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Old 09-04-2016, 08:54 PM   #1
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Politics Book Review Thread

I follow the book thread in the Lounge a bit, but I've been reading mostly political books and don't want to get into politics in there.

I.F. Stone In a Time of Torment

Izzy Feinstein Stone was a convinced to adopt the professional nom de guerre I. F. Stone in order to mask his Jewishness. He regretted doing that. It was for naught; he ended up being blacklisted all the same. He was a leftist radical journalist and despite not being a member of the party and being a virulent anti-Stalinist, was baselessly accused of being a Soviet agent and in the days of the red scare (which are still with us to some degree) he could not get published in a major newspaper or even get access to "official sources" in the government.

His struggle turned into our windfall. Instead of reporting what is granted to those favored with access, he rooted through what was hidden in plain sight. Scouring sources like the Congressional Quarterly he uncovered what was overlooked and could not be contested solely because of his reputation. He also did his own investigative research, traveling many times to the Mid-East, SE Asia and Latin America. He published these articles in his own small paper I. F. Stone's Weekly from 1953-1971.

I.F. Stone In a Time of Torment is a selection of articles by Mr. Stone from 1960 to 1967. This certainly isn't timely; it's an old book. The Vietnam war is over, civil rights have evolved and Kennedy, Johnson, Goldwater, and Nixon have all passed along with Izzy. But, many of the same issues are with us today and many of the political figures mentioned and events will leave you with a very strong feeling that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

(I was going to do a longer review and get into some specifics, but the library closed and I was there to return the book. Maybe next time I'll do better. I will add that it's pretty entertaining. This book would make a good companion piece to The Impossible H. L. Mencken. The Goldwater-Trump similarities, both in them personally and in the conditions leading to their emergence are particularly striking.)

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Old 09-05-2016, 09:43 AM   #2
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

I've been enjoying Garry Kasparov's book, Winter is Coming. Kasparov has been trying to warn people about the rise of Putin for some time.
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Old 09-05-2016, 09:55 AM   #3
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Michelle Alexander's, The New Jim Crow, would be a good book to review.

Here she is on MSNBC:
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Old 09-05-2016, 10:28 AM   #4
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Me on New Jim Crow
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Old 09-05-2016, 10:41 AM   #5
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

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I've been enjoying Garry Kasparov's book, Winter is Coming. Kasparov has been trying to warn people about the rise of Putin for some time.
I started to read that and gave up on it. Maybe I'll give it another try. I agree with Kasparov on most things and I'm no fan of Putin but I don't like books that are so one-sided and just pushing a point of view.
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Old 09-05-2016, 10:54 AM   #6
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

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Originally Posted by bobman0330 View Post
Thanks for the referral bobman. Will take a look.

What'd you think of Alexander's book overall? I've wanted to check it out for the longest time, but just am too busy with stuff at home (lots of repairs going on).

When I've looked up Michelle Alexander on YouTube, she's been very impressive. My guess is that I'll knock out her book over Thanksgiving holidays.
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Old 09-14-2016, 11:48 AM   #7
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Dark Money - The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer

This is a new book which came out in 2016. Many of you have probably heard of it. I heard the author on NPR. She's a staff writer for The New Yorker.

First, this is not an even handed look at liberals and conservatives in the US and should not be read that way. There is some brief discussion of the money from liberal donors, but that's not what it's about. It's not even about the comparison, but it's very clear that the money from the right is much larger, more concentrated, more hidden, more misunderstood, and a billion times more out of self-interest. Sometimes, even often, I found myself thinking that there was nothing necessarily wrong with a particular example of these people advocating their position or even believing that they were sometimes motivated by idealism or even that they are right. But, hopefully those inclined to argue every isolated case in this book can step back and see the bigger picture that it paints.

There are a lot of characters in this story going back to the gilded age to today, but the central characters are the Koch brothers. Today I don't think they are universally thought of as radicals, but William F. Buckley called their views Anarcho-Totalitarianism. They were radicals born out of the Birch Society where their father was one of the 11 founding members.

