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.
Saturday, February 12. 2011
Second batch following the one I posted on Thursday -- thought I'd get this out Friday but events intervened, and even now I'm running late and will cut this short. Don't have enough right now for a third installment, but it shouldn't be long coming.
Peter L Bergen: The Longest War: Inside the Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda (2011, Free Press): Bergen's big claim to fame was personally interviewing Osama Bin Laden, which is probably why he keeps his focus on the prime suspect, even though the US military often gets sidetracked wiping out wedding parties. Also refusing to let dead dogs lie is Michael Scheuer, the former analyst of the CIA's Al-Qaeda unit, who must feel as intimately connected to Bin Laden as Bergen does, because he's written yet another book on the subject, this one titled Osama Bin Laden (2011, Oxford University Press).
Ha-Joon Chang: 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism (2011, Bloomsbury Press): Development economist, not a big fan of the neoliberal Washington Consensus prescription, which he's described as 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 and think it's a pretty fair summary.
Avner Cohen: The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel's Bargain with the Bomb (2010, Columbia University Press): Previously wrote Israel and the Bomb in 1998, one of a number of books on Israel's nuclear program, evidently one of the more authoritative ones. I would expect this one to focus more on politics of deniability or ambiguity, whatever they call it, which mostly seems to be a concession to the US desire to insist on non-proliferation everywhere except Israel.
Robert Dallek: The Lost Peace: Leadership in a Time of Horror and Hope, 1945-1953 (2010, Harper): A revised look at history from Roosevelt's death to Stalin's death, a period that in the first four years moved from the grand alliance that utterly defeated fascism to a class war that split the world, polarized further in the second four years. You can slice this up various ways, but Truman -- savvy about domestic politics; naive, unimaginative, and reactive in foreign affairs -- had a great deal to do with the polarization that has ever since pushed us into war, inequality, and injustice.
Rochelle Davis: Palestinian Village Histories: Geographies of the Displaced (paperback, 2010, Stanford University Press): Some 400 of those villages were snatched by Israel in the 1948 war, their occupants driven into exile, in most cases the vacant villages erased, so this book at least starts to return them to history.
Philip Dray: There Is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America (2010, Doubleday): Goes back to the early 19th century textile mills, plenty to write about, hefty at 784 pp but still necessarily brief -- e.g., shorter than EP Thompson's landmark The Making of the English Working Class. Probably useful, both to help labor find its bearings and to recognize where and when the wheels fell off.
Susan Dunn: Roosevelt's Purge: How FDR Fought to Change the Democratic Party (2010, Harvard University Press): Roosevelt had huge Democratic majorities in Congress, but many of those Democrats were old-fashioned conservatives -- some old-fashioned in the sense of pining for the days of slavery. This digs up the story of how FDR backed some liberal Democrats in primaries against his conservative Democratic opponents in 1938 -- "the purge" was how the opponents successfully presented the events.
Barry Eichengreen: Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar and the Future of the International Monetary System (2011, Oxford University Press): Probably an important book. Eichengreen has staked out the international monetary system as his specialty, and the dollar is still the big kahuna there, just not one whose virtues are especially appreciated these days. Flaunting its status as the world's reserve currency, the US has been able to run trade deficits and float debt to an extraordinary degree. That's certainly been an exorbitant privilege for someone, and I'd like to know who.
Laila El-Haddad: Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything in Between (paperback, 2010, Just World Books): The first release on blogger Helena Cobban's book imprint picks up the story of a blogger in Gaza, covering everyday life under unusual duress, including the occasional Israeli terror bombing. Also on the same imprint: Chas Freeman: America's Misadventures in the Middle East, Joshua Foust: Afghanistan Journal: Selections From Registan.net, Reidar Visser: A Responsible End? The United States and the Iraqi Transition, 2005-2010
Evan DG Fraser/Andrew Rimas: Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations (2010, Free Press): The old adage is that an army travels on its stomach, so an analogy might be that empires rise and fall on their ability to feed themselves. Touches on Mesopotamia, China, medieval Europe, Malthus and all that. The authors previously wrote Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World (2008, William Morrow), the credits listing Rimas first there.
Martin Gilbert: In Ishmael's House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands (2010, Yale University Press): Churchill biographer, Israel-friendly, combined those biases to write Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship, which wasn't exactly true even if you think Churchill's Zionism was good for the Jews. There are numerous Israeli books that seek to hype up Islamic discrimination against Jews, both to give Mizrahi Jews a sense of historical oppression comparable to that of European Jews and to read the Israeli-Arab conflict back into the past. On the other hand, I don't get the sense that a contrary views, like Zachary Karabell's Peace Be Upon You: Fourteen Centuries of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence in the Middle East (2007, Knopf), while more correct overall, glosses over a lot of dirt. Gilbert's book may be a useful historical corrective to both ends, although I suspect he has his own political ends.
Edward S Greenberg/Leon Grunberg/Sarah Moore/Patricia B Sikora: Turbulence: Boeing and the State of American Workers and Managers (2010, Yale University Press): A subject long deserving attention: over the last decade, in particular, Boeing has been much more effective at wringing concessions from labor than in competing with Airbus, let alone in building planes. (Anyone seen a 787 Dreamliner lately?) The biggest symbol of this was when they moved their headquarters from Seattle to Chicago so that managers would be further removed from workers, but there are plenty more examples. Although Boeing is nominally America's biggest exporting company, much of what they've exported recently has been jobs. No lobbyists worked harder than Boeings to grant China most favored nation trade favors, and Boeing is only nominally an aircraft company: their real "core competency" is pulling strings in Washington, even if sometimes they're inept enough to land their officials in jail.
SC Gwynne: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quannah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History (2010, Scribners): Not sure if "powerful" is the right word, but the Comanches were relatively effective at putting up a guerrilla struggle against encroaching US settlers, and their story has been rehashed far less than the Custer debacle (Nathaniel Philbrick's The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of Little Bighorn is the latest). Steven Walt recommended this book while thinking about the Taliban.
Bernard E Harcourt: The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order (2011, Harvard University Press): If laissez-faire economics produces so much freedom, why do we have so many prisons? That's probably not the only question here. One of the preconcepts of laissez-faire is the idea that there is natural order that functions even in the absence of government regulation. Harcourt previously wrote Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing, Against Prediction: Profiling, Policing, and Punishing in the Actuarial Age, and Language of the Gun: Youth, Crime, and Public Policy.
Ruth Harris: Dreyfus: Politics, Emotion, and the Scandal of the Century (2010, Metropolitan Books): That would be the 19th century, although the 1895 L'affaire Dreyfus had profound implications for the 20th, including inspiring Theodor Herzl to come up with his program of colonialist Zionism, although France's ultimate rejection of the antisemitic attack on Alfred Dreyfus could have been developed in a wholly different direction. This looks to be the big (560 pp) book on a subject that has also been recently reviewed in Louis Begley: Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters (2009; paperback, 2010, Yale University Press), and Frederick Brown: For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus (2010, Knopf).
William Hartung: Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (2011, Nation Books): I'm more familiar with Boeing because Boeing is closer to home, but Lockheed Martin is an even bigger cog in the military-industrial complex, mostly because it's more purely military. First thing I did when I saw this was to look up my cousin (a former Lockheed VP) in the index, but he slipped by. Probably too much real dirt to report on. Hartung previously wrote How Much Are You Making on the War, Daddy?: A Quick and Dirty Guide to War Profiteering in the Bush Administration.
Steve Hendricks: A Kidnapping in Milan: The CIA on Trial (2010, WW Norton): The CIA kidnapped a terrorism suspect in Milan, in Italy, in 2003, and flew him to Egypt to be tortured. This was illegal, and Italian prosecutors investigated the case, eventually indicting a number of CIA operatives, and thereby exposing the entire covert operation. Some of this was previously covered in Stephen Grey's more general book, Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program (2006).
Steven Johnson: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Inovation (2010, Riverhead): Pop science/history writer, gets to dabble in a bit of everything here on the theory that there is something to "innovation" more general than the specific innovations. Has dabbled in neuroscience before -- first two books were Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software (2001) and Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life (2004), and he's tried to argue that Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter (2005).
John Keay: China: A History (2009, Basic Books): Big, broad history; big subject (642 pp). Keay previously wrote the similar India: A History (2000), which I had initially been interested in but mixed reviews dissuaded me. Both subcontinents are vast and important and, certainly for me and most likely for you, barely understood, so such books should be welcome, at least if they are well done.
James Ledbetter: Unwarranted Influence: Dwight D Eisenhower and the Military Industrial Complex (2011, Yale University Press): Fairly detailed account of Eisenhower's famous (and ultimately ineffective) farewell speech.
Derek Leebaert: Magic and Mayhem: The Delusions of American Foreign Policy, From Korea to Afghanistan (2010, Simon & Schuster): Why do smart people wind up acting so stupidly when they enter America's foreign policy establishment? They believe in magic? "When we think magically, we conjure up beliefs that everyone wants to be like us, that America can accomplish anything out of sheer righteousness, and that our own wizardly policymakers will enable gigantic desires like "transforming the Middle East" to happen fast. Mantras of 'stability' or 'democracy' get substituted for reasoned reflection. Faith is placed in high-tech silver bullets, whether drones over Pakistan or helicopters in Vietnam." Leebaert previously wrote The Fifty-Year Wound: How America's Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World, one of the few books that considers what the Cold War cost us.
Bethany McLean/Joe Nocera: All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis (2010, Portfolio): Business writers finally weigh in. McLean wrote The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron. Hard to imagine how much of this was still hidden by the time this book came out.
Barbara Moran: The Day We Lost the H-Bomb: Cold War, Hot Nukes, and the Worst Nuclear Weapons Disaster in History (2010, Presidio Press): That would be 1966, when a USAF B-2 bomber crashed off the coast of Spain, losing four H-bombs.
Ian Morris: Why the West Rules -- For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Big (768 pp) book, claims to cover 50,000 years of history plus at least some slice of the future, puzzling out mankind's pecking order as if that's what the great game is all about.
Ilan Pappé: The Rise & Fall of a Palestinian Dynasty: The Husaynis 1700-1948 (2010, University of California Press): The best known was Hajj Amin al-Husayni, appointed Mufti of Jerusalem by the British when they set up the future Jewish National Homeland. The Mufti later split from his British minders, led the 1937-39 revolt that resulted in Palestinian power being crushed, and fled to his notorious haven in Nazi Germany. The British, meanwhile, leaned toward the rival Nashbashibi family.
Ilan Pappé: Out of the Frame: The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel (paperback, 2010, Pluto Press): One of Israel's few historians specializing in the Palestinian side of the deal -- A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples is a book everyone cites, and The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is the best short book on the expulsions -- so he has a stake in academic freedom and no doubt too much experience with those who attack academics who question Israeli orthodoxy.
Christopher A Preble: The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free (2009, Cornell University Press). Strikes me as completely right, although many will find the idea of dominance making our lives more risky to be counterintuitive. Author is a Cato Institute fellow, so he must really go to town on the latter two points.
Robert D Putnam/David E Campbell: American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (2010, Simon & Schuster): Putnam wrote one of the most famous sociological studies in recent times: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000). Campbell has written Why We Vote: How Schools and Communities Shape Our Civic Life (2006) and A Matter of Faith: Religion and the 2004 Presidential Election (2007). Large (686 pp) survey of religion and politics in America, how they interact.
Gary Rivlin: Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. -- How the Working Poor Became Big Business (2010, Harper Business): One of those subjects that makes you realize how contrary to common sense so-called free markets can be: those least able to afford things often have to pay more for less, while those dealing with them exact premium profits.
Dani Rodrik: The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of Globalization (2011, WW Norton): Development economics, tends toward unorthodox views. Andrew Leonard is a fan; has already flagged several interesting findings, including that most countries that have opened their markets up to globalization have built up large governments for effective regulation and safety nets -- something the US has failed to do, which is largely my our experience with globalization has been so unfortunate.
Gideon Rose: How Wars End: Why We Always Fight the Last Battle: A History of American Intervention From World War I to Afghanistan (2010, Simon & Schuster): Editor of Foreign Affairs, hopes to be helpful to future interventionists by pointing out the follies and foibles of past efforts to clean up past interventions (not that Iraq or Afghanistan, or for that matter Korea, are really in the past). Max Boot, who has argued that we don't need to plan how small wars should work out because we're generally pretty lucky with them anyway, likes this book.
Nir Rosen: Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World (2010, Nation Books): Arabic-speaking American journalist, has spent time embedded with US military forces but has also worked far off the beaten path -- his 2006 book, In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq was the first book to get a real sense of the anti-American revolt in Iraq. This picks up the story from then, covering the "surge" and the "awakening" movements in Iraq, and adding a lot more on Afghanistan. Big (608 pp), important book.
Mary Elise Sarotte: 1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe (2009, Princeton University Press): Focuses less on what led to the fall of the Berlin Wall than on what came after, especially in Germany, where unification was just one of several possible paths.
Timothy Snyder: Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010, Basic Books): A broad history of the struggle for eastern Europe between Germany and Russia, fought with unfathomable viciousness and brutality from 1939 to 1945, with significant preludes and legacies -- the book covers from 1933, when Hitler came to power, to 1953, when Stalin died.
Rebecca Solnit: Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (paperback, 2010, University of California Press): A history of San Francisco, built around 22 color maps. Not sure how it all works, or if it's too specific to a city I've developed no special fondness for. Haven't really gotten into Solnit either, although she's politically sharp and has written about many topics of seeming interest.
Seth Stern/Stephen Werniel: Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion (2010, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Based on a lot of long-awaited private papers. Brennan was on the Supreme Court 34 years, "arguably the most influential liberal justice in history." He's a big part of the reason liberals still look to the courts for protection of constitutional rights against conservative assaults -- something that hardly anyone familiar with the history of the Court would have expected before FDR packed the court with Brennan, Black, and Douglas.
Martin Van Creveld: The Land of Blood and Honey: The Rise of Modern Israel (2010, Thomas Dunne): Preeminent Israeli military historian and theoretician. Previously wrote the more prescriptive Defending Israel: A Strategic Plan for Peace and Security (paperback, 2005, St Martin's Griffin). This looks to be a general history, but Israel is so mired in militarism that he should be at home. I make him out to be what we'd call a realist here, so I expect he has something of interest to say -- just not enough to keep Ehud Olmert from contributing a blurb.
Michael Wolraich: Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies about the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior into a Raging Homosexual (2010, Da Capo Press): Another catalog of right-wing lunatic propaganda.
Steven E Woodworth: Manifest Destinies: America's Westward Expansion and the Road to the Civil War (2010, Knopf): I wouldn't say that the westward expansion of the United States was a cause of the Civil War but it certainly was something to fight over until the big fight came along -- not least because it was the one thing all sides could agree on. [Nov. 2]
James Zogby: Arab Voices: What They Are Saying to Us, and Why It Matters (2010, Palgrave Macmillan): Pollster, one of the few (Americans, at least) actively engaged in Arab countries to try to figure out what the "Arab street" is thinking and wants. It might be interesting to see how well this polling holds up in light of the popular revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, etc.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
John Cassidy: How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities (2009, Farrar Straus and Giroux; paperback, 2010, Picador): Responding to the financial collapse, looks more at the shortcomings of the dominant economic theories, what he calls "utopian economics"; excellent book on the subject. [link]
Josh Kosman: The Buyout of America: How Private Equity Is Destroying Jobs and Killing the American Economy (2009; paperback, 2010, Portfolio): Original subtitle: How Private Equity Will Cause the Next Great Credit Crisis. Private equity firms are largely fueled by America's trade deficit -- the money is soaked up by foreign oligarchs and repatriated to buy up and devour US companies, sucking value out and saddling them with debt. The new subtitle is more to the point, although the old one is right too.
Nomi Prins: It Takes a Pillage: An Epic Tale of Power, Deceit, and Untold Trillions (2009; paperback, 2010, Wiley): Former Goldman Sachs director turned muckraking journalist, gives a shocking account of how the big banks helped themselves to trillions of government dollars to weather their financial crisis. [link]
Thursday, February 10. 2011
Last book list post was Nov. 17, two-and-a-half months ago. No wonder I have more than two posts worth of notes piled up. Late in the day, I figured I'd rush out a quickie post tonight where the main point is to drain the swamp, and I'll do another tomorrow with more recent/higher priority books. So below find a scattered set of things I thought interesting enough to write up in the first place, but that I've been picking around as other books caught my eye. Will do paperback reprints, etc., tomorrow.
M Shahid Alam: Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism (paperback, 2010, Palgrave Macmillan): First I've heard of "exceptionalism" not applied to America, but the concept is probably universal, even if its significance is that it forms a part of the peculiar US-Israeli bond. Alam also wrote Challenging the New Orientalism: Dissenting Essays on the "War Against Islam" (paperback, 2007, Islamic Publications International).
Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010, Free Press): Not that the result is colorblind; de facto the opposite.
David Bacon: Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (2008; paperback, 2009, Beacon Press): Journalist, former labor organizer, on both carrot and stick: what draws (or forces) workers to emigrate into situations where they lack rights and are certain to be exploited.
Nick Bilton: I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted (2010, Crown Business): Upbeat uptake on the world going to hell with technological change.
Alex Callinicos: Bonfire of Illusions: The Twin Crises of the Liberal World (paperback, 2010, Polity): The collapse of global capitalism, sure, but the Russian incursion into Georgia?
Rosanne Cash: Composed: A Memoir (2010, Viking): Singer-songwriter, noteworthy in her own right, even better known for being Johnny Cash's daughter.
David Coates: Answering Back: Liberal Responses to Conservative Arguments (paperback, 2009, Continuum): Political scientist, wrote a similar book, A Liberal Tool Kit: Progressive Responses to Conservative Arguments (2007, Praeger), which this looks to be an update to. His laundry list includes: trickle-down economics, welfare, social security, health care, immigration control, religion, the war in Iraq, and economic prosperity.
Jeffrey L Cruikshank/Arthur W Schultz: The Man Who Sold America: The Amazing (but True!) Story of Albert D Lasker and the Creation of the Advertising Century (2010, Harvard Business Press): Lasker was head of Lord & Thomas from 1903 on, owner of the Chicago Cubs before Wrigley; he claims to have been the guy who wedded advertising and politics back during Warren Harding's 1920 campaign. The authors may be impressed by all that, but one has to wonder how much good it all amounted to.
Barbara Demick: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (2009; paperback, 2010, Spiegel & Grau): Based on interviews with six defectors, which doesn't seem to be an especially good sampling technique, but North Korea is a strange place, hard for outsiders to grasp.
Frans de Waal: The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society (2009, Crown; paperback, 2010, Three Rivers Press): Primatologist, argues that humans aren't selfish creatures, at least not biologically; also that traits we view as humane aren't exclusive to humans. Previously wrote Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are (2005).
David Farber: The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism: A Short History (2010, Princeton University Press): I'm a bit puzzled about the "fall" part, since Democrats like Obama seem to be thoroughly in conservatism's thrall, if anything more earnest in their dedication to making the unworkable work. Portraits from Robert Taft to George W Bush; offers "rare insight into how conservatives captured the American political imagination by claiming moral superiority, downplaying economic inequality, relishing bellicosity, and embracing nationalism."
Bruce Fein: American Empire Before the Fall (paperback, 2010, CreateSpace): Foreword by Rep. Walter Jones, which puts this in Ron Paul territory, in a long but lately very marginal tradition of seeing a permanent army as the greatest threat to freedom.
Niall Ferguson/Charles S Maier/Erez Manela/Daniel J Sargent, eds: The Shock of the Global: The 1970s in Perspective (2010, Harvard University Press): I don't trust Ferguson at all, but the 1970s were a decade of profound economic turmoil at least in the US, and some of this may shed some light somewhere. But Judith E Stein: Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies strikes me as closer to the mark.
