An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
My Other Websites
Friday, April 28, 2023
Seems like I've been working on this Book Roundup forever. The last one was October 22, 2022, preceded by one on May 1, 2022. I keep an open scratch file, sorted into things ready to go for the two sections: 40 substantial blurb-reviews, some with associated lists of related books, and a variable number of simple mentions, some with a line or two for identification. Everything I've done in the past gets copied into a monster archive file, which I consult to avoid repetition.
Someone once asked me about creating a database for book entries. I thought I responded with interest, but never heard from that person again. For what it's worth, my Next Draft file is public, but not in any of my navigation menus. I'm even giving some consideration to coming up with specialized posts on music and/or cooking, but have made little progress on that. It is always possible you'll find those subjects below.
I've been doing batches of 40 for quite a while, but as the sublists keep growing, it occurs to me that 20 would be a more reasonable chunk size, which would also help with the problem of stretching intervals. As it is, it's been a struggle to get this one out, and feel a bit bad doing so before completing a research round. (I left an incomplete one a couple months ago, then back to last fall.)
Rather unusually, nothing in the main section that I've read. I did buy a copy of Reality Blind, but read instead a previously noted book along those lines: Brian T Watson: Headed Into the Abyss: The Story of Our Time and the Future We'll Face. I am most tempted to order Kruse/Zelizer: Myth America, and Oreskes/Conway: The Big Myth. I've read previous books by Andrew Bacevich, Ha-Joon Chang, Timothy Egan, Norman G Finkelstein, Chris Hedges, China Miéville, David Quammen, Bernie Sanders, Quinn Slobodian, and Michael Walzer (long ago, his first book from 1965, The Revolution of the Saints, and at least some of his 1970 essay collection, Obligations).
I should note that while I look for items of interest, these are not recommendations (unless explicit). I write about a small number of books each time to criticize or make fun of, and I often note highly dubious books by well-known right-wing authors with little or no comment (Niall Ferguson and Victor Hanson Davis are obvious examples below). Books by political figures are usually noted and dismissed (like Ro Khanna, but I stopped to write something on Bernie Sanders).
There are also a fair number of historical tomes in the second section, especially where they are self-explanatory and not of immediate personal interest. I also tend to pass on left-wing political tomes, especially in the Marxist tradition (like David Harvey).
In the sublists, I made a partial effort to separate possibly worthwhile books from certainly bad ones, at least on climate change and Covid-19. I didn't on abortion. I'm really in no mood to consider anti-abortion views, even to ridicule them, or for that matter attempts to try to see the merits of both sides. Conversely, I didn't go far toward building up a pro-abortion list. I started intent on noting Mary Ziegler's other work, then found a couple more titles in that vein, and one political tract I can wholeheartedly endorse (Without Apology).
I held back a bunch of partly written drafts, plus a lot of barely noted books, especially where they seemed likely to be expanded and/or grouped later on (books on white supremacy and woke fit here; same for China, India, and policing). On the other hand, I grabbed up all the climate stuff I could find but hadn't mentioned earlier. It's certainly impossible to blame our political failures there on lack of information.
Andrew Bacevich: On Shedding an Obsolete Past: Bidding Farewell to the American Century (paperback, 2022, Haymarket Books): Conservative anti-militarist, head of Quincy Institute, collects a batch of essays initially written for TomDispatch from 2016-21. Donald Trump was president for most of that stretch, but without a coherent idea how to adapt American foreign policy after the broken hubris of the War on Terror, he mostly broke things, which was maddening for critics like Bacevich. Biden's solution was to revive the "obsolete past" Bacevich wants him to shed, so he's still not happy, but at least he has lots to critique.
Margaret A Burnham: By Hands Now Known: Jim Crow's Legal Executioners (2022, WW Norton): In what's been called "a paradigm-shifting investigation of Jim Crow-era violence, the legal apparatus that sustained it, and its enduring legacy." Or: "if the law cannot protect a person from lynching, then isn't lynching the law?" Lynching was in fact so fundamental to the white supremacist order that the civil rights movement spent most of its energy from 1920 to 1940 in trying to secure a federal anti-lynching law. After all, if you can't live, what else can you do? By the way, the first federal anti-lynching bill passed was in 2022, signed by Joe Biden, and named for Emmett Till, who was lynched in 1955. The Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill had been passed by the House in 1922, but filibustered in the Senate.
