Wednesday, November 16. 2011
Last one June 21. I figured I was overdue for one of these 2-3 weeks ago. Indeed, without trying very hard I see I have 56 books left in the queue after separting out the 40 below, so I could do one more tomorrow and still have plenty of seed corn. I generally try to find books of possible interest on the current political state, but let my mind wander into other areas that interest me. I'm not very consistent in covering the right's rantings: sometimes I'll come up with something to say, often not. For instance, looking back at my collected book notes, I see that I've only written up one Ann Coulter book -- I guess I was struck by the image of "pro-Obamacare fanatics" rioting in the streets.
Alaa Al Aswany: On the State of Egypt: What Made the Revolution Inevitable (paperback, 2011, Vintage Books): Short book on the revolution in Egypt by a well-known novelist. I expect we will soon be deluged with books on Egypt: recent examples range from Joel Beinin/Frederic Vairel, eds: Social Movements, Mobilization, and Contestation in the Middle East and North Africa (paperback, 2011, Stanford University Press); to Alex Nunns/Nadia Idle, eds: Tweets From Tahrir: Egypt's Revolution as It Unfolded, in the Words of the People Who Made it (paperback, 2011, OR Books).
James R Arnold: The Moro War: How America Battled a Muslim Insurgency in the Philippine Jungle, 1902-1913 (2011, Bloomsbury Press): After the Spanish-American War (1898), after the long bloody fight to put down the Filipino independence movement (1898-1902), a group of Muslims fought on against the American colonizers. This is their story. Also available: Robert A Fulton: Moroland: The History of Uncle Sam and the Moros 1899-1920 (paperback, 2007, Tumalo Creek Press).
Stanley Aronowitz: The Jobless Future (second edition, paperback, 2010, University of Minnesota Press): Originally published in 1994, now "fully updated and with a new introduction": we all know that technology destroys more jobs than it creates, but rather than using it to eliminate workers from the economy we should take a look at the social conditions under which such relief from work would be a blessing.
Jay Bahadur: The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World (2011, Pantheon): Journalist, went to Somalia and worked his way into the pirate havens, met people, talked shop, managed to get out and write a book about it. Probably knows more about the subject than any of us ever will, although I've seen at least one more book that makes a similar claim: Peter Eichstaedt: Pirate State: Inside Somalia's Terrorism at Sea (2010, Lawrence Hill Books); and there are others that approach the subject from a safer distance, like Martin N Murphy: Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money: Piracy and Maritime Terrorism in the Modern World (paperback, 2010, Columbia University Press).
Abhijit V Banerjee/Esther Duflo: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (2011, Public Affairs): What's radical is that it looks at how poor people live, rather than trying to deduce that from economic theory.
Jeremy Ben-Ami: A New voice for Israel: Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish Nation (2011, Palgrave Macmillan): Founder of J Street, a "pro-Israel, pro-peace" lobby meant to challenge right-wing AIPAC. The problem with J Street isn't so much their slavish love for Israel (although that can get to be pretty annoying) as their self-delusion that Israel is in danger of destruction if peace isn't negotiated, whereas Israel has clearly proven that they can fight forever. Indeed, since their identity is so wrapped up in the conflict, one can just as well argue that the only way Israel can continue to be Israel is to keep the fight going: that peace would start some inexorable decay of the Jewish State.
Jimmy Breslin: Branch Rickey (2011, Penguin): Short profile (160 pp), probably focuses on Rickey's tenure with the Dodgers given that Breslin is very much a home-towner. That would leave so much uncovered one almost hopes the book is more about Breslin himself -- one could do worse.
Dick Cheney: In My Life: A Personal and Political Memoir (2011, Threshold Editions): Saw a pile of this in the bookstore recently. The person I was with pointed out it belonged in the true crime section.
Terry Eagleton: Why Marx Was Right (2011, Yale University Press): Longtime Marxist literary critic, from Ireland, kicks back agaisnt the assumption that Marx is irrelevant to the post-Soviet world. Strikes me as an academic argument, not that Marxists haven't had much of value in the critique of capitalism ever since Marx started sorting it out.
Peter Firstbrook: The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family (2011, Crown): Probably an interesting book in its own right; possibly the first such book to trace back the roots of an African family -- I imagine it being somewhat like Ian Frazier's Family, except most likely not as well documented. On the other hand, Barack Obama has always been so far removed from those roots that it's unlikely to shed any light on anything having to do with him or his administration. (Not that Dinesh D'Souza can't hallucinate.)
Thomas L Friedman/Michael Mandelbaum: That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back (2011, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Two of the stupidest people in America -- Friedman needs no introduction; Mandelbaum has written his share of nonsense too, like The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World's Government in the 21st Century and The Frugal Superpower: America's Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era.
John Geyman: Hijacked: The Road to Single Payer in the Aftermath of Stolen Health Care Reform (paperback, 2010, Common Courage Press): Doctor, prominent in PNHP (Physicians for a National Health Program), has written a series of books on how the practice of medicine has been corrupted by corporate interests. Argues that Obama's reform act is just another instance of this.
John Geyman: Breaking Point: How the Primary Care Crisis Endangers the Lives of Americans (paperback, 2011, Copernicus Healthcare): Longtime critic of America's health care racket, a doctor and advocate for single-payer health insurance, turns his attention to the increasingly lost art of primary care.
André Gorz: Ecologica (2010, Seagull Books), and The Immaterial (2010, Seagull Books): Two final books of critical theory by Gorz, who died in 2007. More than any other Marxist critic, Gorz saw the need to transform increased productivity into a shorter working life. I more or less figured that out on the basis of something Paul Sweezy wrote in the 1950s, but Gorz pushed the argument further than anyone else. Also newly available is the second edition of Critique of Economic Reason (1989; 2nd ed, paperback, 2011, Verso).
Rod Hill/Anthony Myatt: The Economics Anti-Textbook: A Critical Thinker's Guide to Microeconomics (paperback, 2010, Zed Books): Picks apart classical micro, most likely by comparing it to the messy reality the models try to abstract from.
J Hoberman: Army Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War (2011, New Press): Longtime Village Voice film critic, goes back to the 1946-56 period in search of demons -- a period of purges and black lists in the movie industry.
Eric Hobsbawm: How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism (2011, Little Brown UK): Intellectual history, with sections on Marx and his period and influence, the struggle against fascism, postwar Marxism, up to the recent. An historian who knows both the period and the lore well.
Russell Jacoby: Bloodlust: On the Roots of Violence From Cain and Abel to the Present (2011, Free Press): Barbara Ehrenreich wrote convincingly on this in 1997 (Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War), but Jacoby seems to stress the fratricidal aspect, extrapolating on to Hutu/Tutsi, etc.
Michio Kaku: Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 (2011, Doubleday): Physics writer, cosmology mostly; as I recall he got into the game with superstring theory, which is about the point when I lost interest in it. But this looks to be mere futurology, a literary genre that has never managed to get anything right.
Michael Kazin: American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation (2011, Knopf): Broad strokes history, but as Andrew Bacevich recently conceded, virtually every beneficial change in American history was advanced by the left and opposed by the right. Kazin's specialty is the populist period and William Jennings Bryan, but he also co-wrote with Maurice Isserman, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s.
David Kirkpatrick: The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World (2010, Simon & Schuster): Insider-ish history of the company and the thinking behind the social network tool.
Lawrence Lessig: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress, and a Plan to Stop It (2011, Twelve): Nothing could be more true. Tries to posit his critique of the corrupting influence of money outside of the right-left axis, but the essential point of the right is their subversion of democracy, which generally puts them in league with the corrupters -- at the very least, they figure the process works more for them than against them, and they're so desperate for power they'll take those odds.
Bernard Lewis: The End of Modern History in the Middle East (2011, Hoover Institute Press): The guy who understands so little about the Middle East that he's frequently consulted by neocons seems to be running out of things to write about.
Michael Lewis: Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World (2011, WW Norton): Travelogues relating to high finance, or mischief, or both. The "new third world" means old first world countries saddled with so much debt they're sinking fast: you know, Greece, Ireland, Iceland, the United States.
