Friday, December 31, 2010

My books of 2010

Here is my list of the most memorable books I read in 2010.  I've included only recently published books and minimized duplication with a list of best books for union activists that I'm working on.  

  1. John Atlas, Seeds of Change
Peter Drier writes "No group was better at kicking ass than ACORN. That’s the story that John Atlas tells in his fascinating new book, Seeds of Change: The Story of ACORN, America’s Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group,.."

Essential reading for social change activists.

2. Ian Fletcher, Free Trade Doesn't Work
Fletcher popularizes the fundamental flaws in the free trade model that have developed in the economics profession over recent decades. Absent highly unrealistic, but often unstated, assumptions, free trade theory falls apart. Jettisoning this misleading and economically destructive theory is essential to constructing a just economy.
A small book that makes the ethical case for socialism based on a camping trip metaphor.
  1. Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer, The  Sate of Jones
In 1863, a poor farmer deserted the Confederate Army and began a guerrilla battle against the Confederacy. Newton Knight refused to fight a rich man's war for slavery and cotton. It is a fascinating history that blows apart the traditional myth of the Confederacy as a heroic and unified Lost Cause.
  1. Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land
The late historian analyzes what has gone wrong in Western democracies over the last three decades.  An eloquent defense of social democracy, the public sector, and progressive politics.

  1. Dennis Lahane, The Given Day
Dnnnis Lahane is one of the country's most successful mystery-crime writers. His novels featuring private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro have been made into movies (Mystic Rivers and Gone, Baby, Gone). The Given Day is a departure is subject matter and style. It is an epic historical novel with the 1919 Boston police strike as its central pivot. It features Aiden "Danny" Coughlin, a Boston Police patrolman and Luther Laurence, a talented African-American amateur baseball player from Columbus, OH. Babe Ruth plays a recurring role.

Radical followers of John Brown applied the values of democracy and racial equality in the Federal Army of the Frontier. Mobilized and inspired by the idea of a Union that would benefit all, black, Indian, and white soldiers fought side by side, achieving remarkable successes in the field.
Benjamin Ross and Steven Amter have written a fascinating and eye-opening history of the companies, institutions, and policies that have created our chemically altered environment over the last century.

If Earth Day or the Love Canal tragedy were the events that brought the environmental crisis into your consciousness, then you owe it to yourself to read The Polluters. Even more so, if it was Global Warming or the BP oil spill.

Killer smog in LA and mass zinc poisoning in Denora, Pennsylvania are two dramatic events, just after WWII, covered by Ross and Amter. But there is also the story of DDT and leaded gasoline. The coverups by companies and the obfuscations of industry-influenced scientific groups are constants in the story.

Government has rarely been an effective regulator. The chemical industry in pursuing its own pecuniary interests has promoted and exploited an ideology of market fundamentalism, which has helped to negate and undermine efforts at regulation.

Jim Stanford, an economist in the research department of the Canadian Auto Workers, thinks economics is too important to be left to economists. So, he wrote this concise and readable book to provide nonspecialist readers with all the information they need to understand how capitalism works – and how it doesn’t.
Published to mark the 100th anniversary of the NAACP, Sullivan sheds new light on the history of America's leading civil rights organization. 
  1. Eric Olin Wright, Envisioning Real Utopias
Encyclopedic in its breadth, daunting in its ambition, Envisioning Real Utopias is the culmination of Erik Olin Wright’s revamping of Marxism. Dispensing with ruptural change and laws of history, Wright restores the social to socialism. He keeps alive alternatives to capitalism by exploring real utopias—their internal contradictions, their conditions of existence and, thus, their possible dissemination. Only a thinker of Wright’s genius could sustain such a badly needed political imagination without losing analytical clarity and precision. (Michael Burawoy, UC Berkeley )

Hugely rich and stimulating, Envisioning Real Utopias is many books in one: an incisive normative diagnosis of the harms done by capitalism; a masterful synthesis of the best work in political sociology and political economy over the past thirty years; an innovative theoretical framework for conceptualizing both the goals of progressive change and the strategies for their achievement; an inspiring survey of actually existing challenges to capitalism that have arisen within capitalism itself; and a compelling essay on the relation between the desirable, the viable and the achievable. Anyone interested in the future for leftist politics has to read this book. (Adam Swift, Balliol College, Oxford )

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