Sunday, May 1, 2022


Book Roundup

These are basically leftovers from my April 3 Book Roundup. That one was the first in nearly a year (since April 18, 2021), so I made an effort to pick out the most important books, and I was able to pad the usual 40 entries out with a lot of related books. I even had, from my own reading, seven book cover pics I could share. On the other hand, I haven't read any of the books below. Some interest me. Some repulse me. I think it's worth knowing that the others exist.


Randall Balmer: Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right (2021, Eerdmans): Short (141 pp), but makes a simple point: that the political engagement of right-wing evangelicals was a response not to Roe v. Wade (abortion), but to Green v. Connally, a ruling that threatened the tax-exempt status of racially discriminatory institutions (such as Bob Jones University, in 1976). Nor is this the first time someone has looked beneath ostensible arguments on the right to find racism underneath.

Glenn Beck/Justin Haskins: The Great Reset: Joe Biden and the Rise of Twenty-First-Century Fascism (2022, Forefront Books). Ridiculous paranoia from the TV/radio mogul, aided by Justin Haskins, identified as director of the Stopping Socialism Center at The Heartland Institute. Three chapters lay out the rationale for the "fascist" takeover of America: the pandemic, climate change, and modern monetary theory. The amusing twist is that the forces of fascism aren't the unwashed masses, but a conspiracy of "woke" globalized corporations and their coordinating groups like the World Economic Forum. Rest assured that Beck has a plan for "Derailing the Great Reset." I haven't read that far, but it probably involves buying a lot of T-shirts and mugs.

Gal Beckerman: The Quiet Before: On the Unexpected Origins of Radical Ideas (2022, Crown): Argues that "radical ideas" -- could be novel ideas or innovations, but author is explicitly thinking about social and political movements -- are best (or only) developed in "quiet, closed networks that allow a small group to incubate their ideas before broadcasting them widely." That makes for a backhanded critique of social media, where everything is exposed and damned little of it matters.

Leslie MM Blume: Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World (2020; paperback, 2021, Simon & Schuster): The journalist was John Hersey, who managed to visit Hiroshima before the US Army locked it down, and famously reported on it in The New Yorker, the essay that became the book Hiroshima. Hersey went on to become a bestselling novelist, but he wrote another classic piece of quick journalism, The Algiers Motel Incident, in 1967 on the Detroit Riot.

Ray Dalio: The Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail (2021, Simon & Schuster): Founder and cochairman of Bridgewater Associates ("the largest and best performing hedge fund in the world"), offers a sweeping history of everything, not so much to enlighten, especially not critique, but more as a betting guide for the excessively rich. Blurb list includes: Bill Gates, Henry Paulson, Mark Cuban, Jamie Dimon, as well as useful idiots like Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, and Henry Kissinger. Makes you wonder who he's conning now, to what purpose.

David M Drucker: In Trump's Shadow: The Battle for 2024 and the Future of the GOP (2021, Twelve): Instantly disposable fodder for political junkies only, trying to sort out what options Republicans have for a future when they're still stuck in their own past. Some other books assaying the Republican future:

  • Chris Christie: Republican Rescue: Saving the Party From Truth Deniers, Conspiracy Theorists, and the Dangerous Policies of Joe Biden (2021, Threshold Editions).
  • Matthew Continetti: The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism (2022, Basic Books): AEI hack, a more ambitious intellectual history, but pitched over Trump.
  • Geoff Duncan: GOP 2.0: How the 2020 Election Can Lead to a Better Way Forward for America's Conservative Party (2021, Forefront Books).
  • Newt Gingrich: Beyond Biden: Rebuilding the America We Love (2021, Center Street).
  • Samuel L Popkin: Crackup: The Republican Implosion and the Future of Presidential Politics (2021, Oxford University Press).

Caroline Elkins: Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire (2022, Knopf): Big book (896 pp), but lots of blood to cover. Even before there was a British Empire, England was littered with kings and aristocrats that met violent ends, struggles between clans, and efforts by the crown to put down popular revolts. The British Empire was one long pageant of violence, against the natives they marauded and/or enslaved, against rival empires, even against their own settlers. From before the 1763 war with France through the 1964 independence of Kenya, it's unlikely there was a single year when the British weren't fighting someone somewhere. So this book seems about right. Indeed, it seems like the logical progression for a writers who started out with Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya. More on British history:

  • Padraic X Scanlan: Slave Empire: How Slavery Built Modern Britain (2022, Robinson): Probably important enough to merit its own entry, but a prime example of an empire based on violence, which is Elkins' theme. Recent American scholarship has pointed out how profits from slave labor fueled industrialization. The same is likely true here, but also noted is how antislavery further expanded the British Empire.
  • Sathnam Sanghera: Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain (paperback, 2021, Viking): The British Empire is defunct, but its selective memory still imbues political and cultural thought, in ways few are conscious of, but a British-born Punjabi journalist seems to have some insight into that.