Ha-Joon Chang: Edible Economics: A Hungry Economist Explains the World (2023, Public Affairs): Korean economist, started studying developing economies, and came to suspect that much of what fellow economists were teaching on the subject didn't work, and more so, was wrong (see Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism). Since then, he's sought to debunk capitalist economics in a series of primers, like 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism, and Economics: A User's Guide. Here he tries a different tactic, using food for examples, tossing in a few recipes. Perhaps he's familiar with Upton Sinclair's line: "I aimed for the public's heart, and hit it in the stomach."
Christopher O Clugston: Blip: Humanity's 300 Year Self-Terminating Experiment With Industrialism (paperback, 2019, Booklocker): There are lots of optimistic books about sustainable energy sources and not much worry about running out of other NNR (nonrenewable natural resources). This book, and its predecessor, offer the flipside to those books. The cover chart reminds me of one Richard Heinberg plotted on oil use and population, extended to project a downside mirroring the upward slant. I can think of reasons why the downside isn't necessary, but I can also imagine what happens when you add a couple more charts to the mix: one would track the efforts from the poorer parts of the world to achieve parity with the richer ones (by development and/or by emigration; it turns out that reducing population growth has little effect here); and the other (harder to quantify but easier to imagine) would track the increasing political stupidity in the richer countries. From those charts it would be a short step to war and revolution. Earlier:
Christopher J Coyne/Abigail R Hall: Manufacturing Militarism: US Government Propaganda in the War on Terror (paperback, 2021, Stanford University Press): "The US government's prime enemy in the War on Terror is not a shadowy mastermind dispatching suicide bombers. It is the informed American citizen." They start by inflating threats, then frame them so that military force is the only option. Hence, we fund vast globe-spanning military networks to deal poorly with threats that pale in comparison to the wildfires, chemical spills, and other disasters that routinely occur. Coyne and Hall have been aware of this for some time. They are among the few who recognize that militarism directed abroad damages democracy and everyday life at home. Also:
Ron DeSantis: The Courage to Be Free: Florida's Blueprint for America's Revival (2023, Broadside Books): "He played baseball for Yale [while most were studying?], graduated with honors from Harvard Law School, and served in Iraq and the halls of Congress [not just Congress? he was a hall monitor?]. But in all these places, Ron DeSantis learned the same lesson: He didn't want to be part of the leftist elite." Nah, he wanted to be part of the far-right elite (although between Yale, Harvard, Iraq, and Congress, I doubt he met very many actual leftists. This, of course, is his campaign brief. (Amazon's "frequently bought together" offer adds Mike Pompeo's Never Give an Inch and Mike Pence's So Help Me God), so one would normally expect it to be long on homilies and short on details. Of course, his homilies are pretty dark, like "The United States has been increasingly captive to an arrogant, stale, and failed ruling class." And also: "Florida has stood as an antidote to America's failed ruling class." The table of contents not only includes chapters on "For God, for Country, and for Yale" and "Honor, Courage, and Commitment," but also "The Magic Kingdom of Woke Corporatism" and "The Liberal Elite's Praetorian Guard." And if you have any doubt that he's running, the books ends with "Make America Florida." All this in a succinct 286 pages. He's every bit as seductive as Satan. More campaign briefs (also see Mike Pompeo, separately; nothing yet for Larry Elder, Asa Hutchinson, Mike Rogers, or other phantom candidates I've heard about -- although Elder has a half-dozen books 2001-19, the last of which was a lame pitch for Trump; by the way, Trump's latest is in the second section):
Timothy Egan: A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan's Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them (2023, Viking): Focuses on D.C. Stephenson, Grand Dragon of the KKK in Indiana during its 1920s resurgence, a rich and charismatic demagogue with his sights on high political office. The woman in the subtitle was Madge Oberholtzer, whom he abducted and raped, and who got a tiny bit of redemption with her "deathbed testimony." Egan is a fine writer with a knack for fishing fascinating stories out of history, but this one would feel better if she had lived to see her tormenter's downfall. I previously noted two Egan books: The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl (2005), and The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America (2009). Some others:
Norman G Finkelstein: I'll Burn That Bridge When I Get to It! Heretical Thoughts on Identity Politics, Cancel Culture, and Academic Freedom (paperback, 2023, Sublation Media): A critique (544 pp) of "identity politics and cancel culture" and lament on "academic freedom" from a guy whose steadfast critique of Israel gets him canceled more often than any self-proclaimed right-wing "victim" can imagine. On the other hand, the experience seems to be taking a toll, making him even more cranky. I've cited most of his books, but missed these:
