Reviews

1 October 2022 Gabriel Carlyle

Ban the bomb!: Ibidem, 2021; 290pp; £26  Rebel verdict: Irene, 2022; 512pp; £25.50 from pmpress.org.uk or £22.50 (+ p&p if ordering) from Housmans bookshop: https://housmans.com/

Among the first books I read when I got involved in the peace movement in the late 1990s, three were by Michael Randle: Civil resistance (on the history, theory and practice of nonviolence), How to defend yourself in court (a useful instructional) and The Blake Escape (co-authored with Pat Pottle, their thrilling account of how and why they helped to break superspy George Blake out of Wormwood Scrubs prison and smuggle him out of the country).

Unhappily all three of these excellent works now appear to be…

1 October 2022 Henrietta Cullinan

 Verso, 2022; 400pp; £20

It is challenging and frustrating to read in this book about the efforts nations have put into making war more palatable.

For most people, the idea of a ‘humane’ war is a contradiction in terms, particularly now as we watch Putin’s aggressive war in Ukraine unfold. Samuel Moyn quotes the Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz: ‘The fact that slaughter is a horrifying spectacle must make us take war more seriously.’

Clausewitz also warned that laws on the conduct of war could swiftly be broken by a desperate…

1 October 2022 Andrea Needham

Scribe Publications 2022; 288pp; £12.99

I am raging.

Everywhere I go, on foot or on my bike, I am assailed by cars.

Huge cars. Stinking cars. Cars driven by maniacs.

My town is full of cars, and there is a single priority on every road: to maximise the convenience of motorists, never mind the convenience – far less the safety – of other road users.

I have to walk long distances to cross a road because traffic engineers have put up railings to stop me crossing where I want. I have to wait ages at traffic lights because there’s a long phase for motorists…

1 October 2022 Virginia Moffatt

Pen & Sword, 2022; 272pp; £25

Symon Hill’s impressively comprehensive history of the modern UK peace movement takes us from the moment in 1980 when Ann Pettit had the idea of a women’s walk to Greenham to the 2021 supreme court Ziegler ruling which quashed the conviction of four protesters who blockaded the DSEI arms fair in London.

In between, The Peace Protestors maps the growth of peace camps in the 1980s, the Falklands/Malvinas War, the Ploughshares Movement, Robin Cook’s doomed ethical foreign policy, 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, court cases,…

1 October 2022 Pascal Ansell

Zed, 2019; 208pp; £9.99 

None of us will ever travel to North Korea. We read about the regime and its atrocities, but far away from our information-saturated lives, what could it mean to exist on the other side? Poetry is literature's most condensed form, and in such concentrated doses we begin to get a taste of daily life under Kim Jong-il's regime, one of a permanent, colourless winter. 

These 51 poems find themselves melting onto our desks, each one desperate to be read. They are written by Bandi, the pseudonym of a dissident writer whose work has been…

1 August 2022 Eve Wedderburn

Jerwood Space, 171 Union Street, Southwark London, SE1 0LNhttp://www.jerwoodspace.co.uk/jerwood-visual-arts/ Leeds Art Gallery, 18 November 2022 – 22 January 2023https://www.fvu.co.uk/projects/jerwood-fvu-awards-2022  

The Jerwood Space is the kind of space you invent in one of those Why-Don't-They conversations that regularly happen amongst frustrated utopians with artistic leanings. Beautifully housed in a refurbished Victorian school, it is mixed space of rehearsal rooms, gallery space, studio space, rehearsal rooms and hipster café. Every inch of it is thoughtful and reflective; even the café seems to have caught the self-reflective practice vibe, announcing: NO INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES. JUST GOOD COFFEE. It is its own Platonic essence of East London arts…

1 August 2022 Erica Smith

Ebury, 2022; 400pp; £20

Five women give first-hand accounts of four undercover police spies who targeted them between 1987 and 2010. It is gripping and sickening to learn the extent of abuse that these women – and others – experienced. The format of the book involves short, dated sections from each of the five women, so that their stories are woven together. This can be confusing at times but it keeps the reader’s focus on the progress of their grooming, gaslighting and ghosting – and on their partial victory against the long-term abuse and misogyny of the…

1 August 2022 Gabriel Carlyle

Verso, 2017; 224pp; £17.99

Sometimes you discover a book which you just can’t believe slipped past you when it was published.