Steve Forbes/Nathan Lewis/Elizabeth Ames: Inflation: What It Is, Why It's Bad, and How to Fix It (2022, Encounter Books): File this short (168 pp) under "opposition research": a compendium of what rich Republicans are saying whenever wage workers start to get a leg up. Forbes inherited a business media empire before running for president, Lewis is a hardcore gold bug, and Ames probably wrote the book to order. One suspects the hyperbole is going to be off the charts when they start talking about "1970s's-style 'Great Inflation'" (a line coined by Robert Samuelson and rarely used by anyone else), but then they disclose that "some observers even fear a descent into the kind of Weimar-style hyperinflation that has torn apart so many nations." I'm not saying that inflation is good: it hurts some people and helps others (e.g., it allows people to pay off debts with inflated dollars, which reduces the return to the lenders. Since the former tend to be poorer than the latter, the rich scream bloody murder every time it ticks up, and plot to exact their revenge on everyone else.

Amy Fried/Douglas B Harris: At War With Government: How Conservatives Weaponized Distrust From Goldwater to Trump (2021, Columbia University Press): It's hard to live if you can't trust the people around you to behave predictably, to follow laws and rules, and show you some respect and maybe even kindness. For better or worse, most of us grew up learning to trust government to act in the public interest, but conservative Republicans have repeatedly attacked the very foundations of public trust, and it turns out much harder to restore trust than to degrade it. This matters because many of the problems we face can only be addressed as public works.

Matthew Gabriele/David M Perry: The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe (2021, Harper): Title implies a radical departure from the traditional characterization of Europe's "Dark Ages" -- one that has partly fallen out of favor as historians have tried to blur the traditional demarcation between Medieval and Renaissance, but still, this book starts around 430 CE, with the Roman Empire crumbling but not quite fallen, and they allow the Middle Ages to end around 1321. Some more recent books on medieval European history:

  • Dan Jones: Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages (2021, Viking): British historian (with a TV sideline), has written quite a bit on the Middle Ages, including: Summer of Blood: The Peasants' Revolt of 1381 (2009); The Plantagenets: The Kings Who Made England (2012); The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors (2014); Magna Carta: The Making and Legacy of the Great Charter (2014); The Templars: The Rise and the Spectacular Fall of God's Holy Warriors (2017); Crusaders: An Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Land (2019).
  • Marc Morris: The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England (2021, Hutchinson): British historian, books include: A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain (2008); The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England (2012); King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta (2015); William I: England's Conqueror (2016).
  • Neil Price: Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings (2020, Basic Books).
  • Peter H Wilson: Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire (2020, Belknap Press): 1008 pp.
  • Patrick Wyman: The Verge: Reformation, Renaissance, and Forty Years That Shook the World, 1490-1530 (2021, Twelve).

David Gelles: The Man Who Broke Capitalism: How Jack Welch Gutted the Heartland and Crushed the Soul of Corporate America -- and How to Undo His Legacy (2022, Simon & Schuster): During his tenure as CEO of General Electric, Welch was touted as a great business leader, an innovator even. But much of what he did was to bring back the lean-and-mean mentality of an earlier (pre-union) stage of capitalism, combined with cold analysis. I wouldn't say he "broke capitalism," but he did much to restore its bad name, and as such it's nice to see his name drug through the mud again.

Gary Gerstle: The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order: America and the World in the Free Market (2022, Oxford University Press): Big picture historian -- has previous books on American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century and Liberty and Coercion: The Paradox of American Government From the Founding to the Present -- tries to construct a "rise and fall" scenario for neoliberalism after a couple chapters on the New Deal and the managerial capitalism it produced (or allowed). It's not clear to me that neoliberalism has fallen, as the business interests that benefited from it are still very much in power, but its intellectual cachet for everyone else is in tatters.