Anatol Lieven: Pakistan: A Hard Country (2011, Public Affairs): Financial Times journalist, covered the Chechen Wars. I thought his America Right of Wrong was an uncommonly smart book, but I'm less sure about his coverage of America's terrorism wars. Still, this could be one of the better books on Pakistan, a country that America's political and military leaders cavalierly fuck with but don't begin to understand. Other recent Pakistan books: MJ Akbar: Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan (2011, Harper Collins); Pamela Constable: Playing With Fire: Pakistan at War With Itself (2011, Random House); Imtiaz Gul: The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan's Lawless Frontier (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin Books); Steve Inskeep: Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi (2011, Penguin Books); Maleeha Lodhi, ed: Pakistan: Beyond the "Crisis State" (2011, Cambridge University Press); Iftikhar Malik: Pakistan: Democracy, Terrorism, and the Building of a Nation (paperback, 2010, Olive Tree Press); Bruce Riedel: Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of Global Jihad (2011, Brookings Institution Press); John R Schmidt: The Unraveling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad (2011, Farrar Straus and Giroux).
Dale Maharidge: Someplace Like America: Tales From the New Great Depression (2011, University of California Press): Photographs by Michael S Williamson. Starts back in the 1980s -- when GM had 618,000 employees and WalMart 23,000 -- and details the deliberate destruction of the middle class in America. Author previously wrote And Their Children After Them: The Legacy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: James Agee, Walker Evans, and the Rise and Fall of Cotton in the South; Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass; Denison, Iowa: Searching for the Soul of America Through the Secrets of a Midwest Town; and Heartland.
Charles C Mann: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (2011, Knopf): Previously wrote 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, which surveyed what little is known about American Indian history before 1492. This focuses on the exchanges between old and new worlds once regular contact was established, such as Europe's discovery of potatoes and tomatoes, and the introduction to the "new world" of smallpox, gunpowder, and slavery: truly an intercourse that profoundly changed both worlds.
Arno Mayer: The Persistence of the Old Regime: Europe to the Great War (1981; paperback, 2010, Verso): Part of a series reprinting prominent Marxist historical works. Mayer's classic works on the post-WWI settlement date from 1959 (Political Origins of the New Diplomacy) and 1967 (Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking), so this works backward, fleshing out his sketchy Dynamics of Counter-Revolution in Europe, 1870-1956. I've read most of the above plus Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? and Plowshares Into Swords but had missed this one.
Joe McGinniss: The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin (2011, Crown): Veteran journalist, wrote a book about Nixon's 1968 campaign, and later wrote a book about Alaska, so why not? Famously got on his subject's nerves by moving next door to her. Presumably dug up some dirt on her, rather than going for her more obvious political problems.
Siddhartha Mukherjee: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (2010; paperback, 2011, Scribner): Big (608 pp.) book, won a Pulitzer, by an oncologist who brings his patients in for a view as well as recalling the history -- mostly medical research and treatment since that's what we know the most about.
Sylvia Nasar: Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius (2011, Simon & Schuster): A survey of major economic thinkers. Not sure how many could be called geniuses, although some can. She previously wrote A Beautiful Mind about John Nash, a tighter focus that was converted into a successful movie. Maybe Ken Burns can find some old photos of Marx and Engels and Mayhew and Dickens and make something of this.
Ilan Pappé: The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of Palestinians in Israel (2011, Yale University Press): The Palestinians who didn't flee from Israeli armed forces during the 1947-49 war -- a story Pappé covered in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine -- were given citizenship in Israel at the same time those who left were barred from ever returning. Supposedly the "Palestinian citizens of Israel" were integrated into the enlightened liberal democracy, but from 1948-67 they lived apart under military rule. In 1967 military administration shifted to the occupied territorites, but separation and discrimination against Palestinians within Israel has hardly stopped, and in some ways is worse now than it was, especially before the Intifada.
Christian Parenti: Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (2011, Nation Books): An effort to recast current and future conflicts as resource wars, the rate of which will increase as climate change stresses the peoples of the planet. There is possibly some truth to that, but there's also a wide room for error. Author previously wrote The Soft Cage: Surveillance in America From Slavery to the War on Terror.
Corey Robin: The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (2011, Oxford University Press): "Tracing conservatism back to its roots in the reaction against the French Revolution, Robin argues that the right is fundamentally inspired by a hostility to emancipating the lower orders. Some conservatives endorse the free market, others oppose it. Some criticize the state, others celebrate it. Underlying these differences is the impulse to defend power and privilege against movements demanding freedom and equality." That's about right.
Jack Ross: Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism (2011, Potomac Books): Berger was a reform rabbi, head of American Council for Judaism, a forceful critic of Israel from before its founding up through the 1967 war.
Shlomo Sand: The Words and the Land: Israeli Intellectuals and the Nationalist Myth (paperback, 2011, Semiotext(e)): Focuses on the charged meaning of words in constructing the Zionist world view -- exile, return, Aliyah (which adds an exalted flavor to immigration. It's remarkable both how successful these semantics have been, and how effectively they imprison thought. Another book could be written on the Palestinian side, exile for exile, return for return, Nakba for Shoah.
Ron Suskind: Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (2011, Harper): Great reporter, able to worm his way into inside info, which he plied into a couple eye-opening books on the Bush administration. Here takes on Obama and his crew, most evidently leaving their hearts and wallets back on Wall Street.
Peter Tomsen: The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers (2011, BBS): Former US Special Envoy to Afghanistan 1989-92, Ambassador to Armenia 1995-98, which may (or may not) give him some insight into the failures of the Muhajadeen warlord regime that gave rise to the Taliban. Huge (912 pp.) book, probably starts with Alexander but focuses on US difficulties with its nominal Pakistani and Saudi allies. Thinks "it is still possible to achieve an acceptable outcome, but only if our policies respect Afghan history and culture and we heed the lessons of past foreign interventions."
Robin Wright: Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World (2011, Simon & Schuster): Journalist, has written several books about the rising tide of Islamism in Iran and the Middle East, now turns around and discovers the Arab Spring movements.
Fareed Zakaria: The Post-American World: Release 2.0 (2011, WW Norton): Looks like the answer book to the new Thomas Friedman/Michael Mandelbaum fiasco: whereas the other boys are stuck in their adolescent fantasy that the world can't work if America doesn't run it, Zakaria sees that it's too late for that, and to rub his point in he didn't even write a new book -- he just polished up one that his fellow pundits should have already read as a matter of due dilligence. The links are so obvious that Amazon has an "author one-on-one" between Friedman and Zakaria.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
David Harvey: The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (2010; paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press): English Marxist critic of neoliberalism, has a longer term and deeper view of the 2008 meltdown than your average analyst. Also writes a bit dryer, which makes this somewhat of a slog, but it's one of the most worthwhile books I've read on the subject. Paperback adds on a new afterword. [link]
Naomi Oreskes/Erik M Conway: Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2010; paperback, 2011, Bloomsbury Press): Not just a range of issues that PR firms hired scientist-hacks to obfuscate: we keep seeing the same scientists going from one con to the next.
Matt Taibbi: Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History (2010; paperback, 2011, Spiegel & Grau): New subtitle -- old one was Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America. Some extra material too: the greed of the banking industry is a story that never ends. [link]
Wednesday, September 7. 2011
Last ran this on June 21, although actually nearly everything here was left over then. I haven't been going to bookstores except to pick over Borders' bones. That has left me with more stuff than I can expect to read anytime soon, but it's also dulled my interest in whatever else is out there. So these are a bit old, and tend to be of minor interest. (Still, I managed to nab three of them at Borders: Jeff Madrick, Louisa Thomas, and Gordon Wood -- all on my shelf waiting for some time to open up -- plus one more I got at the library and actually did read: Matthew Moten's collection.) This leaves 26 in the scratch file, so let the research begin.
Peter Baldwin: The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe Are Alike (2009, Oxford University Press): A contrarian view, arguing that the differences between Europe and the US are much ado about not very much. In particular, he finds health care outcomes pretty much equivalent, which suggests he's not factoring in cost or inequality, or losing something like that. Of course, there are similarities, such as the general level of technology, science, and culture -- which makes the differences all the more interesting.
Omar Barghouti: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (paperback, 2011, Haymarket Books): Advocating for a global BDS campaign to put pressure on Israel to come to terms with the fact that Palestinians deserve human and civil rights like everyone else, something that Israel's occupation and settlements have denied. Modelled on the BDS efforts that helped to isolate and reform South Africa's Apartheid regime.
Charles Bowden: Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields (2010; paperback, 2011, Nation Books): A portrait of dystopia just across the border from El Paso. Not sure what the point or take is, but most likely the War on Drugs is implicated. Publisher seems to be fascinated by violence in the wake of globalization: other recent titles are Ian Thomson: The Dead Yard: A Story of Modern Jamaica and Molly Molloy/Charles Bowden, eds: El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin.