Marcus Rediker’s 2002 book The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (co-authored with Peter Linebaugh) has become a modern classic. So how could anyone with an interest in radical history fail to spot the publication of a new book by him – let alone one with this book’s subtitle?

Fortunately, it’s not too late to correct this oversight.

Given the prominent role played by Quakers in…

1 August 2022 Erica Smith

The Sentinel Publishing, 2021; 212pp; £9.99

Ted Parker was a working-class boy born in bomb-blasted Folkestone in 1942. His father was an army dispatch rider in the Second World War who died of Hodgkinson’s disease when Ted was eight. His mother was left to bring up two children alone and scraped a living as a cleaner in an army base.

When Ted was 13, she remarried and her new husband bought Ted his first guitar. Folk music and rock’n’roll remained important throughout Ted’s personal and political life. He did not do well at school and at 16 signed up, with his parents’…

1 August 2022 Ian Sinclair

Verso, 2022; 368pp; £20

Opening with a quote from the lawyer Otto Gritschneder – ‘Those who sleep in a democracy will wake up in a dictatorship’ – Nils Melzer notes that his new book is intended as ‘an urgent appeal… a wake up call to the general public.’

The United Nations special rapporteur on torture from 2016 until March 2022, Melzer provides a damning indictment of the US, UK, Sweden and Ecuador for their treatment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Writing in methodical and accessible language, he runs through the key events, starting with WikiLeaks…

1 August 2022 Erica Smith

Verso, 2021; 336pp; £20

‘1977 was the Queen’s 25th Jubilee, so we were subjected to doses of gush and drool in the media accompanied by her celebratory pink hat.… Labour was in power, but the new leader, James Callaghan, was more royal than the royals, and I was aware that a new right lurked among the Conservatives, deploying a rhetoric of freedom while backing the suppression of trade unions as well as gays.’

This quote is so topical I had to include it in the review, although it is one of the most subjective paragraphs in this beautifully-measured account…

1 June 2022 Emma Sangster

Windmill Books, 2022; 1,120pp; £14.99  

How do ordinary people – seemingly decent and peaceful at the individual level – become key parts of a system that perpetrates violence and destruction?

This is a question that our society is perhaps only beginning to widely acknowledge. For example, details have only recently surfaced of the thousands of ordinary people from the British Isles who invested in slave ownership in the British Caribbean.

I You We Them operates in the same territory, exploring the role and psychology of the individual, removed by distance…

1 June 2022 Andrew Bolton

PM Press, 2021; 208pp; £16.99 (less for the e-book)  

Rebecca Subar has written a great book. It is not complicated, has lots of stories, and is easy to read. It got better and better as I read through it. I remain inspired. But who is Rebecca?

Rebecca is ‘a transmasculine anti-Zionist able bodied white American Ashkenazi secular Jewish mom.’ She understands both privilege and vulnerability, she knows both being ‘up rank’ and ‘down rank’. This gives her insight and empathy with other vulnerable groups.

Professionally, Rebecca taught Peace and Conflict Studies at West Chester…

1 June 2022 Milan Rai

Verso, 2022; 448pp; £25

This is not so much a biography as one well-informed radical’s readable take on modern world history (with a lot of attention paid to the Russian Revolution – Trotsky is quoted frequently). The figure of Winston Churchill is mostly just a hook Tariq Ali uses to hang some eye-opening stories on.

If you want a thorough, sceptical, myth-busting account of the life of Winston Churchill, search out Clive Ponting’s 876-page Churchill (out of print).

Ponting’s attention to detail is remarkable. For example: ‘Churchill’s…

1 June 2022 Ian Sinclair

Hurst, 2021; 368pp; £14.99

Presumably hastily put together after the disorderly US-UK-NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, The Ledger is written by two advisors to the Western militaries and Afghan government: David Kilcullen and Greg Mills. Their roles gave the pair an enviable level of access to top level US-UK government and military sources, whom they cite regularly, but is also likely a key reason why their analysis is so restricted, generally limited to what Noam Chomsky calls the ‘fight it better’ school of criticism.

Kilcullen and…