Bruce Herschensohn: An American Amnesia: How the US Congress Forced the Surrenders of South Vietnam and Cambodia (2010, Beaufort Books): And wouldn't we be so much happier if they hadn't, and we were still tied down fighting an endless war there? Like the one we're fighting in Afghanistan, ever since presidents Carter and Reagan decided to give Russia their taste of Vietnam?
David Kahane: Rules for Radical Conservatives: Beating the Left at Its Own Game to Take Back America (2010, Ballantine): Saul Alinsky translated and paraphrased for young fascists.
Lierre Keith: The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability (paperback, 2009, PM Press): Ex-vegan, found her way back to meat through various lines of thought. Not sure how solid her research is, but I got so frustrated at a recent "peace" event that was overrun with vegetarianism that I'd like to see some counterarguments.
Kate Kenski/Bruce W Hardy/Kathleen Hall Jamieson: The Obama Victory: How Media, Money, and Message Shaped the 2008 Election (paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): A technical book on campaigning, not sure that the authors even care about the issues involved except insofar as they can be packaged. Jamieson's done this before, in Packaging the Presidency: A History and Criticism of Presidential Campaign Adversiting (1992; paperback, 1996, Oxford University Press).
Michael A Lebowitz: The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development (paperback, 2010, Monthly Review Press): Still committed to the old verities, like worker control of the means of production, that few of us accused of socialism still put much stake in. Also wrote Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century (paperback, 2006, Monthly Review Press) and Following Marx: Method, Critique and Crisis (paperback, 2009, Haymarket Books).
Michael Mandelbaum: The Frugal Superpower: America's Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era (2010, Public Affairs): He must be thinking ahead, because as far as I know no one (other than cranks like the late Chalmers Johnson) can imagine the "Indispensable Nation" forced to live on a budget.
Andrew C McCarthy: The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America (2010, Encounter Books): "The real threat to the United States is not terrorism. The real threat is Islamism, whose sophisticated forces have collaborated with the American Left not only to undermine U.S. national security but also to shred the fabric of American constitutional democracy -- freedom and individual liberty. . . . a harrowing account of how the global Islamist movement's jihad involves far more than terrorist attacks, and how it has found the ideal partner in President Barack Obama, whose Islamist sympathies run deep." That's connecting three dots -- Islamism, the left, and Obama -- that are awfully distant from each other.
Nolan McCarty/Keith T Poole/Howard Rosenthal: Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches (2006; paperback, 2008, MIT Press): Three political scientists chart the polarization of the two-party system and tie it to increasing inequality.
Suzanne McGee: Chasing Goldman Sachs: How the Masters of the Universe Melted Wall Street Down . . . and Why They'll Take Us to the Brink Again (2010, Crown Business): I don't doubt it. The bank books keep rolling out.
Dmitry Orlov: Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects (paperback, 2008, New Society): Probably just another of the publisher's peak oil doom books, but this time the analogy is especially scary because the Russian collapse, with its rampant free-for-all capitalism, actually did happen.
Judy Pasternak: Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed (2010, Free Press): The sordid history of uranium mining on Navajo lands.
James Wesley Rawles: How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It: Tactics, Techniques, and Technologies for Uncertain Times (paperback, 2009, Plume): Survivalblog.com editor, military background, competes with many other survival books, like Cory Lundin's When All Hell Breaks Loose. Part practical skills, part paranoia, I can see the motivation and interest, but I doubt that anyone can plan for longterm survival in events that totally dismantle the state and economy.
Mary Roach: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (2010, WW Norton): Science writer, tends to go for the humorous, as in her Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, explores what happens when gravity is suspended.
Maria Rodale: Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe (2010, Rodale): Makes the argument -- probably a good thing to have someone knowledgeable doing that. Rodale's publishing company has other irons in this fire, like Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening: The Indispensable Green Resource for Every Gardener.
Chris Rodda: Liars for Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History, Volume I (paperback, 2010, BookSurge Publishing): I assume Rodda is a committed Christian, since anyone who was not would possess too much doubt about the whole religion thing to make such a stand. At 532 pp with the implication of future volumes, she must have a lot to say about the subject.
Ira Rosofsky: Nasty, Brutish, and Long: Adventures in Old Age and the World of Eldercare (2009, Avery): About nursing homes -- shouldn't be hard to fill a book about what's amiss and what's agog, even if many of them are tolerably tolerable.
Alex Ross: Listen to This (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Scatteed essays by The New Yorker's classical music critic, although he might quibble since he doesn't approve of the term. Some pieces on Ellington and Chinese music peck at the mold. Seems like a critic I should take more interest in, especially since his The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century is so well regarded.
Theodore Roszak: The Making of an Elder Culture: Reflections on the Future of America's Most Audacious Generation (paperback, 2009, New Society): This one shows my age -- Roszak's 1969 book The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition was a key revelation of self-identification at the time, even if it wasn't really all that deep -- as I recall, better than Charles Reich, not quite up to Philip Slater. I gather this book doesn't look back so much as carry on, which leads to a new appreciation of elders. I can't say as my key political views have changed much since 1969, but I sure have gotten older.
Joel Schalit: Israel vs. Utopia (paperback, 2009, Akashic Books): Born in Israel, grew up in US, lives in Italy now, in theory a combination which gives "him the intimate knowledge and necessary distance to focus on the gap between perceptions of Israel and its reality." No doubt Israel is a complicated country, but that shouldn't distract us from the simple issue of equal rights at the heart of the self-protracted conflict.
Larry J Schweiger: Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth (2009, Fulcrum): CEO of National Wildlife Federation, makes a plea for preserving at least some natural wildlife habitat. Foreword by Theodore Roosevelt, who certainly killed his share of the world's wildlife.
Peter Dale Scott: American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan (2010, Rowman & Littlefield): The CIA drugs connection is an old one which Scott's been chasing since his 1972 book, updated in 2008, The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11 and the Deep Politics of War. This type of analysis tends to get paranoid, but isn't that the point of the CIA? [November 16]
Victor J Stenger: The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (paperback, 2009, Prometheus): The socalled New Atheist bestsellers have been a disappointing lot, more often than not pulling prejudices out their ass than reasoning their way through the rather trivial problem. This one looks a shade better, not that I feel need of convincing.
Alex Taylor III: Sixty to Zero: An Inside Look at the Collapse of General Motors -- and the Detroit Auto Industry (2010, Yale University Press): An autopsy, going back 40 years, which provides plenty of opportunity to second guess everyone. Not least to bash the UAW.
Tim Wise: Color-Blind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat From Racial Equity (paperback, 2010, City Lights): The latest in a series of (mostly) short books on the strange, twisted persistence of white racism in a society that likes to pretend we're over all that: Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White (paperback, 2005, Routledge); White Like Me: Reflections on Race From a Privileged Son (paperback, 2007, Soft Skull Press); Speaking Treason Fluently: Anti-Racist Reflections From an Angry White Male (paperback, 2008, Soft Skull Press); Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama (paperback, 2009, City Lights).
Kate Zernike: Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America (2010, Times Books): New York Times reporter follows the Tea Party movement, paying scant attention to the money, partly because the show is too distracting, partly because, well, wouldn't it be uncouth and unconventional to wonder who's interests are served by all this nonsense?
Slavoj Zizek: Living in the End Times (2010, Verso): Four "riders of the apocalypse": global environmental crisis, imbalances within the economic system, the biogenetic revolution, ruptured social divisions. Is this the apocalypse? Or just interesting times?
Wednesday, November 17. 2010
Another pile of 40 new book notes:
Ari Berman: Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Just in time to neither influence nor analyze the current election cycle -- perhaps just a historical reminder that handing the gains of 2006-08 over from Dean to Obama managed to squander both focus and fervor, opening the door to an intransigent, unrepentant Republican effort.
Timothy P Carney: Obananomics: How Barack Obama Is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists, and Union Bosses (2009, Regnery): Yglesias writes: "I'm continually gobsmacked by the number of business executives in the United States who haven't read Tim Carney's book and don't realize that Obama is just a patsy for the big business agenda. Maybe the White House should buy a free copy of Obamanomics for every corporate headquarters in the country." Jonah Goldberg says, this "is conservative muckraking at its best." Foreword by Ron Paul.
Dick Cavett: Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets (2010, Times Books): Late night talk show host. I did watch his show in the late-1960s/early-1970s, and recall fondly his intelligent engagement with his guests, and special attachment to Groucho Marx. His rise was largely based on his ability to cultivate relationships with celebrities like Marx, and he had a knack for making them look good while not making himself look foolish. Book evidently comes from an online column he writes, one of those ways people have to extend their 15 minutes of fame into a minor career.
Noam Chomsky/Ilan Pappé: Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel's War Against the Palestinians (paperback, 2010, Haymarket): Draws together various pieces by the two authors since Israel's 2008 siege on Gaza -- their opening salvo in their campaign to neuter any audacious hopes Barack Obama might have had about bringing peace to the region. Pappé's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is the first book to consult from Israel's 1948-49 expulsions on, and Chomsky's Middle East Illusions is one of his most acute (and also best written) books.
Angelo M Codevilla: The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It (paperback, 2010, Beaufort): This seems to be an important conceptual leap in reassigning blame for lots of things wrong with America away from the patron saints of the far right. Still, you'd think that if the "ruling class" -- all those smug elitist liberals -- was powerful enough to have caused so much damage they'd have bothered to control the right-wing media and think tanks that are their undoing. Rush Limbaugh wrote the intro, as always chipping in to fight the power. Still, you'd think the real ruling class would be a bit chagrined to have been swept aside like this.
Heidi Cullen: The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and Other Scenes From a Climate-Changed Planet (2010, Harper): Front cover shows, what? A raft of skyscrapers waist deep in rising sea level. The usual catalog of future horrors. More books on the subject keep coming (just to pick titles I haven't mentioned already, and this is far from complete): Kristin Dow/Thomas E Downing: The Atlas of Climate Change: Mapping the World's Greatest Challenge (paperback, 2007, University of California Press); Gwynne Dyer: Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats (paperback, 2010, Oneworld); Clive Hamilton: Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change (2010, Earthscan); James Hansen: Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity (2009, Bloomsbury); Robert Henson: The Rough Guide to Climate Change: The Symptoms, the Science, the Solutions (2nd ed, paperback, 2008, Rough Guides); John Houghton: Global Warming: The Complete Briefing (4th ed, paperback, 2009, Cambridge University Press); James Lovelock: The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning (2009; paperback, 2010, Basic Books); George Monbiot: Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning (2007; paperback, 2009, South End Press); Chris Mooney: Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming (2007; paperback, 2008, Mariner Books); Eric Pooley: The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth (2010, Hyperion); Joseph J Romm: Straight Up: America's Fiercest Climate Blogger Takes on the Status Quo Media, Politicians, and Clean Energy Solutions (paperback, 2010, Island Press); Peter D Ward: The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps (2010, Basic Books). I came up with a big list of anti-global warming books too: Ralph B Alexander: Global Warming False Alarm: The Bad Science Behind the United Nations' Assertion That Man-Made CO2 Causes Global Warming (paperback, 2009, Canterbury); Christopher Booker: The Real Global Warming Disaster: Is the Obsession With 'Climate Change' Turning Out to Be the Most Costly Scientific Blunder in History? (2009; paperback, 2010, Continuum); Christian Gerondeau: Climate: The Great Delusion: A Study of the Climatic, Economic and Political Unrealities (paperback, 2010, Stacey); Steve Goreham: Climatism! Science, Common Sense, and the 21st Century's Hottest Topic (2010, New Lenox Books); Doug L Hoffman/Allen Simmons: The Resilient Earth: Science, Global Warming and the Future of Humanity (paperback, 2008, Book Surge); Christopher C Horner: Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed (2008, Regnery); Patrick J Michaels/Robert C Balling Jr: Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don't Want You to Know (2009; paperback, 2010, Cato Institute); AW Montford: The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science (paperback, 2010, Stacey); Fred Pearce: The Climate Files: The Battle for the Truth About Global Warming (paperback, 2010, Random House UK); Roger Pielke Jr: The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won't Tell You About Global Warming (2010, Basic Books); Ian Plimer: Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing Science (paperback, 2009, Taylor Trade); Lawrence Solomon: The Deniers: The World-Renowned Scientists Who Stood Up Against Global Warming Hysteria, Political Persecution, and Fraud (2008, Richard Vigilante Books); Roy W Spencer: The Great Global Warming Blunder: How Mother Nature Fooled the World's Top Climate Scientists (2010, Encounter Books); Brian Sussman: Climategate: A Veteran Meteorologist Exposes the Global Warming Scam (2010, WND Books); Peter Taylor: Chill: A Reassessment of Global Warming Theory, Does Climate change Mean the World Is Cooling, and If So What Should We Do About It? (paperback, 2009, Clairview).
Carl Elliott: White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine (2010, Beacon Press): Asks the simple question: what happens when you mix medicine with the profit motive? One thing that happens is that you can never be sure who has who's interest at heart. One piece of this business is drugs -- Marcia Angell writes, "Elliott shows how the big drug companies have bribed and corrupted the medical establishment so that we no longer know which drugs are effective or why our doctors prescribe them." Previously wrote: Better Than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream (2003; paperback, 2004, WW Norton).
Mark Feldstein: Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Anderson is little remembered today, but he thought of himself as a muckraking journalist and Nixon was so full of it that Anderson soon found himself perched on top of Nixon's enemies list. That's the core story here. The implications may well be more interesting. Since then every Washington scandal was dubbed -gate until they were cheapened in to cliché, but they've also managed to make up in quantity what they lacked in quality -- the press has become dirtier in more trivial ways, but also the politicians have learned to play more effective defense.
Caroline Fraser: Rewilding the World: Dispatches From the Conservation Revolution (2009, Metropolitan): Reports on several large projects aimed at restoring natural habitat, including the DMZ between the Koreas where humans are dissuaded from entering by massive mining.
Mark Frauenfelder: Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World (2010, Portfolio): Editor of Make, a quarterly DIY journal for geeks published by O'Reilly. Book tries to put such interests into the broader context of his own home life. One chapter, for instance, is about raising chickens, which among other things looks like a really good way to cut down on bugs and spiders in your yard.
Ian Frazier: Travels in Siberia (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): One of those travel books where you're glad someone else is doing the traveling, especially someone who can dig up the background history and turn a decent phrase. Cover notes that Frazier also wrote Great Plains and On the Rez, both of which I've read and can recommend highly.
Chas W. Freeman Jr.: America's Misadventures in the Middle East (paperback, 2010, Just World Books):Longtime US diplomat -- among his credits, he was Nixon's main interpreter for his 1972 trip to China -- was nominated by Obama for an advisory role on Middle East affairs and shot down by the Israel lobby -- wouldn't want a range of opinion on that subject anywhere near the president, now would we? One of the first releases on Helena Cobban's new venture, a spinoff from her excellent blog.
Pamela Geller/Robert Spencer: The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration's War on America (2010, Threshold Editions): The usual right-wing talking points, wrapped in fabulously great hyperbole.
Chris Harman: Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx (paperback, 2010, Haymarket Books): Late editor of International Socialism (d. 2009), author of A People's History of the World: From the Stone Age to the New Millennium (paperback, 2008, Verso). After all the crowing over the collapse of communism some blowback seems to be in order.
Joshua Holland: The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything Else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs, and Corporate America (paperback, 2010, Wiley): Good idea for a primer, but mostly stuff I already know laid out on a broad political level. I'd be more impressed if the author could tackle some deeper problems, like John Quiggin does in Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us.
Michael W Hudson: The Monster: How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America -- and Spawned a Global Crisis (2010, Times Books): A former Wall Street Journal reporter, now writes for Center for Public Integrity. Hardly the first to tackle the big story of our times, nor to focus on the subprime mortgage machine. Previously wrote Merchants of Misery: How Corporate America Profits From Poverty (1996; paperback, 2002, Common Courage Press). Not the same Michael Hudson who wrote a 2006 essay in Harper's predicting the subprime collapse ("The New Road to Serfdom: An Illustrated Guide to the Coming Real Estate Collapse"); the latter is an economist who wrote Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (1971; new edition subtitled The Origin and Fundamentals of US World Dominance, paperback, 2003, Pluto Press), and A Philosophy for a Fair Society (paperback, 1994, Shepheard-Walwyn).
Laura Ingraham: The Obama Diaries (2010, Threshold): By a leftist, this would no doube be satire? But what's the word to describe something like this from someone with no sense of humor, let alone grasp of reality? Garbage seems too kind.
Wes Jackson: Consulting the Genius of the Place: An Ecological Approach to a New Agriculture (2010, Counterpoint): Runs the Land Institute near Salina, KS, where he's been experimenting with alternative approaches to agriculture for close to 35 years. Has a couple of previous books, but this looks like the one where he pulls it all together. Wendell Berry is a big fan.
Tony Judt: The Memory Chalet (2010, Penguin): A collection of short pieces, mostly memoirs, mostly published in New York Review of Books, from the period when Judt was struggling with ALS. With his mind free within the prison of a dysfunctional body, Judt went into an extraordinarily prolific phase. Ill Fares the Land was the first book to come out of this, and Thinking the Twentieth Century is still in the pipeline.
Robert D Kaplan: Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power (2010, Random House): Further travels around the periphery of the empire, no doubt splattered with more of Kaplan's shallow thinking and fanciful imperialist cheerleading.
Gilles Kepel: Beyond Terror and Martyrdom: The Future of the Middle East (2008; paperback, 2010, Harvard University Press): Having established himself as the most acute historian of political Islam back in the 1990s, Kepel's post-Jihad books keep having to chew up more events that mostly just go to show how unfortunate it was that US policy makes hadn't taken him to heart much sooner.
Josh Lerner: Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Why Public Efforts to Boost Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Have Failed -- and What to Do About It (2009, Princeton University Press): Seems to come up with a dozen or so suggestions on how to make public efforts work even though the main thrust is that they don't. Might be useful to help clear the air, although it might just reflect the confusion: government actually does a lot to promote business even though the dominant ideology denies that it can ever work, while lobbyists have their own unworkable schemes to peddle.
David Lipsky: Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace (paperback, 2010, Broadway Books): Transcribed tapes from interviews with the late novelist by the author, assigned by Rolling Stone to do a profile based on Wallace's book tour supporting his touted debut novel, Infinite Jest. Seems like before I would take the time to read 320 pp. of such I should crack open one of Wallace's novels, or at least an essay collection not dedicated to John McCain, but I've always been a fan of interviews. In fact, I learned an awful lot of what I know about American history from John Garraty's interviews with historians.
Jeff Madrick: The Case for Big Government (2008; paperback, 2010, Princeton University Press): Former New York Times economics columnist pushes back on the right's anti-government mantra. Previously wrote The End of Affluence: The Causes and Consequences of America's Economic Dilemma (1995, perhaps a bit prematurely); Why Economies Grow: The Forces That Shape Prosperity and How to Get Them Working Again (2002), and Taking America: How We Got From the First Hostile Takeover to Megamergers, Corporate Raiding and Scandal (2003). I'm sure he can make a case for government; less sure about the poison adjective big.
Hooman Majd: The Ayatollah's Democracy: An Iranian Challenge (2010, WW Norton): Specifically on Iran's disputed 2009 elections, which officially elected Ahmadinejan to a second term as Iran's president despite charges of fraud, widespread demonstrations, and a serious political challenge to Grand Ayatollah Khomeini's rule. The author was conspicuous on US television during the election controversy, and quite partisan. Previously wrote: The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran (2008).