Garrett M Graff: Watergate: A New History (2022, Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster): Big new book (832 pp) on a scandal which I suppose seems relevant again with the impeachment of Trump (twice), perhaps less so because it continues to shock than because we're starting to feel nostalgic for an era when a disgraced president resigned, in large part because his own party refused to follow lock step in the coverup. Other recent books on Nixon/Watergate:

  • Dwight Chapin: The President's Man: The Memoirs of Nixon's Trusted Aide (2022, William Morrow): Personal aide, then deputy assistant in Nixon White House. Doesn't seem to have done any jail time (as his boss, Bob Haldeman, did).
  • Michael Dobbs: King Richard: Nixon and Watergate: An American Tragedy (2021, Knopf).
  • Irwin F Gellman: Campaign of the Century: Kennedy, Nixon, and the Election of 1960 (2022, Yale University Press).
  • Shane O'Sullivan: Dirty Tricks: Nixon, Watergate, and the CIA (2018, Hot Books).
  • Geoff Shepard: The Nixon Conspiracy: Watergate and the Plot to Remove the President (2021, Bombardier Books). Deputy counsel on Nixon's Watergate defense team, still litigating. Also wrote: The Real Watergate Scandal: Collusion, Conspiracy, and the Plot That Brought Nixon Down (2015); even more paranoid is The Secret Plot to Make Ted Kennedy President: Inside the Real Watergate Conspiracy (2008), which identifies "a young lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee named Hillary Rodham" among the conspirators.

Karen J Greenberg: Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of American Democracy From the War on Terror to Donald Trump (2021, Princeton University Press): Edited Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib, wrote The Least Worst Place (2009) on the Guantanamo gulag, summed up her worries on lawlessness in Rogue Justice (2016), so the main thing that this also incorporates is the contempt for democracy showed repeatedly by Trump and his administration.

Linda Greenhouse: Justice on the Brink: The Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Rise of Amy Coney Barrett, and Twelve Months That Transformed the Supreme Court (2021, Random House): Sure, there are a lot of books about the hypothetical demise of American democracy, but this is a case study of what seems very likely be a significant turning point. With the Supreme Court effectively packed by Republican presidents -- in two critical cases elected by the Electoral College after losing the popular vote -- and a Senate where power is seriously skewed, conservative strategists are increasingly turning toward the courts to dictate policies that lack popular support and to disrupt ones that are popular. Related:

  • Jackie Calmes: Dissent: The Radicalization of the Republican Party and Its Capture of the Court (2021, Twelve).

Jane Harman: Insanity Defense: Why Our Failure to Confront Hard National Security Problems Makes Us Less Safe (2021, St Martin's Press): Former US Representative (D-CA), ranking member of House Intelligence Commitee, supported Bush's Iraq war, "served on advisory boards for the CIA, Director of National Intelligence, and the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and State."

Kyle Harper: Plagues Upon the Earth: Disease and the Course of Human History (2021, Princeton University Press): "A sweeping germ's eye view of history from human origins to global pandemics." Big subject, even for 704 pp., with the development of agriculture, the increasing population density of cities, and the migration of people and their animals (and their germs) to new territories playing major roles.

Katja Hoyer: Blood and Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German Empire, 1871-1918 (2021, Pegasus): Surprisingly short (272 pp) for a story that comprises so many wars (albeit brief ones until the big loss of 1914-18), a madcap stab at colonial empire building in Africa and the Pacific, and the legal and bureaucratic innovations of perhaps the most famous political figure of the 19th century, Otto von Bismarck.

Ian Ona Johnson: Faustian Bargain: The Soviet-German Partnership and the Origins of the Second World War (2021, Oxford University Press): My first thought was that this was about the 1939 "pact" between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union which defined a partition of Poland, allowing Germany to grab most of Poland without risking a deeper war with Russia (which got German permission to do some grabbing itself, which turned out badly for Stalin both coming and going). But the book focuses more on an earlier "bargain" between Imperial Germany and the Bolsheviks, which led to the Russian Revolution, and subsequent armistice which ceded much Russian territory to Germany, as well as ending the two-front war Germany was fighting. Evidently, German-Soviet cooperation didn't end there, although I'm a little sketchy on the details.

Jonathan M Katz: Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America's Empire (2021, St Martin's Press): Butler was "the most celebrated warfighter of his time" -- from the Spanish War of 1898, the Philippines, the "gunboat diplomacy" occupations of Nicaragua and Haiti, up to the eve of WWII -- but he's better known for book he wrote about his experiences, called War Is a Racket.

