Peter Beinart: The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris (2010; paperback, 2011, Harper Perennial): One of the more apologetic of the Iraq War liberal hawks, has plenty of ground to critique the lofty arrogance of America's foreign policy establishment; still, it seems to me that the faults are far more intrinsic, that even modest warmongers are bound to fail.
Justin Fox: The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street (2009, Harper Business; paperback, 2011, Harper): Organized thematically, jumping around in time from one crash to another -- plenty to choose from there.
David Hirst: Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East (2010; paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Major history of Lebanon, a complex state again and again meddled with by dangerous and conniving forces -- Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, far from least the United States.
Chalmers Johnson: Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope (2010; paperback, 2011, Henry Holt): A rather slight collection of essays following the late author's brilliant Blowback trilogy.
Tuesday, June 21. 2011
Sorry for backdating, but I had this almost ready to run on Tuesday, but got distracted that day, then wound up spending most of Wednesday in the hospital emergency room undergoing cardiac tests. Seems to have been a false alarm, but a painful one. However, since I had already moved these book notes to the notebook, it makes more sense to post them on the blog on the planned date than to shove them around.
I run these whenever I get enough collected, where enough is 40 new books. All the past ones are collected in one huge file here -- the one file is handy for me lest I write up redundant notes.
Sami Al Jundi/Jen Marlowe: The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian's Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Marlowe is a documentary filmmaker who has previously done work, including a book spinoff, on Darfur. Al Jundi is a Palestinian who spent 10 years in Israeli prison after a bomb he was working on misfired. Book documents his education in prison, his turn away from violence toward peaceable protest. Takes more than one to make peace, though.
Daniel Altman: Outrageous Fortunes: The Twelve Surprising Trends That Will Reshape the Global Economy (2011, Henry Holt): I wouldn't bother mentioning this futuristic speculation except that Altman previously wrote Neoconomy: George Bush's Revolutionary Gamble With America's Future (2004), which proved to be pretty scarry.
HW Brands: American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism 1865-1900 (2010, Doubleday): Historian, writes a lot of big books about politics and business -- I've read two recently, his biography of FDR (Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delany Roosevelt) and his postwar survey (American Dreams: The United States Since 1945) and find him to be a fair high-level chronicler. I expect this to be fair and comprehensive as well, but not to have quite as much edge as Jack Beatty: Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900, which covers the same years and doesn't scrimp on the downside.
Lawrence D Brown/Lawrence R Jacobs: The Private Abuse of the Public Interest: Market Myths and Policy Muddles (paperback, 2008, University of Chicago Press): Short book questioning conservative efforts to expand markets, showing that policy makers need "to recognize that properly functioning markets presuppose the government's ability to create, sustain, and repair them over time."
Bill Bryson, ed: Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, and the Genius of the Royal Society (2010, William Morrow): A collection of new essays retelling the 350 year history of the Royal Society of London, from its founding in 1660 by some chap named Isaac Newton.
Jennet Conant: A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS (2011, Simon & Schuster): Fourth in a series of WWII-era studies into security-issue people, starting with J. Robert Oppenheimer. The Childs became famous much later for reasons having little to do with the OSS, and they actually seem to be minor here -- most of the book delves into Jane Foster, but that would make for a less intriguing book title.
David T Courtwright: No Right Turn: Conservative Politics in a Liberal America (2010, Harvard University Press): Argues that there has been no conservative triumph with Reagan and Bush, that they (like Nixon) repeatedly compromised conservative values to get ahead. I'm not sure that labelling the mess they did leave as liberal does us much good. They certainly did something.
Gerald F Davis: Managed by the Markets: How Finance Re-Shaped America (2009, Oxford University Press): Contrasts periods of financial and managerial capitalism, where the latter builds things and the former steals you blind. One reviewer wrote: "as compact and clear a description of how we screwed up a fine economy as you will find."
Kenneth S Deffeyes: When Oil Peaked (2010, Hill & Wang): Geologist, first came to my attention searching for gold in John McPhee's Basin and Range, but has since become more notable as the serious geologist behind the peak oil controversy. Wrote Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage in 2001, followed that up with Beyond Oil: The View From Hubbert's Peak in 2005. With the economic churn of the last decade, it hasn't been clear just when oil production peaked, or whether it might peak again in the future, but Deffeyes argues for 2005. Book does seem kind of thin.
Darren Dochuk: From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (2010, WW Norton): Looks like Billy Graham on the cover; focus seems to be on Southern California, which swept up a lot of Bible Belt refugees. Seems like a substantial history, as much of the right as of the evangelicals (won Allan Nevins prize).