Jack Matlock: Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray -- and How to Return to Reality (2010, Yale University Press): US ambassador to Soviet Union 1987-91, presumably belongs to the realist camp. Seems to focus on how ideological blinders messed up the post-Soviet transition -- as Robert Gates shows, we never have managed to clear house of the clueless cold warrior crowd.
Patricia A McAnany/Norman Yoffee, eds: Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire (paperback, 2009, Cambridge University Press): A collection of papers casting aspersions on Jared Diamond's book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2004) -- the sort of big theme comparative study that begs specialists to nitpick, especially once it hits the bestseller list.
Ian Mortimer: The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century (2008, Bodley Head; 2009, Touchstone): A friendly synopsis of a century in a backwater corner of Europe, something we're only vaguely familiar with.
Jerry Z Muller: Capitalism and the Jews (2010, Princeton University Press): Tries hard to walk a straight and narrow path of praising Jews for their numerous contributions to capitalism without falling into the usual anti-semitic traps. Then, of course, there was Marx and his followers, and many others who added noise to the equation.
David H Newman: Hippocrates' Shadow: Secrets From the House of Medicine (2008; paperback, 2009, Scribner): A doctor, writing about the art and craft, nuts and bolts of practicing medicine. Includes a section on "pseudoaxioms" -- practices enshrined in custom that may not be effective.
Keith Olbermann: Pitchforks and Torches: The Worst of the Worst, From Beck, Bill, and Bush to Palin and Other Posturing Republicans (2010, Wiley): Recall him as a mild-mannered sports announcer, but never watch his show since he turned to politics. When he suspended his "worst person in the world" shtick recently I was reminded how much my late father-in-law liked that bit. But I'm pretty sure he didn't drop it because he ran out of candidates.
Richard Overy: The Twilight Years: The Paradox of Britain Between the Wars (2009, Viking): The post-WWI settlement was the last orgy of the imperial era, kind of like an excessively rich dessert following an evening of overeating and overdrinking, after which it became awfully difficult to keep it all down. The British Empire was never larger than then, but had ceased to be profitable or even much fun. Looks like this tends to intellectual history, most likely the least fun of all.
Cleo Paskal: Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map (2010, Palgrave Macmillan): Actually, war has not had much impact on the global map of the last 60 years: the main changes we've seen are smaller patches breaking away from bigger ones, and most of those have happened without much violence. That the world is in for a good deal of stress, hurt even, is a given, especially given the worst of the global warming projections -- the subtext here. Too bad that one peculiar nation still thinks that war is an option.
Scott Peterson: Let the Swords Encircle Me: Iran -- A Journey Behind the Headlines (2010, Simon & Schuster): Istanbul bureau chief for Christian Science Monitor, has made more than 30 trips to Iran since 1996 ("more than any other American journalist"). Reports at depth (768 pp), giving some credence to the idea that his book is more than headline deep. Previously wrote Me Against My Brother: At War in Somalia, Sudan and Rwanda (2000).
Sally C Pipes: The Truth About Obamacare: What They Don't Want You to Know About Our New Health Care Law (paperback, 2010, Regnery Press): Predictable nonsense given who wrote and published it, but given how lame the reform was I wonder how often they'll slip up and slip in a real complaint, like the bit about how the law will leave us with 23 million uninsured in 2019.
Wendell Potter: Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans (2010, Bloomsbury): Former CIGNA PR hack, focuses on the propaganda angle but must in the process reveal much of what he was paid to cover up.
Nir Rosen: Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World (2010, Nation Books): Perhaps the only reporter to see all sides of the Iraq conflict, on the one hand embedding with US troops, on the other passing behind and through Iraqi lines. Includes reporting from Lebanon and Afghanistan, or what he calls the "Iraqization of the Middle East." The initial 2003-04 stretch of the Iraq war has been relatively well covered -- including Rosen's own In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq (2006), the best book on how resistance erupted in post-Saddam Iraq -- but the later phases have been the preserve of US propaganda. I wouldn't expect that here.
Richard E Rubenstein: Reasons to Kill: Why Americans Choose War (2010, Bloomsbury Press): Why we went to war, and why we felt justified in doing so -- not sure how far back this goes but rehashing the Global War on Terror covers a lot of the bases. I'd like to see this tracked through the progression (or regression) of the wars in question.
Abdulkader H Sinno: Organizations at War: In Afghanistan and Beyond (2010, Cornell University Press): Barnett Rubin writes: "Sinno's finding should end the current search of U.S. policymakers for a 'moderate Taliban' that can be broken off from the insurgency." Otherwise I can't tell much.
Matt Taibbi: Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America (2010, Spiegel & Grau): The "vampire squid" is Goldman Sachs, the dominant member of the "grifter class" in this tale of "the stunning rise, fall, and rescue of Wall Street in the bubble-and-bailout era." I have a copy on order.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
George A Akerlof/Robert J Shiller: Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism (2009; paperback, 2010, Princeton University Press): Behavioral economics, the stuff that Richard Shelby hates; the original ideas picked up from Keynes and reformulated into various rules of thumb -- they strike me as realistic, verging on commonsensical. [link]
Seth G Jones: In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan (2009; paperback, 2010, WW Norton): RAND Corp. analyst reviews America's fiasco in Afghanistan, suggests tweaks to make it more/less bad, but at least covers the background enough for a basic primer. Paperback reissue includes a new afterword, most likely I-told-you-so's. [link]
Jon Krakauer: Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (2009, Doubleday; paperback, 2010, Anchor): Bestselling account of how a pro football star quit the NFL to join the army for the war in Afghanistan, only to get killed by fellow US troops. [link]
Robert Skidelsky: Keynes: The Return of the Master (2009; paperback, 2010, Public Affairs): A short primer on Keynes, from his most comprehensive biographer, for a generation that sorely needs a refresher course. [link]
Future new releases:
Tuesday, November 16. 2010
I keep meaning to post notices as I build up book pages, but seem to keep piling them up in limbo. The books split into two big classes: ones I own I mark up occasional notes with the intent of eventually transcribing them into the book pages, but have little compulsion to do so because I still have the books handy. On the other hand, I do a pretty thorough job of copying quotes and noting structure in books I get from the library, but rarely have time to develop more commentary, or write introductions.
The following are a batch of library books in such limbo. Lots of quotes; not much commentary. Doesn't expunge my pending list: I've held back several clusters, like books on Israel and books on Reagan.
Will try to do a better job of noting when these come out.
Saturday, October 16. 2010
Time for another book report. Usual rules: forty listed up top, plus some paperback reissues, plus a new section that flags some future releases. Probably would have done future paperback reissues too if I had been paying more attention earlier. Still holding back some 65 more books, enough for a second post tout de suite, but I've done enough cherrypicking this time the rest can wait. Of the new books, I have Bryson and Hedges on the shelf, and have recent vintage book pages on Junger and Woodward (based on reviews, not on the books).
Tariq Ali: The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad (paperback, 2010, Verso): Cover image shows Obama's face breaking up with Bush's pushing through, an effect you'll recall from The Clash of Fundamentalisms, where the cover blended Bush and Bin Laden. Short (160 pp), probably predictable from a leftist who doesn't see much in liberalism, but also no doubt smart and to the point.
Kwame Anthony Appiah: The Honor code: How Moral Revolutions Happen (2010, WW Norton): Princeton philosophy professor, originally from Ghana, sketches out four cases where widely held moral views shifted over time, tied to changing codes of honor: dueling, Chinese foot binding, Atlantic slave trade, and honor killing in contemporary Pakistan. Previously wrote Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (paperback, 2007, WW Norton).
Dick Armey/Matt Kibbe: Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto (2010, William Morrow): The FreedomWorks astroturfers come out of the shadows to stake their claim on the tea party movement. They certainly feel entitled, although there are other pretenders to the throne, like Joseph Farah: The Tea Party Manifesto, and Charley Gullett: Official Tea Party Handbook: A Tactical Playbook for Tea Party Patriots.
Michael A Bellesiles: 1877: America's Year of Living Violently (2010, New Press): Not the only one, but featuring enough lynchings, homicides, attacks on Indians and striking workers to fill up 400 pages. The nation was mired in a depression, with Reconstruction ending in a deal that gave the presidency to a Republican (Hayes) who got far fewer votes than his Democratic opponent (Tilden). Author previously wrote Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture (2000; paperback, 2001, Vintage), a book still hated by gun nuts for puncturing cherished myths about frontier America.
Arthur C Brooks: The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future (2010, Basic Books): He means the romanticized idea of free enterprise and the draconian idea of big government, not real business and government which actually more often than not are in cahoots. Foreword by Newt Gingrich, which makes this more of a campaign manifesto.
Bill Bryson: At Home: A Short History of Private Life (2010, Doubleday): Back in England, living in a big old house which he tours room by room, tackling a world's worth of history and lore along the way. At 512 pp., I reckon short histories are relative.
Ian Buruma: Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents (2010, Princeton University Press): Short (142 pp) treatise on the use and misuse of religion in politics. Buruma's previous book was Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance, as well as several books on China and Japan, Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany & Japan, and Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies (with Avighai Margalit).
Charles Cockell: Impossible Extinction: Natural Catastrophes and the Supremacy of the Microbial World (2003, Cambridge University Press): Short, expensive, no doubt interesting book on how despite the worst the cosmos, let alone man, can throw at earth bacteria just keep on keeping on.
Jefferson Cowie: Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (2010, New Press): Labor history, with a soundtrack, cultural touchstones like Archie Bunker, probing the question of why the working class gave up their union legacy for goons like Nixon and Reagan. The 1970s are increasingly being viewed as the decade when America lost its way.
Lisa E Davenport: Jazz Diplomacy: Promoting America in the Cold War Era (2009, University Press of Mississippi): Short book (208 pp) on an interesting story. Looks like Dave Brubeck on the cover. Jazz, of course, became very popular around the world, and jazz musicians became much more popular in Europe than they were in the US -- which still didn't do much for the reputation of the US government.
Eric Foner: The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2010, WW Norton): The preeminent historian of the post-Civil War Reconstruction period backs up a bit to look at Lincoln.
Daniel Gordis: Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End (2009, Wiley): Propaganda, "a full-throated call to arms" -- blurb reviewers include Michael Oren, Cynthia Ozick, Natan Sharansky, and Alan Dershowitz -- but even on its own terms, I fail to see any valor in a war that can never end. Indeed, as even the US showed in WWII, the longer we fight the more debased we become. I sometimes wonder if reading such a book might offer some insight I lack, but what else is there other than the founding existential dread of Zionism?
Paul Greenberg: Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food (2010, Penuin): Salmon, tuna, bass, cod. The world's major fisheries are overexploited, and aquaculture is, well, more than a bit messy. Amazon has an interview with Greenberg on the genetically-modified salmon controversy which shows a lot of insight into salmon farming.
Chris Hedges: The Death of the Liberal Class (2010, Nation Books): Most likely another fevered political screed on the deterioration of public morals in American life, continuing a theme from his Empire of Illusion and, for that matter, Losing Moses on the Freeway. The "liberal class" is a vague but juicy target: he identifies five "pillars" -- the press, liberal religious institutions, labor unions, universities, and the Democratic Party. Each has lost authority, especially since the 1960s, and with that their moral high ground, leaving a void that is being filled by all sorts of dangerous nonsense -- the relevant Hedges book there is undoubtedly American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.
Michael Hirsh: Capital Offense: How Washington's Wise Men Turned America's Future Over to Wall Street (2010, Wiley): Covers a couple decades of politically-connected economic thinking, basically the notion that all will be well if only you keep the financial markets happy. That's a mantra that's been followed lavishly and slavishly by presidents of both parties as we've lurched from one burst bubble to another. Newsweek writer, previously wrote At War With Ourselves: Why America Is Squandering Its Chance to Build a Better World (2003; paperback, 2004, Oxford University Press).
Roger D Hodge: The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism (2010, Harper): Found this while searching out right-wing lunatic attacks on Obama, and if you replaced "liberalism" with pretty much anything else this would look like one, but the blurb quotes include Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Barbara Ehrenreich ("should help wake up all those Obama-voters who've been napping while the wars escalate, the recession deepens, and the environment goes straight to hell").
Andrew L Johns: Vietnam Second Front: Domestic Politics, the Republican Party, and the War (2010, University Press of Kentucky): Nixon promised to solve the Vietnam War then kept it going so long the Republicans became the permanent war party. Covers 1961-73, so a big chunk of that time Republicans were in opposition, threatening to burn Johnson if he let down his guard. Wonder how this accords with now, when the Republicans are dead set obstructionists on everything Obama does except Afghanistan, where they have to be careful to keep him on the hook. Looks like Gerald Ford and Melvin Laird on the cover.
Sebastian Junger: War (2010, Twelve): Fighting the "good fight" in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, glorying in the cult of "rough men"; he frets over nearly getting blown up by an IED, while casually documenting the decimation of rural villages. Previously wrote the equally exclamatory Fire, and was responsible for the now-notorious cliché, The Perfect Storm.
Rhoda Ann Kanaaneh: Surrounded: Palestinian Soldiers in the Israeli Military (2008, Stanford University Press): This looks at the small number (about 3,000) of Palestinian citizens of Israel who volunteer to serve in Israel's military.
Efraim Karsh: Palestine Betrayed (2010, Yale University Press): Israeli historian, usually one that can be depended on to sculpt history to fit Israel's nationalist narrative. Not sure how this plays out, but a long litany of how Palestinian leaders disserved their people by opposing the creation of the Jewish State. Past books include: Islamic Imperialism: A History, Arafat's War: The Man and His Battle for Israeli Conquest, Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography, and his hatchet job on Israel's "new historians," Fabricating Israeli History.
David Kilcullen: Counterinsurgency (paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): Australian COIN consultant, wrote The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One, which could be read as reason not to, but for the author business is booming -- no surprise for someone who can write "Measuring Progress in Afghanistan" with a straight face, or update Lawrence of Arabia's 27 articles to a full 28.
Arthur B Laffer/Stephen Moore: Return to Prosperity: How America Can Regain Its Economic Superpower Status (2009, Threshold): A quick about face after warning of certain doom in his recession-timed The End of Prosperity: How Higher Taxes Will Doom the Economy -- If We Let It Happen. Laffer has one of those names like legendary toilet inventor Thomas Crapper. Laffer was responsible for the back-of-the-envelope calculations that led to the Reagan tax cut, justifying it on grounds that turned out to be flat out wrong. As far as I can tell, he's never been right since. So laff it off, or cry.
Jill Lepore: The Whites of Their Tyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History (2010, Princeton Unversity Press): A well-regarded historian of late colonial/revolutionary America (The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity, New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, an Conspiracy in Eighteen-Century Manhattan) takes a look at the historical assertions of Tea Party ideologues -- claims that the Founding Fathers hated centralized government, weren't serious about church-state separation, etc.
Ussama Makdisi: Faith Misplaced: The Broken Promise of U.S.-Arab Relations: 1820-2008 (2010, Public Affairs): One of several recent long histories of the US in the Middle East, probably more solid on the early period which the author covered in more detail in Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East (2008; paperback, 2009, Cornell University Press).
Istvan Meszaros: The Structural Crisis of Capital (paperback, 2010, Monthly Review Press): A Marxist take on the current state of the economy, by a Yugoslav philosopher still optimistic over the prospects for socialism.
Dana Milbank: Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America (2010, Doubleday): A portrait of the broadcaster/book entrepreneur as "a sad, troubled, and dangerous extremist crackpot who is validating and feeding paranoid delusions of millions of Americans" (as an Amazon reviewer puts it). Looks to be more melodramatic than Alexander Zaitchik's competing book: Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance.
Michael Jason Overstreet: 71 Days: The Media Assault on Obama (paperback, 2009, BookSurge): Amazon reviews are evenly split between 5 and 1 stars, the latter coming from cons who take it as an article of faith that the media foisted Obama on an unsuspecting nation -- Bernard Goldberg pitched this line in his A Slobbering Love Affair: The True (and Pathetic) Story of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream Media. This is a day-by-day journal watching the media spin their stories on Obama from the opening of the Democratic Party convention to election day. I suspect that what this shows is media bias less for either candidate than for the stupid and the trivial, which come to think of it is bias against Obama.
Jeff Potter: Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food (paperback, 2010, O'Reilly): Computer book publisher, also responsible for things like Make magazine (or journal?). Lots of sidebars, a few recipes, basic science and some interesting details, a lot of practical advice. Looks like my kind of book.
John Quiggin: Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us (2010, Princeton University Press): Australian economist, has an occasional blog I sometimes look at and much admire. The endless recirculation of economic ideas that not only don't work but are flat-out evil is, well, that's why they call it political economy. No doubt covers much of the same territory as recent important books by John Cassidy: How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities and Yves Smith: Econned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism, but should go for the kill instead of just pointing out economic absurdities.
Robert Reich: Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future (2010, Knopf): Trendy liberal. I figure this is a necessary course correction after calling his last book was Supercapitalism. That is, it's not looking so super now.
Heather Rogers: Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy Is Undermining the Environmental Revolution (2010, Scribners): I think the point here is that "green businesses" are more business than green, leading to a lot of activity that has little net (or even good) effect on the environment. Sections on food, shelter, transportation. Rogers previously wrote Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, about how garbage never really goes away.
Paul Ryan/Eric Cantor/Kevin McCarthy: Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders (paperback, 2010, Threshold Editions): Some title to apply to your own book, but I suppose it polled better among their target audience than Swinging Dicks. McCarthy ("the strategist") doesn't look so young with all that gray hair; but then Ryan ("the thinker") can't read, much less construct, a roadmap, and Cantor ("the leader") has a brighter future in slapstick comedy.
Anthony Shaffer: Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan and the Path to Victory (2010, Thomas Dunne): Lt. Col., claims he was on the verge of destroying the Taliban in their safe havens in Pakistan until the military bureaucracy got wind of what he was up to and fucked it all up. How he managed to do all that in a five month tour isn't clear, but he called his group the Jedi Knights and has been called "the real Jack Bauer." The book evidently dates from 2003, so none of this is recent history. That it's only coming out now is due to the Pentagon insisting on censoring the book, buying up the original printing and forcing various changes. As I understand it, you can find the redacted bits somewhere or other.
Jeff Sharlet: C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy (2010, Little Brown): Follows up on his earlier The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (2008, Harper). C Street House is a conclave in DC ("where piety, politics, and corruption meet") that was recently home for KS Senator-designate Jerry Moran, among others. I make it a point not to begrudge other folks' religion, but I do find this stuff seriously creepy. Before Sharlet honed in on DC, he co-wrote (with Peter Manseau) a road book seeking out the weirdos of American religion: Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible (2003; paperback, 2004, Free Press), which Sharlet and Manseau have returned to in their anthology: Believer Beware: First-Person Dispatches From the Margins of Faith (paperback, 2009, Beacon Press).
Rob Sheffield: Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut (2010, Dutton): One of the more successful, probably because he's one of the better, rock critics of his generation, which unfortunately was the one that grew up in the 1980s, about the only excuse anyone has yet come up with for taking Duran Duran seriously. Turned out a previous book, Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time. Were I still in my twenties, I'd be reading him like I read Paul Williams and Ed Ward back when I actually was. Hard to find time now.
Paul Street: The Empire's New Clothes: Barack Obama and the Real World of Power (paperback, 2010, Paradigm): Formerly with Urban League in Chicago, previously wrote Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics, now has a chance to see what Obama as president is really like -- far short of any sort of progressive agenda he might have imagined.