Peter Frankopan: The Earth Transformed: An Untold History (2023, Knopf): 736 pp. Big picture history as futurology, tracking climate change from the "dawn of time" -- billions of years where the release of atmospheric oxygen dwarfs any climate change we can imagine -- to the present and beyond. Along the way, the points is to see how many major world events can be tied to disturbances in the environment. I've seen other books trample this ground, perhaps less extensively, like David Keys: Catastrophe: An Investigation Into the Origins of Modern Civilization, and Jared Diamond: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Author previously wrote:
John Taylor Gatto: Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling (1992; 25th Anniversary Edition, paperback, 2017, New Society): Libertarian NYC teacher, eventually resigned, saying he no longer wished to "hurt kids for a living." Reminds me of Paul Goodman's classic Compulsory Miseducation (1964). For that matter, also reminds me of my own experience in the public schools, where I escaped the curses of indifference and dependency by radical insubordination. Admittedly, I've known a few people who responded well to school, who found it affirmative, and who built brilliant careers and lives on its foundation. And I know that most teachers don't mean to be ogres, and I doubt that even their supervisors have such malign intent, but rather have set up a system where the assumption of superiority makes the harm Gatto rails against all but inevitable. Gatto aso wrote:
Rebecca Giblin/Cory Doctorow: Chokepoint Capitalism: How Big Tech and Big Content Captured Creative Labor Markets, and How We'll Win Them Back (2022, Beacon Press): This deals with monopoly powers in books, music, etc., but chokepoints go back a fair ways -- my first thought was how Hewlett-Packard connived to force me to buy ink service for a printer I naively bought from them (never again!), but IBM was notorious for similar practices back in the 1950s. Giblin is an Australian lawyer involved in several interesting projects, and Doctorow is a science fiction writer with similar interests. Still, I'm pretty skeptical about that "how we'll win them back" line.
Anand Giridharadas: The Persuaders: At the Front lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy (2022, Knopf): Having written a book (Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World) about how the rich use philanthropy less to assuage their guilty consciences than to head off potential change, he now turns to, well, I'm not sure. The prologue starts off with a section about Russian trolls and propaganda, but reviews suggest this is a series of portraits of activists trying to get their messages across, so how can you be persuasive in a world riddled with misdirection?
Jason D Greenblatt: In the Path of Abraham: How Donald Trump Made Peace in the Middle East -- and How to Stop Joe Biden From Unmaking It (2022, Wicked Son): Author worked for the Trump administration in negotiating the Abraham Accords, a project Jared Kushner has taken much of the credit for. The AA are a series of agreements between Israel, the US, and various Arab countries, where the latter normalizing relations with Israel, and therefore are allowed to buy more sophisticated arms from the US. This is basically just a continuation of the arrangement Carter negotiated with Egypt in the 1970s, and which Jordan signed on to in the 1990s. The resulting arms shipments (including from Israel) do nothing to secure peace in the region: they contribute to an arms race with Iran, and to internal conflicts like in Yemen. And the whole deal bypasses the more fundamental injustice Israel imposes within its own illegally-expanded borders on Palestinians, even on those nominally considered citizens of Israel. (On paper, there is also a "Peace to Prosperity" component for the Palestinians, but Israel has never shown any interest in it, and Trump's team are not the sort to get pushy.) The praise for Trump and the threat to Biden just proves that Greenblatt understands his fundamentally partisan role. In point of fact, Biden has no desire or need to roll back any of the Abraham Accords. The only "threat" he offers is that he might resurrect the JCPOA with Iran, which would end the potential threat Iran might poise to Israel, but would deprive Israeli leaders of an enemy they need to justify their militarism. Also:
Nicholas Guyatt: The Hated Cage: An American Tragedy in Britain's Most Terrifying Prison (2022, Basic Books): British historian, books have covered a wide range of topics, this would seem to be a relatively obscure story: Britain's Dartmoor Prison, which held some 5,000 American sailors during and after the War of 1812 (where "they had been left to rot by their government"), and many were massacred in 1815. But it has contemporary resonance, as race, power, and dehumanization are still very much with us. Guyatt previously wrote:
Stephen J Hadley, ed: Hand-Off: The Foreign Policy George W Bush Passed to Barack Obama (2023, Brookings Institution Press): Big (774 pp) collection of transition papers prepared by the outgoing Bush administration for Obama, compiled by Bush's second-term National Security Advisor, with a foreword by Bush and introductions by Hadley and Condoleezza Rice (who held the NSA post before Hadley, before she became Secretary of State). Lots of disappointments in Obama's early administration, but the extent to which he maintained continuity with Bush foreign policy was among the most shameful (and stupid).
