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Old 09-13-2017, 06:07 PM   #151
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

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No Good Men Among the Living - America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes Anand Gopal 2014

This is a fantastic book....

Read this book please.
Will try to find time to fit this in. Thanks.

I just finished...

Peaceful Reformation in Iran's Islam: A life story of struggle and poverty
by Majid Rafizadeh

Dr. Rafizadeh tells a personal story about growing up and early adult life in Iran and Syria. He describes tragedies of living in Islamofascist Iran and Syria, from violent sexism to violent free speech suppression in the name of Islam.

He was beaten and tortured for his beliefs and his work helping the disadvantaged in those societies. He worked with human rights organizations secretly and openly to help the minorities and especially women who were oppressed.

I found myself wondering if his anecdotes represent widespread conditions in Iran and Syria. His position in humanitarian organizations, and his personal integrity give credence to his stories.

He talks about reform in Iran, and how to achieve it. But I find these portions of the book disheartening. We should support moderate muslims, and students and other reformers. But how? I don't see (perhaps I am too dim to recognize) the suggestions of how to support reformers. But, that said, talking about it is a start. Hearing it from one who lived there, and continues to struggle for change is heartening, in itself.

The book sorely needs a grammar editor, but if you can wade through the rough grammar, it is a very interesting read.

Here is some more of his work.
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Old 09-13-2017, 07:09 PM   #152
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Instead of moderates maybe we should support Anarcho-Ecological-Feminist revolutionaries. But, yeah, a lot of what you hear about Iran and Syria has been about prison and torture. They are police states.
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Old 09-13-2017, 10:04 PM   #153
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

No Good Men Among The Living is next on my list for politics reading.

Read a couple books recently:

Incognito, by David Eagleman: This isn't a politics book, but I actually think it's relevant. It's a book about our current state of understanding of how the brain works and what the implications are. The title is because the book talks a lot about how much of the brain's activity happens outside of conscious awareness. He develops a metaphor of the conscious mind being like the CEO of a big company; notionally "in charge" but there's a lot of things going on in the company which the CEO is not aware of, and that's the way it has to be.

One of the themes of the book is the challenge of what we know about the brain to conventional notions of blame and free will. He devotes a chapter to the incompatibility between the workings of criminal law and the current state of scientific knowledge. This is the stuff that is relevant to politics imo. A lot of the posting on here is influenced by conventional notions of free will and a lot of people in this sub could do with having those ideas challenged.

This is a pretty good book, which I probably would have enjoyed more if I was less familiar with the subject. Still some good material I hadn't seen before. Decently written. I'd recommend it for people interested in how the brain works, who aren't already widely read on the subject. If you're just interested in the philosophy of free will, I'd recommend Sam Harris's short book/long essay "Free Will" as an initial primer, written from an incompatibilist perspective.

Everybody Lies, by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: I guess this isn't really politics either, but it has more obvious relevance. The author is a data scientist and takes you on a tour of Big Data, in particular Google and Pornhub search data. The conclusions are probably shocking to people not immersed in politics and the internet, here are a couple of the major ones:

- There's a lot more explicit racism out there than people realize. Millions of Americans sometimes search for stuff like "n-word jokes". Racist searches of this kind were the best predictor for Trump overachieving in the election.

- People are not honest about sexuality. Many more people watch stuff like incest-themed porn than are willing to admit it. Hundreds of thousands of young men search almost exclusively for old women. Thirty percent of people watch exclusively porn that the majority of people would find repulsive.

None of that was news to me. There was some interesting stuff in the book, but it suffers for being basically a collection of anecdotes. I felt like it would have been just as interesting to read as a series of bullet points.

One of my favorite little bits was this, it's a comparison between the most common ways women complete the sentence "My husband is..." on social media vs on private Google searches.

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Old 09-13-2017, 11:11 PM   #154
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

I've read Incognito. I'm pretty sure he's right about all that. Consciousness is a tiny part of what happens in your brain and it's very poorly informed. I wouldn't call it a CEO though. I think a lot of consciousness is more like narration of decisions already made and the illusion that you made them. And no free will, though that doesn't imply determinism.
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Old 09-13-2017, 11:13 PM   #155
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Has anyone read The Swerve - How the world became modern? Or anything else by Stephen Greenblatt?
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Old 09-14-2017, 12:05 AM   #156
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

It's on my bookshelf unread but I've read criticism of him that makes me not want to read it. Basically he's the Malcom Gladwell of history stitching snippets together to create a "This One Thing Changed The Course of History" narrative that ignores the complexity of history as it was on the ground.