Richard Toye: Churchill's Empire: The World That Made Him and the World He Made (2010, Henry Holt): Churchill lived from 1874-1965, roughly from the pinnacle of the British Empire through its final demise, and he did more than hardly anyone else both to foolishly perpetuate the empire and to manifest the need to dismantle it. He tends to be idolized, especially in America where conceits about empire are still if not quite cherished at least discretely ignored, so anything that helps tie empire and Churchill together is welcome. Other recent Churchilliana: Max Hastings: Winston's War: Churchill 1940-1945 (2010, Knopf); Richard Holmes: Churchill's Bunker: The Cabinet War Rooms and the Culture of Secrecry in Wartime London (2010, Yale University Press); Barbara Learning: Churchill Defiant: Fighting On: 1945-1955 (2010, Harper); Madhusree Mukerjee: Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II (2010, Basic Books); and, and couple years back, Carlo D'Este: Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945 (2008, Harper).
Francis Wheen: Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Days of Paranoia (2010, Public Affairs): On the cover: Nixon, Brezhnev, Idi Amin, maybe Mao (much smaller); lots of fringe politics, some terror, distrations like UFOs, movies like Jaws, lots of stuff to make no sense of.
Sean Wilentz: Bob Dylan in America (2010, Doubleday): Eminent historian, wrote the monumental The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln and the somewhat lesser The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2008. Not sure if this is a lark or a flight of fancy since it doesn't make sense to me as a prism, but at 400 pp. he may give it a fling. Probably better than Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010 (2010, Public Affairs), due out Oct. 19.
Bob Woodward: Obama's Wars (2010, Simon & Schuster): Another insider-ish, who's fighting with whom, tome in Woodward's neverending series -- his four volumes on Bush are Bush at War, Plan of Attack: The Definitive Account of the Decision to Invade Iraq, State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III, and The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008. I occasionally wonder whether I should take the time to dig through these books for their occasional revelations -- the best documentation I've seen of Bush's initial post-9/11 belligerence comes from Bush at War -- but Woodward's fawning court reporter style is a turn-off. The big revelation here appears to be the CIA's assassination squad operating in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Max Blumenthal: Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party (2009; paperback, 2010, Nation Books): Focuses on right-wing religious leaders and their sugar daddy patrons, while scarcely letting a sex scandal get away. There is far more wrong with the GOP than the slime covered here, but the book gives you a good whiff. [link]
Juan Cole: Engaging the Muslim World (2009; paperback, 2010, Palgrave Macmillan): A brief tour through the Middle East, by the foremost blogger on Iraq and Iran. Revised and updated from the hardcover version I read last year. [link]
Chris Hedges: Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009; paperback, 2010, Nation Books): Hard-hitting screed on the moral decline of America. [link]
Bethany Moreton: To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (2009; paperback, 2010, Harvard University Press): Not the first writer to recognize religion as the opiate of the masses, but a detailed case study showing that there's more to Wal-Mart than smart inventory management, shopping for cheap goods in China, and busting unions.
Future new releases:
Friday, September 24. 2010
I've read, but haven't collected quotes and comments from, John Amato and David Neiwert's Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane (paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press). It's a worthwhile book, but aside from the chapters on murderers like Scott Roeder and the fringe activists who love them, it doesn't go nearly far enough or deep enough into why the right has gone so crazy, let alone what (if anything) the actual policies and proposals of the real Barack Obama have to do with it.
As with the counterattack against Clinton in 1993-94, much of the siege on Obama has been bankrolled by the usual suspects. If Obama thought that he could enter the White House with a consensus mandate to do what sorely needed to be done, as Roosevelt did in 1933, he quickly found out otherwise. (Not that he responded soon enough; indeed, he still has the air of a guy who can't fathom the depths of loathing he has to deal with.) Still, Amato/Niewert has only one reference to "Koch and Coors families," one to David Koch, none to Charles. Someone will put that part of the story together sooner or later, following the old-but-true maxim to follow the money.
One of the things I'm most struck by is the extent to which anti-Obama, anti-Democrat, anti-government vehemance reduces to conditional responses. If you wonder why we didn't see comparable anti-government hysteria during the Bush years, it's clear that that wouldn't have been in the right's interest, so they switched it off. After all, the things that Obama stands accused of now, like corruption toadying to moneyed interests and running record deficits, were complaints all the more valid under Bush.
Those conditioned responses ultimately derive from ideology, and the right's been progressively sharpening their knives over Obama ever since he started running for president. The 2008 books were relatively mild, especially given that at first the right-wing power structure was more worried about Hilary Clinton. Once Obama was nominated, books like Jerome Corsi's Obama Nation popped up, and no sooner than Obama was inaugurated Michelle Malkin had already discovered his Culture of Corruption -- something that she hadn't noticed in eight years under George Bush. At the time Obama was still popular enough Bernard Goldberg could write about A Slobbering Love Affair. This year, however, the gloves are off, along with any shade of respect.
The lists below are things I accumulated while looking for serious books. It is worth noting that only a handful of publishers have put out this pile, with Regnery by far in the lead. Someone should look into the economics behind this fusilade. That some books have landed on bestseller lists is at least partly due to someone underwriting bulk purchases to goose sales. The left, of course, has its own set of reliable publishers, but I've yet to see a single book appear on how Mitch McConnell and/or John Boehner are out to destroy the world, which would make at least as much sense as the saner books below. The closest I've found are books on Glenn Beck and things like the Amato/Niewert book. When the left publishes books, it's usually about some real world problem, like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, growing inequality, globalization, our disastrous health care system, global warming, the banking system meltdown, Obama's failure to reverse Bush's illegal attack on civil liberties. If you read every book below you will have learned exactly nothing about any of those issues.
Didn't make a lot of notes, figuring the titles give you enough of an inkling where the book is going.
Here's a quick list of insane books rushed to print in the latest wave of the right's relentless siege against Obama -- most accusing Obama of plotting no less than the destruction of America.
That's on top of the slightly more tasteful pre-election books, and the first dumbstruck round from the post-election honeymoon:
And don't forget Encounter's thin Broadside series (paperbacks):
For what it's worth, there are also a small number of books critical of Obama from the left. For example:
Wednesday, September 22. 2010
Another batch of book notes. Last one was July 14, and I've accumulated quite a bit more than the forty I limit myself to for these posts, which means two things: these are somewhat select, and another similar post should be forthcoming rather soon.
I will note that I've read Andrew Bacevich's Washington Rules and Chalmers Johnson's Dismantling the Empire but haven't collected notes/quotes yet. Neither adds much to the authors' previous books -- Bacevich's is a new attempt at systematizing what he's learned, a more straightforward book than The Limits of Power, while Johnson's collects a bunch of his TomDispatch essays making it a good deal more scattered than his Blowback trilogy books. More later on both books.
I've also read Nicholas von Hoffman's book on Saul Alinsky (extensive notes linked), and have John Dower and David Harvey on my to-be-read shelf. Sooner or later I want to get to the Hacker/Pierson book. Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns looks like a major contribution to American history.
Andrew Bacevich: Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (2010, Metropolitan Books): America's bestselling anti-militarism author, possibly because he set his roots down in the military, academia, and the conservative press before he turned against the perpetual war machine, but also because he's open to ideas from all over the map. Bush set such a low bar that Obama thinks he can play the same game and come out on top, a conceit that Bacevich is singularly skilled at debunking.
Alain Badiou: The Communist Hypothesis (2010, Verso): A manifesto for a new way following the self-destructions of soviet communism and neo-liberalism. Probably not the best PR strategy to package this as yet another communism, but it makes sense to me to project some sort of "third way" out of the current dead end ideologies. Badiou has a stack of books, most recently The Meaning of Sarkozy.
Mitchell Bard: The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East (2010, Harper): Looks like Bard counted the pages in Walt and Mearsheimer's The Israel Lobby and kept writing until he topped them. Even if you agree that the point of Arab political influence in America is "weakening our alliance with a democratic Israel" you have to conclude that it hasn't been very effective and therefore isn't very significant. Perhaps it has been more effective at keeping the US from criticizing human rights issues in places like Saudi Arabia, but then we don't seem to care much about Israeli human rights violations either.
Richard Beeman: Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution (paperback, 2010, Random House): I never thought of them as being all that plain, but I suppose you can make that case. I still have a couple of Gordon S. Wood books to read on the subject, so they would take priority (especially The Radicalism of the American Revolution).
Ian Bremmer: The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations? (2010, Portfolio): This turns on the rise of "state capitalist" systems, ranging from state-controlled sovereign funds to the China juggernaut. Does seem to be the case that the states are gaining ground, but not clear what the problem with that is. That states are political? If that results in states directing their economies to service their people better, why is that such a bad thing? There are problems with either extreme, which is why most countries and regions move toward mixed systems. Personally, I would worry more about the corporations.
Will Bunch: The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama (2010, Harper): Glenn Beck, the tea baggers, the birthers, hard to keep up with all the nonsense. Bunch wrote a pretty good book on Reagan, Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future, but his subject here may be too unconstrained to capture in a book just now -- although Beck, in particular, is provoking some backlash: Alexander Zaitchik: Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ingorance (2010, Wiley); Dana Milbank: Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America (2010, Doubleday).
Judith Butler: Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (2009; paperback, 2010, Verso): Something on what we do (and do not) experience as grievous in war, specifically the US War in Iraq where we meticulously count our own dead while casually sloughing off wild-ass guesstimates of those we kill, directly or otherwise.
David Callahan: Fortunes of Change: The Rise of the Liberal Rich and the Remaking of America (2010, Wiley): Argues that new money is more liberal than old money, which even if it's true adds up to a very small point. Rather, what I see happening is that to the extent that these nouveau riches lean Democratic -- and they make sure they never lean far enough to fall over -- they flatter the Democrats into the vain hope that the path to success is to appease the rich. How much change you get out of that is hard to project, mostly because it's so intangible. The rich liberals of FDR's day worked to moderate capitalism to stave off revolution, a fear that today's rich liberals don't have -- unless you count the resurgence of fascism, and there's certainly some threat there.
Matthew J Costello: Secret Identity Crisis: Comic Books and the Unmasking of Cold War America (paperback, 2009, Continuum): Of superhero comics and cold war metaphors, not least the relationship between radioactivity and mutation, which somehow emerges as a public good. The model changed somewhat in the 1960s, but then didn't it all change?
Richard Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (2009; paperback, 2010, Free Press): Back to his roots, writing about something he knows about. I might wonder how cluttered with anti-creationist preaching would be now that he's gotten a taste for evangelical atheism, but the evidence is so compelling and so wondrous it should sell itself. On the other hand, many other books do the trick, like Jerry A Coyne: Why Evolution Is True (2009, Viking; paperback, 2010, Penguin), or the collected works of the late, much lamented Stephen Jay Gould.
John W Dower: Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq (2010, WW Norton): A specialist on Japan during and after WWII -- his two books, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific and Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II offer extraordinary insights into the war and its aftermath -- extends his analysis past 9/11 and into Iraq. You may recall that before Bush invaded Iraq Dower wrote a prescient piece on how wrong the models of the US occupations of Germany and Japan were for the present day.
William R Freudenburg/Robert Gramling/Shirley Laska/Kai Erikson: Catastrophe in the Making: The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow (2009, Island Press): You may have noticed that the damages caused by natural disasters has risen in lock step with development in disaster-prone locales. If not, you will sooner or later, because we place few obstacles against such development.
Thomas Geoghegan: Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?: How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life (2010, New Press): Labor lawyer -- I read his memoir, Which Side Are You On? Trying to Be for Labor When It's Flat on Its Back when it came out in 1991; seemed like an accidental leftist at the time. Five books later, he's looking for a better way of living, and finding some answers in Europe, specifically in Germany.
Thomas Geoghegan: See You in Court: How the Right Made America a Lawsuit Nation (2007; paperback, 2009, New Press): Somewhat surprising given how much the right likes to rail on trial lawyers, but "tort reform" is just a mop-up action. The damage to ordinary people's right is forcing them into court, where the well heeled have all sorts of advantages. Not sure how well this holds up, but the basic idea seems well founded.
Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer -- and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (2010, Simon & Schuster): A logical follow-up to Hacker's The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care, and Retirement and How You Can Fight Back, looking if not so much for reasons at least for the mechanics behind the chasm of ever-greater inequality. The right is dedicated not just to making the rich richer but, perhaps more importantly, increasing the perceived value of being rich by making not being rich all the more dreadful. America's brief moment of middle class identity had just the opposite effect: it allowed workers the security to feel they were part and parcel of the nation. I used to think that middle-classness was just false consciousness -- and the fact that it surrendered to readily kind of proves the point -- but now that it's over it seems like a pleasantly naïve idea. Still, whenever I hear someone defending the middle class it sounds to me like a putdown of the working poor: the only way to save the middle class is to build up the working poor so they become it. Pierson has co-authored with Hacker before, on Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy.
David Harvey: The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (2010, Oxford University Press): English Marxist, gives him a distinctive edge in sorting out the flows of capital at a time when the flow has been severely disrupted. Also wrote A Companion to Marx's Capital (paperback, 2010, Verso), based on forty-some years of teaching the book, its times, what it meant, what it might still mean today.
Michael Hiltzik: Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century (2010, Free Press): Although it's been told before, the building of Boulder Dam remains an amazing story: there's certainly no way now that anything as big can be built as fast and as cheaply as it was in the 1930s. This book explains how, and that should be interesting in its own right. How you get an American Century from that is yet something else.
Arianna Huffington: Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream (2010, Crown): I don't trust her, and I hate it when politicians like Obama whine on and on about what they're going to do for the middle class, but the basic thesis here is right. It's not so much that the present middle class is being attacked as that the basic economic relationships that made it possible working people to enjoy middle class comforts have been undermined and will keep getting torn down any chance the right gets. However, what is needed isn't aid to the present middle class but raising the floor under the working class to give them and their children and so forth new opportunities to grow.
Chalmers Johnson: Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope (2010, Metropolitan Books): Collection of essays from the past decade, mostly on the exorbitant costs of maintaining a global garrison that doesn't even work very well on its own terms. Can get redundant, especially compared to his more systematic trilogy: Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2000; paperback, 2004, Holt); The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2004, Metropolitan Books); and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2007, Metropolitan Books).
Ann Jones: War Is Not Over When It's Over: Women and the Unseen Consequences of Conflict (2010, Metropolitan Books): Author has a couple of books on battered women, plus an old one recently reissued on the subset who strike back: Women Who Kill (1980; paperback, 2009, Feminist Press). Also a travel book in Africa and a memoir of NGO relief work in Afghanistan: Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan (paperback, 2007, Picador). The new book pulls all those threads together.
Laura Kalman: Right Star Rising: A New Politics, 1974-1980 (2010, WW Norton): Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan on the cover. Seems to have a low opinion of Carter, arguing that American voters rejected him personally rather than liberalism in general. Makes me wonder if that doesn't hit close to home with Obama, who like Carter came along at the end of an eight-year nightmare with a compromised agenda and a lot of poorly understood legacy problems.
Grady Klein/Yoram Bauman: The Cartoon Introduction to Economics: Volume One: Microeconomics (paperback, 2010, Hill and Wang): Introductory, although it offers an interesting, well-rounded range of topics -- probably good as a sanity check on what you do and do not understand. Amusing too, although Bauman doesn't have a lot of competition as a "stand-up economist."
Warren Kozak: LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay (2009, Regnery): A war criminal, at least in his own mind, which relished the role and repeatedly courted disaster. Given the publisher, this is presumably a flattering right-wing paean, but LeMay was so blunt I doubt that you can slant him much.
Andrew F Krepinevich: 7 Deadly Scenarios: A Military Futurist Explores War in the 21st Century (2009, Bantam): One of the geniuses who keeps plotting new ways to get us into senseless wars. Imagines global pandemics, black-market nukes, a Pakistani collapse, civil unrest in China, "the consequences of a timed withdrawal from Iraq"; not sure what else. Wonder if he's thought about the Armageddon-addled Jesus freaks in the US Air Force Academy?
David Kupelian: How Evil Works: Understanding and Overcoming the Destructive Forces That Are Transforming America (2010, Threshold Editions): Previously wrote The Marketing of Evil: How Radicals, Elitists, and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised as Freedom. I'd be more intrigued if he replaced "radicals" with "conservatives" (or if I thought that was what he meant by "elitists"). The list of "profoundly troubling questions" he takes a whack at don't strike me as all that profound, like "why are boys doing worse in school today than girls?"
Dylan Loewe: Permanently Blue: How Democrats Can End the Republian Party and Rule the Next Generation (paperback, 2010, Three Rivers Press): Not sure what he's smoking. Long-term political power depends on two things: institutional support, which the Republicans have in spades because they do the bidding of people rich and mean enough to bounce back from a setback and keep fighting even when their positions make them look stupid; and competency, a big problem for Republicans once they get into power. The Democrats don't have the former -- they don't even take their unions seriously -- and they haven't exactly mastered the latter. So how's this supposed to work?
Mark Mazower: No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (2009, Princeton University Press): One of several new books on the founding of the UN. The idealism behind the UN is frequently touted, but one wonders about the range of thought going into it.
Markos Moulitsas: American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right (paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press): Easy to see the temptation, but strikes me that comparing the new right-wing fringe to the Taliban is going to result in some sort of cognitive mishmash that in the end won't do anyone any good.
Michael O'Brien: Rethinking Kennedy: An Interpretive Biography (2009, Ivan R Dee): Author previously wrote the 992 pp John F Kennedy: A Biography, which provides ample background for framing this rethinking. Where you wind up depends on where you start. I've long tended to view Kennedy as a Cold War monster, which may be too harsh, although he certainly had plenty on his staff.
William Pfaff: The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy (2010, Walker): Foreign policy expert, works for International Herald Tribune, which tends to keep him grounded in reality. I picked up his Barbarian Sentiments: America in the New Century, written in 1989 and reissued with a new afterword in 2000, immediately after 9/11; found the afterword to be an elegant and perceptive take on America's perch in the world, but thought the old material was hopelessly dated, the work of an unvarnished cold warrior. That he views US foreign policy as tragic credits better intentions than I have noticed.
Jonathan Schneer: The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (2010, Random House): Picks over the letter Lord Balfour addressed to Rothschild proposing Palestine as a Jewish Homeland, one of many strange presumptions Britain made during WWI, the intrigues in London scarcely tethered to the reality they wound up confounding.
Robin Shepherd: A State Beyond the Pale: Europe's Problem With Israel (2009, Orion): Strikes me as a self-hating European, arguing that his "bed-wetting generation" has lost their way compared to the Europeans of yore precisely because they've given up on the principles that still thrive in Israel: you know, racism, militarism, colonialism, the preening celebration of democracy built on the subjugation of others. Moreover, he argues that Europe's failure to embrace Israel is its own death-wish, as Europe is progressively swallowed up by immigrant Islamist hordes. Funny thing is, when I read the title I imagined a quite different book.
Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff: Black Culture and the New Deal: The Quest for Civil Rights in the Roosevelt Era (2009, University of North Carolina Press): Roosevelt's record on civil rights should be seen as disgraceful, although his general thrust toward greater economic equality did materially bring us closer to a viable civil rights movement. Not sure how much of that this book covers, but it does focus on Federal Arts Projects at a time when blacks increasingly distinguished themselves in the arts -- Duke Ellington and Richard Wright being well known examples.
Baylis Thomas: The Dark Side of Zionism: The Quest for Security Through Dominance (2010, Lexington Books): Another concise history of the Zionist takeover of Palestine -- author previously wrote How Israel Was Won: A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.
Nick Turse, ed: The Case for Withdrawal From Afghanistan (paperback, 2010, Verso): Essays by Andrew Bacevich, Anand Gopal, Chalmer Johnson, Ann Jones, Mike Davis, Dahr Jamal, not sure who else; basically a spinoff from TomDispatch, where Tom Engelhardt and guests have been writing about Afghanistan, Iraq, and the folly of empire ever since Bush got his gun on.