Pekka Hämäläinen: Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest of North America (2022, Liveright). Attempts to recast the history of North America from the vantage point of its indigenous inhabitants. Still, only two chapters set the pre-1492 stage, reflecting the lack of written records for the 11-12 thousand years between their arrival from Asia and Alaska and the invaders from Europe. After that, there's a lot of history to report, though it's hitherto usually been told from the standpoint of the conquerors.
Johann Hari: Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention -- and How to Think Deeply Again (2022, Crown): Superficially, this seems to fit into the tradition of anti-media screeds like Amusing Ourselves to Death, although the self-help bit wedged into the title adds a bit of the marketing the book would be better off railing against. How much self help is even possible? The table of contents enumerates twelve causes for this loss of focus, leaving scant room for solutions. How deeply do we want (or need) to think, anyway? I see blurb praise from Naomi Klein, Hillary Clinton, and Arianna Harrington, which makes me think that maybe focus is less the problem than the lack of principles and responsibility from the public figures we need to keep check on.
Mehdi Hasan: Win Every Argument: The Art of Debating, Persuading, and Public Speaking (2023, Henry Holt): British-American journalist, started with Al Jazeera English, has moved in more respectable circles recently, and yes, he's a very erudite and penetrating interviewer. Still, seems a bit odd to frame this as a self-help book for pundits who care more about winning arguments than finding the best answers. Still, like Machiavelli's Prince, you can probably flip this around and see it as an exposé of people who win arguments with cheap tricks. Some time back, I read a book that purported to have every known sales close technique. then noted that if you don't want to buy, just list the techniques just used on you, and the salesperson will be defeated.
Chris Hedges: The Greatest Evil Is War (2022, Seven Stories Press): A former divinity student who once got his kicks as a war correspondent, seeking action everywhere from Central America to the Balkans through the Middle East and into Africa, he now offers "a blistering condemnation of war in all forms and for all reasons." I would say "about time," but it looks like he's collected these writings from a couple decades of columns. Still, those of us who consistently oppose war from the start rarely need to rewrite much.
Wes Jackson/Robert Jensen: An Inconvenient Apocalypse: Environmental Collapse, Climate Crisis, and the Fate of Humanity (paperback, 2022, University of Notre Dame Press): Short (184 pp), Jackson is an important agriculture reformer in Kansas (a folk hero, really), and Jensen is a journalism professor whose concern for the planet led him to write a book about Jackson. Title plays on Al Gore's 2006 book and film An Inconvenient Truth, but Gore's title fit together into something profound, whereas this title has a whiff of irony and desperation: sure, the situation is graver now, but apocalypse is still a bit hyperbolic, and being nonchalant about it doesn't help. Hard to tell whether this goes beyond rote alarmism. A look back at their many previous books suggests increasing pessimism.
Michael Kazin: What It Took to Win: A History of the Democratic Party (2022, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Broad strokes history of the Democratic Party's many struggles to win elections, starting with Jackson (or actually, his smarter alter ego Martin van Buren), and extending to the present. The title is a curious one, given that mostly Democrats didn't manage to win, often (1860, 1896, 1972) because the Party bigwigs preferred losing to Republicans over losing to other Democrats. (The Republicans returned the favor in 1912, giving us the mixed blessings of Woodrow Wilson.) Kazin favors the left wing of the Democratic Party, and has written several books about it:
Kevin M Kruse/Julian E Zelizer, eds: Myth America: Historians Take On the Biggest Legends and Lies About Our Past (2023, Basic Books): Looks like an interesting collection of revisionist essays on controversial topics in American history, like "Founding Myths" and "Vanishing Indians" up to more contemporary topics like "White Backlash," "Police Violence," and "Voter Fraud." As they point out, "Many of the lies and legends in this collection . . . stem from deliberate campaign of disinformation from the political Right." While some of these myths have deep roots in historiography, others were largely invented by the Right in recent years, in their conscious attempt to recast American history in a self-justifying light. Refuting those myths doesn't automatically place you on the Left, but the Left has rarely hid injustices in the past, because the Left exists to correct them.
Glory M Liu: Adam Smith's America: How a Scottish Philosopher Became an Icon of American Capitalism (2022, Princeton University Press). Scottish author of economics ur-text The Wealth of Nations in the pivotal American year of 1776, a coincidence that some Americans have taken as manifest destiny. This focuses on American readings of Smith's book, especially how they've been weaponized for private gain. For instance: "the so-called Chicago School's distillation of Smith's ideas into a popular and powerful myth: that rational self-interest is the only valid premise for the analysis of human behavior, and that only the invisible hand of the market, not the heavy hand of government, could guarantee personal and political freedom." That "invisible hand" has often been taken as the magic that converts personal greed into public good: not the only time a joke has been taken as gospel.