They are the leaders of a movement which has been methodically building political influence for 40 years. They very thoughtfully and deliberately created hundreds of organizations from "charitable" foundations to think tanks to special departments in Universities. Beyond just lobbying they, and the other billionaires they have recruited, have been fostering an environment the provided the ideas, intellectual support, and cultivated the people required not just to change policy, but to change the political climate and public opinion.

The scope of things they've touched and the scale is amazing. The impact they've had is overwhelming. You have heard all this before, but if you haven't gotten into the details you can't appreciate the impact.

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Old 09-14-2016, 12:38 PM   #8
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America Paperback – April 14, 2009 by Rick Perlstein

Part of the trio of Perlstein books recommended by the Chapo Trap House

The book follows Nixon's political rise from the minor leagues to the Presidency. Along the way he chronicles the beginning of the Conservative narrative/ ideology we know today of a cultural pushback against liberalism and minorities using liberalism to further their cultural and economic status. The analogy he uses throughout the book is that of the Franklins, the elite social group at Nixon's upper class boarding school who made fun of Nixon's middle class manners and the Orthagonians, the scrappy outcast social group Nixon started to counter the Franklins and eventually used to win the class president title over a nominated Franklin. The analogy continues with Nixon always resentful of the Franklins wherever they are, be it in the elites in politics, in the media, etc. and Nixon's realization that he could create a national cultural "Orthagonian" constituency, full of "put upon" people who felt talked down to about race, sex, religion, and foreign policy.

The book is long and covers a lot of material. I read something like 200 pages and realized only something like 2 years had gone by. It's good though because the real gems are in the small events he covers, the local newspaper ads and interviews he records that really show the events on the ground and the week by week strategy and shenanigans that went on during the Nixon reign.

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Old 09-14-2016, 12:48 PM   #9
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

re Nixonland

it's on my list now, but geez, 896 pages in the paperback! Daunting. I have kind of a long list and I'm not a very fast reader.
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Old 09-14-2016, 01:03 PM   #10
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

I had to do a lot of it through audiobook. I got lucky that Amazon had a kindle sale on the book for 2 dollars and then they give a discount of the audible audiobook if you have the kindle book so all and all it came out to 5 dollars.

With a kid and a house I don't get an hour to myself much less the hours it would take to read a large book so I'm always looking for audio books that I can listen to while I'm doing other things.
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Old 09-14-2016, 01:13 PM   #11
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

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I had to do a lot of it through audiobook. I got lucky that Amazon had a kindle sale on the book for 2 dollars and then they give a discount of the audible audiobook if you have the kindle book so all and all it came out to 5 dollars.

With a kid and a house I don't get an hour to myself much less the hours it would take to read a large book so I'm always looking for audio books that I can listen to while I'm doing other things.
It gets easier. My 16yo is a bookworm and at least during the summer we went to the library, cafe or w/e to read a lot.
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Old 09-22-2016, 10:45 PM   #12
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

You Have the Right to Remain Innocent



Actually more of a pamphlet than a book, this is a handy guide written by a law professor that details what exactly you should do when you're being questioned by police. It's full of case studies of innocent people who were wrongly convicted based on perfectly innocuous statements, and an absolutely infuriating discussion of the many ways cops can/will deceive you. Basically this book will make you want to punch a wall.

I got my copy free through Amazon Prime. Also, the book was based on a famous youtube lecture:

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Old 09-22-2016, 11:46 PM   #13
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

I think that video was posted back in the DBJ days.
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Old 09-24-2016, 10:24 AM   #14
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

I have Jimmy Carter: White House Diary audio book on CD (well, on like 12 or 16 CD's) if anybody wants it. I thought it was interesting, especially since the Carter years were when I first started becoming aware of politics and world events.