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/...hy-it-matters/

https://www.newcriterion.com/issues/...reenblatt-8753
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Old 09-14-2017, 01:17 AM   #157
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Not a very good review and I feel like discovering cool things from the middle ages is more interesting than bashing it. I was talking about the book and author today and it came up that there was something in The Swerve about Christianity and the story of being kicked out of the Garden of Eden and comparing the good life to Bonobos, which is an interest of mine. Anyway, I may or may not read The Swerve - my wife has it on her kindle - but I think I'm going to go see Greenblatt talk in a couple weeks as my Father-in-law has an extra ticket. And now looking, I suppose that Bonobo stuff is in his new book The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve: From Fiction to Faith.
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Old 09-14-2017, 01:32 AM   #158
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

The Conquest of Bread Peter Kropotkin 1892

Kropotkin, so far, is my favorite anarchist. This book is obviously more than a bit dated. In Euroland of that era the middle class was not so large and the working class was really working a lot and just getting bread was a major concern. Still, the case well that wealth depends on poverty and labor is sold cheap because of necessity is not impossible to make today. The description of the waste inherent in Capitalism and the potential improvement in socialism is Utopian for sure to a large degree, but it's not just baseless speculation. Kropotkin looks at socialist, communist and anarchist aspects of his contemporary society and through history. His insistence in a complete revolution may have made more sense at the time, but it seems unnecessary for an ardent anti-statist. I think in the modern day a version of society run along these principles could be a segment of overall society operating in parallel, the way there are many socialistic elements of our society in the US today, and as I said he mentions several examples that were thriving at the time.
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Old 09-14-2017, 02:43 AM   #159
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

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I've read Incognito. I'm pretty sure he's right about all that. Consciousness is a tiny part of what happens in your brain and it's very poorly informed. I wouldn't call it a CEO though. I think a lot of consciousness is more like narration of decisions already made and the illusion that you made them. And no free will, though that doesn't imply determinism.
So like a CEO, then?

Agreed on all that, though.
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Old 09-27-2017, 11:43 PM   #160
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Remaking Society - Pathways to a Green Future Murray Bookchin

This is one of his latest works (perhaps his latest). The first couple chapters suffer heavily from old man yelling at clouds. In this cast the clouds are mystical eco-hippies whom he characterizes as misanthropic. I shouldn't really say "hippies" because he has a soft spot for hippies. It's like 70's yippies, EST seminar types that he seems to hate more. Whatever it is, he's like pretty far in that direction himself, but wants to make sure no one goes an inch further. Along with this he has a huge preoccupation with where humans are different than animals. This is so common and I really don't get it. Although he thinks this leads to regressive misanthropy, I find it quite a reactionary impulse, like human jingoism, that he has. At any rate, what should be the central thesis about how human society should be structured to foster compatibility with freedom and the environment is subverted by crotchety ranting.

Although I'm from from an expert in Marx (I'm currently on chapter 4 of Capital) I like his critique of Marxism. I've thought that Marx is fairly anti-humanist and trades alienation from the fruits of your labor for a more general alienation of your self to society.

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the marxian Revolutionary project was notable for its lack of interest in urbanism and Community. These issues were dismissed as super structural and presumably had no bearing on basic economic concerns. Human beings and their wide range of interests as creative people, parents, children, and neighbors were reconstituted artificially into economic beings, so that the marxian Revolutionary project reinforced the very degradation, deculturalization, and depersonalization of the workers produced by the factory system. The worker was at his or her best as a good trade unionist or devoted party functionary, not as a cultural a sophisticated being with wired human and moral concerns.
The writing seems uselessly philosophical and bugs me. I think he could maybe be described as an Objectivist. At any rate, his political theory is Libertarian Municipalism and Social Ecology. I think that part is interesting, but he perhaps rightly doesn't proscribe much detail. As an anarchist, the details must be left to the People's Assemblies. And while he likes Utopian thinking, he doesn't really engage in it. Although his writings seem to have lit a fire under Abdulla Ocalan (figurehead for the Rojava Revolution), this book anyway wasn't all that inspirational.
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Old 09-28-2017, 12:19 AM   #161
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

How much do you read, microbet? I'm picturing you uploading reviews you wrote over the past five years.
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Old 09-28-2017, 02:09 AM   #162
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

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How much do you read, microbet? I'm picturing you uploading reviews you wrote over the past five years.
Not that much. Seems like it's about a book every two weeks or so including audio books. I usually have one of each going and listen when I walk the dog. I'm making an effort. I go through phases and if I'm lazy I can go a year without reading a book easy.