Andrew Breitbart: Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World! (2011, Grand Central): Title all caps on cover, with "RIGHT" and "NATION" in blood red while everything else but "BREITBART" is white-on-black, including the scumbag's photo.
Susan A Brewer: Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq (2009; paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press): From McKinley to Bush (and Bush), how wars have been sold to the American people. I suspect that one thing you'll find is that the propaganda lines are all much the same -- more racist early on, but there's still plenty of that. Another is that the reasons change once you're in, and do so in predictable ways (with minor variations on whether you're winning or getting quagmired). See also: Alan Axelrod: Selling the Great War: The Making of American Propaganda (2009, Palgrave Macmillan); also Stewart Halsey Ross: Propaganda for War: How the United States Was Conditioned to Fight the Great War of 1914-1918 (paperback, 2009, Progressive Press).
Douglas Brinkley: The Quiet World: Saving Alaska's Wilderness Kingdom 1879-1960 (2011, Harper): The dates start with John Muir's first visit to Alaska, a little more than a decade after Seward's Folly, and end with statehood. Brinkley is a journalist with a long and scattered bibliography, most recently The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, so he's on something of a wilderness roll.
Stephen L Carter: The Violence of Peace: America's Wars in the Age of Obama (2011, Beast Books): Parses what is new (and what is same old same old) in Obama's pontificating over war and direction thereof. Evidently aludes much to Michael Walzer, our most notorious justifier of just war theorizing, a theorist that gives Obama plenty of rope to hang himself. I don't trust Carter on this, but Obama hasn't earned any trust either.
Paul Clemens: Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant (2011, Doubleday): The Budd Stamping Plant, to be specific, although it's much like lots of other mothballed factories dotting a land where people used to make things. I'm reminded that the last book I read about working in a car plant was Ben Hamper: Rivethead: Tales From the Assembly Line, which came out in 1991. Clemens previously wrote Made in Detroit (2005, Doubleday; paperback, 2006, Anchor).
Ann Coulter: Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America (2011, Crown Forum): She's slowed down, but it's hard to make this stuff up: "Citing the father of mob psychology, Gustave Le Bon, Coulter catalogs the Left's mob behaviors: the creation of messiahs, the fear of scientific innovation, the mythmaking, the preference for images over words, the lack of morals, and the casual embrace of contradictory ideas." "Similarly, as Coulter demonstrates, liberal mobs, from student radicals to white-trash racists to anti-war and pro-ObamaCare fanatics today, have consistently used violence to implement their idea of the 'general will.'"
JR Dunn: Death by Liberalism: The Fatal Outcome of Well-Meaning Liberal Policies (2011, Broadside): A "novelist and military encyclopedist," concocts something he calls "democide" or "mass negligent homicide" and tallies up some 260 million dead bodies, the victims of liberal schemes, including the banning of DDT.
Francis Fukuyama: The Origins of Political Order: From Prehistoric Times to the French Revolution (2011, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Big picture history of everything, from a neocon whose brain is so large he transcends history he understands virtually nothing of. His subject, "political order," is one dear to his heart: how people with power screw others without. While it's easy to make fun of him, his 1995 book might have been onto something important: Trust: The Social Virtues and the Culture of Prosperity.
Andre Gerolymatos: Castles Made of Sand: A Century of Anglo-American Espionage and Intervention in the Middle East (2010, St Martin's Press): Britain literally handed their assets over the the US around 1970, so the Anglo-American continuity is even better established here than elsewhere. The motives of the two empires were slightly different, except as regards greed for oil. Hard to say who made the greater cock-up, but the arrogance and folly never ends.
Paul Gilding: The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World (2011, Bloomsbury Press): Former Greenpeace director, tryies to lay out a schemes for a sustainable economy that can survive not just global warming but all the other resource constraint issues facing us.
Lawrence Goldstone: Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1865-1903 (2011, Walker): The Supreme Court rulings that struck down the civil rights laws of the reconstruction and paved the way for Jim Crow segregation.
Leah McGrath Goodman: The Asylum: The Renegades Who Hijacked the World's Oil Market (2011, William Morrow): On the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), where speculators set the price of oil. No surprise that the author finds dirt and grime there.
Istvan Hargittai: Judging Edward Teller (2011, Prometheus Books): Author previously wrote a collective biography on five eminent Jewish-Hungarians, Martians of Science: Five Physicists Who Changed the Twentieth Century (2006; paperback, 2008, Oxford University Press) -- Theodore von Kármán, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, John Von Neumann, and Teller; here he goes into much more depth on Teller, the implication that he would not only explore Teller's science but also his mania for Defense politics; not clear that he does. An alternative is Peter Goodchild: Edward Teller: The Real Dr Strangelove (2004, Harvard University Press); another is PD Smith: Doomsday Men: The Real Dr Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon (2007, St Martin's Press).
Robert Henson: The Rough Guide to Climate Change: The Symptoms, the Science, the Solutions (3rd ed, paperback, 2011): A broad, general purpose primer on the issues and the controversies; recommended by Duncan Clark as the first book to read on the subject. Has some picture but nothing as slick as Al Gore has done.
Mike Hulme: Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity (paperback, 2009, Cambridge University Press): The argument here seems to be that when we argue about climate change, we're actually arguing about something else: about what "the human project" is all about.
Mark Kurlansky: Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn't Want to Be One (2011, Yale University Press): Kurlansky seems like a history factory, with far-ranging books like Salt: A World History, Cod: A Biography of the Fish, A Basque History of the World, The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell, 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, a half-dozen more, but for a hack he's remarkably good -- I've read 4 of those 6 -- and his new books are as likely as not to fill in gaps in his established web of interests: for instance, his new book on the famous Jewish slugger follows his book on Jewish history (A Chosen Few: The Ressurrection of European Jewry) and a previous baseball book (The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro Macoris, itself following up his A Continent of Islands: Searching for the Caribbean Destiny).
Jeff Madrick: Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present (2011, Knopf): Former New York Times columnist, has a pile of books at least some expressing doubts about where the US economy was headed before it fell into that chasm, tries his hand at a deeper and broader history, at least one deep and broad enough not to have forgotten Ivan Boesky.
Paul Midler: Poorly Made in China: An Insider's Account of the China Production Game (2009; paperback, 2011, Wiley): Comes out at a time when we've seen a rash of scandals about Chinese manufacturing quality lapses. Seems to me likely to be a phase, but I don't doubt that there are real reasons that will take considerable effort to overcome.
Gretchen Morgenson/Joshua Rosner: Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon (2011, Times books): Pulitzer-winning New York Times business columnist rehashes the same old story, "character-rich and definitive in its analysis," traits you need when you're this late to the party.
Evgeny Morozov: The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom (2011, Public Affairs): Bravely battling "cyberutopians" -- those who foolishly think something good might come out of the Internet: nothing like beating up strawmen to show off your intellectual brawn.
Matthew Moten, ed: Between War and Peace: How America Ends Its Wars (2011, Free Press): Various writers on various wars, starting with Yorktown and winding up with Iraq (by Andrew Bacevich) -- nothing in Afghanistan. It's always been easier to get into a war than to get out, partly because the imagination of what you wanted at the start rarely squares with the reality you're left with at the end. One chapter is called "The Cold War: Ending by Inadvertence" but like many of these wars (Korea is the most obvious example) it didn't really end even when the other side stopped fighting (and in the Cold War case dissolved). Maybe the title admits that for the US peace isn't even imaginable: there's only war and states "between." [link]
Dambisa Moyo: How the West Was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly -- and the Stark Choices Ahead (2011, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Cover shows a $100 bill with a portrait of Mao in the middle. Moyo, originally from Zambia, previously wrote Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa (2009; paperback, 2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux), which can't be immediately dismissed as a conservative excuse, but does look like she likes to be provocative. This strikes me as little else.
Joseph S Nye Jr: The Future of Power (2011, Public Affairs): Foreign policy mandarin from the Carter and Clinton eras, pontificating on the wonderfulness of American Power since WWII, fretting about the rising spectre of China, concocting a new approach he calls "smart power" -- no doubt a book all smart powermongers in Washington will be debating earnestly for weeks to come.
Walid Phares: The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East (2011, Threshold): First book out presumably related to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, by a Fox News talking head who sees democracy in the Middle East as the fulfillment of Bush's vision and a rebuke to Obama's coziness with dictators. Too early for anyone to really understand what's happening, nothing to stop someone well stocked with prefab answers.