Andrew Morton: The Queen: Her Life (2022, Grand Central): The British monarchy has been dead weight since . . . well, as an American, I'd start with George III . . . but few monarchs have retreated into their useless world more gracefully than Elizabeth II. Morton is a hack who does "celebrity biographies" (Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Madonna) when he's not riding piggyback on the tabloid monarchy, but he scored one career-defining coup in getting Princess Diana to spill her guts into the book he subtitled "Her True Story -- In Her Own Words." My best guess is that this book has been lurking in his cabinet, waiting the Queen's inevitable death for an element of timeliness (it's not as if he didn't have other wares to flog). Still, this one's handy enough to hang a few more slices of useless but sometimes titillating royal gossip (the length perhaps owing to my lack of interest in the subject):
Eric Metaxas: Fish Out of Water: A Search for the Meaning of Life (2021, Salem Books): Autobiography. Everything I read about him spells "huckster," albeit a rather clever and successful one, with his syndicated radio show, his bestsellers, and his constant stroking of common religious conceits in America, while trying to reclaim moral and intellectual high ground (against slavery, against Nazism, for American liberty, for science; miracles never cease).
China Miéville: A Spectre, Haunting: On the Communist Manifesto (paperback, 2022, Haymarket Books): British writer, started writing speculative fiction (novels, stories, comic books), branched out into criticism (Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction, 2009) and history (October: The Story of the Russian Revolution, 2017). Here he re-reads 1848's The Communist Manifesto, both in light of the history it inspired and the history we wound up with today, and he finds it surprisingly resonant.
Gretchen Morgenson/Joshua Rosner: These Are the Plunderers: How Private Equity Runs -- and Wrecks -- America (2023, Simon & Schuster): Longtime financial reporters, wrote a book in 2011 on how greed wrecked the economy (Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon), zeroes in on the worst of the worst here: the private equity companies that buy companies and bleed them dry, making off with billions while employees lose their jobs, customers lose options, and we wind up having to pick up the pieces. (You may recall that Mitt Romney's Bain Capital was one such firm.)
Naomi Oreskes/Erik M Conway: The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market (2023, Bloomsbury): Possibly an important book. Authors wrote about how companies spin PR to protect toxic products -- Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues From Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2010). The difference here is that they're pushing political ideas: they want us to hate government because they fear government -- the face they paint on democracy -- might defend public interests against private greed. So they play up corruption (mostly their own clandestine interference) and bureaucratic inefficiency as intrinsic flaws. Meanwhile, they try to paint a pretty picture of a "free market," which is actually something the entire MBA program is training to subvert. Part of the reason they've gotten away with this is that the idea of free markets is so promising. But to work, you have to have ample competition, perfect information, transparency, and integrity -- conditions that would be impossible even if tried, which is something no actual business wants.
Mike Pompeo: Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America I Love (2023, Broadside Books): Another campaign brief, this one from "the only four-year national security member of President Trump's Cabinet, he worked to impose crushing pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran, avert a nuclear crisis with North Korea, deliver unmatched support for Israel, and bring peace to the Middle East." Note that none of those things actually worked, as he left the world in worse shape than when he joined Trump. But also note that there are issues where he wants to distance himself from Trump, as when he explains "why Trump thought his Secretary of State was too tough on China," and why Trump needed to be tougher. The first blurb reads: "Mike is a real-life Tom Clancy American hero." Perhaps running for president isn't just an ego thing with him. Maybe he just wants to start World War III. He's already abandoned his presidential campaign, so expect to find this cheap.
David Quammen: Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus (2022, Simon & Schuster): Natural science writer, his book on evolution (The Song of the Dodo is a classic), but he's also ventured into diseases, with books on AIDS and Ebola, as well as (most presciently) Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, so him tackling the Covid-19 pandemic is all but inevitable. I expected by now that we'd be seeing more serious books on Covid, but a quick check through Amazon reveals only a few plausible titles, along with a bunch of more/less paranoid hysteria:
Let's also throw in a sample of the more extreme political screeds -- not all on the right, and some merely looking suspicious.
I'm not sure which of the above lists the "lab leak" stories belong in:
Bernie Sanders: It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism (2023, Crown): Not a typical political brief, and not just because it's unlikely he'll run for president in 2024 (although he does write about his run in 2020) -- more like because he has serious things to say. Sanders is not to my left on issues, but he sometimes strikes me as unnecessary taking risks with rhetoric, as when his 2016 stump speech wound up with a call for "political revolution." Even with the qualification, that struck me as risky, and not sufficiently clear. I've long been taking pains to stress that reforms would be just fine. Similarly, I'm inclined to accept that capitalism has some virtues, as long as it's sufficiently regulated, of course. But Sanders may be striking the right note here: after all, if you can't get angry enough, what chance do you have of putting those regulations (and other compensations) in place? Besides, there is no word more accurate: Ryan Cooper's How Are You Going to Pay for That? has lots of good ideas, but trying to dodge "capitalism" by complaining about "propertarianism" isn't one of them.