Justin Vaïsse: Neoconservatism: The Biography of a Movement (2010, Harvard University Press): I suppose there are technical differences between the Neocons as an intellectual movement and Bush's War Cabinet, but that's mostly because theories look sweeter before they are tested by reality.
Ed Viesturs/David Roberts: K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain (2009, Broadway): I've read quite a few mountaineering books, partly because Galen Rowell, who introduced me to K2 in In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods, and Jon Krakauer have turned out to be such striking writers. (I didn't know that Rowell died in a plane crash in 2002. His photography books are extraordinary: I haven't seen A Retrospective, but can plug Mountains of the Middle Kingdom, Galen Rowell's Vision, and Mountain Light.) Viesturs is one of the big names in mountain climbing, and K2 is nearly as high as Everest and a lot harder to get to, up, and down.
Nicholas von Hoffman: Radical: A Portrait of Saul Alinsky (2010, Nation Books): Turns out the author, whose 2004 Iraq War book Hoax: Why Americans Are Suckered by White House Lies was uncommonly smart, spent a good chunk of his life working as an organizer for the community organizing guru -- he brags that he was hired on the same day as Cesar Chavez -- and remained a good friend and confidante until Alinsky's death. Part memoir, part manifesto. [link]
William Wiker: 10 Books Every Conservative Must Read (2010, Regnery): Aristotle's Politics; GK Chesterton: Orthodoxy; Eric Voegelin: The New Science of Politics; CS Lewis: The Abolution of Man; Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France; Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy in America; The Federalist Papers; The Anti-Federalists; Hilaire Belloc: The Servile State; FA Hayek: The Road to Serfdom. Also likes Shakespeare (The Tempest), Austen (Sense and Sensibility), Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), and The Jerusalem Bible, but not Atlas Shrugged. Author previously wrote 10 Books That Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn't Help (2008, Regnery), where he tried to distance himself from such traditional right-wing faves as Leviathan and Mein Kampf, as well as work out his heebie-jeebies over Margaret Mead and Alfred Kinsey.
Isabel Wilkerson: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (2010, Random House): Massive (640 pp) history of the black exodus from the Jim Crow South north and/or west. Not a feel-good story on either end, but an essential chronicle of the formation of modern America.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Mahmoud Mamdani: Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror (2009; paperback, 2010, Doubleday): A critical look at the poorly understood, frantically politicized violence in Darfur, the northwest corner of Sudan. Mamdani wrote one of the smartest books around about the war on terror: Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror, and has also written on the genocide in Rwanda. Probably the one book to read on Darfur -- the only reason I didn't jump all over it was that I had previously read Gérard Prunier: Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide which I figured covered all I really needed to know.
TR Reid: The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care (2009; paperback, 2010, Penguin Press): A quick trip around the world, finding that damn near every even moderately developed country manages to provide better healthcare cheaper than the US does -- mainland China seems to be the exception, although Taiwan's system is covered in some detail, partly because it is a relatively recent success story. Turns out that it matters little whether healthcare providers are private or public, but it makes all the difference in the world whether they are profit-seeking. [link]
Robert Scheer: The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (paperback, 2010, Nation Books): I mentioned this before publication date back when I wrote up a lengthy survey of banking crisis books, but it finally came out on Sept. 7, and with a new subtitle, more specific than Greedy Bankers and the Politicians Who Loved Them. The callout on Clinton is significant: in the book he refers to the whole explosion of CDOs as the "Clinton bubble" -- an emphasis that doesn't let Obama off the hook, even though it may leave Bush feeling shorted.
Andrew Ross Sorkin: Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street Fought to Save the Financial System -- and Themselves (2009, Viking; paperback, 2010, Penguin): One of the first books out the gate on the 2007-08 banking crisis, short on explanation but long on details -- a good reporter with a lot of inside contacts mostly because he buys into Wall Street's worldview. Some updates. Some other first wave books are getting second lives in paperback: William D Cohan: House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street (2009, Doubleday; paperback, 2010, Anchor); Barry Ritholtz: Bailout Nation: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World's Economy (2009; paperback, 2010, Wiley); Gillian Tett: Fool's Gold: How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at J.P. Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe (2009; paperback, 2010, Free Press); David Wessel: In Fed We Trust: Ben Bernanke's War on the Great Panic (2009; paperback, 2010, Crown Business). All those listed are widely regarded as fine books, so the main question is how much you can stomach. Given the quantity and quality of reporting on what kicked off this huge recession, it's a tribute to the blinders of self-interest that so many people remain so ignorant.
Notes on all the past books in this series are collected here (warning: big file).
Thursday, September 2. 2010
Josh Marshall: More on 9/11 Books: I got a little carried away here, because 9/11 is a linch pin for a couple of main themes I want someday to write up in book form. Marshall polled his readers (who unlike mine evidently do write back) for recommendations on books about 9/11, but he didn't get much feedback (maybe response is just proportional to readership size): mostly Lawrence Wright's neatly focused The Looming Tower and The 9/11 Commission Report, with Terry McDermott's Perfect Soldiers, on the hijackers, and William Langeswiesche's American Ground, on the rubble, getting occasional mention. Marshall writes:
This set me off on my own search, and the first thing I noticed is that searching for 9/11 doesn't get you much that really matters. I found some picture books, some on the scene memoirs, and a lot of rants pushing their own theories of what it all meant or even what actually happened and who actually did it. You have to broaden your search to start to pick up the main threads that were woven into 9/11: Al-Qaeda and its background -- the anti-imperialist backlash in the Middle East and the turn to fundamentalism; the US global security system, how it impacted the Middle East, and how it works within the contexts of conservative and neoliberal politics in the US; the cultural shock of being attacked, and the political opportunities that opened up. Without those threads converging, 9/11 wouldn't have been such a big deal -- even if it had happened as a freak event, which most certainly it wouldn't have.
There are many more books on each of these threads, but 9/11 is often little more than a blip in each, unless it serves some particular political purpose to highlight it. It is commonly believed that Bush went to war because of 9/11, but there is much evidence and logic that even before he craved a shot at Iraq, and that his administration was moving toward supporting the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, and his attitude toward Sharon's counter-intifada in Palestine amounted to nothing short of cheerleading. With Donald Rumsfeld, he had already started the "transformation" to the lightweight preemptive attack units he would need for those wars. 9/11 may have driven some people crazy, but it fell right into the ready lap of Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, et al.
So I've added some books to the list below that work these threads forward and back. I've avoided specialist books on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bush, although there are some here and there. The one thing I think is missing is a detailed account of how the media trumped up the case for war and beat down any chance of responding any differently.
The primary books (many have links to my book pages, where I have comments and, usually, lots of representative quotes):
The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States: Authorized Edition (2004, WW Norton): The consensus view, seems to be fairly well regarded, at least for the narrow range of topics. There's also a new 2010 paperback published by CreateSpace, much more expensive, no inkling why.
Tariq Ali: The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (2002; paperback, 2003, Verso): With its cover photo of Bush morphed into Bin Laden, the first response to 9/11 to see both sides as fully -- equally is hardly an issue -- deranged in their fundamentalism. Starts by recounting his atheist childhood in Pakistan before moving to England and editing New Left Review -- a background which has given him a uniquely clear and fearless view of the madness. [link]
Larry Beinhart: Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin (2005; paperback, 2006, Nation Books): One of the better short books around on the media and manipulation of consensus thinking that made it so easy for Bush to parlay 9/11 into war against Iraq. [link]
Peter L Bergen: Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama Bin Laden (paperback, 2002, Free Press): First book out to provide much background on Bin Laden, whom Bergen interviewed in 1997. Bergen also wrote The Osama bin Laden I Know (paperback, 2006, Free Press).
Kristina Borjesson, ed: Feet to the Fire: The Media After 9/11: The Journalists Speak Out (2005, Prometheus): Interviews with 21 journalists on the pressures to support the Bush terror wars. Includes some war critics like Juan Cole and Chris Hedges, bigwigs like Ted Koppel, and others I'm not so sure of.
Steve Coll: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2004; paperback, 2004, Penguin): The standard history of the Soviet- and post-Soviet-era Afghan civil war, with the CIA feeding guns and money to jihadists to slaughter foreign occupiers, then watching thoughtlessly as the war lords turned on each other, opening up an asylum for al-Qaeda, and setting the stage for yet another decade-plus of internecine fighting against yet another foreign occupier. [link]
Joan Didion: Fixed Ideas: America Since 9.11 (paperback, 2003, New York Review Books): Just a pamphlet (56 pp.), but one of the few books to dig into the effect 9/11 has had on our thinking and discourse, especially how "fixed ideas, or national pieties" were marshalled "to stake new ground in old domestic wars."
Tom Engelhardt: The American Way of War: How the Empire Brought Itself to Ruin (paperback, 2010, Haymarket): Mostly later, but the first chapter, "Shock and Awe: How We Got Hit" looks back at the immediate impact of 9/11 is useful ways.
Susan Faludi: The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America (2007, Metropolitan Books): Brings 9/11 back home to America, in the context of American mythology going back to Indian abductions of white women. [link]
John Farmer: The Ground Truth: The Untold Story of America Under Attack on 9/11 (2009, Penguin): Pretty detailed chronology of the attack itself, by one of the guys who worked on The 9/11 Commission Report. Also includes a similar treatment of Katrina that is less interesting and less relevant. [link]
Kenneth R Feinberg: What Is Life Worth? The Unprecedented Effort to Compensate the Victims of 9/11 (2005; paperback, 2006, Public Affairs): Attorney and mediator involved in the fund payouts. The compensation fund was one of the oddest things to come out of the 9/11 attacks -- I'm tempted to call it hush money to deflect any suggestion that the US was to blame for the terror attacks (even though the effect is just the opposite), but also blood money as it cleared a foundation for the wars to come. I doubt that Feinberg gets into any of this.
Paul Goldberger: Up From Zero: Politics, Architecture, and the Rebuilding of New York (2004; paperback, 2005, Random House): A book on the machinations to rebuild something where the World Trade Center used to stand. This might provide some insight into the cultural and psychic impact of 9/11, or maybe just into internecine New York city/state politics and the ego of architects. Don't know. But it is curious that they don't seem to have built much.
Seymour Hersh: Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib (2004, Harper Collins): More on the latter, which was a breaking story for Hersh, but the road started back on 9/11.
Fred Kaplan: Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power (paperback, 2008, Wiley): More on Rumsfeld's "transformation" fetish, the notion that the US could fight fast, light wars of shock and awe -- the enabling concept behind the chosen path. [link]
Gilles Kepel: Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (2002; paperback, 2003, Harvard University Press): By far the broadest book written on Islamism up to 9/11 -- the book came out in France before 9/11 and actually saw Islamism in decline, with 9/11 as much as anything else a desperate bid to provoke. Kepel later wrote The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West (2004; paperback, 2006, Harvard University Press). [link]
William Langewiesche: American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center (2002; paperback, 2003, North Point Press): Detailed account on the physical destruction at the World Trade Center, from how the buildings collapsed to the process of sorting out and trucking off the rubble.
James Mann: Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet (2004; paperback, 2004, Penguin): The key people who turned 9/11 into a Global War on Terror, where they came from, how they got into positions of power.
Terry McDermott: Perfect Soldiers: The 9/11 Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It (2005; paperback, 2006, Harper): Background check on the hijackers, a rare attempt to put personal stories behind the attacks.
John Powers: Sore Winners: American Idols, Patriotic Shoppers, and Other Strange Species in George Bush's America (2004; paperback, 2005, Anchor Books): A cultural history, hence way too much on American Idol and O.J. Simpson, but 9/11 lies at the ugly heart of it. [link]
Frank Rich: The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth From 9/11 to Katrina (2006, Penguin Press): Follows the political machinations, mostly the selling of the Iraq War, but it all starts back on 9/11. [link]
Ron Suskind: The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 (2006, Simon & Schuster): Draws heavily on George Tenet is laying out the progress of the war on terror, with especially unsettling glances at Dick Cheney, deep in his bunker, beset by all kinds of fantasies. [link]
Bob Woodward: Bush at War (2002; paperback, 2003, Simon & Schuster): The first -- and most adulatory, at least as long as it seemed to be working -- of Woodward's insider guides to Bush's war plotting.
Lawrence Wright: The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006; paperback, 2007, Vintage): Well-written general history; background bios of Sayyid Qutb, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden; Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan; the al-Qaeda attacks in Nairobi, Dar Es Salaam, Aden, and, of course, New York. [link]
Much more in the extended text . . .
Continue reading "9/11 Books"
Wednesday, July 28. 2010
Something I meant to add to yesterday's "The Raw and the Cooked" post but ran out of time and/or patience. One point there is that I recognize that where one stands on global warming is more often than not consistent with one's political stance. Leftists of most stripes not only see the need for aggressive state intervention to mitigate (or even better to reverse) the global warming trend, they tend to insist that the dire threat of global warming commands us to adopt their policy directions. One reason I'm especially cognizant of this is that I've recently read two books that do just that.
One is Bill McKibben: Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet; the other is Juliet B. Schor: Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth. Neither book has much to say about global warming, other than to assert that the global warming crisis makes their economic schemes all that more urgent.
McKibben, whose first book, The End of Nature was one of the first books on the subject back in 1989, does have an introductory chapter which reads like a catalog of horrors, but he's more interested in reprising his 2007 book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future -- you wouldn't be wrong to think of the new book as a mash-up of the two previous books -- which is to say he's primarily concerned with promoting the ideal of small scale local economies. McKibben builds on a lot of recent work, especially regarding food, but his basic ideas have been kicking around for decades now, developed by people like Murray Bookchin and Paul Goodman who developed them without the slightest concern for global warming.
Schor is a sociologist who at least as far back as the early 1990s decided that the rat race isn't all it's cracked up to be. She's expressed that in at least two previous books: The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (1992) and The Overspent American: Why We Want Want We Don't Need (1998). The new book goes further toward sketching out a more satisfying economy based on less overwork and overspending. And while global warming and peak oil play into her rationales, there's no reason to think she'd think differently if they weren't factors at all. Again, her ideas aren't terribly original -- Goodman and Bookchin have been there, as well as Marxists like Paul Sweezy and Andre Gorz, and for that matter the notion even shows up in John Maynard Keynes, who -- see John Skidelsky: Keynes: The Return of the Master -- saw capitalism as a path to "the good life" rather than an end in itself.
You can click on the links, including the cover images, to pick up a fair sampling of quotes from each book.
The economic visions of McKibben and Schor are only two of many possible programs that can be hitched to global warming, but all but the most dystopian involve taking deliberate and systematic direction to mitigate (or better still to reverse) the consequences. The proposals of someone like Al Gore or the various thinkers in the Obama administration hardly seem to me to be leftist, but conservatives are stuck in such a rut of denial they can't even warm up to market-oriented approaches like cap-and-trade or tax credits to stimulate investment in non-carbon-based energy sources -- ideas that used to come out of conservative think tanks when thinking was still permitted.
There is, of course, something disingenuous about hoisting one's pet ideas (or nonsense) up whatever flag pole seems to be getting attention, but that doesn't invalidate them -- best to try to sort out each problem and each proposal on its own terms. McKibben and Schor (and for that matter Skidelsky/Keynes) offer attractive notions of how to re-engineer the economy to make is more satisfying, and that seems like something worth thinking about -- at least on the left, where we believe that how we run the world is at least largely a matter of choice.
PS: It finally occurs to me that one defense of Schor and McKibben is that if one adopted their economic ideas, there would be an immediate and substantial reduction in the forces driving global warming. Again, if you choose an economy meant to satisfy the needs and desires of its inhabitants, you'd come up with something that doesn't just drown us in destabilizing pollutants, like we have gotten from laissez faire approaches.
One might also add that the cap-and-trade people are the real conservatives, since they're basically trying to stabilize the existing system using levers that are consistent with its current operation. Again, the right fails to conserve anything; they're happy to let the economy flail itself to death in contradictions they're too ignorant and/or uncaring to even recognize.
Wednesday, July 14. 2010
Another batch of book notes, starting to drain the backlog I had accumulated before my last post on June 25. Doesn't include a couple of eagerly awaited forthcoming books: Andrew Bacevich: Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (Aug. 3), and Chalmers Johnson: Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope (Aug. 17). I've pre-ordered both.
Joseph Adler: R in a Nutshell: A Desktop Quick Reference (paperback, 2009, O'Reilly): Presumably R is a free software version of S, a very sophisticated programming language for statistics that was developed at Bell Labs back around 1975. [Yes, see here and here.] Big (640 pp), pricey ($49.95), most likely worthwhile if you use it a lot. I think I'd like to dabble, but haven't figured out how to break through. (I do have an ancient S manual but never could afford the software. I may even still have a videotape on a later commercial implementation of S Plus.)
Dean Baker: Taking Economics Seriously (2010, Boston Review Books): A prolific author of short books, one more (136 pp), a basic primer, probably suffices for Econ 101, but he focuses on especially relevant ideas. In particular, he pushes for marginal cost pricing, which would take a lot of hot air out of medical costs.
Gary S Becker/Richard A Posner: Uncommon Sense: Economic Insights, from Marriage to Terrorism (2009, University of Chicago Press): Mostly uncommon because it's mostly wrong. Leading ideologues of the rational expectations cult reason their way through all sorts of ordinary quandries. I read one section on CEO pay and found that it wasn't even wrong because it never got to a conclusion that could be disproved.
Peter Beinart: The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris (2010, Harper): Another sermon on why bad things happen to good countries, this one featuring Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, and George W. Bush -- three presidents who led us into regretted wars with high-minded rhetoric. In some ways that cuts Bush too much slack, reflected by Beinart's enthusiasm for the Iraq War -- a mistake, Beinart admits, but one good enough to fuel his first book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War on Terror. (He was on to something there with the implicit realization that conservatives like Bush couldn't do the right things, but failed to recognize that the only way you "win" a war is by keeping it from happening.)
Adam J Berinsky: In Time of War: Understanding American Public Opinion from World War II to Iraq (paperback, 2009, University of Chicago Press): Tries to make sense out of public opinion poll data going back to the US entry into WWII. Claims a lot of continuity between prewar and war fever attitudes, but I don't quite see how that works.
Tom Bissell: Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter (2010, Pantheon): I've read two historically significant travel books by him (Chasing the Sea and The Father of All Things) so tend to take him seriously, much more so than his subject this time, which I tend to find abhorent.
Howard Bloom: The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism (2009, Prometheus Books): Big (607 pp), sprawling jumble of everything connected to everything else, but mostly to capitalism past, present, and future. Spent some time working in PR before wandering into quasi-science books; previously wrote The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From the Big Band to the 21st Century. Could be interesting, could be nuts, or both.
Mark Philip Bradley/Marilyn B Young, eds: Making Sense of the Vietnam Wars: Local, National, and Transnational Perspectives (paperback, 2008, Oxford University Press): Eleven essays on various aspects of the war, including some from Vietnamese perspectives.
HW Brands: American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (2010, Penguin): Big subject, succinct at 432 pp. Author has written biographies on Ben Franklin, Andrew Jackson, and both Roosevelts -- I read the latter, A Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and found he did a good job of managing his space, neatly tying up two parts that I had recently read detailed books on. Read a few pages of this book, on Nixon and Watergate, where he quickly got to the point and got the main points -- not that I wouldn't have preferred more venom.
John Broven: Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock 'n' Roll Pioneers (2010, University of Illinois Press): Big book (640 pp), based on 100 interviews with industry makers and shakers. Author is a consultant to Ace Records in the UK, high up on the list of reissue labels I wish would send me records.