Ted Rall: The Anti-American Manifesto (paperback, 2010, Seven Stories Press): A desperate screed against the Zombie Empire, with occasional drawings that aren't funny enough to be cartoons, like the guy who dumped his peace sign in the trash and is throwing a molotov cocktail. Guess there is a "loony left" after all.
Paul Reyes: Exiles in Eden: Life Among the Ruins of Florida's Great Recession (2010, Henry Holt): The Florida housing bust, from the viewpoint of a guy who picked up small change "trashing out" foreclosed houses -- cleaning them out to remove all evidence of their previous owners. That's a different view of the same old story.
Michael Riordon: Our Way to Fight: Israeli and Palestinian Activists for Peace (paperback, 2011, Lawrence Hill): Author makes documentary films. Here he talks to Israelis and Palestinians who have joined in nonviolent resistance against Israel's occupation and political destruction of Palestine.
Ben Shephard: The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War (2011, Knopf): Focuses on the millions of Europeans driven from their homes during WWII -- refugees, or "displaced persons" -- and the postwar efforts to settle them. Big subject, little told except for Jews and Israel which turns out to be a small part of the story. A similar book could be written for Asia.
Harry Stein: I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican: A Surival Guide for Conservatives Marooned Among the Angry, Smug, and Terminally Righteous (paperback, 2010, Encounter): Previously wrote How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace), but maybe didn't find as much "inner peace" as he originally thought, or maybe he's just real confused, still trying to blame liberals for being "angry, smug, and terminally righteous" when the right has all those traits on steroids.
Jonathan Steinberg: Bismarck: A Life (2011, Oxford University Press): The big cheese of 19th century European politics, united Germany, advanced if not invented the bureaucracy and the welfare state. Did so in the service of a monarchy that was due to self-destruct. The sort of guy every generation needs to go back and review or revile.
John Szwed: Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World (2010, Penguin): One of the best jazz historians working, has previously done biographies of Sun Ra and Miles Davis. Lomax wasn't a folkie so much as the guy who invented the mold: he came early enough he could imagine recording a world unspoiled by modern technology like his own recordings. Thought doing so was politically significant too.
Helen Thomas/Craig Crawford: Listen Up, Mr President: Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do (paperback, 2010, Simon & Schuster): Well, I doubt that, not just because this is squeezed into 208 pp, but glad to see Thomas keeping active after she got unceremoniously retired following a minor misstatement on Israel.
Louisa Thomas: Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family -- a Test of Will and Faith in World War I (2011, Penguin): A Thomas family history, evidently the author's a few generations removed, where two brothers rushed to join Wilson's War -- you know, the one that made the world safe for democracy -- and two dissented, one jailed for his conscience. The eldest, Norman, was a Presbyterian minister who later ran on the Socialist Party ticket for president. Evan I know less about, but he appears to be the namesake of the author's father, which could well be the same Evan Thomas who wrote The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898, a book which ends with TR bullying his own sons into fighting (and dying) in Wilson's War.
Sherry Turkle: Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other (2011, Basic Books): Author has written a number of books on how people relate to technology, including Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, and Simulation and Its Discontents. Easy to say that computers debase human relationships; harder to work out whether they're worth it.
Martin Van Creveld: The Age of Airpower (2011, Public Affairs): Israeli military historian, traces the history of air warfare from Italy's bombing of Libya in 1911 to NATO's bombing of Libya in 2011 (probably not quite, but the 100-year circle did get tied up awfully neatly). One could also neatly point to Israel's 1967 blitzkrieg as a highpoint of effectiveness -- WWII was more grossly destructive but also far messier, and the many US air war missions have more often than not proved fruitless.
Daniel Williams: God's Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right (2010, Oxford University Press): Seems like a bunch of books on this subject out lately, one that can quickly grow tiresome.
Gordon S. Wood: The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States (2011, Penguin Press): I learned more about US history from John Garraty's book of interviews with old historians -- guys like Edmund Morris and C. Vann Woodward -- than I got from anywhere else, because after a career of work they finally got a chance to say what they thought. At the time, Wood was a young lion, having debuted with the best book ever written about the founding of the constitution -- something our Tea Partiers should bone up on; little do they know but they're really just a bunch of anti-federalists. Now Wood's an old-time master, so I'd say he's earned his right to reflect and interpret.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Joyce Appleby: The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism (2010; paperback, 2011, WW Norton): Big general history of capitalism, going back to early industrialization and up to the 2007-08 financial crisis, attributed to deregulation.
Peter Beinart: The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris (2010; paperback, 2011, Harper Perennial): One of the more apologetic of the Iraq War liberal hawks, has plenty of ground to critique the lofty arrogance of America's foreign policy establishment; still, it seems to me that the faults are far more intrinsic, that even modest warmongers are bound to fail.
Justin Fox: The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street (2009, Harper Business; paperback, 2011, Harper): Organized thematically, jumping around in time from one crash to another -- plenty to choose from there.
David Hirst: Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East (2010; paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Major history of Lebanon, a complex state again and again meddled with by dangerous and conniving forces -- Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, far from least the United States.
Chalmers Johnson: Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope (2010; paperback, 2011, Henry Holt): A rather slight collection of essays following the late author's brilliant Blowback trilogy.
Tuesday, June 21. 2011
Sorry for backdating, but I had this almost ready to run on Tuesday, but got distracted that day, then wound up spending most of Wednesday in the hospital emergency room undergoing cardiac tests. Seems to have been a false alarm, but a painful one. However, since I had already moved these book notes to the notebook, it makes more sense to post them on the blog on the planned date than to shove them around.
I run these whenever I get enough collected, where enough is 40 new books. All the past ones are collected in one huge file here -- the one file is handy for me lest I write up redundant notes.
Sami Al Jundi/Jen Marlowe: The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian's Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Marlowe is a documentary filmmaker who has previously done work, including a book spinoff, on Darfur. Al Jundi is a Palestinian who spent 10 years in Israeli prison after a bomb he was working on misfired. Book documents his education in prison, his turn away from violence toward peaceable protest. Takes more than one to make peace, though.
Daniel Altman: Outrageous Fortunes: The Twelve Surprising Trends That Will Reshape the Global Economy (2011, Henry Holt): I wouldn't bother mentioning this futuristic speculation except that Altman previously wrote Neoconomy: George Bush's Revolutionary Gamble With America's Future (2004), which proved to be pretty scarry.
HW Brands: American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism 1865-1900 (2010, Doubleday): Historian, writes a lot of big books about politics and business -- I've read two recently, his biography of FDR (Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delany Roosevelt) and his postwar survey (American Dreams: The United States Since 1945) and find him to be a fair high-level chronicler. I expect this to be fair and comprehensive as well, but not to have quite as much edge as Jack Beatty: Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900, which covers the same years and doesn't scrimp on the downside.
Lawrence D Brown/Lawrence R Jacobs: The Private Abuse of the Public Interest: Market Myths and Policy Muddles (paperback, 2008, University of Chicago Press): Short book questioning conservative efforts to expand markets, showing that policy makers need "to recognize that properly functioning markets presuppose the government's ability to create, sustain, and repair them over time."
Bill Bryson, ed: Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, and the Genius of the Royal Society (2010, William Morrow): A collection of new essays retelling the 350 year history of the Royal Society of London, from its founding in 1660 by some chap named Isaac Newton.
Jennet Conant: A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS (2011, Simon & Schuster): Fourth in a series of WWII-era studies into security-issue people, starting with J. Robert Oppenheimer. The Childs became famous much later for reasons having little to do with the OSS, and they actually seem to be minor here -- most of the book delves into Jane Foster, but that would make for a less intriguing book title.
David T Courtwright: No Right Turn: Conservative Politics in a Liberal America (2010, Harvard University Press): Argues that there has been no conservative triumph with Reagan and Bush, that they (like Nixon) repeatedly compromised conservative values to get ahead. I'm not sure that labelling the mess they did leave as liberal does us much good. They certainly did something.
Gerald F Davis: Managed by the Markets: How Finance Re-Shaped America (2009, Oxford University Press): Contrasts periods of financial and managerial capitalism, where the latter builds things and the former steals you blind. One reviewer wrote: "as compact and clear a description of how we screwed up a fine economy as you will find."