Jeff Sharlet: The Undertow: Scenes From a Slow Civil War (2023, WW Norton): Author has written previous books on the intersection of right-wing politics and religion -- The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism as the Heart of American Power (2008), and C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy (2010) -- and this follows his subjects into the post-Trump apocalypse, where "political rallies are as aflame with need and giddy expectation as religious revivals." This idea of a "slow civil war" strikes me as apt, reminding me of how slow neutrons can sustain nuclear reactions to generate heat and radioactivity short of blowing everything up. When we think of civil war, we automatically think of 1861, when each state started with its own organized militia. But civil wars usually start small and grow as the injuries compound.
Quinn Slobodian: Crack-Up Capitalism: Market Radicals and the Dream of a World Without Democracy (2023, Metropolitan Books): This is about the increase in the number of special zones, which are countries or enclaves which allow business to operate with little or no democratic accountability. Businesses can avoid taxes and other regulations by shopping for favored zones, and the more they have to choose from, the more leverage they have. The book opens with the long-established Hong Kong, but there are many more, some as local as the "innovation zones" being promoted by your local and state governments. Slobodian previously wrote Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism, which seems like old hat compared to this.
Jeremi Suri: Civil War by Other Means: America's Long and Unfinished Fight for Democracy (2022, Public Affairs). "Worries about a new civil war in America are misplaced because the Civil War never fully ended. Its lingering embers have burst into flames at various times, including during our own." Much of this story has been told in Heather Cox Richardson's How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America, but the neo-Confederate wins from Jim Crow into the 1950s haven't stood unchallenged either, as we see in the still ongoing struggle to remove Confederate monuments, or the appearance of Confederate flags in the January 6 assault on the Capitol.
Greta Thunberg: The Climate Book: The Facts and the Solutions (2023, Penguin Press): At 15, she emerged as an iconic leader in the campaign to take climate change seriously. She has a couple previous books -- No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference (2019), and Our House Is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis (2020) -- but one of the advantages of being a leader is you don't have to do it all yourself. She assembled, or at least put her name on (the word on the frontispiece is "created"), this mini-encyclopedia (464 pp) from the work of over 100 experts, with her own section intros. Also lots of pictures and graphs. More recent books on climate change (also see Wes Jackson, above; of course, I've published many such lists before):
I suppose we can mention a few recent examples of right-wing denialism and/or escapism:
Marian L Tupy/Gale E Pooley: Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing on an Infinitely Bountiful Planet (2022, Cato Institute): Basically, they define abundance as the product of population times freedom, where the latter is plain laissez-faire capitalism. Given the latter, population is the variable, and the more the merrier. Never mind the naysayers, with their cant about finite resources, as our planet (or whatever planet these two think they live on) is "infinitely bountiful." This is, of course, extremely stupid, and as I scan down the list of raving blurbs, I can cross most of the names from the list of people to take seriously (names I recognize: George Gilder, Paul Romer, Steven Pinker, Jordan Peterson, Jason Furman, George Will, Matt Ridley, Lawrence Summers, Michael Schellenberger). A customer caught the spirit and quoted Ronald Reagan: "There are no limits to growth and human progress when men and women are free to follow their dreams." That's a nice line, but the actual political system it ushered in not only slowed growth but made sure it was ever more inequally shared. And while I wouldn't say that abundance is an unimaginable goal, I will say that it only matters if it is widely distributed, which cannot happen under the political regime the Cato authors serve.
Michael Walzer: The Struggle for a Decent Politics: On "Liberal" as an Adjective (2023, Yale University Press): Billed as "one of the most prominent political philosophers of our era," his epic efforts to rationalize "just wars" have marked him as practically useless and more than a little evil. This slim (172 pp) volume examines the word "liberal" as attached to eight nouns: Democrats, Socialists, Nationalists and Internationalists, Communitarians, Feminists, Professors and Intellectuals, and Jews, then asks "Who Is and Who Isn't?" That few people today identify as liberals is due to two things: the failure of liberals from the 1960s and beyond to deliver FDR's freedom from want and from fear (largely due to their embrace of capitalist neo-colonialism, most notably in Vietnam); and the hatchet job the right did on liberals as a source of disorder (basically, they were given a lose-lose choice, and managed to do both). Still, Walzer is right that the word does survive somewhat honorably as an adjective, as his cases show, but only when it adds something to the noun it refines (e.g., liberal socialists seek equality and social solidarity, but also respect and tolerance for individuals -- not always a strong point on the historical left).