Geoffrey Dunn: The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind
Her Relentless Quest for Power (2011, St Martin's Press):
Gambling on her relevance and trying to get out early, at least ahead
of nosy neighbor Joe McGinniss's The Rogue: Searching for the Real
Sarah Palin. Lies? Is she really coherent enough for that? Some
less ambitious books might do just as well: Malia Litman: The
Geoff Dyer: Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews (paperback, 2011, Graywolf): A protege of John Berger's, as incisive a critic as I've ever read, and author of an idiosyncratic jazz book (But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz) I got quite a bit out of, with 432 pp of previously published essays. Sounds like a good idea, but I also bought his previous essay collection, Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It and never got past the first one.
Orlando Figes: The Crimean War: A History (2011, Metropolitan Books): A big history of a small war, remarkable for its indication of how the technology of war had developed during the 19th century when European armies rarely fought each other. One might have drawn the conclusion that World War would be a bad idea, but Europe's empires were in full swagger, unable to learn anything.
John Bellamy Foster/Bret Clark/Richard York: The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Environment (paperback, 2010, Monthly Review Press): Pretty hefty book (544 pp) just to blame it all on capitalism, but Foster's been working this line of inquiry for quite some time.
Chris Hedges: The World as It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress (2011, Nation Books): Short, unhappy pieces -- someone describes them as sermons, and the former divinity student cops to the charge -- written 2006-10 and published on TruthDig.com. "It's Not Going to Be OK," "The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free," "Liberals Are Useless," "A Culture of Atrocity," "War Is Sin," "War Is a Hate Crime," "No One Cares" -- sample chapters. One I read was less lofty: about a guy charged with stealing $9, held in jail two years before trial, acquitted of all charges, left with $12,000 in debts and no job or prospects.
Steven Hill: Europe's Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age (paperback, 2010, University of California Press): The Soviet sphere has been taken as proof positive that one form of socialism -- centralized state-commanded economies -- was dysfunctional, why do we still deny the widespread success of capitalist social democracies in north and western Europe? They've managed to solve many of our worst problems in a manner that is both humane and efficient, and when we consider future crises they look to be positioned in much more sustainable ways. Several people have written this basic book, but it's been slow to sink in.
Adam Hochschild: To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (2011, Houghton Mifflin): The so-called Great War, with its mechanized slaughter, utopian rhetoric, and brutal assault on free thought. Focuses on the dispute between those who opposed the war and those who furthered it, especially in Britain, where the former were mostly jailed.
Nathan Hodge: Armed Humanitarians: The Rise of the Nation Builders (2011, Bloomsbury): Journalist on the war beat, seems to have backed into the notion of "nation building" as it has slipped into the Pentagon's counterinsurgency dogma -- as a tactic to prolong stalemated wars; whereas we're more used to "humanitarian intervention" as a political excuse to enter new wars. So I figure this could be more critical, but the military's adoption of the conceit could prove more damaging than ever.
Susan Jacoby: Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age (2011, Pantheon): A less than rosy look at old age these days, and the issues it raises. Tough issues to get clear headed on; not even sure it's worth the effort.
Lawrence M Krauss: Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science (2011, WW Norton): Another bio of the famous physicist, always an entertaining and enlightening subject, fits into the publisher's "Great Discoveries" series, by the author of such semi-unserious books as The Physics of Star Trek.
Greta R Krippner: Capitalizing on Crisis: The Political Origins of the Rise of Finance (2011, Harvard University Press): Argues that the growth of finance since the 1970s was encouraged by politicians trying to solve other problems (e.g., compensating for trade imbalances by encouraging capital inflows), and that one things led to another as opposed to the government being captured by the bankers or anyone having a bright idea.
James Livingston: The World Turned Inside Out: American Thought and Culture at the End of the 20th Century (2009, Rowman & Littlefield): Interesting, far-ranging survey; talks a lot about the conservative thrust, but finds the nation more liberal now than ever before, clinging to a form of socialism few actually admit to. If this sounds confused, well there is that.
Harold McGee: Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to the Best of Foods and Recipes (2010, Penguin): Author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, the first book to make a thorough survey of the science of cooking -- a book I'd say everyone should own. (I read the original when it came out in 1984 and own the revised edition from 2004.) No recipes. Just a lot of condensed expertise, basic rules of thumb.
John J Mearsheimer: Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (2011, Oxford University Press): Short book (160 pp), only so far you can push the analysis when you're a realist; i.e., someone who believes that lying is OK when you get away with it, not so good when you don't.
Branko Milanovic: The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality (2010, Basic Books): Within nations, between nations, around the world, up and down through history, even ventures into fiction.
Walter Mosley: Twelve Steps Toward Political Revelation (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Novelist, mostly mysteries, briefly sketches out some thoughts on politics drawing on 12-step programs.
John Nichols: The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition . . . Socialism (paperback, 2011, Verso): Of course it's short, but not empty. Did you know Horace Greely used to publish a stringer from Europe named Karl Marx? Probably the same author of Dick: The Man Who Is President (2004, New Press).