Quote this and PM mailing address if you want it.
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Old 10-10-2016, 11:48 AM   #15
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

The Righteous Mind - Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion Jonathan Haidt

The author works in the field of Moral Psychology out of the NYU Business School, which is not generally the department you'd expect this book to come from. And, a little bit of actual business seeps in and perhaps more than a little bit of the perspective of someone from a business school. The book is basically about human nature and categorizing people into different groups based on inherent moral positions and predispositions. A fair amount of time is spent on the discussion of the evolutionary development of moral systems. This includes a long defense of the possibility at least for group selection.

Evolution, behavior, evolutionary psychology have been interests of mine for quite a while, much more than politics and this aspect of the book was more thought provoking than the rest for me. I feel like he was not very rigorous in this and am predisposed to be against his thesis here, but it's food for thought and I put some of his sources on my reading list.

The bigger theme of the book I think in this forum would be taken as a SMP sorta liberal dude who wants to yell at liberals. He's definitely pissed about everyone being so PC on college campuses. I don't doubt that he has a point, but it seems like he could use being either a little more direct about that or completely separating his frustration with college kids from his analysis of the innate moral structure of humankind. That said, partly that feeling of mine is based on some YouToobs I've seen of him and it may not stick out *that* much in the book on its own.

The book has a fair amount of interesting information (studies you may not be familiar with) and some interesting insights, it's worth the read for that imo. As far as the general point he's trying to make that liberals should try to be more understanding of conservatives (I may be biased, but I don't think he really attempts to make the point in the other direction), well, it weirdly comes across as both praising and condescending of conservativism. The world needs a lot of people who believe in God and Country. Oh no, not me though.

Also, everything is completely detached from any political policy. Also, there are several points that are just stated as if they are obvious without even discussion, let alone proof. For example, his position is that an orderly society is fragile. This seems contrary to the general position that human psychology is innately predisposed towards large social organization.
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Old 10-17-2016, 07:13 PM   #16
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Ta-Nehisi Coates - The Beautiful Struggle (2009)

This - a memoir about his father's attempts to steer him and his older brother from childhood into manhood in Baltimore - is Coates' first book, before his writing at The Atlantic and his latest book (Between The World and Me) made him more famous. This book is smaller in scale than his work that we've read before - it's not about race relations in America, it's not a statement about political policy, it's just a story about a kid growing up.

But, despite its simplicity, it lives up to its name. Young Ta-Nehisi is a kid trapped between two worlds - he's an awkward, nerdy young kid trying to find himself, while also learning to be hard enough to survive the rough streets of West Baltimore. In the middle is his father, a former Black Panther who, on top of his work at the Howard University library, runs a fledgling (at the time) press devoted to restoring old works by black authors. These forces all pull on him in different ways during his teenage years, and through it we start to see the emergence of the man he is today.

The book's political moments are rare, but strong. After the once-soft TNC starts the machinations of what will become a violent fight with a classmate, he reflects on how mainstream America would look at his actions:

Quote:
Nowadays, I cut on the tube and see the dumbfounded looks, when over some minor violation of name and respect, a black boy is found leaking on the street. The anchors shake their heads. The activists give their stupid speeches, praising mythical days when all disputes were handled down at Ray's Gym. Politicians step up to the mic, claim the young have gone mad, their brains infected, and turned superpredator. F*** you all who've ever spoken so foolishly, who've opened your mouths like we don't know what this is. We have read the books you own, the scorecards you keep - done the math and emerged prophetic. We know how we will die - with cousins in double murder suicides, in wars that are mere theory to you, convalescing in hospitals, slowly choked out by angina and cholesterol. We are the walking lowest rung, and all that stands between us and beast, between us and the local zoo, is respect, the respect you take as natural as sugar and sh*t. We know what we are, that we walk like we are not long for this world, that this world has never longed for us.
Towards the start of Between The World and Me, TNC tells his son: "A year after I watched the boy with the small eyes pull out a gun, my father beat me for letting another boy steal from me. Two years later, he beat me for threatening my ninth-grade teacher. Not being violent enough could cost me my body. Being too violent could cost me my body. We could not get out." While the latter book looks back on this time with the reflection and wisdom that comes with adulthood, The Beautiful Struggle looks at it as he lived it, through the eyes of his adolescent self. The result is a window through which most of us have never looked, and it's powerful.
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Old 11-05-2016, 03:37 PM   #17
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