Nicholas Carr: The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (2010, WW Norton): Well, something is making us stupid(er), so why not blame the Internet? The thesis is that constant stimulation shortens attention span leading to shallow thinking, but that seems equally or even more true of other media, e.g. radio and television. I'd say that the worst thing about web pages is how so many attempt to emulate television. I suppose you can blame the net for making stupid people louder, but that's, well, if not democracy at least levelling, which is a price we (more/less gladly) pay for access.
Harvey G Cohen: Duke Ellington's America (2010, University of Chicago Press): Big biography of Ellington (720 pp), 1899-1974, with sideward glances at the country that change around him.
Tyler Cowen: Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World (2009, Dutton): Economist/blogger turns out a jumbled book of future think related somehow to autism -- Temple Grandin seems to understand what he's up to, but I don't. But then I've never been much impressed by his economics blog.
Elizabeth Fox Genovese/Eugene D Genovese: Slavery in White and Black: Class and Race in the Southern Slaveholders' New World Order (paperback, 2008, Cambridge University Press): Sums up what started as an innovative Marxist analysis of the slave South and turned into what? -- some kind of celebration of the slaveholders' conservative anticapitalism? I read Genovese early on and he had a big impact on my thinking. I understand he veered far to the right around 1990, but don't know what that was about. This looks much like another late book, The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders' Worldview.
Gary Giddins: Warning Shadows: Home Alone With Classic Cinema (paperback, 2010, WW Norton): Mostly a collection of short DVD reviews. Best known as a jazz critic, Giddins has dabbled in film reviews for quite a while.
Risa L Goluboff: The Lost Promise of Civil Rights (paperback, 2010, Harvard University Press): Argues that before Brown v. Board of Education the civil rights movement was much broader than just a legal challenge to racial discrimination -- that it had a lot to do with economic rights.
Alan Hart: Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, Vol. 3: Conflict Without End (paperback, 2010, Clarity Press): Previous volumes were subtitled The False Messiah (up to 1948) and David Becomes Goliath (1948-1967). This focuses on Israel after 1967, the occupation and its perpetuation of conflict. It's worth noting that each of these periods offered a somewhat different Zionism, with the utopian ideology giving way to the practical politics of dominance and occupation.
Christopher Hitchens: Hitch 22: A Memoir (2010, Twelve): Somehow I have no picture in my mind of Hitchens as a leftist journalist, which he was rumored to be before he got all gonzo and signed up for Bush's Iraq adventure. Since then he's mostly distinguished himself as a noisy atheist and a lout, which makes him a poor example for atheism. Presumably he explains, or more likely exemplifies, this here, not that either strikes me as reason to read further.
Jack Horner/James Gorman: How to Build a Dinosaur: The New Science of Reverse Evolution (2009; paperback, 2010, Plume): Original subtitle: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever. I went through a phase reading a lot of paleontology books, including Horner's Digging Dinosaurs: The Search That Unraveled the Mystery of Baby Dinosaurs. The Jurassic Park angle strikes me as nuts, but Horner's made major contributions to figuring out how dinosaurs functioned, especially advancing the "warm-blooded" hypothesis which I find makes a lot of sense.
Richard B Immerman: Empire for Liberty: A History of American Imperialism From Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz (2010, Princeton University Press): Subtitle reminds me of Sorel's cartoon of the evolution of presidents from FDR on, but this looks to be more episodic, with six figure singled out: Franklin, Henry Seward, Henry Cabot Lodge, John Foster Dulles, and Wolfowitz. Not sure how Franklin qualifies, but in his time expansion was largely conceived as contiguous and homogenizing. Not so with Seward's drive across the Pacific, Lodge's militarization of that drive, or the global megalomania of Dulles and Wolfowitz.
Jon Jeter: Flat Broke in the Free Market: How Globalization Fleeced Working People (2009, WW Norton): Former Washington Post bureau chief for South Africa, offers numerous examples of how globalization has hurt South Africans and others, especially in the third world.
Marilyn Johnson: This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All (2010, Harper Collins): A book about librarians and what's happening to their world as it becomes increasingly digital -- a more complicated and ambiguous story than the wishful subtitle suggests.
Wayne Karlin: Wandering Souls: Journeys With the Dead and the Living in Viet Nam (2009, Nation Books): Starts with a diary a US soldier took off a Vietnamese soldier he killed in 1969, then follows the soldier and diary back to Vietnam to see what he has done. Karlin tags along, writes it up.
Rashid Khalidi: Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (1998; paperback, 2009, Columbia University Press): New introduction to Khalidi's 1998 book on how the Palestinians came to think of themselves as Palestinian -- long the standard book on the subject.
Stephen Kinzer: Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future (2010, Times Books): Not major powers, but not chopped liver either: two nations with about 75 million subjects each, major empires in their pasts, and revolutions which set them apart from the crowd. In other words, nations to be reckoned with if we want to be realistic (which doesn't seem to be the case). Kinzer previously wrote on both countries: Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds and All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.
Gideon Levy: The Punishment of Gaza (paperback, 2010, Verso): Short (160 pp) report on Israel's 2009 assault on Gaza and the policies that led to it, based on 40 weekly columns from Haaretz. One of the most conscientious Israeli journalists working the beat. Several books on Gaza are trickling out, like Norman G Finkelstein's 'This Time We Went Too Far': Truth & Consequences of the Gaza Invasion, James Petras: War Crimes in Gaza and the Zionist Fifth Columin in America, and (scheduled for November) Noam Chomsky/Ilan Pappé: Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel's War Against the Palestinians. (Pappé has a bigger book scheduled further out: The Bureaucracy of Evil: The History of the Israeli Occupation.)
Andrew Moore/Philip Levine: Detroit Disassembled (2010, Damiani/Akron Art Museum): Short (136 pp), expensive coffee table photography book, with photos by Moore and text by Levine. Detroit has become such a symbol for urban collapse that this seems skimpy. Moore has another book, Russia: Beyond Utopia.
Vali Nasr: Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World (2009, Free Press): Uh, more petit bourgeoisie? Bothers me a bit that his prime example is Abu Dhabi, about as representative of the Middle East as Las Vegas is of America.
John M O'Hara: A New American Tea Party: The Counterrevolution Against Bailouts, Handouts, Reckless Spending, and More Taxes (2010, Wiley): Sort of a manifesto and how-to guide, blessed with a foreword by Michelle Malkin. Expect many more books like this.
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, Bloomsbury Press): The tobacco case must seem like old hat by now, but the authors claim some of the same scientists are now working for energy companies still practicing denialism. The climate change case something else. No doubt paychecks bias analyses, but it would still be useful to see just how that works, especially in cases (unlike marketing) where there is some sense of professional standards. Related: David Michaels: Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health, and Stephen H Schneider: Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save the Earth's Climate.
Sasha Polakcw-Suransky: The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship With Apartheid South Africa (2010, Pantheon): Actually, the whole history of Israel's foreign policy has been to find common cause with fellow colonial settler states, notably the French in Algeria, but also the Afrikaners in South Africa. What's been a secret was the details of Israel's alliance with Apartheid South Africa, especially nuclear proliferation.
Richard A Posner: The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy (2010, Harvard University Press): Further thoughts on A Failure of Capitalism, lest anyone take his criticism of capitalism's failure too literally.
George Prochnik: In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise (2010, Doubleday): Argues that "noise pollution" results in "insomnia, aggression, heart disease, decreased longevity," not to mention annoyance. Lives in New York City, which provides plenty of examples. Reminds me that when I moved to the 23rd floor in Waterside on the East River in NYC, I discovered I had found the only place in Manhattan where I could open the windows and not hear road noise. Now, if only we got ride of those damn helicopters.
Michael Radu: Europe's Ghost: Tolerance, Jihadism, and the Crisis in the West (2010, Encounter Books): Looks like another contribution to Europe's anti-Muslim immigration hysteria, maybe with less of blatant racism than usual, maybe not. The notion that Muslims cannot be assimilated into Europe (or America) is certainly wrong, as is the equation of Islam with Jihad.
Jeremy Rifkin: The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis (2009, Tarcher): I see him described as a "social thinker" -- I guess that means a guy whose imagination is untethered to reality even though he works hard to pretend to be relevant. This one looks to be exceptionally frothy, as evidence by the final chapter titles: The Climb to Global Peak Empathy, The Planetary Entropic Abyss, The Emerging Era of Distributed Capitalism, The Theatrical Self in an Improvisational Society, Biosphere Consciousness in a Climax Economy.
Andrew J Rotter: Light at the End of the Tunnel: A Vietnam War Anthology (3rd ed, paperback, 2010, Rowman & Littlefield): Old history but not inseparable from the present, partly because we never learned the right lessons, partly because the tables have turned on Afghanistan: instead of critics citing Vietnam as a caution against quagmire, now we have generals who again see light at the end of the tunnel precisely because they think Vietnam holds the key to winning counterinsurgent wars.
Ed Schultz: Killer Politics: How Big Money and Bad Politics Are Destroying the Great American Middle Class (2010, Hyperion): TV pundit, started right, now leans left, like most likes to keep it simple and loud: "The middle class, where the greatness of this nation is rooted, is under siege by an increasingly unethical system, managed by economic vampires who are sucking the lifeblood out of the American family and ripping the heart out of democracy itself." Much of that is true enough, but I tend to look at the Middle Class as a mirage -- an intellectual artifice that tries to imbue unionized workers with petit bourgeois values while separating them from the dreaded poor. As with most mirages, it fades on close inspection, but politicians -- like Obama with his "middle class tax cuts" -- still try to work it.
Rachel Shabi: We Look Like the Enemy: The Hidden Story of Israel's Jews from Arab Lands (paperback, 2009, Walker): In 1948, with most of Europe's Jews slaughtered by the Nazis and their Fascist allies, Ben-Gurion attempted to bolster the number of Jews in Israel by getting Jews from Arab countries to move to Israel. Once in Israel, Mizrahi Jews found themselves the butt of discrimination by European Jews and their Sabra descendents, so that's one big thing this book deals with. The more interesting part is how they see themselves fitting into both Israel and the Arab world: I think they tend toward the religious right, but actually I've read very little about them.
Mark Thomas: Belching Out the Devil: Global Adventures with Coca-Cola (paperback, 2009, Nation Books): Author is "a less-than-hilarious BBC comedian" and/or "libertarian anarchist"; he corrects a Coca Cola flack, saying that he's picking on the company not because it's an easy target but because it's a big target. It's also a broad one, doing business in nearly every country, so there are bits on India and Colombia and all over.
Paul Wapner: Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism (2010, MIT Press): Bill McKibben, who coined the "end of nature" meme, contributes a favorable blurb quote. Short (184 pp), like he's trying to make it too simple.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Reza Aslan: Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization (2009; paperback, 2010, Random House): Reprint of How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror, with a more straightforward and self-explanatory title, although I do miss the bit about ending the war. [book page]
Saree Makdisi: Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation (2008; paperback, 2010, WW Norton): Occupation is a word describing an abstract process, one that cannot begin to convey the subtle and pervasive layers of control and manipulation Israel exercises over the Palestinian territories.
Friday, June 25. 2010
Slowly accumulating book notes since my last books post on April 23, but once again they've gotten out of hand. Actually have about 110 of them, so at 40 a pop this could go on for a while. First one hits the key points, and then some.
Gilbert Achcar: The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives (2010, Metropolitan Books): When the 1937-39 Palestinian revolt against the British failed, Haj Amin al-Husseini fled to safe havens open to him, Nazi Germany, thereby setting up a narrative that connected the Holocaust to Palestinian resistance to the creation and dominance of Israel. That at least is one thread the author must deal with -- practically the only one that seems to come up, but there must be more, even with most of the Arab world, including the future Israel, outside of WWII's grasp.
Jonathan Alter: The Promise: President Obama, Year One (2010, Simon & Schuster): Author wrote a previous book on FDR's first 100 days amidst tough times, so it must have seemed like a good idea to see how Obama fared under comparably difficult circumstances. There are too many differences to make the analogy work -- FDR came to Washington determined to try all sorts of things and both parties were in such a state of shock that he met with little opposition, while Obama came seeking only to fix what used to work and ran into a buzzsaw of partisan rancor and Tea Party nihilism.
John Amato/David Neiwert: Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane (paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press): I'm not sure what else you can call it but insane. They cannot grasp that eight years or conservatives in the White House and sixteen in command of Congress created one disaster after another; they can't imagine ever losing; they especially can't imagine losing to Obama. Amato runs the blog Crooks & Liars, and Neiwert wrote a useful book on the fringe right called The Eliminationists, so both are well positioned to write such an obvious book.
Jim Baggott: The First War of Physics: The Secret History of the Atom Bomb 1939-1949 (2010, Pegasus): The secrets presumably come from recently declassified documents, especially from Russia. Otherwise it would seem that this story has been told many times over, perhaps best by Richard Rhodes' trilogy: The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, and Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race.
Paul Berman: The Flight of the Intellectuals (2010, Melville House): A leftist in his own mind, still fighting the good fight against Nazism, which he bravely sees lurking in every Islamic nook and cranny. Focuses especially on Tariq Ramadan, often angling through his grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, finding everyone who thinks otherwise traitorous. Previously wrote Terror and Liberalism in a feverish frenzy following 9/11, one of the ur-texts of the Global War on Terror.
Kai Bird: Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978 (2010, Scribner): Son of an American foreign service officer stationed in Jerusalem, a divided city to start, with the Jordanian (or Palestinian) half occupied from 1967. He also lived in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Lebanon. Bird has written several interesting biographical books, notably American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J Robert Oppenheimer.
Anthony Bourdain: Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook (2010, Ecco): Wrote a couple of novels, then a breakthrough book on the gritty side of working in restaurants, Kitchen Confidential, which made him famous, got him a TV show, turned him into a globetrotting celebrity -- cf. A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines. Another book about all that. I've read the two I named, and would probably relish this.
Noam Chomsky: Hopes and Prospects (paperback, 2010, Haymarket Books): Scattered essays and lectures, one part on Latin America, the other (larger) on North America, the latter including excursions to Iraq and Israel-Palestine and much on Obama's first year, where the promise of change devolved into "meet the new boss, same as the old boss." (Not that Chomsky quotes the Who, but that's likely the gist of his argument.)
Tom Engelhardt: The American Way of War: How the Empire Brought Itself to Ruin (paperback, 2010, Haymarket): Subtitle from book cover; other sources say: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's. Probably recycled from TomDispatch posts, where Engelhardt has tenaciously kept his finger on the pulse of America's warpath to oblivion.
Norman G Finkelstein: 'This Time We Went Too Far': Truth & Consequences of the Gaza Invasion (2010, OR Books): On Israel's December 2008 siege of Gaza, a one-sided war occasioned by the desire of Israel's ruling coalition -- especially Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak -- to impress Israel's voters with their toughness, and possibly to dig incoming US president Barack Obama a deeper hole from which any peace initiatives would be even more difficult. The destruction was senseless and extreme, leading to an international backlash including the Goldstone Report finding Israel guilty of war crimes. Expect Finkelstein to set the record straight with his usual merciless thoroughness.
Roger Ford: Eden to Armageddon: World War I in the Middle East (2010, Pegasus): Key events were the destruction of the Ottoman Empire, the birth of nationalist Turkey, the entry of the French and especially the English into the Arab parts of the Ottoman Empire, and the rise of the Saudis in the Arabian peninsula. David Fromkin covered this same ground in his prophetically titled A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East.
Naeim Giladi: Ben-Gurion's Scandals: How the Haganah and the Mossad Eliminated Jews (paperback, 2003, Dandelion): Written by an Iraqi Jew, whose starting point was the desire to expose how the Mossad orchestrated the transfer of Iraqi Jews to Israel, which among other things involved promoting the threat of Arab pogroms to motivate Jews to immigrate to Israel. I've never seen much detail about this history, although there is no doubt that Ben-Gurion was ruthless in pursuing his demographic goals, ranging from negotiating with the Nazis to deliver Jews to organizing Mossad to penetrate the Arab world to ordering the expulsion of Palestinians during the 1948 war.
David Hirst: Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East (2010, Nation Books): Previously wrote The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East, originally published in 1977 and revised for a third ed. in 2003, mostly about the Israel-Palestine conflict, which has repeatedly overflowed into Lebanon -- in 1978, in 1982 followed by a partial occupation that lasted until 1999, and again in 2006. It would be hard to improve on Robert Fisk's Pity the Nation for the 1980s period, but there's much to add since then.
Robert Jervis: Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons From the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War (2010, Cornell University Press): It always amuses me that they call this intelligence. More like scattered and imperfect information, some deliberately falsified, selected and distorted through all sorts of cultural and intentional filters. In particular, intelligence rarely argues against desired acts, no matter how foolhardy they're retrospectivally recognized as. Plenty of examples here. Jervis evidently wrote the Iran section up while working for the CIA thirty years ago. Don't know if that's a plus or a minus.
Robert Kuttner: A Presidency in Peril: The Inside Story of Obama's Promise, Wall Street's Power, and the Struggle to Control Our Economic Future (2010, Chelsea Green): After rushing out his campaign hype, Obama's Challenge: America's Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency, Kuttner owes us a revisit on the many ways Obama has failed to achieve (or even much attempt) anything like what Kuttner envisioned. Maybe those of us who bought the earlier book should get some sort of price break on the new one?
George Lipsitz: Midnight at the Barrelhouse: The Johnny Otis Story (2010, University of Minnesota Press): An old friend and mentor, long since disconnected -- was it something I said about his plunge into academia, or was I right that it made us non-academics irrelevant? First I ever heard of Johnny Otis was when George played "Signifying Monkey" for me -- took me years to find that on CD (Ace's 2002 twofer, Cold Shot/Snatch and the Poontangs) -- which makes him an expert in my book. Otis was Greek by birth but "black by persuasion" at a time when that was a tough proposition. Lipsitz wrote the introduction to the 2009 reprint of Otis's book, Listen to the Lambs.
Edward N Luttwak: Virtual American Empire: War, Faith, and Power (paperback, 2009, Transaction): Essay collection from a military theorist who once wrote something called Coup D'État: A Practical Handbook, and has lately turned into one of the more obnoxious op-ed warmongers around. [Although he seems to have turned against Afghanistan.]
Martha C Nussbaum: Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (2010, Princeton University Press): Short (178 pp) broadside. I don't doubt that the basic premise is true, although I've always been turned off by those who presume to judge what humanities to teach, and I've sometimes suspected that their choices were meant to turn me off. Author has a fairly long list of prior books, like Cultivating Humanity: A Classica Defense of Reform in Liberal Education (1997) and Hiding From Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (2004).
Daniel Okrent: Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (2010, Scribner): Seems like a topic that has been ripe for a comprehensive history. Probably worth a second book to look at drug prohibition in the same context. One thing I'm fascinated by is how flexible and open to change most people were in the 1930s. The chances that one could go from a consensus big enough to pass a constitutional amendment to one big enough to repeal it in a mere 13 years seems inconceivable now. It's not even clear we'll get out of Afghanistan (or for that matter Iraq) so soon.
David W Orr: Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse (2009, Oxford University Press): Another global warming book, from a founder of the Presidential Climate Action Project (where the President seems to be hypothetical, but they were hopeful about Obama, and have another book: William S Becker: The 100 Day Action Plan to Save the Planet: A Climate Crisis Solution for the 44th President).