Robert A Pape/James K Feldman: Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism & How to Stop It (2010, University of Chicago Press): Pape's Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (2005) is the now-standard book on suicide terrorism, so this extends the franchise, adding a defense policy/decision analyst in Feldman. Before he got into suicide, Paper wrote Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (1996, just in time for Kosovo).
Michael Perelman: The Invisible Handcuffs [of Capitalism]: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers (paperback, 2011, Montly Review Press): The title words in brackets aren't evident on the cover scan, but the listed title includes them. Perelman has a long list of interesting left-ish takes on economic matters, including The Confiscation of American Prosperity: From Right Wing Extremism and Economic Ideology to the Next Great Depression, published in 2007 when said depression was iminent. The only system I've ever seen where workers weren't stifled and stunted is the rare case of employee ownership, probably because it's the only one where the interests of owners and workers are fully aligned.
Jack Rakove: Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America (2010, Houghton Mifflin; paperback, 2011, Mariner Books): Covers 1773-92, from the Tea Party to the election of George Washington to his second term as president. Focuses on key figures, the obvious ones and a few more like George Mason and Henry and John Laurens. Won a Pulitzer Prize for his earlier Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution.
Daniel K Richter: Before the Revolution: America's Ancient Past (2011, Harvard University Press): Big, general book on pre-revolution North America, much like Alan Taylor's 2001 American Colonies: The Settling of North America (which I read recently), even down to its short chapters on "progenitors."
Daniel T Rodgers: Age of Fracture (2011, Harvard University Press): Intellectual history in America, tracking how the consensus beliefs of the 1950s fractured into so many shards, leaving an empty space where it is impossible to put coherent groups together again. Something I'm intrinsically suspicious of, which if his point is right is something of a point.
Donald Rumsfeld: Known and Unknown: A Memoir (2011, Sentinel): 832 pages of "snowflakes" -- mental dandruff slicked back with lots of Brylcreem. Slightly less disingenuous (but no briefer) is Bradley Graham: By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld (2009; paperback, 2010, Public Affairs). Finally available in paperback (to cash in on the excitement of the new memoir, no doubt): Andrew Cockburn: Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy (2007; paperback, 2011, Scribner).
Dominic Sandbrook: Mad as Hell: The Crisis of the 1970s and the Rise of the Populist Right (2011, Knopf): One more in a string of recent books trying to blame Reagan and the 1980s on all sorts of messes in the 1970s ("America's humiliating defeat in Vietnam, an uptick in serious crime, economic malaise, rising fuel costs, environmental degradation, the Iranian hostage crisis, and an overall breakdown in respect for institutions, among others"). Most of that makes little sense, but it might be worth giving more consideration to Jimmy Carter's prefiguring of Reagan -- the outsider promise, the moralism, the lack of commitment to the party base, the ineffectual embrace of conservative motifs from deregulation to anti-Soviet demagoguery. Sandbrook, a British historian, also recently wrote the even larger (768 pp) State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain, 1970-1974 (2010, Allen Lane), and the previous Eugene McCarthy: And the Rise and Fall of Postwar American Liberalism (2004; paperback, 2005, Anchor).
Tom Segev: Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends (2010, Doubleday): A biography of the famous Nazi hunter, which entails sorting out various "legends" -- remarkable stories, some true and some inventions.
David K Shipler: The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties (2011, Knopf): Big book on how waging war against crime and terrorism has eroded civil rights we used to take for granted.
Jason E Stearns: Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa (2011, Public Affairs): Another book on the vast destruction in the Congo -- coverage had long been scarce, even compared to the better publicized Rwanda genocide that was something of a side show to the Congo, but we now have a handful of books like Gerard Prunier's Africa's World War.
Alan Taylor: The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels & Indian Allies (2010, Alfred A Knopf): A substantial history on what's sometimes considered America's weirdest war, declared over shipping conflicts but effectively a war to firm up America's borders, most significantly the one that doomed the Indians. Taylor has always been one historian you could count on not to count out the Indians, nor is it surprising that he would factor in recent Irish immigration.
Alex von Tunzelmann: Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder, and the Cold War in the Caribbean (2011, Henry Holt). Author's first book was Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire which focused a bit too narrowly on the Mountbattens in the partition of India. Here she jumps to the other side of the globe, picking up the CIA and its various targets -- not just Castro but Duvalier and Trujillo, neither Red but more trouble than they were worth.
Sarah Vowell: Unfamiliar Fishes (2011, Riverhead): A history of Hawaii, at least from the point American missionaries showed up to the American takeover in 1898, and then some -- seems to have a thing or two on favorite son Barack Obama. I reckon the missionary focus seems like a logical extension from her previous book, The Wordy Shipmates, on the New England puritans.