Kenneth S Deffeyes: When Oil Peaked (2010, Hill & Wang): Geologist, first came to my attention searching for gold in John McPhee's Basin and Range, but has since become more notable as the serious geologist behind the peak oil controversy. Wrote Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage in 2001, followed that up with Beyond Oil: The View From Hubbert's Peak in 2005. With the economic churn of the last decade, it hasn't been clear just when oil production peaked, or whether it might peak again in the future, but Deffeyes argues for 2005. Book does seem kind of thin.
Darren Dochuk: From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (2010, WW Norton): Looks like Billy Graham on the cover; focus seems to be on Southern California, which swept up a lot of Bible Belt refugees. Seems like a substantial history, as much of the right as of the evangelicals (won Allan Nevins prize).
Geoffrey Dunn: The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind
Her Relentless Quest for Power (2011, St Martin's Press):
Gambling on her relevance and trying to get out early, at least ahead
of nosy neighbor Joe McGinniss's The Rogue: Searching for the Real
Sarah Palin. Lies? Is she really coherent enough for that? Some
less ambitious books might do just as well: Malia Litman: The
Geoff Dyer: Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews (paperback, 2011, Graywolf): A protege of John Berger's, as incisive a critic as I've ever read, and author of an idiosyncratic jazz book (But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz) I got quite a bit out of, with 432 pp of previously published essays. Sounds like a good idea, but I also bought his previous essay collection, Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It and never got past the first one.
Orlando Figes: The Crimean War: A History (2011, Metropolitan Books): A big history of a small war, remarkable for its indication of how the technology of war had developed during the 19th century when European armies rarely fought each other. One might have drawn the conclusion that World War would be a bad idea, but Europe's empires were in full swagger, unable to learn anything.
John Bellamy Foster/Bret Clark/Richard York: The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Environment (paperback, 2010, Monthly Review Press): Pretty hefty book (544 pp) just to blame it all on capitalism, but Foster's been working this line of inquiry for quite some time.
Chris Hedges: The World as It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress (2011, Nation Books): Short, unhappy pieces -- someone describes them as sermons, and the former divinity student cops to the charge -- written 2006-10 and published on TruthDig.com. "It's Not Going to Be OK," "The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free," "Liberals Are Useless," "A Culture of Atrocity," "War Is Sin," "War Is a Hate Crime," "No One Cares" -- sample chapters. One I read was less lofty: about a guy charged with stealing $9, held in jail two years before trial, acquitted of all charges, left with $12,000 in debts and no job or prospects.
Steven Hill: Europe's Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age (paperback, 2010, University of California Press): The Soviet sphere has been taken as proof positive that one form of socialism -- centralized state-commanded economies -- was dysfunctional, why do we still deny the widespread success of capitalist social democracies in north and western Europe? They've managed to solve many of our worst problems in a manner that is both humane and efficient, and when we consider future crises they look to be positioned in much more sustainable ways. Several people have written this basic book, but it's been slow to sink in.
Adam Hochschild: To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (2011, Houghton Mifflin): The so-called Great War, with its mechanized slaughter, utopian rhetoric, and brutal assault on free thought. Focuses on the dispute between those who opposed the war and those who furthered it, especially in Britain, where the former were mostly jailed.
Nathan Hodge: Armed Humanitarians: The Rise of the Nation Builders (2011, Bloomsbury): Journalist on the war beat, seems to have backed into the notion of "nation building" as it has slipped into the Pentagon's counterinsurgency dogma -- as a tactic to prolong stalemated wars; whereas we're more used to "humanitarian intervention" as a political excuse to enter new wars. So I figure this could be more critical, but the military's adoption of the conceit could prove more damaging than ever.
Susan Jacoby: Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age (2011, Pantheon): A less than rosy look at old age these days, and the issues it raises. Tough issues to get clear headed on; not even sure it's worth the effort.
Lawrence M Krauss: Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science (2011, WW Norton): Another bio of the famous physicist, always an entertaining and enlightening subject, fits into the publisher's "Great Discoveries" series, by the author of such semi-unserious books as The Physics of Star Trek.
Greta R Krippner: Capitalizing on Crisis: The Political Origins of the Rise of Finance (2011, Harvard University Press): Argues that the growth of finance since the 1970s was encouraged by politicians trying to solve other problems (e.g., compensating for trade imbalances by encouraging capital inflows), and that one things led to another as opposed to the government being captured by the bankers or anyone having a bright idea.
James Livingston: The World Turned Inside Out: American Thought and Culture at the End of the 20th Century (2009, Rowman & Littlefield): Interesting, far-ranging survey; talks a lot about the conservative thrust, but finds the nation more liberal now than ever before, clinging to a form of socialism few actually admit to. If this sounds confused, well there is that.
Harold McGee: Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to the Best of Foods and Recipes (2010, Penguin): Author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, the first book to make a thorough survey of the science of cooking -- a book I'd say everyone should own. (I read the original when it came out in 1984 and own the revised edition from 2004.) No recipes. Just a lot of condensed expertise, basic rules of thumb.
John J Mearsheimer: Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (2011, Oxford University Press): Short book (160 pp), only so far you can push the analysis when you're a realist; i.e., someone who believes that lying is OK when you get away with it, not so good when you don't.
Branko Milanovic: The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality (2010, Basic Books): Within nations, between nations, around the world, up and down through history, even ventures into fiction.
Walter Mosley: Twelve Steps Toward Political Revelation (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Novelist, mostly mysteries, briefly sketches out some thoughts on politics drawing on 12-step programs.
John Nichols: The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition . . . Socialism (paperback, 2011, Verso): Of course it's short, but not empty. Did you know Horace Greely used to publish a stringer from Europe named Karl Marx? Probably the same author of Dick: The Man Who Is President (2004, New Press).
Robert A Pape/James K Feldman: Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism & How to Stop It (2010, University of Chicago Press): Pape's Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (2005) is the now-standard book on suicide terrorism, so this extends the franchise, adding a defense policy/decision analyst in Feldman. Before he got into suicide, Paper wrote Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (1996, just in time for Kosovo).
Michael Perelman: The Invisible Handcuffs [of Capitalism]: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers (paperback, 2011, Montly Review Press): The title words in brackets aren't evident on the cover scan, but the listed title includes them. Perelman has a long list of interesting left-ish takes on economic matters, including The Confiscation of American Prosperity: From Right Wing Extremism and Economic Ideology to the Next Great Depression, published in 2007 when said depression was iminent. The only system I've ever seen where workers weren't stifled and stunted is the rare case of employee ownership, probably because it's the only one where the interests of owners and workers are fully aligned.
Jack Rakove: Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America (2010, Houghton Mifflin; paperback, 2011, Mariner Books): Covers 1773-92, from the Tea Party to the election of George Washington to his second term as president. Focuses on key figures, the obvious ones and a few more like George Mason and Henry and John Laurens. Won a Pulitzer Prize for his earlier Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution.
Daniel K Richter: Before the Revolution: America's Ancient Past (2011, Harvard University Press): Big, general book on pre-revolution North America, much like Alan Taylor's 2001 American Colonies: The Settling of North America (which I read recently), even down to its short chapters on "progenitors."
Daniel T Rodgers: Age of Fracture (2011, Harvard University Press): Intellectual history in America, tracking how the consensus beliefs of the 1950s fractured into so many shards, leaving an empty space where it is impossible to put coherent groups together again. Something I'm intrinsically suspicious of, which if his point is right is something of a point.
Donald Rumsfeld: Known and Unknown: A Memoir (2011, Sentinel): 832 pages of "snowflakes" -- mental dandruff slicked back with lots of Brylcreem. Slightly less disingenuous (but no briefer) is Bradley Graham: By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld (2009; paperback, 2010, Public Affairs). Finally available in paperback (to cash in on the excitement of the new memoir, no doubt): Andrew Cockburn: Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy (2007; paperback, 2011, Scribner).
Dominic Sandbrook: Mad as Hell: The Crisis of the 1970s and the Rise of the Populist Right (2011, Knopf): One more in a string of recent books trying to blame Reagan and the 1980s on all sorts of messes in the 1970s ("America's humiliating defeat in Vietnam, an uptick in serious crime, economic malaise, rising fuel costs, environmental degradation, the Iranian hostage crisis, and an overall breakdown in respect for institutions, among others"). Most of that makes little sense, but it might be worth giving more consideration to Jimmy Carter's prefiguring of Reagan -- the outsider promise, the moralism, the lack of commitment to the party base, the ineffectual embrace of conservative motifs from deregulation to anti-Soviet demagoguery. Sandbrook, a British historian, also recently wrote the even larger (768 pp) State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain, 1970-1974 (2010, Allen Lane), and the previous Eugene McCarthy: And the Rise and Fall of Postwar American Liberalism (2004; paperback, 2005, Anchor).