Clifford A Pickover: The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension, 250 Milestones in the History of Mathematics (2009, Sterling): There was a day when I mostly read pop science, making up for the path I didn't take (thanks to Willard Brooks, I might add, the world's most uninspiring science teacher), and this would have been an automatic purchase (probably right after Simon Singh's matching The Science Book, which has the advantage of already being out in paperback). Pickover has a large number of previous math books. Most strike me as trashy -- like: The Alien IQ Test; Calculus and Pizza: A Cookbook for the Hungry Mind; The Mathematics of Oz: Mental Gymnastics From Beyond the Edge; and Sex, Drugs, Einstein, & Elves: Sushi, Psychedelics, Parallel Universes and the Quest for Transcendence -- but this looks like a touchstone.
Andrew Potter: The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves (2010, Harper): Living in a world where nearly everything is prepackaged, artificial, fraudulent, fake, we have developed a craving for something else, like authenticity -- a strawman Potter has fun ripping to shreds. Which leaves us with, like, what?
William Poundstone: Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It) (2010, Hill and Wang): Looks like a book about pricing and all the weird psychology wrapped up with prices. Author has written a bunch of books, many focusing on game theory.
Bill Press: Toxic Talk: How the Radical Right Has Poisoned America's Airwaves (2010, Thomas Dunne): So true, but Press, who has a bunch of anti-conservative books like Bush Must Go: The Top Ten Reasons Why George Bush Doesn't Deserve a Second Term, has never struck me as someone who knows things I don't already know.
Raghuram G Rajan: Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy (2010, Princeton University Press): Not sure how I missed this in the banking crisis book roundup -- perhaps that I was growing weary of Chicagoans? Rajan chases the causes back past the industry shenanigans to stagnant wages and rising inequality, for which easy debt was necessarily only a short-term paliative. This at least is a key insight.
Ruth Reichl: For You, Mom, Finally (paperback, 2010, Penguin Press): Short (144 pp) semi-memoir, actually a reprint of last year's Not Becoming My Mother: And Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way. This presumably adds to Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, the first of three delightful memoirs with recipes that traced her life up to leaving the New York Times and landing at Gourmet.
Matt Ridley: The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (2010, Harper): Science writer, wrote a biography of Francis Crick and several books on genetic evolution, including a couple that veer toward sociobiology (The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture and The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation). Draws on past successes, which are undeniable, to project a future where we will solve all our problems for the benefit of everyone. Sounds like cornucopianism; indeed, Amazon links this to Julian Simon's The State of Humanity and Indur Goldany's The Improving State of the World (Cato Institute), which are mostly ruses of denial, but there is something to be said for Ridley's tack.
Michael C Ruppert: Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World (paperback, 2009, Chelsea Green): If economic growth correlates with energy use on the way up, what happens when we run out of our primary source of energy, oil? A lot of unpleasant options, which I'm sure Ruppert manages to lay out. More troubling to me is how we decide among those options, given a political system that stifles reasonable public-interest options and has trouble choosing, even debating, anything. Turned this into a video, Collapse.
Randall Sandke: Wher the Dark and the Light Folks Meet: Race and the Mythology, Politics, and Business of Jazz (2010, Scarecrow Press): Randy to his friends and fans, plays some serious trumpet on several dozen good-to-great records, including examinations of Bix Beiderbecke -- he named his son Bix -- and Count Basie. Tackles the nasty issue of race, which runs deep in every aspect of jazz history except for the music, which pretty much transcended race, and pointed the way so we could too.
Juliet B Schor: Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (2010, Penguin Press): This looks to sum up where her series of books have been headed: The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need, and Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture. In between she's thought about sustainability, but the key there has less to do with efficiency than in deciding when enough's enough. Fortunately, if we can just cut back on the overspending and overworking we may find plenitude is an easy reach.
Clay Shirky: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (2010, Penguin Press): Follow up to his book on social networking tools, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Cognitive surplus reflects the fact that "we've had a surfeit of intellect, energy, and time" for a while now but had mostly been squandering it on passive media like television, but now all that resource is starting to turn productive with the internet.
Lee Smith: The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations (2010, Knopf): Middle East correspondent for the neocon Weekly Standard, argues that tensions and strife in the Middle East have more to do with internal politics than anything that the US and/or Israel does. That would be more plausible if the US and/or Israel did less to distort the region, but I don't see how you can say that. Which isn't to say that internal dynamics are irrelevant; just that the terrain is severely distorted by the US and Israel.
Steven Solomon: Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization (2010, Harper): Global history, going back to the early river civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia, forward to the Panama Canal and the big dam on the cover. Sounds like too much ground, but reminds me of Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, a more delimited story that still qualifies for its epic struggles.
Joseph E Stiglitz/Amartya Sen/Jean-Paul Fitoussi: Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn't Ad Up (paperback, 2010, New Press): Report of a commission set up by French president Nicolas Sarkozy. The limits and follies of using GDP to gauge anything meaningful about human welfare should be obvious to anyone giving it the least thought.
TJ Stiles: The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (paperback, 2010, Vintage): Big (736 pp) bio of the original robber baron. Author has previous wrote about lesser crooks, like Jesse James.
Yuki Tanaka/Marilyn B Young, eds: Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth-Century History (2009, New Press): Wonder if there's a postscript on the 21st century, where bombing civilians has been practiced with remarkable frequency if not quite the intensity of 20th century peak periods.
Evan Thomas: The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898 (2010, Little Brown): If this is limited to 1898, that would be the Spanish-American War, where the US "liberated" Cuba and snatched Puerto Rico and the Philippines from Spain. Roosevelt is associated with the war as a Rough Rider fighting in Cuba, but he wasn't a professional soldier before or after the war, more like a politically ambitious blowhard. And the principals here didn't stop loving war after 1898: Roosevelt in particular pursued it avidly as president, and all three pitched in to drag us into the World War. This was a fateful moment, although one should also look at those who opposed the war and ultimately managed to muddle if not to defeat the imperial program.
Geoffrey Wawro: Quicksand: America's Pursuit of Power in the Middle East (2010, Penguin Press): Author of generic books on The Austro-Prussian War and The Franco-Prussian War, some kind of figure on History Channel, Wawro attempts a broad-based, systematic account of America's involvement in the Middle East. Sees the relationships with Saudi Arabia and Israel has key, and everything else as complication, of which there is quite a lot.
Richard Whittle: The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey (2010, Simon & Schuster): This gets likened to Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine for how it follows engineers in developing a product, but it should be much weirder given that the product is a vertical takeoff jet for the Marines and that the consequences of errors include deaths, and not just of those targeted by the Marines. Your tax money at work.
The Worldwatch Institute: State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability (paperback, 2010, WW Norton): DC-based think tank stakes out their position, as they've done every year since 1984.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Greg Grandin: Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City (2009; paperback, 2010, Picador): The peculiar story of Henry Ford's rubber plantation in the Amazon, an example of imposing your fancies on nature and watching it all backfire. Possibly also a prism into a lot of related topics, such as America's imperious relationship to Latin America and Ford's own fervent belief in mechanics.
Philip Longman: Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours (2007; 2nd ed, paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press): Of the several health care systems (and non-systems) we juggle in America, the Veterans Administration is the cheapest, produces the best results, in other words is the most socialist. It was radically overhauled under Clinton putting conscientious professionals in charge, and stressed but survived under Bush. Longman sees it as a model for a real "public option."
Idith Zertal/Akiva Eldar: Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 (2007; paperback, 2009, Nation Books): The history of the Israeli settler movement, focuses on Gush Emunim and the religio-political baggage that makes the settlements seem so intractable.
Tom Zoellner: Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock That Shaped the World (2009, Viking; paperback, 2010, ?): Science, history, politics -- mostly history, probably more on mining and processing than on the supposedly clean energy and terrifying power the rock releases. Previously wrote The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire.
Wednesday, May 19. 2010
Matthew Yglesias: Economic Crisis Reading List: I offered a big list of banking books back in March where I tried to sweep up damn near everything in print (plus a few forthcoming titles). I read 10-12 of those, and tried to sort the rest out using scattered information. Yglesias now has a short list:
I've read only one of those five, Animal Spirits, which has a few annoying tics as the authors attempt to systematize a theory out of unsystematic behavior (see notes here). I'll keep my eye open for the others -- Tett's is the only one I've seen in the library. One thing I will say is that the the debts that figure so large in Rajan's thesis is the only one of three options that seemed palatable to conservatives powers: either you need to redistribute income downward to generate growing economic demand or you can temporarily fake it by offering credit, but when the latter runs into inevitable limits, either the economy crashes or you have to go back and consider redistribution again.
Conservatives have used their political clout to organize a massive system of wage repression for the poor and inflation for the rich -- some of this is transfer, but much of it has been imaginary, a run-up of asset prices mistaken for asset values. It's hard to see how you turn that around without overthrowing the conservative political power that unbalanced the system in the first place, but few people think about it in those terms.
Yglesias also mentions in passing several other books:
Of those, I've read Cassidy, who does an admirable job of sorting out the major macroeconomic camps and explaining why the conservative take doesn't work. That may seem remedial but I did indeed find it useful, so I recommend it, or would except that Yves Smith's Econned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Udnermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism covers the same turf in even sharper relief.
Andrew Leonard: Elena Kagan's "socialist" college thesis: I found this interesting for the same reason conservatives find it alarming: that Kagan studied the history of the socialist movement in America doesn't make her an advocate or adherent but it does violate the political taboo that denies that Americans ever had any legitimate interest in socialism. The right is always happier with a knee-jerk reaction against socialism than with a reasoned rejection, because if the right understands anything -- clearly they don't understand much -- it's that legitimacy is their first line of defense against subversive ideas. That Kagan's willing to entertain heathenish thoughts is a risk they'd rather not take. On the other hand, it promises very little. What Leonard takes as smarts is actually a completely conventional explanation of why socialism failed in America. I'm not saying that she's wrong or simple-minded -- sometimes the conventional explanation is right, or at least a reasonable first approximation. So you can't read too much into this -- she may just be real good both at coming up with the expected answer and making it look good, a skill which came in handy in defending the Obama administration's continuance of Bush's executive power claims. In doing so she's established a reputation that she will be a good deal more conservative than the Justice she replaces, nudging the court slightly to the right, ever further from the Warren court which actually did something to secure constitutional rights against repressive government. Back then one could look to the courts for justice. Now one hopes that the courts don't screw us over too bad. Kagan seems like someone who would be comfortable either then or now, which means she's unlikely to ever change anything. But she can dress the status quo up smartly, which seems to be all Obama wants.
Friday, April 23. 2010
I promised a quick follow-up on the last batch of new book notes, here back on April 10, then decided to back off a bit, only making the backlog worse. Here are short notes on 40 recent books.
Greg Albo/Sam Gindin/Leo Panitch: In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives (paperback, 2010, PM Press): Missed this in the big banking book roundup, which may mean that even I am marginalizing the left. Panitch has been writing books like Working Class Politics in Crisis: Essays on Labour and the State and Global Capitalism and American Empire at least since 1986.
Giovanni Arrighi: Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-First Century (paperback, 2009, Verso): Substantial (432 pp) book on China's tryst with capitalism, from a late Italian Gramscian who takes the long view -- another recently reprinted book is called The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times.
Raymond W Baker/Shereen T Ismael/Tareq Y Ismael, eds: Cultural Cleansing in Iraq: Why Museums Were Looted, Libraries Burned and Academics Murdered (2010, Pluto Press): The images of looting in Baghdad upon the arrival of US forces are indelible, but less known is the purge of intellectuals, with over 400 killed, many more driven from their homes and often from Iraq.
Wendell Berry: Imagination in Place (2010, Counterpoint): A new collection of essays, mostly short, many on acquaintances and friends, literary subjects and history.
Stewart Brand: Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto (2009, Viking): Forty years after The Whole Earth Catalog, a new collection of ideas and tools for coping with climate change and so forth. Brand has written occasional books as well as updates to his catalog. The most interesting looks to be How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built.
Christopher De Bellaigue: Rebel Land: Unraveling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town (2010, Penguin Press): A Kurdish town in Turkey, Varto, formerly shared by a sizable percentage of Armenians -- a three-way struggle for control of the story line of the past (and present). Complicated.
Lisa Dodson: The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy (2009, New Press): Stories of "economic civil disobedience," where workers and even managers bend or break rules to make the economic system a bit more humane. Previously wrote Don't Call Us Out of Name: The Untold Lives of Women and Girls in Poor America.
John Ehrenberg/J Patrice McSherry/José Ramón Sánchez/Caroleen Marji Sayej: The Iraq Papers (paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): Of course, no non-scholar who lived through such recent history actually needs 656 pp of primary sources on the whole WMD scam. On the other hand, it's worth keeping track of who said what when, and holding them accountable.
Timothy Ferris: The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature (2010, Harper): Science (mostly Astronomy) writer, takes a look back at the Enlightenment and the insight that reason rules the universe, with the founding fathers of US independence right in the middle of the story.
Charles R Geisst: Collateral Damaged: The Marketing of Consumer Debt to America (2009, Bloomberg Press): Credit cards, one of the leading vehicles for modern usury; how they have been marketed, how ordinary Americans have piled up hereto unimaginable levels of debt. Geisst has many banking books: one I missed in my round up was Undue Influence: How the Wall Street Elite Puts the Financial System at Risk. Main reason I missed it was that it came out in 2004.
Tom Hayden: The Long Sixties: From 1960 to Barack Obama (2009, Paradigm): Fair enough for Hayden to write about the 1960s movements he was so prominent in, but Obama missed them, coming of age in the backlash years where he learned to be pragmatic, to couch his occasional idealistic-sounding rhetoric in obeissance to the powers that be. On the other hand, it's worth reminding that nearly all of the substantive agenda the 1960s new left succeeded -- civil rights were secured, the Vietnam War was ended, women made substantial advances both politically and economically, a serious effort was made to clean up the environment. Where the new left fell short was in not being able to secure the institutional power that would be needed to defend those gains. One might hope that Obama might succeed where the new left failed, but even if he had the inclination he may be too compromised. Still, how'd that '60s song go? "You can't always get what you want/but if you try sometimes you might find/you get what you need."
Steven Hill: Europe's Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age (paperback, 2010, University of California Press): As compared to what? The Tea Party movement? Kleptocracy and civil war in Africa? China's bourgeois revolution from above? I'm not sure Europe is such great shakes, but Americans have never wanted to follow the old world's lead. On the other hand, there is something to be said for sanity, which Europe proves is still possible.
Paul Ingrassia: Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry's Road from Glory to Disaster (2010, Random House): I imagine there's a lot one can say about this subject -- the first key question being when do you want to start? To get to some glory, you have to go back quite a ways. The collapse of profits is a more recent problem, more susceptible to scapegoating. Of course, even if he doesn't get the whole story right, a little dirt can't hurt. Previously wrote Comeback: The Fall & Rise of the American Automobile Industry, which appears now to have been premature.
Philip Jenkins: Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years (2010, Harper One): A history of the early Christian church, especially how political influences dictated theology. Author has a number of books, many on the ancient (and somewhat hidden) history of Christianity, but also Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History, The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South, Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis, and Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of the Eighties.
Gordon Laird: The Price of a Bargain: The Quest for Cheap and the Death of Globalization (2009, Palgrave Macmillan): We're supposed to be thankful that globalization makes it possible for jerkwad companies like WalMart to keep their margins up while selling junk for less. Helps make up for the fact that working people in America are making less then they have in 30-40 years. Several people have written this up lately, so I'm not sure what distinguishes this account, other than that the title suggests it cannot continue indefinitely.
Jaron Lanier: You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (2010, Knopf): Computer scientist, developed some early version of virtual reality, disparages "Web 2.0" information aggregation (e.g., Wikipedia, Amazon.com) for undervaluing individuals and creating a hive mentality. Not sure how I feel about this.
Steven Lomazow/Eric Fettmann: FDR's Deadly Secret (2010, Public Affairs): Medical sleuthing, argues that Roosevelt suffered from an undiagnosed metastatic skin cancer (melanoma) that spread to his brain and killed him.
Diarmaid MacCulloch: Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (2010, Viking): Huge (1184 pp), sweeping history, most notably tries to extend the history of Christianity back 1000 years before Jesus. Author previously specialized in The Reformation, especially in England where he has books on Edward VI and Thomas Cranmer, as well as something more general on the Tudors.
Shane J Maddock: Nuclear Apartheid: The Quest for American Nuclear Supremacy From World War II to the Present (2010, University of North Carolina Press): Title phrase came from an Indian diplomat, offering a rare glimpse of how US policy looks to an outsider. There is much truth to it, and still is as the US scolds other countries for attempting to acquire nukes while refusing to relinquish its own useless stockpiles.
Micheline Maynard: The Selling of the American Economy: How Foreign Companies Are Remaking the American Dream (2009, Broadway Business): Foreign-owned companies located in the US were something of a scandal in the 1980s when a buying spree was fueled by the growing US trade gap. You didn't hear much about them in the following two decades, but they amount to a bigger slice of the American pie than ever before. This focuses on Tata, Haier, Airbus, and Toyota, and doesn't look to be negative about the changes. One of the ironies is that foreign companies, accustomed to markets with higher wages and much stronger safety nets, often turn out to be more generous employers than American companies, and they don't seem to be at a competitive disadvantage for doing so.
Bill McKibben: Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (2010, Times Books): I don't much care for McKibben's imagery in trying to peddle his global warming alerts. That was the weakest part of his early -- pathbreaking, really -- book on the subject, The End of Nature, and his pitch here is that the planet we've changed is so far removed from the one we inherited that it shouldn't even be called Earth anymore. On the other hand, as he gets more successful, he seems to be getting more upbeat.
Louis Menand: The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University (2010, WW Norton): Short (176 pp) book on the state of the university, including a chapter on "Why Do Professors All Think Alike?"
Bill Minutaglio/W Michael Smith: Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life (2009, Public Affairs): A biography of the late, much missed columnist. Evidently also a Broadway play, and no doubt a movie some day. All the better to keep recycling some marvelous quotes, and a spirit that was more than America, let alone Texas, deserved.
Mwenda Ntarangwi: East African Hip Hop: Youth Culture and Globalization (paperback, 2009, University of Illinois Press): Short book (176 pp), but breaks some ground -- the African hip-hop I'm familiar with comes from West and South Africa, but I expect we'll find hip-hop in every corner of the world. In fact, one of the better comps I've come across leads off with something from Greenland.
Geoffrey Nunberg: The Years of Talking Dangerously (2009, Public Affairs): After a couple of books along the lines of The Way We Talk Now, Nunberg took a look at how right-wingers twist English to suit their purposes in Talking Right. This one looks like a scattered collection of essays; hard to tell how relevant or interesting.
Adi Ophir/Michal Givoni/Sari Hanafi, eds: The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Territories (2009, Zone Books): Big (650 pp) book, drawing on 19 contributors, looks at all aspects of Israel's occupation system.
Jurgen Osterhammel/Niels P Petersson: Globalization: A Short History (paperback, 2009, Princeton University Press): German historians, start in prehistory, find a "golden age" in the 1970s (of all times), all in less than 200 pp.
Benjamin I Page/Lawrence R Jacobs: Class War?: What Americans Really Think About Economic Inequality (paperback, 2009, University of Chicago Press): Short book (160 pp), does some polling and finds mass support for "conservative egalitarianism" -- i.e., some inequality is merited but more equality is better.
Fred Pearce: The Coming Population Crash: And Our Planet's Surprising Future (2010, Beacon Press): Science writer, has written some fairly inflammatory things on global warming (e.g., The Last Generation: How Nature Will Take Her Revenge for Climate Change) and an alarmist book on water shortages (When the Rivers Run Dry: Water -- The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century), so his relatively moderate take on population growth, which he sees ending but not really crashing, is a bit of a surprise.
