Reviews

1 October 2021 Robin Percival

Oxford University Press; 336pp; £75 [!]

Since the formal end of the Northern Ireland conflict, when the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, there has been an ongoing debate in Ireland and parts of academia about who ‘won’ the conflict. This is more than just a macho ‘we won, you lost’ type of contest. It goes to the heart of the role played by Britain’s intelligence services (primarily MI5 and MI6) in both fuelling the conflict and then helping to bring it to an end.

Broadly there are two camps.

The first camp, which is promoted by a small group of journalists…

1 October 2021 Henrietta Cullinan

Luath Press, 2021; 224pp; £12.99

For me, the most interesting chapter in Activism for Life was ‘Answering questions from a young activist’, in which Angie Zelter reflects on what makes for effective action and on her support for the direct action tactics used by current movements.

Most of the book, though, is storytelling along with an archive collection. Zelter covers 50 years of nonviolent direct action campaigns – from Greenham Common to the founding of XR Peace.

As she recounts her own experiences, Zelter calls for actions to be accessible to…

1 October 2021 Andrew Bolton

Pluto, 2021; 256pp; £16.99

Permaculture was launched by the book Permaculture One (1978), written by Terry Leahy’s fellow Australians David Holmgren and Bill Mollison. It began as a system of agriculture and horticulture that emphasised the growing of perennial tree crops as opposed to annuals, drawing on the practices of indigenous peoples with the use of ecological and agricultural sciences.

Permaculture then evolved to become ‘sustainable agriculture and settlement design informed by three permaculture ethics – care for the earth / care for people…

1 October 2021 George Buskell

Pluto 2021; 240pp; £16.99

‘The UK is not innocent’ became a rallying cry for thousands of anti-racist activists in the UK who took to the streets in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death in the summer of 2020.

Over the past year, there has been an astonishing awakening, especially among young people, to the reality of racism in Britain. But while radical anti-racist politics has certainly been growing, there is still a widespread perception in the UK that racism is uniquely a disease of the United States.

Activists have been accused of ‘importing’ a…

1 October 2021 Ian Sinclair

Pluto Press, 2021; 256pp; £16.99

Roads, Runways and Resistance is infused with a sense of urgency in terms of the climate crisis.

Underpinned by 50 original interviews with activists, policymakers and lobbyists, Steve Melia surveys key campaigns against government transport policy over the past 30 years. These range from the anti-roads protests of the ’90s to the fight against airport expansion and the Extinction Rebellion (XR) mass actions of 2019. His review includes the fuel protests of 2000, which nearly brought the country to a standstill.

As a…

1 August 2021 Henrietta Cullinan

Pluto Press, 2021; 160pp; £9.99

In this book, Leah Cowan dares the reader to imagine a country without borders , encouraging us to take off our ‘capitalist-tinted glasses’ in order to understand migration. She also recommends that we use her book as a companion to understanding the stories told by migrants themselves.

Challenging the view of migrants as ‘outsiders’, she recounts some of the history of British colonial expansion and resource extraction which has left many countries impoverished and economically depleted.

Countries such as Sudan, Hong Kong and…

1 August 2021 Gabriel Carlyle

Head of Zeus, 2021; 224pp; £14.99 American Meteorological Society, 2019; 570pp; £23  Scribe, 2021; 368pp; £16.99

Earlier this year, I received an email from a local Extinction Rebellion (XR) group with the subject line ‘Update your truth’. It stated that ‘[e]ven if we turn off the CO2 [carbon dioxide] tap today, we have already committed future generations to at least 2ºC of additional heating’.

I knew this claim had no basis in current science. Its source was probably XR’s co-founder Roger Hallam. Similar claims from Hallam have been posted to the group’s Facebook page.

It made me think: if you’ve been involved in climate activism over…

1 August 2021 Pascal Ansell

Verso 2020; 528pp; £20

In its earliest form, the manifesto acted as a loudspeaker for sovereign power. Since the 16th century, however, the manifesto has travelled from the quills of monarchs and church leaders to find shiny new forms as a game-changing catalyst.