DJ White/NH Hagens: The Bottlenecks of the 21st Century: Essays on the Systems Synthesis of the Human Predicament (paperback, 2019, independent): This is sort of a "whole earth catalog" with nothing for sale, just a mess of concepts about how the world works, and facts about how it's all going to hell. Some sections: "A Probabilistic View of the Future"; "Human Cognitive Biases" (filed under "Delusional R Us"); "Receding Horizons and Peak Everything"; "Fifth Years of Buffer for a Million Years of Slime" (under "Our Faustian Ocean"); "Resetting Your Hedonic Ratchet." Hard to tell if this is crazy, or perhaps not crazy enough. Some more or less related books:
Andrea Wulf: Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the Self (2022, Knopf): Asks the question: "when did we begin to be as self-centered as we are today?" Finds answers in 1970s Germany (Goethe, Schiller, Novalis, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, various Schlegels, Alexander von Humboldt), contrasting them to the more mundane revolutionaries of France. She's explored this terrain extensively before. Reminds me that in order to dominate nature, you first have to name it. Previously wrote:
Mary Ziegler: Dollars for Life: The Anti-Abortion Movement and the Fall of the Republican Establishment (2022, Yale University Press): I've long felt that the Republican establishment embrace of anti-abortion extremism was purely cynical: they wanted to break Catholics away from the Democratic Party, and saw abortion as a cheap and easy wedge issue -- one that, as it turned out, also resonated with fundamentalist protestants, who became an important political constituency in the 1980s, especially in the white South and northern suburbs (where racist "law and order" posturing was an even more powerful wedge). Ziegler ties the issue to campaign finance regulation, arguing that the anti-abortion faction came to dominate the Republican Party due to their financial prowess. I'm not so sure there ever was a monolithic Republican establishment (Mark Hanna may have come closest), but this seems to be conflating two things: the ideological purity the anti-abortion movement has successfully demanded; and the division of party power among its now unlimited elite donors and a base that is almost totally shaped by Fox and its splinter media competitors. Other books by Ziegler (including a later one, plus some recent ones on abortion):
Additional books, barely or at least briefly noted. I reserve the right to return to them later (but probably won't). Some of these are just meant to be dismissive, while others just seem self-explanatory.
Sarah Adams/Dave Benton: Benghazi: Know Thy Enemy (2022, Askari Global): Written by two former CIA officers.
Martín Arboleda: Planetary Mine: Territories of Extraction Under Late Capitalism (paperback, 2020, Verso).
Nona Willis Aronowitz: Bad Sex: Truth, Pleasure, and an Unfinished Revolution (2022, Plume).
Lucas Bessire: Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains (2021; paperback, 2022, Princeton University Press): The vanishing Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies a stretch of plains from the Texas panhandle to the Dakotas.
Katherine Blunt: California Burning: The Fall of Pacific Gas and Electric -- and What It Means for America's Power Grid (2022, Portfolio).
Michael Booth: Super Sushi Ramen Express: One Family's Journey Through the Belly of Japan (2016, Picador).
HW Brands: Our First Civil War: Patriots and Loyalists in the American Revolution (2021, Doubleday).
HW Brands: The Last Campaign: Sherman, Geronimo and the War for America (2022, Doubleday).
Douglas Brinkley: Silent Spring Revolution: John F Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the Great Environmental Awakening (2022, Harper).
Frank Costigliola: Kennan: A Life Between Worlds (2023, Princeton University): Major (648 pp) biography of George F Kennan, founder and critic of the Cold War.
Neta C Crawford: The Pentagon, Climate Change, and War: Charting the Rise and Fall of US Military Emissions (2022, The MIT Press).
Matthew Dallek: Birchers: How the John Birch Society Radicalized the American Right (2023, Basic Books).
Tom Dunkel: White Knights in the Black Orchestra: The Extraordinary Story of the Germans Who Resisted Hitler (2022, Hachette).
Noah Feldman: The Broken Constitution: Lincoln, Slavery, and the Refounding of America (2021, Farrar Straus and Giroux; paperback, 2022, Picador).
Niall Ferguson: Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe (2021, Penguin Press).
Orlando Figes: The Story of Russia (2022, Metropolitan Books): British historian with many books on Russia, with this one covering the most ground in the fewest pages (368 pp).