One Nation Under God (2015) Kevin M. Kruse

There is a backstory to the religious right and religion in America; of course there is. This book traces the influence of business on religion and religion on politics and how that was driven largely in the beginning as a response to the New Deal. Kruse works to develop the thesis that there's a relatively clear chain of cause and effect from some Christian movements aided by business interests all the way to the modern religious right. I don't think the book accomplishes its goals very well and it suffers from presenting the story as a clear thesis rather than a history. There are some interesting people, organizations and events which were certainly influential, but the devotion to a political thesis was clunky and left me often wondering about everything that was left out that happened either before or at the same time as these events. Also, people's genuine interests and religious feelings were minimized too much. Much of what happened was just the result of a lot of people getting what they want in a democracy. Some of it was more calculated for sure, but not all of it. There pretty clearly was a resurgence in religion, but the focus of the book was quite narrow and its overconfidence was undermining imo.

Often the book was thought provoking though. The genericness of American Christianity is an interesting topic. Perhaps it could be traced all the way back to the Deism, Atheism, and the interest in keeping any specific denomination from having power over others during the early days of America. Something else I found interesting was looking at things from the point of view of the some of villains or those who were led by them in this story. This wasn't necessarily encouraged by the author, but the way so many on the right view government programs as an assault on basic freedom has a history that's perhaps not entirely explained by the influence of businesses seeking lower taxes and fewer regulations. This isn't really addressed in the book, you're just left to think about why these groups feel that separation of church and State or social welfare programs were seen as threatening to individual liberty. Is saying we are a nation "under God" based on the fear that the State is too powerful?

Overall it was bit of a slog. Many details seemed relatively unimportant. Since I am very reluctant to give up on a book and I don't read more than one book at a time, I would say I regret getting this one a bit because it took me forever to get through it. It did pick up in the last chapter and the best part was probably the epilogue which started with Reagan and went up through Obama. The last section of the epilogue was such a clunky summary of the book that it was hard to read, but maybe you can get by with just reading the epilogue if you get the chance.
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Old 12-05-2016, 10:47 PM   #18
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

The Road to Serfdom - F. A. Hayek

This book is one that American libertarians quite commonly mention and cite, though perhaps the book is not actually so commonly or closely read. It was written by an Austrian economist in England in 1944. The economic and political events in Germany are the focus of the book. It's the author's thesis that Nazism was not a reaction to socialism, but the result of it. He contends that Nazis were socialists, albeit more favoring the middle class than the proletariat, that objected to the internationalism of the Marxists, but not the economics. Hayek warns the west, primarily England, that the development of a planned economy, no matter how well intended, is the road to totalitarianism.

That's about what I think the common impression of the book is, and while it's a fair description, I think American libertarians and communist fear mongers attribute to Hayek a much more extremely anti-social position than he took. For example:

On government protection of the environment

Quote:
To prohibit the use of certain poisonous substances or to require certain sanitary arrangements, is fully compatible with the preservation of competition.
On government intervention to mitigate inequality and disparate economic opportunities

Quote:
In a system of free enterprise chances are not equal, since such a system is necessarily based on private property and (though perhaps not with the same necessity) on inheritance, with the differences in opportunity which these create. There is, indeed, a strong case for reducing this inequality of opportunity as far as congenital differences permit and as it is possible to do so without destroying the impersonal character of the process by which everybody has to take his chance and no person's view about what is right and desirable overrules that of others.
And on the social safety net:

Quote:
Let a uniform minimum be secured to everybody by all means; but let us admit at the same time that with this assurance of a basic minimum all claims for a privileged security of particular classes must lapse, That all excuses disappear for allowing groups to exclude newcomers from sharing their relative prosperity in order to maintain a special standard of their own.
In the current political environment in the US there were some unnerving passages about the rise of fascism in Germany.