Chuck Klosterman: The Nineties: A Book (2022, Penguin Press): Born in 1972, so I imagine he relates to the 1990s rather like I did to the 1970s, when everything seemed new and full of opportunity. The two decades are similar (yet distinct from earlier and later decades) in a couple respects: they offered relatively liberal interludes between wars (Vietnam into the 1970s, the Cold War into the 1990s) and later reaction/remilitarization (Reagan in the 1980s, Bush in the 2000s). While I was young enough to enjoy parts of the 1990s, it rather seems like a wasted decade now, and one I feel no nostalgia for. (Seth Myers, does a bit I find incongruous called "In My Time," where he waxes nostalgic for artifacts of his youth, which turn out to be from the 1990s. He was born in 1973.) Klosterman wrote his first book on glam metal (which suggests that at root he's a fellow rock critic; even if we don't like the same shit, it's a style thang), and followed that up with a couple novels and several essay collections, so this may be his bed for a magnum opus. Or it may just be a scrapbook, a bunch of things he lived through and thought were neat at the time. Some other Klosterman books:

  • Chuck Klosterman: Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota (2001; paperback, 2002, Scribner).
  • Chuck Klosterman: Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto (2003; paperback, 2004, Scribner).
  • Chuck Klosterman: Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story (2005; paperback, 2006, Scribner).
  • Chuck Klosterman: IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas (2006; paperback, 2007, Scribner).
  • Chuck Klosterman: Eating the Dinosaur (2009; paperback, 2010, Scribner): "Klosterman's Lester Bangs-lite approach is frequently engaging."
  • Chuck Klosterman: I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling With Villains (Real and Imagined) (2013; paperback, 2014, Scribner): Asks questions like "who is more worthy of our vitriol -- Bill Clinton or Don Henley?" Wrote a column for the New York Times called "The Ethicist."
  • Chuck Klosterman: But What If We're Wrong? Thinking About the Present as if It Were the Past (2016; paperback, 2017, Penguin Books).
  • Chuck Klosterman: X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century (2017; paperback, 2018, Penguin Books).
  • Chuck Klosterman: Raised in Captivity: Fictional Nonfiction (2019; paperback, 2020, Penguin Books)

Elizabeth Kolbert: Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future (2021, Crown): New Yorker writer, wrote Field Notes From a Catastrophe (about climate change) and The Sixth Extinction (about how humans, not just through climate change, have decimated the biosphere). When I was young, the last 10,000 years of geological history was called the Recent, but the more common terms these days is the Anthropocene, where nature reflects the many changes wrought by human beings. Three essays: "Down the River," "Into the Wild," "Up in the Air."

Robert Kuttner: Going Big: FDR's Legacy, Biden's New Deal, and the Struggle to Save Democracy (2022, New Press). Short (192 pp), meant to flatter Biden, to lift him to the stature needs demand, or at least to suggest the possibility. Kuttner has written a number of big books on politics and the economy -- the one I was most impressed with was The Squandering of America: How the Failure of Our Politics Undermines Our Prosperity (2007) -- but this is more reminiscent of his quickie, Obama's Challenge: America's Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency. Stripped of hope, today we're left with his 7th chapter, "Obama's Missed Moment." That leaves "America's Last Chance" as chapter 8. Here's hoping that optimism is contagious.

Christopher Leonard: The Lords of Easy Money: How the Federal Reserve Broke the American Economy (2022, Simon & Schuster): Business reporter, previously wrote The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business (2014), and Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America (2019). His critique of the Fed echoes points more commonly aired on the right (Republicans have always railed against quantitative easing), but a core problem with depending on the Fed to regulate the economy is that their only real tool to simulate the economy is their ability to push money out to banks, who are then more likely to bid up assets than to make productive investments. Conversely, the Fed's only tool for fighting inflation is to raise interest rates (i.e., to inflate the cost of borrowing), in the hope that the resulting constriction will put people out of work, depress consumer demand, and eventually affect prices. Still, I've always assumed that a growing economy is better than a strangled one (as was the case 1979-82), so I figured quantitative easing must have been a good thing. But unwinding it may pose new problems. Also on the Fed:

  • Karen Petrou: Engine of Inequality: The Fed and the Future of Wealth in America (2021, Wiley).
  • Nick Timiraos: Trillion Dollar Triage: How Jay Powell and the Fed Battled a President and a Pandemic -- and Prevented Economic Disaster (2022, Little Brown): Wall Street Journal reporter writes another chapter on how the Fed saved capitalism. Blurb writers include David Wessell (author of a similar book lionizing Ben Bernanke), Alan Blinder (former Fed vice-chair), Jacob Lew (former Secretary of the Treasury), and Austan Goolsbee (former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers).

Mark R Levin: American Marxism (2021, Threshold Editions): Fox News star, has a bunch of bestselling, crowd-pleasing books. I'd be interested in a book on this subject, but not from this clown. Tell me more about Paul Sweezy, Eugene Genovese, Paul Piccone. But these titles are just exercises in confusion: "Hate America, Inc."; "Racism, Genderism, and Marxism"; "'Climate Change' Fanaticism."