Tom Segev: Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends (2010, Doubleday): A biography of the famous Nazi hunter, which entails sorting out various "legends" -- remarkable stories, some true and some inventions.
David K Shipler: The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties (2011, Knopf): Big book on how waging war against crime and terrorism has eroded civil rights we used to take for granted.
Jason E Stearns: Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa (2011, Public Affairs): Another book on the vast destruction in the Congo -- coverage had long been scarce, even compared to the better publicized Rwanda genocide that was something of a side show to the Congo, but we now have a handful of books like Gerard Prunier's Africa's World War.
Alan Taylor: The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels & Indian Allies (2010, Alfred A Knopf): A substantial history on what's sometimes considered America's weirdest war, declared over shipping conflicts but effectively a war to firm up America's borders, most significantly the one that doomed the Indians. Taylor has always been one historian you could count on not to count out the Indians, nor is it surprising that he would factor in recent Irish immigration.
Alex von Tunzelmann: Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder, and the Cold War in the Caribbean (2011, Henry Holt). Author's first book was Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire which focused a bit too narrowly on the Mountbattens in the partition of India. Here she jumps to the other side of the globe, picking up the CIA and its various targets -- not just Castro but Duvalier and Trujillo, neither Red but more trouble than they were worth.
Sarah Vowell: Unfamiliar Fishes (2011, Riverhead): A history of Hawaii, at least from the point American missionaries showed up to the American takeover in 1898, and then some -- seems to have a thing or two on favorite son Barack Obama. I reckon the missionary focus seems like a logical extension from her previous book, The Wordy Shipmates, on the New England puritans.
R Christopher Whalen: Inflated: How Money and Debt Built the American Dream (2010, Wiley): Even before the mortgage scams of the early 2000s, Americans lived on the expectation of inflation, which would among other things allow them to pay back debt cheaper; moreover, the government rarely paid today for what it could borrow and pay back later. Bankers take a dim view of this, and politicians can get all demagogic about it, but it's hard to see how else it all could work out -- the main alternatives to debt and inflation are redistribution and/or bankruptcy.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Anthony Bourdain: Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook (2010; paperback, 2011, Harper Collins): Scattered writings from the guy who wrote Kitchen Confidential and parlayed it into a TV career traveling around the world, eating, and not cooking. [link]
Tony Judt: Ill Fares the Land (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin): A short tract arguing for the virtues of social democracy, at least when he's not preoccupied with slandering the New Left. [link]
Robert G Kaiser: So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government (2009, Knopf; paperback, 2010, Vintage): A book on the Washington DC lobbying business. Starts with Gerald Cassidy, as good an example as any, at least a relatively innocuous figure compared to Jack Abramoff, who also appears. I read this, wrote some notes and copied down some quotes, then got a letter from the publisher threatening dire consequences if I didn't take it down. Only time that's ever happened, so someone's touchy.
Robert Perkinson: Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire (2010; paperback, 2010, Picador): A history of the US prison system, the world's largest since the Soviet Gulag was shut down, focusing on the South and Texas in particular, where prison labor was seen as the next best thing to slavery. [link]
Geoffrey Wawro: Quicksand: America's Pursuit of Power in the Middle East (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin Books): Sprawling book on US involvement in the Middle East, especially with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Finds lots of problems, deals with them reasonably enough, although I found he missed some details along the way. [link]
Thursday, April 21. 2011
Another batch of 40 book notes, my first such since February 12. Didn't even have that much backlog, probably because I've spent very little time in bookstores lately (aside from the Borders closeout), but I've been researching this since Tuesday and they're piling up. So maybe another next week instead of next month.
Eric Alterman: Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Liberal columnist, tries to present a case that Obama's post-election turn to the right is the fault of a system that is deeply and intractably conservative. That may be true, to a point, but it isn't very reassuring: seems to me like an indictment both of the system and the man unwilling to risk his political future on convincing the American people to do the right things.
Joe Bageant: Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir (paperback, 2011, Scribe): Previously wrote Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America's Class War (2007, Crown), the cursory tales of a class-conscious redneck. Might seem presumptuous to write a memoir, but he got cancer and died already, so quit bitching.
Roseanne Barr: Roseannearchy: Dispatches From the Nut Farm (2011, Simon & Schuster): A glance at the cover suggests she's muscling into Glenn Beck territory, which might be a good idea, but the self-deprecating "nut farm" suggests she's too self-conscious for that. Probably too smart, too.
Moustafa Bayoumi, ed: Midnight on the Mavi Marmara: The Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and How It Changed the Course of the Israel/Palestine Conflict (paperback, 2010, Haymarket): Too soon, I'd say, to say much about deflecting the course of the conflict, but Israel's display of gratuitous violence certainly had the effect of driving their once-carefully cultivated alliance with Turkey off the deep end.
Wendell Berry: What Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth (paperback, 2010, Counterpoint): Collection of essays, mostly from old books but possibly some new stuff. Farmer, writer, community-minded, so old-fashioned he cuts through a lot of new-fangledness we readily take for granted, more often than not making profound points.
David Brooks: The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (2011, Random House): What is it about New York Times columnists that drives them to such extreme heights of idiocy?
James Carroll: Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignites Our Modern World (2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Sometime journalist, sometime historian, always Catholic, takes a dim view of war and prejudice which leads to some soul searching. Not sure what exactly this covers or why it matters, except inasmuch as the histories of western religion and war have been interweaved, and still are.
G Paul Chambers: Head Shot: The Science Behind the JFK Assassination (2010, Prometheus): Another review of the evidence, this time bolstered by the author's physics credentials. Doesn't indulge in conspiracy speculation, but does reject the official story that all shots came from a single gun.
Diane Coyle: The Economics of Enough: How to Run the Economy as if the Future Matters (2011, Princeton University Press): Challenges: Happiness, Nature, Posterity, Fairness, Trust; Obstacles: Measurement, Values, Institutions; The Manifesto of Enough. Looks like a fairly serious attempt to reframe economics within the constraints of sustainability, occasioned by the evident looming of crises ranging from resource exhaustion to climate change.
Gerard Dumenil/Dominique Levy: The Crisis of Neoliberalism (2011, Harvard University Press): The collapse as a crisis of ideology on top of deep-seated fissures. Rx includes: "limits on free trade and the free international movement of capital; policies aimed at improving education, research, and infrastructure; reindustrialization; and the taxation of higher incomes."
Howard Friel: The Lomborg Deception: Setting the Record Straight About Global Warming (2010, Yale University Press): One thing that makes me doubt Bjorn Lomberg's Skeptical Environmentalist shtick is how readily our good friends at Koch Industries reprint his arguments, especially against global warming. This may seem specialized, but Lomborg himself is a cottage industry.
David N Gibbs: First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (paperback, 2009, Vanderbilt University Press): Another critical book on the US intervention in Yugoslavia, and evidently one of the best. A lot of strange things about those wars, not to mention apologists and advocates like Samantha Powers.
James Gleick: The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (2011, Pantheon): The journalist who hipped everyone to chaos theory digs up something less novel: information theory -- or maybe it's just that I've been reading about Claude Shannon, Alan Turing, Norbert Wiener, and John Von Neumann for decades now. I was much impressed with Gleick's Chaos and his Feynman biography Genius, but thought he wrote Faster a bit too fast. He should have come up with more than he did there.
Jeff Goodell: How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth's Climate (2010, Houghton Mifflin): Journalist, wrote Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future (2007), looks into various schemes to solve global warming by investing new ways to perturb the atmosphere even more.
Philip Hasheider: The Complete Book of Butchering, Smoking, Curing, and Sausage Making: How to Harvest Your Livestock & Wild Game (paperback, 2010, Voyageur Press): Looks essential for anyone willing to contemplate just where your meat comes from, even if you're not quite ready to take the next step and do it yourself.
Jonathan Haslam: Russia's Cold War: From the October Revolution to the Fall of the Wall (2011, Yale University Press): We could use a systematic history of the Cold War from Soviet viewpoints. Not sure if this is it. One thing that makes me uncomfortable is a previous title: The Nixon Administration and the Death of Allende's Chile: A Case of Assisted Suicide. Suicide?