Manifestos are always at odds with society, and society is always ill-at-ease with them. They are intended to provoke action, and are frequently distant from mild-mannered argumentation.

A decent manifesto grabs you. The original meaning of ‘manifest’ is to make ‘plainly apprehensible,…

1 August 2021 Ian Sinclair

Pluto Press, 2021; 304pp; £16.99

‘The Guardian’s mission’, the paper’s editor Katharine Viner recently stated, ‘is one that allows – and even encourages – [me]… to challenge the powerful, whatever the consequences.’

This collection, edited by Des Freedman, professor of media and communications at Goldsmiths university, does a good job of demolishing this self-serving view.

Though the paper has a reputation for identifying with left-wing positions, Freedman argues that ‘the Guardian is not a left-wing newspaper… it is not affiliated to nor…

1 August 2021 Ian Sinclair

Vintage, 2020; 231pp; £12.99

Joel Bakan’s The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, was published in 2004 alongside a film documentary of the same name. Those were timely and influential assaults on the central institution of contemporary capitalism.

Bakan has now written a sequel, a response to the ‘trend of corporations claiming to be different, to have changed into caring and conscientious actors – ready to lead the way in solving society’s problems.’ This shift is, it seems, a reaction to public concern. Larry Fink, of…

1 August 2021 Milan Rai

BenBella Books, 2020; 335pp; £19.99

The Button is terrifying – and very mainstream, reinforcing lots of US propaganda. However, it should be just the ticket for shaking the confidence of even the most deterrence-minded relative.

One of the authors, William Perry, was undersecretary of defence under US president Jimmy Carter.

Perry tells the story of how he was called at 3am on 3 June 1980 and told the US air defence system (NORAD) had detected 2,200 Soviet missiles on their way to the US.

He was then told it was a false alarm, but the US national…

20 July 2021 Henrietta Cullinan

Verso, 2020; 224pp; £14.99

The author, a well known philosopher and gender theorist, seeks to secure the often ‘disputed’ terms violence and nonviolence through a project that explores texts from psychoanalysis, sociology and philosophy. In the quest for a definition, Butler starts with the philosophical fantasy of premodern man in a state of nature, in perpetual, selfish conflict with his neighbours. This man arrives on the scene as a fully formed adult, excluding women, children, the elderly or sick from discussions of violence.

In contrast, Butler writes,…

20 July 2021 Emily Johns

www.esb.international AND Civic Leicester; 152pp; £9.99

This winter, I was moved by these two creative responses to colonial history and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ty Chijioke, the Igbo British rapper, died of COVID complications in May 2020. The huge love and respect for his person and work are evident in the inaugural project of Empire Strikes Back, an international programme for emerging multidisciplinary artists. ESB is putting together a programme of creative events around the world that challenge oppressive legacies in former British colonies.

Ty’s legacy of words and…

20 July 2021 Gabriel Carlyle

Chelsea Green Publishing, 2019; 352pp; £15.99

The 2004 Republican National Convention was a tumultuous affair. Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of New York, and the city’s police department created what some termed a ‘little Guantanamo on the Hudson’.

They converted a block-long pier into a temporary prison to house the hundreds of people – including random members of the public – that they had swept up in mass arrests.

ABC News’ late-night television news programme, Nightline, aired pictures of two dozen people whom the police had named as…

20 July 2021 Callum Alexander Scott

Penguin Books, 2020; 528pp; £10.99

The premise of this book is simple: the BBC is under ‘unprecedented attack’ from a wide range of hostile forces, and the challenges it currently faces may destroy it within a generation.

So, what are these challenges?

Following a brief introduction outlining its role as a public service broadcaster, the authors present a passionate and impressively dense analysis.

The first issue covered is the rise of the US media and tech giants: Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google (the ‘FAANGs’) and Disney Plus. These tax-…