I do have another review coming tonight as I just got back with the dog and finished an audio book.
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Old 09-28-2017, 02:51 AM   #163
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

The Jungle Upton Sinclair

The first 27 or so chapters is an unrelenting stream of tragedy. I think the book is more famous as an exposé of the unsanitary conditions of the meat packing industry, but it more a look at the struggle of working people and the corruption and cruelty of Capitalism. The conditions are of course quite pitiable and although conditions are generally better now, don't think that they are universally so. Of course Chicago of 1905 might not be that much different for labor than Haiti, Pakistan, or Vietnam today. And these conditions are still present in the US today as well.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2...-chicken-plant

The predictability of it all does not help the book as a work of fiction. Towards the end the main character discovers Socialism and the work essentially loses the pretense of fiction. New characters who have no dramatic use engage in an interesting discussion, but it's a horrible for the narrative. It's far less subtle, but it reminds me of the weaker parts of Anna Karenina and reminds me how great Shakespeare was at handling social commentary inside the drama. At the very end election results are read which have nothing to do with the characters really and I assume they were actual results.

Politically it's very apparent that it's pre-USSR Socialist bureacracy. The Utopian vision at the end is reminscent of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. As is often the case with leftist writing, a super strong indictmemt of Capitalism is laid out, including a description of massive inefficiencies, but the better path is either naive or vague.

I didn't hate it or anything. The narrative is contrived and the characters are pretty flat, but there is generally something interesting happening.
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Old 09-29-2017, 02:54 PM   #164
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Aborted book review

American Amnesia Hacker and Pierson

I suspect a fair amount of it is good and interesting amd that the authors have made an effort to make decent arguments when the points are close to the thesis. But, there is too much that's poorly thought out and argued.

Imo don't bother, but if you've read it and have something good to say about it let me know and maybe I'll reconsider.
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Old 09-29-2017, 04:02 PM   #165
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Jack Metzgar, Striking Steel: Solidarity Remembered.

Interesting labor history book. Argues that the 1950s, not the 1930s, were the heyday of American unions. It was then that they hauled in the highest wages and best benefits, as evidenced by the 1959 113 day steel strike.

The author is the academic son of a steel worker. He wants to retrieve the memory of solidarity that made unions succeed. The rising middle class (distinct from the working class) runs the media and wrote unions out of the story because it saw itself as normal, and working class values as marginal. Factory workers, whose labor is largely interchangeable, focus more on group activity (like union solidarity) to gain social distinction. Middle class salaried personnel distinguish themselves with individual acts of creativity, and since they produce the media, that's what gets celebrated.

The invisibility of the working class can be seen in the author's father, who goes from union man to indifference. Metzgar senior was an extremely devoted labor activist and shop steward who credited the union with rescuing workers from hyper-exploitation. (His father lost both arms in an industrial accident.) The union's protection from capricious, demeaning treatment by foremen was even more important to him than higher wages. But once he retired, he lost much of the union milieu that sustained his beliefs. He then began falling toward individualism, blaming welfare cheats for the ills of the world and forgetting that unions made it possible to retire his battered body at 55.

The author did not try to explain how we might reanimate solidarity in the new economy, but without it, there's not much hope.
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Old 09-29-2017, 04:08 PM   #166
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Howard Zinn's People's History goes into how much labor striking/activity there was in the 40's and 50's, even during the war.
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Old 09-29-2017, 09:15 PM   #167
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Naomi Klein - No is Not Enough

Reading it for DSA book club now and will post a full review when done - 7 chapters in it's excellent and I would say the best thesis of how Trump really happened and what we can do to combat those phenomena going forward.
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Old 09-29-2017, 09:33 PM   #168
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

I've posted before ITT about how my experiences to date with Klein lead me to think she's a total hack. "No Is Not Enough" is pretty short, so I'll skim-read it and see what I think.

Edit: If I can manage to pirate it. I'm not paying for it.
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Old 09-29-2017, 09:44 PM   #169
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

I think I read and liked "This Changes Everything" and I see now that Naomi wrote a book on the Zapatistas which I definitely will be reading.
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Old 09-29-2017, 10:24 PM   #170
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Splinterlands by John Feffer. It's a novel and a quick read so I won't spoil too much here. It was written in 2016 and is narrated from the perspective of a social scientist/author in ~2050 who authored a successful thesis in the 2020s about the future of mankind. It's a dystopian future that's quite conceivable. Not the most comforting book but a good read nonetheless.
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Old 09-30-2017, 05:36 PM   #171
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East