R Christopher Whalen: Inflated: How Money and Debt Built the American Dream (2010, Wiley): Even before the mortgage scams of the early 2000s, Americans lived on the expectation of inflation, which would among other things allow them to pay back debt cheaper; moreover, the government rarely paid today for what it could borrow and pay back later. Bankers take a dim view of this, and politicians can get all demagogic about it, but it's hard to see how else it all could work out -- the main alternatives to debt and inflation are redistribution and/or bankruptcy.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Anthony Bourdain: Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook (2010; paperback, 2011, Harper Collins): Scattered writings from the guy who wrote Kitchen Confidential and parlayed it into a TV career traveling around the world, eating, and not cooking. [link]
Tony Judt: Ill Fares the Land (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin): A short tract arguing for the virtues of social democracy, at least when he's not preoccupied with slandering the New Left. [link]
Robert G Kaiser: So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government (2009, Knopf; paperback, 2010, Vintage): A book on the Washington DC lobbying business. Starts with Gerald Cassidy, as good an example as any, at least a relatively innocuous figure compared to Jack Abramoff, who also appears. I read this, wrote some notes and copied down some quotes, then got a letter from the publisher threatening dire consequences if I didn't take it down. Only time that's ever happened, so someone's touchy.
Robert Perkinson: Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire (2010; paperback, 2010, Picador): A history of the US prison system, the world's largest since the Soviet Gulag was shut down, focusing on the South and Texas in particular, where prison labor was seen as the next best thing to slavery. [link]
Geoffrey Wawro: Quicksand: America's Pursuit of Power in the Middle East (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin Books): Sprawling book on US involvement in the Middle East, especially with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Finds lots of problems, deals with them reasonably enough, although I found he missed some details along the way. [link]
Thursday, April 21. 2011
Another batch of 40 book notes, my first such since February 12. Didn't even have that much backlog, probably because I've spent very little time in bookstores lately (aside from the Borders closeout), but I've been researching this since Tuesday and they're piling up. So maybe another next week instead of next month.
Eric Alterman: Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Liberal columnist, tries to present a case that Obama's post-election turn to the right is the fault of a system that is deeply and intractably conservative. That may be true, to a point, but it isn't very reassuring: seems to me like an indictment both of the system and the man unwilling to risk his political future on convincing the American people to do the right things.
Joe Bageant: Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir (paperback, 2011, Scribe): Previously wrote Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America's Class War (2007, Crown), the cursory tales of a class-conscious redneck. Might seem presumptuous to write a memoir, but he got cancer and died already, so quit bitching.
Roseanne Barr: Roseannearchy: Dispatches From the Nut Farm (2011, Simon & Schuster): A glance at the cover suggests she's muscling into Glenn Beck territory, which might be a good idea, but the self-deprecating "nut farm" suggests she's too self-conscious for that. Probably too smart, too.
Moustafa Bayoumi, ed: Midnight on the Mavi Marmara: The Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and How It Changed the Course of the Israel/Palestine Conflict (paperback, 2010, Haymarket): Too soon, I'd say, to say much about deflecting the course of the conflict, but Israel's display of gratuitous violence certainly had the effect of driving their once-carefully cultivated alliance with Turkey off the deep end.
Wendell Berry: What Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth (paperback, 2010, Counterpoint): Collection of essays, mostly from old books but possibly some new stuff. Farmer, writer, community-minded, so old-fashioned he cuts through a lot of new-fangledness we readily take for granted, more often than not making profound points.
David Brooks: The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (2011, Random House): What is it about New York Times columnists that drives them to such extreme heights of idiocy?
James Carroll: Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignites Our Modern World (2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Sometime journalist, sometime historian, always Catholic, takes a dim view of war and prejudice which leads to some soul searching. Not sure what exactly this covers or why it matters, except inasmuch as the histories of western religion and war have been interweaved, and still are.
G Paul Chambers: Head Shot: The Science Behind the JFK Assassination (2010, Prometheus): Another review of the evidence, this time bolstered by the author's physics credentials. Doesn't indulge in conspiracy speculation, but does reject the official story that all shots came from a single gun.
Diane Coyle: The Economics of Enough: How to Run the Economy as if the Future Matters (2011, Princeton University Press): Challenges: Happiness, Nature, Posterity, Fairness, Trust; Obstacles: Measurement, Values, Institutions; The Manifesto of Enough. Looks like a fairly serious attempt to reframe economics within the constraints of sustainability, occasioned by the evident looming of crises ranging from resource exhaustion to climate change.
Gerard Dumenil/Dominique Levy: The Crisis of Neoliberalism (2011, Harvard University Press): The collapse as a crisis of ideology on top of deep-seated fissures. Rx includes: "limits on free trade and the free international movement of capital; policies aimed at improving education, research, and infrastructure; reindustrialization; and the taxation of higher incomes."
