Wednesday, December 04, 2013

My books of 2013

It's the time of the year for "best" and "top" lists.  As in 20122011, 2010, and 2007, I've looked back over the books I've read this year to come up with . I'm considering only books I read for the first time this year and ones published fairly recently, basically in 2012-2013.   For the most part, as I did last year,  I have excluded all but a few books on economics and unions which deserve separate list. Maybe  I'll get a post done on labor and economic books from 2011-2013.

I have a  large stack of books bough but not read in 2013 and late 2012. There are undoubtedly some that might have made this list had I been more diligent. There's a good chance they'll make next year's list.

1.  Michael Austin. That's Not What They Meant!: Reclaiming the Founding Fathers from America's Right Wing  (Amazon )

 This is an entertaining and enlightening take down of the right wing's  distortions  of the founding fathers and the Constitution.  Austin has carefully read David Barton, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and other right-wing pundits and the Federalists and anti-Federalists, so  you don't have to.  But you are most likely going to encounter the specious arguments  of the right-wing from co-workers,. neighbors, and family.  That's when Austin's book comes in handy. I think it would make an excellent gift.

Austin has also written an e-book supplement, That's Not What They Meant About Guns


2. Andrew Levison, The White Working Class Today (Amazon  )

 As a young leftist, I was a big fan of Levinson's 1974 book The Working Class Majority.. Now, almost three decades later,  he has written a follow-up of sorts, a more examination of the white working class.  This is a chock full of data analysis with many important insights.  It is pitched at Democratic Party electoral strategists, but  has lots to say to community and union activists.

Levison and Ruy Texeria present a summary of the analysis in a New Republic article


To create a stable Democratic majority, Democrats need to win the support of a significant group of voters who are now part of the Republican coalition. As the 2012 elections demonstrated, the group that has perhaps the greatest potential in this regard is the white working class.
Moreover,
a significant group of white workers who currently vote for the GOP are “open minded,” not progressive but persuadable, on a wide range of issues including many traditionally associated with conservatives and the GOP. Such issues range from assistance for the poor and the need for government regulations to attitudes about social, ethnic and religious tolerance. Many white workers, while not Democrats, are also not Rush Limbaugh/Fox News conservatives.

3. Frank Dikotter,  The Tragedy of Liberation  (Amazon  )

The title of this important readable  book recalls Harold  Isaac's classic book on 1925-27  The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution (on-line from Marxist archive).Isaacs was a Trotskyist political activist  who later became of college professor of liberal or social democratic views.  Dikotter is a professional historian. 

Dikotter builds his book around official Chinese government and party documents thatr have become available in recent years, but he presents his findings in a lively way.

Some takeaways.  First, the early years of Chinese Communist rule exerted a tremendous human cost.  The millions who were killed and the millions others who were sent to prison camps would have made Maosit China, even before the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution,  one of the worst violators of humanity in our past bloody century. Second,  there was no economic miracle.  By many measures, the living standards of Chinese workers and peasants declined after Liberation.  Third, there were widespread.     struggles from workers, peasants, and citizens against the dictatorial policies of the new rulers.


4.-5.s Robert Kuttner, Debtor's Prison (Amazon  )  and  Mark Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Amazon )

 Mark Levinson wrote a tandom review of these two in Dissent's summer issue.  Unfortunately, it's available on-line only to subscribers. I assume that Kuttner is familiar to most of my readers, but if you want to know more about Debtors Prison, Richard Eskow has a great review on Huffington Post.


 There's an excellent review of Blyth  at the London School of Economics website. Declan Jordan writes


At times I wondered if it was a contradiction in terms to enjoy so much a book about austerity. This is an intelligent, well-written book that is recommended for anyone wishing to understand, in both practical and intellectual terms, how the global economy has found itself in crisis.

We have heard the common mantra “austerity is not working” so often that it has now become cliché. The most irksome element of that mantra, at least for this reviewer, is that so often it is not clear what austerity means and even what would it mean for austerity to ‘work’. This is why it is refreshing for Mark Blyth to offer his definition of austerity early in the book, when he says it is “a form of voluntary deflation in which the economy adjusts through the reduction of wages, prices and public spending to restore competitiveness, which is (supposedly) best achieved by cutting the state’s budget, debts and deficits” (p.2).

The author argues that austerity is a dangerous idea for three reasons: it can’t work in practice, it imposes a disproportionate burden on poorer households, and it ignores the fallacy of composition that says that all countries cannot be austere simultaneously.



6..William Jones, The March on Washington  (Amazon  )

A history of the 1963 March on Washington which stresses the role of black trade unionist and the radical economic message of the march.


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7. Sasha Abramsky, The American Way of  Poverty (Amazon )

On the 50th anniverary of Michael Harrington's influential The Other America,  Sasha   Abramsky has written a very useful and information-packed book.   He combines vignettes, analysis, and policy prescriptions.








8.  Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel (editors) The Syria Dilemma  (Amazon  )


A wide-ranging collection of views about Syria from a variety of mainly US leftists.








9.  Blaine Harden Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West  (Amazon)

The publisher describes the book this way

The heartwrenching New York Times bestseller about the only known person born inside a North Korean prison camp to have escapedNorth Korea’s political prison camps have existed twice as long as Stalin’s Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. No one born and raised in these camps is known to have escaped

 No one, that is, except Shin Dong-hyuk.

In Escape From Camp 14, Blaine Harden unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state through the story of Shin’s shocking imprisonment and his astounding getaway. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence—he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his mother and brother.

Hardin interweaves Shin Dong-hyuk personal story with historical and sociological analysis of the North Korea prison state to make this a very readable and educational book. It  has received almost 1000 reader reviews on Amazon with an average of 4.5 out of 5 starts.


Harden gave a book talk at Watermark Books in Wichita in the Spring.  It was a good talk.  During the pre-talk socializing, Harden confirmed that much of the machinery of North Korean machinery was learned from Stalin's Soviet Union.During the Q&A period after Harden's talk,, I asked about B.R. Myers' research showing that the North Korean ideology is based on racism and has more in common with Fascism than with the left..  Harden had good words to say about the relevance of Myers' views.



10.   John Curl, For All the People (Amazon  )


The subtitle sums it up: "Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America."  There is much in this book that I knew from the edge from readings about the American labor and socialist movements, but here it is front and center. There has been a powerful and enduring impulse in the American people to seek cooperative and communal alternatives to capitalism. Curl does an excellent job in exploring that history. For  my taste, there is a little too much on the intricacies of co-op and communalism in the counter-culture of the 1960s and beyond.


11. Peter Dreier, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Amazon)

A very useful  collection of biographical essays  about the 100 Americans Dreier judges to have contributed the most to social justice in the 20th century. i would have had slightly different choices and I was disappointed that Dreier down played or ignored  controversial and unfortunate aspects of some of his selectees.  Nonetheless, I recommend it highly.


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