I didn't know much about T.E. Lawrence going into this - never saw the movie or knew much about his story. Turns out he's a pretty remarkable dude, and this book covers his life and its place in the grander scheme of the Allied war effort in the Middle East in World War I against the Ottoman Empire. Lawrence led a revolt of Arabs against their Turkish Ottoman overlords with the aim of achieving for them an independent Arab state. At the war's beginning he's a low-level intelligence officer whose experience as an archaeologist in Syria gave him particular insight into the Holy Land's geography and peoples; by the end of the war he's a colonel leading small armies into battle. His respect for the Arabs led him to frequently scheme to help them at the expense of his superiors, especially after he discovered the existence of the Sykes-Picot agreement whose long-term damage to the region we're all familiar with today. Many of the largest characters had a lasting effect on history; Faisal Hussein, Lawrence's chief ally, was the first king of Iraq following the war and his brother Abdullah became the first king of Jordan (his descendants still rule it), not to mention Lawrence's gargantuan impact on bringing the Arabs of the Hejaz (western Arabia, which at that time was still controlled by the Hashemite dynasty) onto the Allied side and driving the Ottomans back to Turkey.

But as we know, his vision for the region never came to be; the British and French discarded his independent Arab state, and the British looked the other way in the 1920s as the House of Saud conquered the Hejaz, giving Saudi Arabia domination over the Arabian peninsula and all the modern problems that have come along with that. It's both tragic and fascinating to get such a detailed view into how that world came to be, and how one determined man came out of nowhere to play such an incredible part in it.
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Old 10-03-2017, 12:00 PM   #172
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Trevor Noah's autobiography about growing up in apartheid SA is very good.
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Old 10-03-2017, 02:37 PM   #173
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

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Trevor Noah's autobiography about growing up in apartheid SA is very good.
Second.

"Go Hitler" was a most memorable story.

Born a Crime

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Old 10-09-2017, 01:53 AM   #174
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Memoirs of a Revolutionist Peter Kropotkin (1899)

This is really excellent and I highly recommend it. This is an autobiography written when he was 57 after he wrote Conquest of Bread and during the period when parts of Mutual Aid were published, but not in the final book form. It covers his really interesting life from growing up in an aristocratic family, a placement as a royal page, going to Siberia as a military officer and a geographer. In Siberia he discovered for the Russians important passages in not well known lands. His growing political interests and activities, his arrest and time in prison in Russia, exile, prison in France, and life in England.

The focus is very much not on his personal life. Politics/socialism/anarchy comes first, science second and his personal life third. The reader doesn't even hear of his marriage, but later he just happens to have a wife. His child is just mentioned once. There are many mentions of interesting figures of the era like Marx, Darwin, Turgenev, Tolsoy, The Czars of course and discussion of the revolutions of the 18th and 19th century. It's a great contemporary view of the various schools of socialism, liberalism, and nihilism. And it's all quite contemporary in narrative and structure and imo entertaining.

I don't know if it matters or how I'd feel if I read them in a different order, but I'm glad to have read some Kropotkin before this.

It made me want to read Fathers and Sons by Turgenev, and it's hard to tell how big a spoiler it was without reading F&S, but Kropotkin seems spoil the ending in there. I guess he assumes that everyone reading this has read that already.
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Old 10-23-2017, 07:48 PM   #175
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

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No Good Men Among the Living - America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes Anand Gopal 2014

This is a fantastic book. Anand Gopal is an American journalist who has been a correspondent for the WSJ, The Christian Science Monitor and reported for Harper's, The New Yorker, The Nation, The New Republic, and Foreign Policy. IE, he is legit, vetted and comes with a reputation. You might want to know that because what he describes is truly fantastic in the sense that it could be hard to believe.

He spent at least three years in Afghanistan (like 2005-8 and went back for a time a couple years later). He traveled and interviewed many people, but focuses on a Taliban commander, a Pharmacist and his educated wife who go from Kabul to the countryside where it's a potentially deadly scandal if a woman's voice is even heard, and a pro-American warlordish person.

There is so much in here about how ****ed up Afghanistan is and how confused and counterproductive so much of what we have done has been and the same for the Soviets and the Taliban. There is a lot of personal drama and the focus is on that and one step back to the politics and the war. But, if you take another step back, although the author doesn't really go here, there is a look at the nature of people and society and politics and how different "solutions" result from different conditions.

I don't want to give any spoilers, but if you haven't been extremely skeptical about US reports of what has happened in Afghanistan you really should be. And Gitmo and prisons on US bases - there's some really awful stuff. One tiny spoiler is that we've had a bit of of problem with conducting raids, capturing, torturing and imprisoning people for years because they have the same name as someone else. Or just that we thought they did. There were two Afghans in Guantanamo who were both in there for being the same person.

Read this book please.
Just finished this book and agree it was great. Not having really followed the war in Afghanistan closely, it was remarkable reading how ****ed up America has made that country. It’s a tragedy, really.


Starting Dreamland now.

I’m looking for any recommendations for good books on Vietnam. Thanks.
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