Henry Pollack: A World Without Ice (2009, Avery): Geophysicist, evidently an expert in paleoclimatology, writes about global warming. Pollack is described as "a co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize" with his foreword-writer Al Gore, but most likely that just means that he contributed to the IPCC reports. Pollack previously wrote Uncertain Science . . . Uncertain World, which doesn't seem like a book committed to pushing an agenda.
David Remnick: The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama (2010, Knopf): New Yorker editor, his frequent pieces on Israel make me cringe, although on most other subjects he seems to be a reasonable liberal, a good writer, a dilligent researcher. Big (672 pp) biography, very likely the best general background book available on Obama. Previously wrote King of the World, about Muhammad Ali, which must now seem like useful practice.
Elizabeth D Samet: Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point (2007, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Tom Engelhardt put this high up on a recommended book list a couple of years ago, which is the only reason I was ever tempted by it. Well, also have a fondness for meta-lit, ever since I discovered how much more fun it was to read Leslie Fiedler than the books he wrote about. My least interest is in the military mind, which is less interesting than no mind at all.
Ron Schalow: Bullshit Artist: The 9/11 Leadership Myth (paperback, 2006, Book Surge): Focuses on the day Bush met history, Sept. 11, 2001 -- a mixture of reporting and screed. I can't fault Bush for not knowing what to do, let alone not doing it, as the day unfolded. His real crimes came later, fully dressed up in leadership myth as he delivered us into blind, stupid war.
Simon Schama: The American Future: A History (2009, Harper Collins): Viewed through the prism of the 2008 presidential election, or maybe just a book on the election as a springboard to an excursus on American history.
Nancy Sherman: The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Our Soldiers (2010, WW Norton): Philosopher, ethicist, psychoanalyst investigates psychological and moral burdens of soldiers, mostly US in Iraq and Afghanistan but some others. Previously wrote Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy Behind the Military Mind, which seems to have been more stuck on the philosophy side -- Sherman taught ethics at the US Naval Academy. I'm dubious about the analytical framework, but the case histories no doubt reveal the damage caused by experience of war to minds that were none too healthy in the first place.
Michael Specter: Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives (2009, Penguin Press): Examines the revolt against science, or "progress" as he generalizes it, especially for reasons of political ideology which he blames on the left as well as the right. Amazon reviews are evenly scattered, not diametrically opposed.
Kristin Swenson: Bible Babel: Making Sense of the Most Talked About Book of All Time (2010, Harper): I read Karen Armstrong's The Bible: A Biography, which helped with the broad historical view but wound up about half as long as this one, which seems to go more into interpretation of specific texts.
Roger Thurow/Scott Kilman: Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty (2009, Public Affairs): Famines in Africa, agricultural policy in the US and Europe, politics and business everywhere.
Jason Vuic: The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History (2010, Hill and Wang): Released in 1985 at $3990, at the time the cheapest car on the American market, barely under the newly released Hyundai. The only car from a Communist country ever released in the US. (I think; I knew someone who owned a Skoda, but I'm not sure how he got it.) Good idea, but not good enough a car to survive a hostile market, which liked to joke how overpriced it still was.
Chris Wickham: The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000 (2009, Viking): One of several recent books arguing that the Dark Ages weren't so dark. Previously wrote Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800.
Barton Gellman: Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency (2008; paperback, 2009, Penguin): Standard biography, at least for the eight years when Cheney was the worst vice-president in history. Does a good job of showing how Cheney was able to grab power early in the Bush regime. Also suggests that he lost his grip after the downfall of Scooter Libby, although it was also true that he was losing his grip on staffing more generally, and that he suffered some degradation due to what you might call job performance. I read this, but haven't typed my notes up yet. [book page]
William Greider: Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of Our Country (2009; paperback, 2010. Rodale): Having written pathbreaking books on the major political issues of our age -- Secrets of the Temple on the Fed and the financial system, One World, Ready of Not on globalization, and Fortress America on the imperial military-industrial complex -- he's settled into a mode of gently reminding us that democracy is still here for the taking. [book page]
Saturday, April 10. 2010
More book notes, probably the first of two quick sets. Last one was the Banking Books survey on March 24, at which point I looked up a lot of things I couldn't (or didn't need to) use at the moment. Before that I did one on February 25. Only rule here is that I cut off at 40 books, anything that interests me and/or I have something to say about.
George A Akerlof/Rachel E Kranton: Identity Economics: How Our Identities Shape Our Work, Wages, and Well-Being (2010, Princeton University Press): Sounds like another of those shaggy dog stories Akerlof theorized about in Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism. No doubt that there is something to the idea, but the analogous Identity Politics has a nasty reputation, mostly as a refuge for racism and bigotry.
Richard Ames: Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond (paperback, 2005, Soft Skull Press): A history of random massacres in the American workplace, symptomatic of something more than the occasional loose hinge. A bit dated, especially at the post-2009 pace, which doesn't make it any less relevant.
Bernard Avishai: The Hebrew Republic: How Secular Democracy and Global Enterprise Will Bring Israel to Peace at Last (2008, Houghton Mifflin): I recently picked up Avishai's 1985 The Tragedy of Zionism: Revolution and Democracy in the Land of Israel (reissued in 2002 with a new subtitle, How Its Revolutionary Past Haunts Israeli Democracy) because it seemed to have a sense of how Ben-Gurion's ostensibly pragmatic tactics locked Israel into an untenable prison of myths. Looks like he has a critical analysis of Israel's internal divisions and how they prolong the conflict, and a fanciful solution that thinks Israel can correct itself and become a normal nation.
John Avlon: Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America (paperback, 2010, Beast Books): Cover shows Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Keith Olbermann in the best plague-on-both-your-houses style. Still, for all the author's deliberate centrism -- his previous book was called Independent Nation: How Centism Can Change American Politics -- an Amazon reviewer slams the book as "leftist trash; he's just another socialist who hates the constitution, distorts the truth, and fawns over progressive elitists." After all, you're only right if you're right.
Edwin Black: War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race (2008, Dialog Press): A history of the eugeneics movement in the US, starting in the early 20th century, successful enough to forcibly sterilize some 60,000 Americans, and ultimately tarnished by association with an analogous movement in Nazi Germany.
Edwin Black: Banking on Baghdad: Inside Iraq's 7,000 Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict (2004; updated ed, 2008, Dialog Press): Mostly recent, of course -- just 42 pp for the first 6,500 years -- as the imperial and corporate plots thicken. Black has mostly written on topics more/less related to Nazi Germany, including his detailing of deals between the Nazis and the Zionists which permitted a number of German Jews to escape to Palestine in the early 1930s: The Transfer Agreement: The Dramatic Story of the Pact Between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine. He also has a forthcoming book called The Farhud: The Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust, which tries to link the Nazis to the 1941 anti-British riots in Baghdad via the Mufti of Jerusalem.
Edwin Black: Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives (2008, Dialog Press): More muckraking on the political influence of auto and oil corporations, some of which is well known and justified, although they really didn't have to twist arms very hard to sell oil power. Also wrote: The Plan: How to Rescue Society the Day After the Oil Stops -- or the Day Before.
Edwin Black: Nazi Nexus: America's Corporate Connection to Hitler's Holocaust (paperback, 2009, Dialog Press): Previously wrote the more detailed IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation. This is a short (192 pp) summary.
Mark Braverman: Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land (paperback, 2010, Synergy Books): American Jew, seems to be sincerely committed to peaceful resolution of the Israel/Palestine conflict, but sees the main problem being the inability of American Jews and Christians to have a meaningful dialogue that gets past myriad preconceptions -- like the long history of anti-semitism up to and including the Holocaust -- and approaches the real issues. Heartfelt, so they say.
Joel Chasnoff: The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid From Chicago Fights Hezbollah -- A Memoir (2010, Free Press): A 24-year-old American, Ivy League grad, failed stand up comic, joins the IDF, a tank brigade full of 18-year-old draftees, just in time to invade Lebanon. Maybe he'll go back to stand up now that he's got some fresh material. Probably won't go back to Lebanon again.
Ted Conover: The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today (2010, Knopf): A book on scattered travels around the world, focusing on roads and what they mean to people. Peru; Lagos; the West Bank, with apartheid roads for Jewish settlers and checkpoints for Palestinians. Conover previously wrote Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders With America's Illegal Migrants and Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails With America's Hoboes.
John D'Agata: About a Mountain (2010, WW Norton): About Yucca Mountain, Nevada, for many years the controversial planned burial site for all the nuclear waste the country can generate. (Obama finally ordered the project shelved and a new study to be done from scratch -- something Harry Reid can remind his angry voters of in the coming election.) A lot of threads come together here, like how can you run a nuclear power industry with no idea how you deal with the waste, or how do you sell a plan when nobody wants it anywhere near them, or what does the government do when everyone shoots holes in the only plan they bothered to come up with?
Robert H Frank: The Economic Naturalist's Field Guide: Common Sense Principles for Troubled Times (2009, Basic Books): Another entry in the "economics can explain everything in everyday life" Freakonomics-niche, following on the heels of the author's The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas. Has more sense than most economists working this beat, which also implies less flair for perverse contrarianism. [paperback Apr. 27]
Ken Gormley: The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr (2010, Crown): Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it Starr vs. Clinton? At 800 pp, it seems unlikely that Gormley left out anything from Ken Starr's mudslinging report, which probably means there is at least some redeeming social content (i.e., smut). A sad, pathetic story, compounded by ill will from all sides, cheered on by a jaded media.
Peter Hessler: Country Driving: A Journey Through China From Farm to Factory (2010, Harper): China-based journalist, wrote an earlier China book that has intrigued me: Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China. This one travels around the fast-changing country, one of the best ways of getting a glimpse.
Dilip Hiro: After Empire: The Birth of a Multipolar World (2010, Nation Books): London-based reporter, has written much that is worthwhile on the Middle East, Central Asia, and oil politics. Book covers rising powers in China and India, and the relative decline of the war-logged United States.
Wang Hui: The End of the Revolution: China and the Limits of Modernity (2010, Verso): Chinese "new left" intellectual, an activist in Tiananmen Square, evidently has a four volume intellectual history of modern China somewhere in the translation mill. Something is happening in China now that we haven't begun to understand, but little pieces like this are bound to help. Still, as Chou En-lai said about the French Revolution, it's really too early to tell.
Tony Judt: Ill Fares the Land (2010, Penguin Press): Looks like a quickie political tract in defense of social democracy, the values the left had before losing our way, and/or getting run over by the right-wing propaganda machine. Judt's Postwar is one of the great historical books of the last twenty years, but despite its length is wound tight, a sketchy synthesis, which at least shows that no one understands the human progress of postwar Europe better. Recently diagnosed with ALS, Judt's disabling illness may add to the urgency of his thoughts, as if material conditions wasn't more than enough.
David Kirby: Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment (2010, St Martin's Press): The latest wholesale assault on the meat end of the agribusiness conglomerate, with plenty to easy targets to write about. Big book (510 pp), clearly much of what's going on should be exposed, and this looks like one of the most comprehensive books on the subject. Harder to find reasonable compromises.
Jonathan Krohn: Defining Conservatism: The Principles That Will Bring Our Country Back (2010, Vanguard Press): Teenage philosopher, self-published an earlier draft of this book when he was 13; is more like 15 now, out giving speeches at Tea Parties and CPAC. Identifies four principles: defend the Constitution, respect human life, minimalist government, personal responsibility. Those principles are sophisticated enough it might be possible to flip him, unlike less thoughtful conservatives whose principles are more like "be white" and "inherit (or steal) a lot of money" and "slaughter people not like us." Talks a lot about "natural laws" and gibberish like that. Clearly is a smart kid with a lot to learn.
Matt Labash: Fly Fishing With Darth Vader: And Other Adventures With Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys (2010, Simon & Schuster): Features Dick Cheney's mug on the center of the cover. In case you thought this might be critical, consider that it's just a compilation of pieces recycled from The Weekly Standard, and on the blurb draws praise from David Brooks, PJ O'Rourke, and Christopher Hitchens.
Annie Leonard: The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession With Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health -- and a Vision for Change (2010, Free Press): The expanded book version of a pretty good little animated video, exploring the life cycle of stuff and our role in pushing it through the economy and the environment. Basic, and basically profound.
James Mahaffey: Atomic Awakening: A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power (2009, Pegasus): Another effort to bootstrap the nuclear power industry -- clean, safe, you know the drill.
Jason Mattera: Obama Zombies: How the Liberal Machine Brainwashed My Generation (2010, Threshold Editions): Bet you didn't realize that "in 2008, Barack Obama lobotomized a generation." The Liberal Machine? Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube. A nice case of transference, but not as amusing as John Gibson's How the Left Swiftboated America: The Liberal Media Conspiracy to Make You Think George Bush Was the Worst President in History.
Mike Moore: Twilight War: The Folly of US Space Dominance (2008, Independent Institute): The best book I've seen on the folly of attempting to militarize space is Chalmer Johnson's Nemesis. This covers the subject in much more detail, but the basic arguments are the same: satellites provide essential peaceful services, and are easily wrecked by war, which means any space-based conflict will make us much worse off.
Malcolm Nance: An End to Al Qaeda: Destroying Bin Laden's Jihad and Restoring America's Honor (2010, St Martin's Press): Author is certainly right that the way to undermine Al Qaeda is to marginalize it in the Muslim world, and the way to do that is to back away from America's hostile stance within that world. His view of Obama as a credible spokesman leans on wishful thinking, as is his notion that Americans can continue to operate in that world under a reformed image.
Nell Irvin Painter: The History of White People (2010, WW Norton): Author has mostly written about Afro-American history, from Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction (1992) to Creating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present (2005), so this must seem like a fair turnaround.
Robert Perkinson: Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire (2010, Metropolitan Books): 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 second best thing to slavery. Eventually, the Texas paradigm of punishment and exploitation took over the nation, driving out any ideas about reform and redemption and turning the justice system into a sefl-perpetuating spiral of crime and prison and more crime.
Mark Perry: Talking to Terrorists: Why America Must Engage With Its Enemies (2010, Basic Books): Basically a military historian -- cf. Four Stars: The Inside Story of the Forty-Year Battle Between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and America's Civilian Leaders (1989), and Partners in Command: George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower in War and Peace (2007) -- although he's also written about Middle East issues -- e.g., A Fire in Zion: The Israeli-Palestinian Search for Peace (1994). Perry's favorite example is the Awakening group in Iraq, which did more to stabilize Iraq than the US ever could have hoped for. Hamas and Hezbollah, with popular roots formed in resistance to Israeli occupation, are essential components of any post-conflict scenarios in their countries, as most likely is the Taliban. Perry sees Al Qaeda as beyond reconciliation, although I'm less clear why that should be the case.
David Priestland: The Red Flag: A History of Communism (2009, Grove Press): Long enough (720 pp), nuanced, willing to acknowledge that communist movements varied greatly in place and time even while insisting that all were doomed. Traces origins, both utopian and authoritarian, to the Jacobins. The liberature is full of simplistic, silly books, but maybe we're starting to get beyond that. If not this one, I'd be tempted to write such a book myself some day.
Diane Ravitch: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010, Basic Books): Former Assistant Secretary of Education under the first Bush offers second thoughts on the latter Bush education reforms: I gather she lacked first thoughts, which may or may not count for something, but it suggests the tide is turning after years of dumb and senseless failure. Previous books include Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform and The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn. The latter has the usual sendups of political correctness, but also notes how a textbook publisher censored a line about fossil fuels being the primary cause of global warming because "we'd never be adopted in Texas."
Eugene Rogan: The Arabs: A History (2009, Basic Books): A general primer, but evidently starts with the Ottoman period up to the present, more or less.
Karl Rove: Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight (2010, Threshold Editions): The big payoff for so many years of carrying the right's water and, more importantly, jockeying right-wing political campaigns. An important enough figure his book must have some value as a primary source, but there's no reason to think he'd start spinning truths now. He sees he still has work to do, money to make, a nation to ruin.
Michael Schuman: The Miracle: The Epic Story of Asia's Quest for Wealth (2009, Harper Business): The history of Asia's tiger economies, including major ones in Japan, China, India, and Indonesia. Looks like useful background, although he has a tendency to favor stories that elicit the correct capitalist answers.
Victor Sebestyen: Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire (2009, Pantheon): "The principal reasons the Soviet empire fell was the USSR's disastrous decade-long war in Afghanistan, which is eerily reminiscent of the conflict the West is involved in now. Soviet generals of 20 or 25 years ago were saying almost identical things about their war against the Mujahideen (The Army of God) as NATO soldiers are saying now fighting the Taleban." I'm inclined to argue differently, but Afghanistan, Chernobyl, and a few other incidents may have been critical in dismantling the mythic powers of the Soviet military; some comparable comeupance is needed in the US. Sebestyen on Reagan the "Evil Empire" fighter: "When he took a hard line Reagan got nowhere. In fact, it nearly led to a nuclear war by accident. He was successful when he took a soft line and began negotiating with the Russians, in particular with Mikhail Gorbachev."
Patti Smith: Just Kids (2010, Ecco): Memoir of the poet-singer and photographer Robert Maplethorpe. Bohemians slightly ahead of my generation, i.e., from a time when it made more sense (although I was plenty smitten for a while). Everyone compliments the writing.
Michael Steele: Right Now: A 12-Step Program For Defeating the Obama Agenda (2010, Regnery Press): Republican National Committee chairman, starts with the assumption that Obama is up to no good, and moves far enough to the right to start to focus that picture (or lose track of it altogether). Along the way we find out that the reason Bush stunk so bad was that he was too left-wing. I suppose the Republicans have nothing else to campaign on, but doubling down on their far right fringe isn't an obvious reaction to losing badly in 2006-08.
Marc A Thiessen: Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack (2010, Regnery Press): Former Bush speechwriter turned CIA mouthpiece. The difference between the CIA under Bush the CIA under Obama is presumably the former's embrace of torture -- no doubt that Thiessen is a huge fan of the practice, which most likely gets us into psychosexual territory I don't want to get into. Otherwise he's just engaging in the big lie, a skill he no doubt honed nicely under Bush and Rove.
Janine R Wedel: Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market (2009, Basic Books): Author's background is in post-Communist East Europe, where she developed a theory of how corruption is exploited by actors she describes as "flexions." She identifies some Americans along those same lines, including Richard Perle, Barry McCaffrey, and Larry Summers. No doubt there are more, but those are certainly good examples. Previous book: Collision and Collusion: The Strange Case of Western Aid to Eastern Europe.
John-Paul Wilson: Political Bias In Historical Writing (2009, Xlibris): Cover shows Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Case study involves the Sandinistas, which Carter tolerated and Reagan waged a long, bloody, patently illegal war against. Not sure how this plays out, but there certainly is political bias in historical writing, as in much of everything else.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Adam Cohen: Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America (2009; paperback, 2010, Penguin): Useful survey of FDR's famous first 100 days, how he worked out the kinks between his conservative inclinations and his liberal impulses. [book page]
Gregory Feifer: The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan (2009; paperback, 2010, Harper Perennial): Good basic history of the Russian occupation/war in Afghanistan. Among other things it shows that nothing much worked, but that they could hang on indefinitely if they could stand the stupidity of it all. Unlike us, they couldn't, so they left -- although it was Gorbachev who called that shot, not the military. [book page]
Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore: Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950 (2008; paperback, 2009, WW Norton): A long, detailed history of the few white people who stood up for civil rights before it became fashionable among post-WWII liberals: communists, socialists, radicals. You might call them "premature antiracists" -- it's important to recognize them because they've always been the first people to stand up for human rights.
Nicholas Schmidle: To Lie or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan (2009, Henry Holt; paperback, 2010, Holt): A useful travelogue to Pakistan, going into some neighborhoods you'll be glad someone else went to, meeting some people you'll be glad someone else met, with some historical background. [book page]