Howard Friel: The Lomborg Deception: Setting the Record Straight About Global Warming (2010, Yale University Press): One thing that makes me doubt Bjorn Lomberg's Skeptical Environmentalist shtick is how readily our good friends at Koch Industries reprint his arguments, especially against global warming. This may seem specialized, but Lomborg himself is a cottage industry.
David N Gibbs: First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (paperback, 2009, Vanderbilt University Press): Another critical book on the US intervention in Yugoslavia, and evidently one of the best. A lot of strange things about those wars, not to mention apologists and advocates like Samantha Powers.
James Gleick: The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (2011, Pantheon): The journalist who hipped everyone to chaos theory digs up something less novel: information theory -- or maybe it's just that I've been reading about Claude Shannon, Alan Turing, Norbert Wiener, and John Von Neumann for decades now. I was much impressed with Gleick's Chaos and his Feynman biography Genius, but thought he wrote Faster a bit too fast. He should have come up with more than he did there.
Jeff Goodell: How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth's Climate (2010, Houghton Mifflin): Journalist, wrote Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future (2007), looks into various schemes to solve global warming by investing new ways to perturb the atmosphere even more.
Philip Hasheider: The Complete Book of Butchering, Smoking, Curing, and Sausage Making: How to Harvest Your Livestock & Wild Game (paperback, 2010, Voyageur Press): Looks essential for anyone willing to contemplate just where your meat comes from, even if you're not quite ready to take the next step and do it yourself.
Jonathan Haslam: Russia's Cold War: From the October Revolution to the Fall of the Wall (2011, Yale University Press): We could use a systematic history of the Cold War from Soviet viewpoints. Not sure if this is it. One thing that makes me uncomfortable is a previous title: The Nixon Administration and the Death of Allende's Chile: A Case of Assisted Suicide. Suicide?
Richard Heinberg/Daniel Lerch, eds: Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century's Sustainability Crises (paperback, 2010, University of California Press): A couple dozen essays on peak oil, other resource crises, climate change (Bill McKibben), population ("the multiplier"), alternative energy and sustainability schemes. No single answer; just lots of issues that require sober analysis and cooperative efforts.
Mark Hertsgaard: Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth (2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Global warming horror story, featuring author's daughter who can reasonably expect to live long enough to see as much as author prognosticates. James Hansen did something similar, calling his latest Storms of My Grandchildren.
Shir Hever: The Political Economy of Israel's Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation (paperback, 2010, Pluto Press): The subtitle is key. Most colonial establishments sought to exploit cheap native labor, and Israel has done more of that than is commonly acknowledge. But the early focus on "Hebrew Labor" aimed at displacing native Palestinians, and Israel has repeatedly worked to isolate and suppress the Palestinian economy.
Frederic Jameson: Valences of the Dialectic (2009; paperback, Verso, 2010): One of the first American critics to set himself up as an authority on critical Marxist thinkers -- his 1972 book Marxism and Form lists Adorno, Benjamin, Marcuse, Bloch, Lukacs, and Sartre on the cover -- and he's had a long run ever since. Big book (640 pp) on dialectic theories, Hegel and Sartre in particular, with an attempt to establish their continued relevance.
Diana Johnstone: Fools' Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Illusions (paperback, 2003, Monthly Review Press): I've never managed to get a good grip on what the US did in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, other than to notice that the cult of "Humanitarian Intervention" smelled funny. This is one book I've seen commonly referenced by critics, all the more timely as the Humanitarians are once again on the march.
Toby Craig Jones: Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia (2010, Harvard University Press): It's certainly obvious that the economic parameters of Saudi Arabia are determined by oil and water: oil pays for the economy, but lack of water limits how much of that wealth can be reinvested in the country. Other books tend to focuse on religion -- something we used to call superstructure.
Stanley Kurtz: Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism (2010, Treshold Editions): The hits keep on coming, this exceptionally lame one by a National Review hack (also Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center). More imaginative is David Freddoso's latest, Gangster Government: Barack Obama and the New Washington Thugocracy (2011, Regnery); hallucinatory even is Jack Cashill's Deconstructing Obama: The Life, Loves, and Letters of America's First Postmodern President (2011, Threshold), which reveals that Obama's books were actually written by "terrorist emeritus Bill Ayers." Also out soon is Jerome R. Corsi Ph.D.: Where's the Birth Certificate: The Case That Barack Obama Is Not Eligible to Be President (2011, WND). I should set up a separate file for all this shit -- all four authors here are serial offenders.
Pauline Maier: Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 (2010, Simon & Schuster): Despite veneration of the Founding Fathers, I suspect that most Tea Partiers, had they known anything about the subject, would have sided with the anti-federalists against ratifying the U.S. Constitution. Don't know whether that had any effect on Maier -- one of the leading historians of the period -- or whether she was just interested in the selling and resistance to such a fundamental political change, as opposed to the much better known story of how the Constitution was framed.