Quote:
It should never be forgotten that the one decisive factor in the rise of totalitarianism on the Continent, which is yet absent in England and America, is the existence of a large recently dispossessed middle class.
Quote:
The one thing modern democracy will not bear without cracking is the necessity of a substantial lowering of the standard of living in peacetime or even prolonged stationariness of its economic conditions.
Hayek pretty much admits to the limitations of the book, but they are pretty limiting. By and large he makes unsupported proclamations and, while they are generally reasonable, there's essentially no discussion of alternative arguments or secondary reasons. It's interesting that the movement towards socialism in Germany was something of a direct cause of fascism, but it is made out to essentially be the only cause. The difference between English culture and German culture goes back a lot further than the middle of the 19th century and it's not obvious that some similar policies would lead England to the same place it lead Germany in the 1930s. Taking the book as a warning about the tendencies of collectivism and the need for vigilance in protecting minorities of all kinds (ideological) and for limiting government power, I think it's a valuable book. But, I think many people take a wrong lesson from it and veer conservative and grant more power to the government in other areas or libertarian and fail to recognize that government needs to check private concentrations of power, not just in monopolies, but in their tendency to corrupt and capture government. Hayek I think recognized this (as did Milton Friedman - I read Capitalism and Freedom just before I started reviewing political books here) but I'm not sure all of those influenced by him do.

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Old 12-05-2016, 10:49 PM   #19
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Good reviews, Microbet
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Old 12-05-2016, 11:09 PM   #20
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

and the copy I read was published in 2007, edited by Bruce Caldwell and included quite a long introduction, the preface to the original version, the forward to the 1956 version, the preface to the 1976 version, an essay Hayek wrote which I guess led to this book, a few letters to publishers by economists when they were looking to publish it and an introduction by Milton Friedman from 1994.

Pretty much all that stuff was interesting and helpful.
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Old 12-05-2016, 11:10 PM   #21
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

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Good reviews, Microbet
tyvm
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Old 12-14-2016, 01:31 AM   #22
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

What's the Matter With Kansas - Thomas Frank

Published in 2004, this is the story of Kansas' transformation from a once quite progressive state which was founded by abolitionists racing to block the expansion of slavery and then home to the wild left-populism that swept through rural America in the late 19th century into what has became a contest of the moderate Republicans and the populist-right Republicans. And the populists were already winning in 2004.

There is much about the plen-T-plaint and the Great Backlash; a movement of not rich people who are motivated by hatred of things liberal. The primordial issue was abortion, but all things painted as Coastal Hollywood Elite Fancy Over-Educated Know-it-All are in the mix. This despite some of the movement's leaders being rich elite over-educated fancy-pants. "The deafness of the conservative rank and file to the patent insincerity of their leaders is one of the true cultural marvels of the Great Backlash."

The Backlash rank and file, even though they assumed power, accomplished not much but the massive rewarding of the richest people. As Frank says, "And when two female rock stars exchange a lascivious kiss on national TV, Kansas goes haywire. Kansas screams for the heads of the liberal elite. Kansas comes running to the polling place. And Kansas cuts those rock stars' taxes."

Some noteworthy items were a mention of the outrage generated by stories of "abortionists trafficking in fetal body parts." About the persecution complex conservatives have: "what they mean by persecution is not imprisonment or excommunication or disenfranchisement, but criticism..."

There is some talk about how the Democrats basically abandoned economic arguments, becoming just another party of business, which helped create an opening for this contest to be all about culture and religion. The right-wing populists reviled the professional class country club set of the moderate Republicans and their leaders, often disingenuously, competed to be the person you'd most want to have a beer with and Frank comes around to say that this hated class is exactly what the Democrats turned to.