Richard M Fried: A Genius for Confusion: Joseph R McCarthy and the Politics of Deceit (2022, Rowman & Littlefield).
Beverly Gage: G-Man: J Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century (2022, Viking).
David Graeber: Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia (2023, Farrar Straus and Giroux): "Graeber's final posthumous book."
Victor Davis Hanson: The Dying Citizen: How Progressive Elites, Tribalism, and Globalization Are Destroying the Idea of America (2021, Basic Books).
Malcolm Harris: Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World (2023, Little Brown): 720 pp.
David Harvey: A Companion to Marx's Grundrisse (paperback, 2023, Verso).
Jon Hilsenrath: Yellen: The Trailblazing Economist Who Navigated an Era of Upheaval (2022, Harper Business).
Cedric G Johnson: After Black Lives Matter (2023, Verso).
Robert D Kaplan: The Tragic Mind: Fear, Fate, and the Burden of Power (2023, Yale University Press).
Harvye J Kaye: The British Marxist Historians (1984; paperback, 2022, Zero Books): Foreword by Eric Hobsbawm, with a new preface by the author.
Ro Khanna: Progressive Capitalism: How to Make Tech Work for All of Us (paperback, 2023, Simon & Schuster): US Representative (D-CA). Hardcover published as Dignity in a Digital Age: Making Tech Work for All of Us (2022, Simon & Schuster).
Brian Kilmeade: The President and the Freedom Fighter: Abraha Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Their Battle to Save America's Soul (2022, Sentinel): "Fox & Friends" co-host, like Bill O'Reilly has a sideline of writing politically correct histories for his smug followers. Four of his previous tomes have been conveniently boxed as America's Heroes and History: A Brian Kilmeade Collection (2021).
Charles Leerhsen: Down and Out in Paradise: The Life of Anthony Bourdain (2022, Simon & Schuster).
Jonathan Martin/Alexander Burns: This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America's Future (2022, Simon & Schuster): Covers the 2020 election and the first year of the Biden presidency, still focused on the subject they'd rather be writing about: Trump.
Forrest A Nabors: From Oligarchy to Republicanism: The Great Task of Reconstruction (2017, University of Missouri).
David Pietrusza: Roosevelt Sweeps Nation: FDR's 1936 Landslide and the Triumph of the Liberal Ideal (2022, Diversion Books).
Diana Preston: The Evolution of Charles Darwin: The Epic Voyage of the Beagle That Forever Changed Our View of Life on Earth (2022, Atlantic Monthly Press).
Michael Pye: Europe's Babylon: The Rise and Fall of Antwerp's Golden Age (2021, Pegasus Books).
Alissa Quart: Bootstrapped: Liberating Ourselvs From the American Dream (2023, Ecco). Executive director of Economic Hardship Reporting Project, a nonprofit founded by Barbara Ehrenreich.
Scott Reynolds Nelson: Oceans of Grain: How American Wheat Remade the World (2022, Basic Books).
Kim Stanley Robinson: The High Sierra: A Love Story (2022, Little Brown): Science fiction novelist, appears to be a combination memoir and travel guide, with some science mixed in.
Stacy Schiff: The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams (2022, Little Brown).
Ronald H Spector: A Continent Erupts: Decolonization, Civil War, and Massacre in Postwar Asia, 1945-1955 (2022, WW Norton). Covers the same terrain as the author's In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia (2007).
Margaret Sullivan: Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) From an Ink-Stained Life (2022, St Martin's Press): Longtime journalist, eventually made journalism itself her beat as "public editor" for the New York Times and "media columnist" for the Washington Post.
Matt Taibbi/Anonymous: The Business Secrets of Drug Dealing: An Almost True Account (2021, OR Books).
Nina Totenberg: Dinners With Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships (2022, Simon & Schuster): NPR legal affairs correspondent schmoozes with Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
Donald J Trump: Letters to Trump (2023, Winning Team): "Donald J Trump is the very definition of the American success story, continually setting the standards of excellence while expanding his interests in real estate, sports, and entertainment." Picture book, 320 pp, 4.15 lbs, $99.00. Amazon's "frequently bought together": Our Journey Together by Donald J Trump; Melania Trump: Elegance in the White House by LD Hicks.
Marcus M Witcher: Getting Right With Reagan: The Struggle for True Conservatism, 1980-2016 (2019, University Press of Kansas): Emphasizes how roundly criticized Reagan was by conservatives for never being as right-wing as they wanted.
Martin Wolf: The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism (2023, Penguin Press): Financial Times economist.