Manning Marable: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (2011, Viking): Major new biography, reportedly ten years in the works. Marable, who died a few days before this book was released, has over a dozen books on African-American history and politics, most recently Beyond Boundaries: The Manning Marable Reader (2010; paperback, 2011, Paradigm), going back through Black Liberation in Conservative America (paperback, 1999, South End) to W.E.B. DuBois: Black Radical Democrat (paperback, 1986, Twayne).
Sari Nusseibeh: What Is a Palestinian State Worth? (2011, Harvard University Press): Eminent Palestinian, president of Al-Quds University, previously wrote his autobiography Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life, tries to look beyond two-state jargon to basic human rights.
Annie Proulx: Bird Cloud (2011, Simon & Schuster): Memoir by the novelist, about her adopted chunk of Wyoming. She wrote one of fewer than five works of fiction I read during the last decade -- the short story collection Close Range (the one with "Brokeback Mountain"), which I picked up because I found a section on cattle ranching as knowledgeable as the best nonfiction (and superbly written as well). Picked this up in the Borders closeout, then forgot to include it in my post.
Mazin B Qumsiyeh: Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment (paperback, 2011, Pluto Press): A hard-working American activist. Comes at a time when I see little in the way of empowerment or hope.
Olivier Roy: Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways (2010, Columbia University Press): French expert on Islam (and Islamism) generalizes about religion in an age of holy wars.
Bernie Sanders: The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Runs 288 pages, pretty long for a speech; was given after Obama struck his deal with the devil to extend the Bush tax cuts for the ultra-rich.
Stephen Singular: The Wichita Divide: Revisiting the Murder of Dr. George Tiller (2011, St Martin's Press): Previously wrote books on the murder of radio talk jock Alan Berg, on Wichita's "BTK" serial killer, on Mormon polygamist Warren Jeffs, and on the Jon Benet Ramsey case. Looks beyond Scott Roeder to the culture warriors moving him along.
David Sirota: Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now: Our Culture, Out Politics, Our Everything (2011, Ballantine): The 1980s, that means Ronald Reagan, a new morning for conservatism; still, there's something unrequited about the whole experience. By the late 1960s, even the early 1970s, liberalism seemed to have been fulfilled, with little more to do, it actually became fat and lazy. But conservatives are insatiable -- they've thrown us into wars, wrecked the economy, resurrected fear and loathing, yet they're never satisfied, so even today we have to spend all our efforts keeping them at bay. I guess that's what Sirota means, but all I see at Amazon is a list of "Five '80s Flicks That Explain How the '80s Still Define Our World": Ghostbusters (1984), Die Hard (1988), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Rocky III (1982), and The Big Chill (1983). What does all that mean? (BTW, the most popular films of the 1980s were E.T. and the first two Stars Wars, with Raiders of the Lost Ark and two more Indiana Jones flicks filling up most of the top ten.)
David Swanson: War Is a Lie (paperback, 2010, David Swanson): Looks like a catalog of lies told to justify, to rationalize, to excuse war. While each war has its own historical context, the arguments used to promote and protract those ware are pretty much always the same, so it's recognize them, recognize the falsehoods they contain, and be prepared to counter them. Swanson previously wrote Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union (paperback, 2009, Seven Stories Press).
Lance Taylor: Maynard's Revenge: The Collapse of Free Market Macroeconomics (2011, Harvard University Press): For a brief moment during the great crash of 2008 it seemed likely that economists would rediscover John Maynard Keynes. Taylor wrote this book in that moment, a healthy dose of I-told-you-so. Most likely all true too, but a little late: more timely would be a book on the recovery of stupidity once the crisis started to pass.
Todd Tucker: Atomic America: How a Deadly Explosion and a Feared Admiral Changed the Course of Nuclear History (2009; Free Press; paperback, 2010, Bison Books): The explosion was in Idaho in 1961, when a small research reactor melted down, raising the question of how safe and sane nuclear power is. The admiral was Hyman Rickover, wo pushed for atomic-power aircraft carriers and submarines, in turn working to cover up the risks.
Siva Vaidhyanathan: The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) (2011, University of California Press): Author has written a couple of good books on internet-era social impacts -- Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity and The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and Control is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System -- so I take his worrying more seriously than the sour grapes in Ken Auletta's Googled: The End of the World as We Know It. Still, I don't yet know what he's getting at.
Bing West: The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan (2011, Random House): Ex-Marine, veteran of Reagan's Defense Dept., dependable supporter of America's wars as recently as his 2008 pro-surge book on Iraq (The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq), doesn't seem to like what the US is doing in Afghanistan, casting doubts on the sacred COIN theology. Hmm.