Jonathan Levy: Ages of American Capitalism: A History of the United States (2021, Random House): Big (944 pp) single-volume history of America, its division into "ages" of: commerce (1660-1860), capital (1860-1932), control (1932-80), and chaos (1980-). The terms are somewhat arbitrary -- "control" and "chaos" refers to the role of the state in the economy, with increasing regulation stailizing a broader affluence, and decreasing regulation fracturing into greater inequality. "Commerce" and "capital" are covers for mercantilism and industrialization, with the shift from bonded- to wage-slavery, with capital accumulating as machines scaled up surplus value. But the periods precisely line up with my political era scheme, aside from combining the Jefferson-to-Buchanan era with its mostly colonial prehistory, because Jefferson's "second revolution" did little to alter the economy -- other than opening up the western frontier for expansion, a distinctive aspect of American capitalism, but not a new direction (after all, gobbling up native land was central from the start). One question the periodization raises is whether the political shifts were consequences of economic changes, or vice versa.

Eugene Linden: Fire and Flood: A People's History of Climate Change, From 1979 to the Present (2022, Penguin Press): This covers a fairly short period of time (not much more than 40 years), yet people today are more likely to be surprised by how much was known that far back, given how little we tried to do about it. Sections run decade by decade, examining each on its own scale: the reality of climate change; the scientific consensus about it; public opinion and political will; and business and finance. Linden previously wrote:

  • Eugene Linden: Affluence and Discontent: The Anatomy of Consumer Societies (1979, Viking).
  • Eugene Linden: The Future in Plain Sight: Nine Clues to the Coming Instability (1998; paperback, 2019, Simon & Schuster): First part examines nine clues in ten chapters, including one on infectious disease. Second part are "Scenes From 2050," including "Kansas: Trouble on the Farm."
  • Eugene Linden: The Parrot's Lament and Other True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity (1999, Dutton; paperback, 2000, Plume).
  • Eugene Linden: The Octopus and the Orangutan: More True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity (2002, Dutton; paperback, 2003, Plume).
  • Eugene Linden: The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather, and the Destruction of Civilizations (2006; paperback, 2007, Simon & Schuster).

Nesrine Malik: We Need New Stories: The Myths That Subvert Freedom (2021, WW Norton): Chapter titles enumerate six myths: the Reliable Narrator, a Political Correctness Crisis, the Free Speech Crisis, Harmful Identify Politics, National Exceptionalism, Gender Equality. These are myths that have taken up residence in the minds of the right, filling them with fear and loathing.

Alfred W McCoy: To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change (2021, Haymarket Books): Longtime critic of America's empire, with pathbreaking coverage of The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia and a major book on the Philippines (Policing America's Empire), among much more. Goes deep into history here, starting around 1300 and looking forward to 2300 (two chapters after "Pax Americana" are on China and climate change). For someone supposedly critical of American power, he seems oddly stuck in the notion that someone has to order the world.

Heather McGhee: The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together (2021, One World): An "expert in economic and social policy," "former president of the inequality-focused think tank Demos," "now chairs the board of Color of Change, the nation's largest online racial justice organization." The obvious subject here is to try to quantify the social and economic costs of racism, including "for white people, too." That seems intuitively obvious, but clearly some people need it spelled out. One step is to explain "that life can be more than a zero-sum game." I wonder whether she goes further and explains that racism is a negative-sum game: one where one person's losses don't accrue to any other person; they're just wasted.

Sean McMeekin: Stalin's War: A New History of World War II (2021, Basic Books): Long (864 pp.), claims "Stalin -- not Hitler -- was the animating force of World War II." Which is totally wrong, as he seems to be reconstructing through Cold War prejudices. He even goes so far as to credit Stalin with nudging Japan into bombing Pearl Harbor, "unleashing a devastating war of attrition between Japan and the 'Anglo-Saxon' capitalist powers he viewed as his ultimate adversary." The result is one of the most distorted and deranged readings of history since, well, McMeekin's own The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (2015).

J David McSwane: Pandemic, Inc.: Chasing the Capitalists and Thieves Who Got Rich While We Got Sick (2022, Atria/One Signal): ProPublica writer, follows the money (over $10 billion). "I have resisted the notion that capitalism itself is to blame for all of this." But isn't capitalism the system that ensures that whatever customers (in this case the government) are willing to spend will be sucked up by one firm or another, fraudulent or not? Good regulation, including transparency, may make the market more efficient and/or effective, but the isn't the drive to corrupt deep in the genes? And isn't it obvious that a political system built on, by, and for private money, is going to be easy pickings?