Richard Heinberg/Daniel Lerch, eds: Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century's Sustainability Crises (paperback, 2010, University of California Press): A couple dozen essays on peak oil, other resource crises, climate change (Bill McKibben), population ("the multiplier"), alternative energy and sustainability schemes. No single answer; just lots of issues that require sober analysis and cooperative efforts.
Mark Hertsgaard: Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth (2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Global warming horror story, featuring author's daughter who can reasonably expect to live long enough to see as much as author prognosticates. James Hansen did something similar, calling his latest Storms of My Grandchildren.
Shir Hever: The Political Economy of Israel's Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation (paperback, 2010, Pluto Press): The subtitle is key. Most colonial establishments sought to exploit cheap native labor, and Israel has done more of that than is commonly acknowledge. But the early focus on "Hebrew Labor" aimed at displacing native Palestinians, and Israel has repeatedly worked to isolate and suppress the Palestinian economy.
Frederic Jameson: Valences of the Dialectic (2009; paperback, Verso, 2010): One of the first American critics to set himself up as an authority on critical Marxist thinkers -- his 1972 book Marxism and Form lists Adorno, Benjamin, Marcuse, Bloch, Lukacs, and Sartre on the cover -- and he's had a long run ever since. Big book (640 pp) on dialectic theories, Hegel and Sartre in particular, with an attempt to establish their continued relevance.
Diana Johnstone: Fools' Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Illusions (paperback, 2003, Monthly Review Press): I've never managed to get a good grip on what the US did in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, other than to notice that the cult of "Humanitarian Intervention" smelled funny. This is one book I've seen commonly referenced by critics, all the more timely as the Humanitarians are once again on the march.
Toby Craig Jones: Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia (2010, Harvard University Press): It's certainly obvious that the economic parameters of Saudi Arabia are determined by oil and water: oil pays for the economy, but lack of water limits how much of that wealth can be reinvested in the country. Other books tend to focuse on religion -- something we used to call superstructure.
Stanley Kurtz: Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism (2010, Treshold Editions): The hits keep on coming, this exceptionally lame one by a National Review hack (also Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center). More imaginative is David Freddoso's latest, Gangster Government: Barack Obama and the New Washington Thugocracy (2011, Regnery); hallucinatory even is Jack Cashill's Deconstructing Obama: The Life, Loves, and Letters of America's First Postmodern President (2011, Threshold), which reveals that Obama's books were actually written by "terrorist emeritus Bill Ayers." Also out soon is Jerome R. Corsi Ph.D.: Where's the Birth Certificate: The Case That Barack Obama Is Not Eligible to Be President (2011, WND). I should set up a separate file for all this shit -- all four authors here are serial offenders.
Pauline Maier: Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 (2010, Simon & Schuster): Despite veneration of the Founding Fathers, I suspect that most Tea Partiers, had they known anything about the subject, would have sided with the anti-federalists against ratifying the U.S. Constitution. Don't know whether that had any effect on Maier -- one of the leading historians of the period -- or whether she was just interested in the selling and resistance to such a fundamental political change, as opposed to the much better known story of how the Constitution was framed.
Manning Marable: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (2011, Viking): Major new biography, reportedly ten years in the works. Marable, who died a few days before this book was released, has over a dozen books on African-American history and politics, most recently Beyond Boundaries: The Manning Marable Reader (2010; paperback, 2011, Paradigm), going back through Black Liberation in Conservative America (paperback, 1999, South End) to W.E.B. DuBois: Black Radical Democrat (paperback, 1986, Twayne).
Sari Nusseibeh: What Is a Palestinian State Worth? (2011, Harvard University Press): Eminent Palestinian, president of Al-Quds University, previously wrote his autobiography Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life, tries to look beyond two-state jargon to basic human rights.
Annie Proulx: Bird Cloud (2011, Simon & Schuster): Memoir by the novelist, about her adopted chunk of Wyoming. She wrote one of fewer than five works of fiction I read during the last decade -- the short story collection Close Range (the one with "Brokeback Mountain"), which I picked up because I found a section on cattle ranching as knowledgeable as the best nonfiction (and superbly written as well). Picked this up in the Borders closeout, then forgot to include it in my post.
Mazin B Qumsiyeh: Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment (paperback, 2011, Pluto Press): A hard-working American activist. Comes at a time when I see little in the way of empowerment or hope.
Olivier Roy: Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways (2010, Columbia University Press): French expert on Islam (and Islamism) generalizes about religion in an age of holy wars.
Bernie Sanders: The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Runs 288 pages, pretty long for a speech; was given after Obama struck his deal with the devil to extend the Bush tax cuts for the ultra-rich.
Stephen Singular: The Wichita Divide: Revisiting the Murder of Dr. George Tiller (2011, St Martin's Press): Previously wrote books on the murder of radio talk jock Alan Berg, on Wichita's "BTK" serial killer, on Mormon polygamist Warren Jeffs, and on the Jon Benet Ramsey case. Looks beyond Scott Roeder to the culture warriors moving him along.
David Sirota: Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now: Our Culture, Out Politics, Our Everything (2011, Ballantine): The 1980s, that means Ronald Reagan, a new morning for conservatism; still, there's something unrequited about the whole experience. By the late 1960s, even the early 1970s, liberalism seemed to have been fulfilled, with little more to do, it actually became fat and lazy. But conservatives are insatiable -- they've thrown us into wars, wrecked the economy, resurrected fear and loathing, yet they're never satisfied, so even today we have to spend all our efforts keeping them at bay. I guess that's what Sirota means, but all I see at Amazon is a list of "Five '80s Flicks That Explain How the '80s Still Define Our World": Ghostbusters (1984), Die Hard (1988), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Rocky III (1982), and The Big Chill (1983). What does all that mean? (BTW, the most popular films of the 1980s were E.T. and the first two Stars Wars, with Raiders of the Lost Ark and two more Indiana Jones flicks filling up most of the top ten.)
David Swanson: War Is a Lie (paperback, 2010, David Swanson): Looks like a catalog of lies told to justify, to rationalize, to excuse war. While each war has its own historical context, the arguments used to promote and protract those ware are pretty much always the same, so it's recognize them, recognize the falsehoods they contain, and be prepared to counter them. Swanson previously wrote Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union (paperback, 2009, Seven Stories Press).
Lance Taylor: Maynard's Revenge: The Collapse of Free Market Macroeconomics (2011, Harvard University Press): For a brief moment during the great crash of 2008 it seemed likely that economists would rediscover John Maynard Keynes. Taylor wrote this book in that moment, a healthy dose of I-told-you-so. Most likely all true too, but a little late: more timely would be a book on the recovery of stupidity once the crisis started to pass.
Todd Tucker: Atomic America: How a Deadly Explosion and a Feared Admiral Changed the Course of Nuclear History (2009; Free Press; paperback, 2010, Bison Books): The explosion was in Idaho in 1961, when a small research reactor melted down, raising the question of how safe and sane nuclear power is. The admiral was Hyman Rickover, wo pushed for atomic-power aircraft carriers and submarines, in turn working to cover up the risks.
Siva Vaidhyanathan: The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) (2011, University of California Press): Author has written a couple of good books on internet-era social impacts -- Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity and The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and Control is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System -- so I take his worrying more seriously than the sour grapes in Ken Auletta's Googled: The End of the World as We Know It. Still, I don't yet know what he's getting at.
Bing West: The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan (2011, Random House): Ex-Marine, veteran of Reagan's Defense Dept., dependable supporter of America's wars as recently as his 2008 pro-surge book on Iraq (The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq), doesn't seem to like what the US is doing in Afghanistan, casting doubts on the sacred COIN theology. Hmm.
Garry Wills: Outside Looking In: Adventures of an Observer (2010, Viking): A memoir of sorts, by a journalist who started out in William Buckley's conservative orbit and gradually turned into a fierce critic of America's abuse of power, from Vietnam to Bush and not neglecting the embarrassing Bill Clinton. Also wrote much about American history, and about religion. Not sure what all we'll find here, but should be interesting.
Richard Wolffe: Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House (2010, Crown): Author of Renegade: The Making of a President (2009), boasts "unrivaled access to the West Wing," timed his sequel to follow Obama's mid-term election fiasco. Not sure if the title signals anything other than author's desire to keep that "unrivaled access" going for another book.