Garry Wills: Outside Looking In: Adventures of an Observer (2010, Viking): A memoir of sorts, by a journalist who started out in William Buckley's conservative orbit and gradually turned into a fierce critic of America's abuse of power, from Vietnam to Bush and not neglecting the embarrassing Bill Clinton. Also wrote much about American history, and about religion. Not sure what all we'll find here, but should be interesting.
Richard Wolffe: Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House (2010, Crown): Author of Renegade: The Making of a President (2009), boasts "unrivaled access to the West Wing," timed his sequel to follow Obama's mid-term election fiasco. Not sure if the title signals anything other than author's desire to keep that "unrivaled access" going for another book.
Tim Wu: The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (2010, Knopf): A history of telecommunications (and analogous technological businesses) from isolated innovation to monopoly to dissolution, as if that represents some sort of law of development. Describes his prime example fairly well, but hard to say how ironclad the rule is.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Kai Bird: Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978 (2010; paperback, 2011, Simon & Schuster): Author's father was a US diplomat in Jerusalem, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and author studied in Lebanon. Starts as a memoir, but provides useful history especially on the 1956 and 1967 wars, plus a rather critical view of King Hussein. [link]
James Bradley: The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War (2009; paperback, 2010, Little Brown): Teddy Roosevelt's machinations to parlay America's new imperial presence in the East Pacific into influence in Asia, a first step toward America's wars in Asia. [link]
Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer -- and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (2010; paperback, 2011, Simon & Schuster): Not just the middle class, which still gets lip service because they have the most to lose. Important study of politically-induced inequality: what happened if not necessarily why.
Simon Johnson/James Kwak: 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown (2010, Pantheon; paperback, 2011, Vintage): One of the main books on the financial crisis, focusing on the bankers caused it and the political clout that let them off the hook. [link]
Michael Lewis: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (2010; paperback, 2011, WW Norton): Breezy book on the great financial meltdown, told by tracking the stories of a few traders who bet against the housing bubble and made a killing. [link]
Peter Maass: Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil (2009, Knopf; paperback, 2010, Vintage): Far-reaching tour of the dirty world of the oil industry. Paperback has a dirtier cover.
Bill McKibben: Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (2010; paperback, 2011, St Martin's Press): Another global warming alert, more harrowing than ever, packaged with proposals for changing the economy, living more sustainably, anything but toughing it out. [link]
Gary Wills: Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin Books): Give a president the power to blow up the world and he starts thinking executive power really means something; pretty much everyone starts thinking that, and soon enough you don't have much of a democracy any more. Sound familiar? [link]
Friday, April 15. 2011
I had a friend once who claimed to have actually read every book on his shelves. Actually, that was a slight exaggeration: he lamented that he had fallen behind recently. His boast/lament reflected a trope that I had seen in movies or TV (don't recall which or where): a workingman enters a house, sees a wall-sized bookshelf, and says something like, "wow, you've read all those books?" It's a giveaway that the workingman had no intellectual airs, because anyone intellectual enough to collect all those books would have long since disavowed even plans to read them all. (A false lead, as I recall.) Anyhow, my friend had dropped out of college to organize the masses, so it mattered to him that he not have any more books than he had read (or would soon).
Even then, I had vast numbers of books that I would undoubtedly never read. Some I picked at on occasion. Many just wound up on the shelves, unclear even what idea had inspired their purchase. When I went to college in St. Louis, at least a thousand books stayed in the attic back in Wichita. When I moved to New York, more had to be left behind. In the last ten years I've been reading more, and I've finally gotten to where I buy fewer books that I'm unlikely to ever get to. On the other hand, I very likely had a minor lapse last week, as the local Borders closeout dropped prices to the point where microeconomics got the better of judgment.
In other words, I bought things that I wouldn't have paid more for, on the theory that what I bought has some marginal likelihood of being useful -- consulted if not fully read, read eventually if not very soon. I thought it might make an interesting post to unpack and parade those purchase past you. Gives me a chance to articulate what (if anything) I was thinking. Here goes:
Diane Ackerman: A Natural History of the Senses (1990; paperback, 1995, Vintage Books): A natural science book with cultural overtones, organized around the five senses. I've picked this up and thumbed through it for ages now. It's the sort of book I used to read a lot before 2001 kicked me into a more political orbit.
J.D. Biersdorfer/David Pogue: iPod: The Missing Manual (9th edition, paperback, 2011, O'Reilly): OK, this is probably stupid, but I have pretty much decided I should get an MP3 player, everyone I know recommends Apple (a company I've long despised -- I was, before all, an Apple II owner, and I've had a long run of avoiding ever making that mistake again), and I'm really confused about different models, features, how they work, what they're good for, etc. List price this would be a ridiculous purchase, but it wound up costing far less than the sales tax on the machine.