Neel Mehta/Adi Agashe/Parth Detroja: Bubble or Revolution? The Present and Future of Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies (paperback, 2019, Paravane Ventures): My attitude toward cryptocurrency is fundamentally hostile: on the one hand, I'm annoyed that such a thing (or whatever it is?) even exists (or is even imagined to?); on the other, I suspect that everyone associated with it is up to no good. Of course, on a conceptual level, the same things can be said about money -- and one need hardly look beyond Wall Street to find copious examples it it being used for no good. But conventional money has proven to be very useful, even essential: without it, everything would have to be continuously revalued according to everything else, and little else would get done. But if conventional money works find, why invent crypto? One possibility is that it provides a means for criminals to transfer funds without alerting the government. Another is that it gives rich people something more they can speculate on. Maybe there are other uses, and other angles to be considered. Kim Stanley Robinson, in The Ministry for the Future, seems to regard blockchain as useful for limiting the ills of finance. I don't understand how he thinks that, and have little interest in figuring it out, but there's enough crap going around about cryptocurrency I figured I could collect a book list (looking for general books, and ignoring virtually everything that seems to be pitched toward investors).

  • Michael J Casey/Paul Vigna: The Truth Machine: The Blockchain and the Future of Everything (2018, St Martin's Press; paperback, 2019, Picador).
  • Ric Edelman: The Truth About Crypto: A Practical, Easy-to-Understand Guide to Bitcoin, Blockchain, NFTs, and Other Digital Assets (paperback, 2022, Simon & Schuster). [05-22]
  • Jacob Goldstein: Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing (2020, Hachette Books; paperback, 2021, Atlantic Books): Places crypto in the long history of "made-up things" we use as money.
  • Matthew Leising: Out of the Ether: The Amazing Story of Ethereum and the $55 Million Heist That Almost Destroyed It All (2020, Wiley).
  • Anthony Lewis: The Basics of Bitcoin and Blockchains: An Introduction to Cryptocurrencies and the Technology That Powers Them (2018, Mango).
  • Isaiah McCall: Gold 2.0: Opening the Vault to the Secrets of Cryptocurrency (paperback, 2022, independent).
  • Ben Mezrich: Bitcoin Billionaires: A True Story of Genius, Betrayal, and Redemption (2019, Flatiron Books): Author of a long list of "creative nonfiction," mostly celebrating people who became rich for dubious but clever exploits, such as Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions (2002), Ugly Americans: The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboys Who Raided the Asian Markets (2004), and Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs and the Greatest Wealth in History (2015).
  • Justin Rezvani: Unapologetic Freedom: How Bitcoin Defeats Censorship, Ensures Sovereighty, and Reclaims Our Liberty Forever (paperback, 2022, Justin Rezvani).
  • Laura Shin: The Cryptopians: Idealism, Greed, Lies, and the Making of the First Big Cryptocurrency Craze (2022, Public Affairs).
  • Knut Svanholm: Bitcoin: Everything Divided by 21 Million (paperback, 2022, Konsensus Network).

Ethan Michaeli: Twelve Tribes: Promise and Peril in the New Israel (2021, Custom House): I read another book some time ago (possibly Richard Ben Cramer's How Israel Lost: The Four Questions) that broke Israeli Jews down into six or so groups, suggesting that one reason they never seriously tried to defuse the conflict with Palestinians was that a common enemy was the only thing that held them together. Further division echoing the biblical twelve shouldn't be too hard. I often look at Amazon reviews to get a sense of a book. Here I found a rare case where a 1-star review made the book seem more interesting (usually they just reveal the reviewer to be a moron): "Stay away from this book unless you like reading about falafel and Israeli salad under the disguise of a pseudo existential interpretation of contemporary Israeli society." But isn't breaking bread together a good way to get to know others? And that reminds me that Cramer had a whole section on Israeli "white meat" (pork, from pigs who spend their lives on platforms so their feet never touch Israeli soil). More on Israel/Palestine:

  • Ian Black: Enemies and Neighbors: Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel 1917-2017 (2017, Atlantic Monthly Press).
  • Omri Boehm: Haifa Republic: A Democratic Future for Israel (paperback, 2021, New York Review Books): Conceding that "two states" is no longer possible, makes a pitch for binationalism.
  • Sylvain Cypel: The State of Israel vs. the Jews (2021, Other Press): A view from France, argues that Israel, with its "whiff of fascism," has become a liability and increasingly a threat for Jews in the diaspora.
  • Khaled Elgindy: Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians From Balfour to Trump (2019, Brookings Institution Press).
  • James L Gelvin: The Israel-Palestine Conflict: A History (4th edition, paperback, 2021, Cambridge University Press).
  • Jeffrey Herf: Israel's Moment: International Support for and Opposition to Establishing the Jewish State, 1945-1949 (2022, Cambridge University Press).
  • Tony Shaw/Giora Goodman: Hollywood and Israel: A History (paperback, 2022, Columbia University Press).
  • Daniel Sokatch: Can We Talk About Israel? A Guide for the Curious, Confused, and Conflicted (2021, Bloomsbury): CEO of New Israel Fund, former director of Progressive Jewish Alliance, based in San Francisco, so seems to be one of the dwindling number of liberal zionists still trying to make it work.