Quote:
...Democrats look at a situation like present-day Kansas and rub their hands with anticipation: Just look at how Ronald Reagan's "social issues" have come back to bite his party in the ass! If only the crazy Cons push a little bit more, these Democrats think the Republican Party will alienate the wealthy suburban Mods [Moderate Republicans] for good, and we will be able to step in and carry places like Mission Hills [a rich moderate Republican area], along with all the juicy boodle that its inhabitants are capable of throwing our way.
This theme is much more fully developed in Listen Liberal which was published in 2016. I read that one before I started reviewing books itt.

The book is pretty well notated (if that's the right word), but it's still basically an opinion piece. It was an easy read and enjoyable. Much of it will seem prescient in the year of Trump and he suggests that Kansas should maybe be seen (unfortunately) as a vanguard rather than a backwater. A fair amount of it is personal, as he grew up in Kansas, and to me anyway, that made the book a bit more compelling. I'm not sure this book works well to convince anyone of anything they don't already believe; though maybe it does. It is an interesting read for the choir nonetheless.
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Old 12-16-2016, 03:00 AM   #23
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Chomksy On Anarchism

Noam Chomsky is a bit like the Grateful Dead. Some of his books are like studio albums put together by the band, but a lot of his "books" seem to be based on bootlegs and mix tapes. This mix tape has a lot of good stuff which I was not very familiar and some stuff which I had seen or heard elsewhere. The book really could have used some more notes though because when you get into a new section you don't even know when it was written. One section jumps from an identified year of 2002 to the next section which I can only surmise was written or transcribed from a talk in about 1970. One section is "Part II" of a criticism of some other work and the "Part I" doesn't seem to be included.

Griping aside, there was a lot of history in here about the origins of Anarchism and a lot more specifically on the Spanish Revolution in the 1930s. I hardly knew anything about either and Chomsky is kind of a stream of consciousness that assumes you know a lot. But, I kept up ok, looked some things up, and added some new things to my reading list. I have a very strong anti-authoritarian streak myself and I find that that is the most prominent and consistent characteristic of Chomsky. That and the respect for every other person's freedom and opportunity to thrive. He's not an absolutist, but takes it as a principle that authority should be the exception, not the rule, and it's the obligation of those who would use authority to justify its need.

The last section of the book is on Language and Freedom and it's a bit of a stretch to say it belongs in the same book as the rest. It touches on his ideas about innate mental systems for language, the 18th Century discussions on the rights of man and how social systems allowing for human freedom and dignity might function like language in that a framework of defined rules can allow for, even be a prerequisite of, freedom. It's a bit weird, but I think he was sort of forced into saying something because they asked him to give a talk with the title "Language and Freedom."

The review here sounds kind of negative, but that's just of the book as a whole. The parts are good, it's a relatively short easy read (considering the subject and author), and I definitely recommend it.

(The 2 days between reviews won't be a trend. Next review should be a couple of weeks away at least.)
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Old 12-17-2016, 07:46 PM   #24
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Re: What's the Matter With Kansas by Thomas Frank.

What I got out of it was that the way the GOP gets common people to vote against their own economic interests is by hammering the social issues like abortion and girls kissing. Doesn't help that the Dems abandoned the politics of the New Deal for that Goldman Sachs sugar.
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Old 12-17-2016, 08:12 PM   #25
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

I recently read a Civil War book, The Free State of Jones by historian Victoria Bynum. Liked it a lot; it was the basis for the recent movie of the same name, which is far better than the reviews.

It's a good antidote to the Myth of the Lost Cause confederate nostalgia. It's about poor whites in Jones county Mississippi deciding it made no sense to die protecting slavery for the wealthy. A band of perhaps 200 armed deserters fought off the Confederate cavalry in numerous clashes. They even declared the county to have seceded from the Confederacy and rejoined the Union. Their leader, Newton Knight, married a slave and brazenly continued living in Jones county until he died in about 1920. One of their offspring was arrested in the 1950s and charged with miscegenation. Even though he appeared white, he was 1/8 black.

Since I teach in the region, I love having some data about intrepid Southerners who defied the Confederacy.

Author Victoria Bynum is from Jones County and some of her ancestors rode with Knight.
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