Tim Wu: The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (2010, Knopf): A history of telecommunications (and analogous technological businesses) from isolated innovation to monopoly to dissolution, as if that represents some sort of law of development. Describes his prime example fairly well, but hard to say how ironclad the rule is.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Kai Bird: Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978 (2010; paperback, 2011, Simon & Schuster): Author's father was a US diplomat in Jerusalem, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and author studied in Lebanon. Starts as a memoir, but provides useful history especially on the 1956 and 1967 wars, plus a rather critical view of King Hussein. [link]
James Bradley: The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War (2009; paperback, 2010, Little Brown): Teddy Roosevelt's machinations to parlay America's new imperial presence in the East Pacific into influence in Asia, a first step toward America's wars in Asia. [link]
Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer -- and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (2010; paperback, 2011, Simon & Schuster): Not just the middle class, which still gets lip service because they have the most to lose. Important study of politically-induced inequality: what happened if not necessarily why.
Simon Johnson/James Kwak: 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown (2010, Pantheon; paperback, 2011, Vintage): One of the main books on the financial crisis, focusing on the bankers caused it and the political clout that let them off the hook. [link]
Michael Lewis: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (2010; paperback, 2011, WW Norton): Breezy book on the great financial meltdown, told by tracking the stories of a few traders who bet against the housing bubble and made a killing. [link]
Peter Maass: Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil (2009, Knopf; paperback, 2010, Vintage): Far-reaching tour of the dirty world of the oil industry. Paperback has a dirtier cover.
Bill McKibben: Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (2010; paperback, 2011, St Martin's Press): Another global warming alert, more harrowing than ever, packaged with proposals for changing the economy, living more sustainably, anything but toughing it out. [link]
Gary Wills: Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin Books): Give a president the power to blow up the world and he starts thinking executive power really means something; pretty much everyone starts thinking that, and soon enough you don't have much of a democracy any more. Sound familiar? [link]
Friday, April 15. 2011
I had a friend once who claimed to have actually read every book on his shelves. Actually, that was a slight exaggeration: he lamented that he had fallen behind recently. His boast/lament reflected a trope that I had seen in movies or TV (don't recall which or where): a workingman enters a house, sees a wall-sized bookshelf, and says something like, "wow, you've read all those books?" It's a giveaway that the workingman had no intellectual airs, because anyone intellectual enough to collect all those books would have long since disavowed even plans to read them all. (A false lead, as I recall.) Anyhow, my friend had dropped out of college to organize the masses, so it mattered to him that he not have any more books than he had read (or would soon).
Even then, I had vast numbers of books that I would undoubtedly never read. Some I picked at on occasion. Many just wound up on the shelves, unclear even what idea had inspired their purchase. When I went to college in St. Louis, at least a thousand books stayed in the attic back in Wichita. When I moved to New York, more had to be left behind. In the last ten years I've been reading more, and I've finally gotten to where I buy fewer books that I'm unlikely to ever get to. On the other hand, I very likely had a minor lapse last week, as the local Borders closeout dropped prices to the point where microeconomics got the better of judgment.
In other words, I bought things that I wouldn't have paid more for, on the theory that what I bought has some marginal likelihood of being useful -- consulted if not fully read, read eventually if not very soon. I thought it might make an interesting post to unpack and parade those purchase past you. Gives me a chance to articulate what (if anything) I was thinking. Here goes:
Diane Ackerman: A Natural History of the Senses (1990; paperback, 1995, Vintage Books): A natural science book with cultural overtones, organized around the five senses. I've picked this up and thumbed through it for ages now. It's the sort of book I used to read a lot before 2001 kicked me into a more political orbit.
J.D. Biersdorfer/David Pogue: iPod: The Missing Manual (9th edition, paperback, 2011, O'Reilly): OK, this is probably stupid, but I have pretty much decided I should get an MP3 player, everyone I know recommends Apple (a company I've long despised -- I was, before all, an Apple II owner, and I've had a long run of avoiding ever making that mistake again), and I'm really confused about different models, features, how they work, what they're good for, etc. List price this would be a ridiculous purchase, but it wound up costing far less than the sales tax on the machine.
Bryan Burrough: The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes (2009; paperback, 2010, Penguin Books): The Big Four: Roy Cullen, H.L. Hunt, Clint Murchison, Sid Richardson. Made their money through politics more than geology, and never forgot that. Worst influence America ever had was oil money in politics.
Ha-Joon Chang: 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism (2011, Bloomsbury Press): Development economist, student of Joseph Stiglitz, doesn't buy the neoliberal prescription -- wrote two books about that, Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective and Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. I've read the latter. Not a Marxist anti-capitalist; just one who's grown tired of seeing his and similar nations kicked around.
Morris Dickstein: Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression (2009; paperback, 2010, Norton): Don't know how low-brow it goes, but even if this covers the elite arts and a bit more this well-regarded history could be useful -- the culture in question is the one before the one I grew up in, the one my parents grew up in (even if they were intentionally indifferent to it). I've been increasingly interested in the 1930s, mostly politics and the economy, but this fits in too.
Will Friedwald: A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers (2010, Pantheon): Big reference book, 811 pages, double columns, looks like a couple pages or more on hundreds of singers (e.g., six on Carmen McRae). Friedwald has been carving out this turf as his own for quite a while now. I don't much care for his taste or his writing, but for a reference book this is probably as expert as Scott Yanow on trumpet players or swing.
Daniel Walker Howe: What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (2007; paperback, 2009, Oxford University Press): Part of the multi-volume Oxford History of America series. I recently picked up David M. Kennedy's Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 thinking that era is pivotal for understanding postwar America (not that we've ever actually managed to get over the thrill of WWII), but it occurs to me that every book in the series is likely to be valuable, and the 1815-1848 period is one that I know relatively little about.
Cicily Janus: The New Face of Jazz: An Intimate Look at Today's Living Legends and the Artists of Tomorrow (paperback, 2010, Billboard Books): About 200 short biographies, some of folks I've never heard of, most I know a little bit; missing are some big names (the only Marsalis is Delfeayo, which gives you an idea of how narrowly tuned the selection is), practically everyone in free jazz and/or Europe. I think this will prove more frustrating than not, but I do have reasons for piling up reference books like this.
Judith Jones: The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food (2007; paperback, 2008, Anchor): Also a publishing memoir, from the editor best known for Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, although that merely started off a long list of superb cookbooks -- Irene Kuo's The Key to Chinese Cooking is the most intensely used in my kitchen, with Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking in the running. (I belatedly purchased the first Child volume, but have yet to make anything out of it. I own several Claudia Rodens, but have only used The Book of Jewish Food much.) Another meta book, plus it has recipes.
Robin D.G. Kelley: Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (2009; paperback, 2010, Free Press): More about Monk than I want to know, but he is a pivotal character in the history of modern jazz, and I should know more than I do.
Sandra Newman/Howard Mittlemark: Read This Next: 500 of the Best Books You'll Ever Read (paperback, 2010, Harper): Much of what I learned, especially early on, came from reading critics and reviewers, even anthologizers -- there is no more cost-effective way to pick up the semblance of an education. I have a few other books like this (and, of course, dozens and dozens of music guides), so it seemed very likely that this would be worth the pittance it cost. (Looking at it again, I'm not so sure.)
David Remnick: The Bridge: The Life and Times of Barack Obama (2010; paperback, 2011, Vintage): Seems inevitable that sooner or later I'll have to wade through an Obama biography. This seems like the leading candidate, although I'm already skeptical about Remnick's notion that Obama is picking up where the civil rights movement left off.
Nir Rosen: Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World (2010, Nation Books): Whereas the first round of Iraq War books were very critical of the US in Iraq, access to information was increasingly constrained from 2004 on, so when books finally came out on the Surge they were invariably the work of favored hawks. Rosen is the exception, the only journalist able to look at the war from multiple angles, and as Afghanistan loomed ever larger he moved around there too.
Alex Ross: Listen to This (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): This was a stretch. Classical music critic at The New Yorker -- long-time subscriber, but I can't say as I recall him much there, probably my lifelong aversion to classical music. Would have preferred a paperback of his previous The Rest Is Noise, but there were none, and as I started poking around here, I was impressed by the writing and not turned off by the argument. Some point I may get around to redressing my hatred of classical music (a term he hates, by the way); in any case it's less painful to read about than to listen to, and there's some other music tucked into the cracks here. A long shot.
Tony Russell: Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost (2007; paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): Big format, two columns, some pictures, short bios of country stars from Eck Robertson to Rose Maddox, some unknown to me, most little known to anyone. Russell wrote Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942, which I've had on my Amazon wish list for ages -- the problem being that it costs $120; also co-wrote The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings, which I have but have yet to do much with.
Bought a couple CDs and three DVD packages, but they're hardly worth mentioning here.
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.