Moisés Naím: The Revenge of Power: How Autocrats Are Reinventing Politics for the 21st Century (2022, St Martin's Press): Wrote The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be (2013), which argued that power has intrinsic limits, especially a dependence on competent followers. Here he seems to be backtracking (not that he approves). The interrim has seen a number of autocrats rise to greater power, but how stable are they really?

Evan Osnos: Wildland: The Making of America's Fury (2021, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Former China correspondent, subject of his first book, wrote a big biography of Joe Biden for his second (one of a mere handful of 2020 campaign books on Biden, compared to many hundreds on Trump). This is more like a memoir, an attempt to make some sense of what happened to America between Sept. 11, 2001 and Jan. 6, 2021 ("two assults on the country's sense of itself").

Richard Overy: Blood and Ruins: The Last Imperial War, 1931-1945 (2022, Viking): British military historian, dates WWII from the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, rather than waiting for Germany to invade Poland (1939) or for Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor (1941). Big subject, big book (1040 pp). One thing that is poorly remembered today is that the World Wars were fought (initially, anyway) by nations that believed empire was a supreme good, one they sought to expand. (The US and the Soviet Union were less interested in territory, and more into the slightly nebulous notion of hegemony.)

Gideon Rachman: The Age of the Strongman: How the Cult of the Leader Threatens Democracy Around the World (2022, Other Press): The list seems ominous enough: Putin, Trump, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Orban, Xi. But aside from Xi, how successful have they been? We seem to be riding a stronger authoritarian wave than we've seen since the 1930s (and how did that turn out?). But aside from Xi, everyone on the list got elected in something like a fair democratic election -- not that they haven't tried to use their power to lock themselves in and their opponents out. Their skill seems to have been the ability to sell bigotry to the masses while garnering support from the rich -- which is basically the definition Robert Paxton came up with in The Anatomy of Fascism. But fascists in the 1930s used their charisma to strengthen state power, whereas today's "strongmen" tend to weaken the state (except for repressive political purposes), shifting real power to a private sector that is primarily motivated by greed. It's hard to see them remaining viable enough to last, but like a vermin infestation they may be hard to clear out. Rachman previously wrote:

  • Gideon Rachman: Zero-Sum World: Politics, Power and Prosperity After the Crash (2010; paperback, 2011, Atlantic): To be fair, he's not arguing that zero-sum is the way the world works, but that zero-sum thinking gets in the way of cooperation needed to solve big problems, like climate change.
  • Gideon Rachman: Easternization: War and Peace in the Asian Century (2016, Bodley Head; paperback, 2017, Vintage).
  • Gideon Rachman: Easternization: Asia's Rise and America's Decline From Obama to Trump and Beyond (2017; paperback, 2018, Other Press).

Matthew Rose: A World After Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right (2021, Yale University Press): Short (208 pp) survey of five "thinkers": Oswald Spengler ("The Prophet"), Julius Evola ("The Fantasist"); Francis Parker Yockey ("The Anti-Semite"); Alain de Benoist ("The Pagan"); Samuel Francis ("The Nationalist"); with a final chapter on "The Christian Question." Might seem more important if there was more evidence of thinking on the right, at least among the supposedly literate talking heads.

Gordon S Wood: Power and Liberty: Constitutionalism in the American Revolution (2021, Oxford University Press): Author of The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (1969), which I've long regarded as the standard book on the politics of the American Revolution. This is a set of lectures on the idea of constitutionalism during the Revolution, a subject no one knows better.

Jia Lynn Yang: One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle Over American Immigration, 1924-1965 (2020; paperback, 2021, WW Norton): Covers a period cleanly defined by two immigration laws: the 1924 law extended racial exclusions and established a quota system which discriminated against countries that had provided most immigrants over the previous 30 years (notably Italy, Poland, and Russia, effectively ending Jewish immigration); and the 1965 law which ended the quota system and other racial and religions bans. The 1924 law was probably the peak moment of post-Civil War racism, while 1965 coincided with major civil rights legislation: the same forces coalesced behind both, drawing on a new understanding of what the nation had fought against in WWII.