Bryan Burrough: The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes (2009; paperback, 2010, Penguin Books): The Big Four: Roy Cullen, H.L. Hunt, Clint Murchison, Sid Richardson. Made their money through politics more than geology, and never forgot that. Worst influence America ever had was oil money in politics.
Ha-Joon Chang: 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism (2011, Bloomsbury Press): Development economist, student of Joseph Stiglitz, doesn't buy the neoliberal prescription -- wrote two books about that, Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective and Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. I've read the latter. Not a Marxist anti-capitalist; just one who's grown tired of seeing his and similar nations kicked around.
Morris Dickstein: Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression (2009; paperback, 2010, Norton): Don't know how low-brow it goes, but even if this covers the elite arts and a bit more this well-regarded history could be useful -- the culture in question is the one before the one I grew up in, the one my parents grew up in (even if they were intentionally indifferent to it). I've been increasingly interested in the 1930s, mostly politics and the economy, but this fits in too.
Will Friedwald: A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers (2010, Pantheon): Big reference book, 811 pages, double columns, looks like a couple pages or more on hundreds of singers (e.g., six on Carmen McRae). Friedwald has been carving out this turf as his own for quite a while now. I don't much care for his taste or his writing, but for a reference book this is probably as expert as Scott Yanow on trumpet players or swing.
Daniel Walker Howe: What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (2007; paperback, 2009, Oxford University Press): Part of the multi-volume Oxford History of America series. I recently picked up David M. Kennedy's Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 thinking that era is pivotal for understanding postwar America (not that we've ever actually managed to get over the thrill of WWII), but it occurs to me that every book in the series is likely to be valuable, and the 1815-1848 period is one that I know relatively little about.
Cicily Janus: The New Face of Jazz: An Intimate Look at Today's Living Legends and the Artists of Tomorrow (paperback, 2010, Billboard Books): About 200 short biographies, some of folks I've never heard of, most I know a little bit; missing are some big names (the only Marsalis is Delfeayo, which gives you an idea of how narrowly tuned the selection is), practically everyone in free jazz and/or Europe. I think this will prove more frustrating than not, but I do have reasons for piling up reference books like this.
Judith Jones: The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food (2007; paperback, 2008, Anchor): Also a publishing memoir, from the editor best known for Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, although that merely started off a long list of superb cookbooks -- Irene Kuo's The Key to Chinese Cooking is the most intensely used in my kitchen, with Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking in the running. (I belatedly purchased the first Child volume, but have yet to make anything out of it. I own several Claudia Rodens, but have only used The Book of Jewish Food much.) Another meta book, plus it has recipes.
Robin D.G. Kelley: Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (2009; paperback, 2010, Free Press): More about Monk than I want to know, but he is a pivotal character in the history of modern jazz, and I should know more than I do.
Sandra Newman/Howard Mittlemark: Read This Next: 500 of the Best Books You'll Ever Read (paperback, 2010, Harper): Much of what I learned, especially early on, came from reading critics and reviewers, even anthologizers -- there is no more cost-effective way to pick up the semblance of an education. I have a few other books like this (and, of course, dozens and dozens of music guides), so it seemed very likely that this would be worth the pittance it cost. (Looking at it again, I'm not so sure.)
David Remnick: The Bridge: The Life and Times of Barack Obama (2010; paperback, 2011, Vintage): Seems inevitable that sooner or later I'll have to wade through an Obama biography. This seems like the leading candidate, although I'm already skeptical about Remnick's notion that Obama is picking up where the civil rights movement left off.
Nir Rosen: Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World (2010, Nation Books): Whereas the first round of Iraq War books were very critical of the US in Iraq, access to information was increasingly constrained from 2004 on, so when books finally came out on the Surge they were invariably the work of favored hawks. Rosen is the exception, the only journalist able to look at the war from multiple angles, and as Afghanistan loomed ever larger he moved around there too.
Alex Ross: Listen to This (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): This was a stretch. Classical music critic at The New Yorker -- long-time subscriber, but I can't say as I recall him much there, probably my lifelong aversion to classical music. Would have preferred a paperback of his previous The Rest Is Noise, but there were none, and as I started poking around here, I was impressed by the writing and not turned off by the argument. Some point I may get around to redressing my hatred of classical music (a term he hates, by the way); in any case it's less painful to read about than to listen to, and there's some other music tucked into the cracks here. A long shot.
Tony Russell: Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost (2007; paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): Big format, two columns, some pictures, short bios of country stars from Eck Robertson to Rose Maddox, some unknown to me, most little known to anyone. Russell wrote Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942, which I've had on my Amazon wish list for ages -- the problem being that it costs $120; also co-wrote The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings, which I have but have yet to do much with.
Bought a couple CDs and three DVD packages, but they're hardly worth mentioning here.