Other recent books of interest, barely noted (I may write more on some of these later).

Matthew Algeo: All This Marvelous Potential: Robert Kennedy's 1968 Tour of Appalachia (2020, Chicago Review Press).

William M Arkin: The Generals Have No Clothes: The Untold Story of Our Endless Wars (2021, Simon & Schuster).

Jung Chang: Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China (2019, Knopf).

Erwin Chemerinsky: Presumed Guilty: How the Supreme Court Empowered the Police and Subverted Civil Rights (2021, Liveright).

Joshua L Cherniss: Liberalism in Dark Times: The Liberal Ethos in the Twentieth Century (2021, Princeton University Press).

Jennet Conant: The Great Secret: The Classified World War II Disaster That Launched the War on Cancer (2020, WW Norton).

Geoff Dyer: The Last Days of Roger Federer: And Other Endings (2022, Farrar Straus and Giroux).

Erika Fatland: The Border: A Journey Around Russia Through North Korea, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway, and the Northeast Passage (2021, Pegasus Books).

Marle Favereau: The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World (2021, Belknap Press).

Jeffrey Frank: The Trials of Harry S Truman: The Extraordinary Presidency of an Ordinary Man, 1945-1953 (2022, Simon & Schuster).

John Ghazvinian: America and Iran: A History, 1720 to the Present (2021, Knopf).

Marie Gottschalk: Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics (paperback, 2016, Princeton University Press).

Jon Grinspan: The Age of Acrimony: How Americans Fought to Fix Their Democracy, 1865-1915 (2021, Bloomsbury).

Sergei Guriev/Daniel Treisman: Spin Dictators: The Changing Face of Tyranny in the 21st Century (2022, Princeton University Press).

Colin Jerolmack: Up to Heaven and Down to Hell: Fracking, Freedom, and Community in an American Town (2021, Princeton University Press).

John B Judis: The Politics of Our Time: Populism, Nationalism, Socialism (2021, Columbia Global Reports).

Robert D Kaplan: Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age (2022, Random House): Amazon review: "Lazy, superficial travelogue posing as historical insight."

Michael G Laramie: King William's War: The First Contest for North America, 1689-1697 (2017, Westholme).

Roger Lowenstein: Ways and Means: Lincoln and His Cabinet and the Financing of the Civil War (2022, Penguin Press).

Bruno Maçães: History Has Begun: The Birth of a New America (2020, Oxford University Press): Portuguese geopolitics guru, based in Istanbul, previous books The Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order and Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order.

David Mamet: Recessional: The Death of Free Speech and the Cost of a Free Lunch (2022, Broadside Books): Wide-ranging essay collection from a famous playwright and right-wing crank.

Mark Mazower: The Greek Revolution: 1821 and the Making of Modern Europe (2021, Penguin Press).

Douglas Murray: The War on the West (2022, Broadside). Thin-skinned, xenophobic right-winger claiming victimhood 500+ years after Columbus. Previously wrote:

  • Douglas Murray: The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam (2017; paperback, 2018, Bloomsbury).
  • Douglas Murray: The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity (2019; paperback, 2021, Bloomsbury).

Kathryn Olivarius: Necropolis: Disease, Power, and Capitalism in the Cotton Kingdom (2022, Belknap Press): On New Orleans, "where yellow fever epidemics killed as many as 150,000 people during the nineteenth century."

Reece Peck: Fox Populism: Branding Conservatism as Working Class (paperback, 2019, Cambridge University Press).

Nathaniel Philbrick: Travels With George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy (2021, Viking; paperback, 2022, Penguin Books).

Ari Rabin-Havt: The Fighting Soul: On the Road With Bernie Sanders (2022, Liveright): Deputy campaign manager for Sanders in 2020.

Martin Sandbu: The Economics of Belonging: A Radical Plan to Win Back the Left Behind and Achieve Prosperity for All (2020, Princeton University Press).

Vaclav Smil: Numbers Don't Lie: 71 Stories to Help Us Understand the Modern World (paperback, 2021, Penguin Books).

Ray Takeyh: The Last Shah: America, Iran, and the Fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty (2021, Yale University Press).

Nicholas Wapshott: Samuelson/Friedman: The Battle Over the Free Market (2021, WW Norton): Author previously wrote Keynes/Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics (2011).

Olivier Zunz: The Man Who Understood Democracy: The Life of Alexis de Tocqueville (2022, Princeton University Press).

Ask a question, or send a comment.