Reviews

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-…

20 July 2021 Ian Sinclair

The Big Indy Books, 2020; 366 pp; £14.99

Having directed the award-winning 2011 documentary about Gene Sharp, How To Start A Revolution, Ruaridh Arrow has now published an engrossing biography of the man who CNN once called ‘the father of nonviolent struggle’.

Sharp, who died in 2018 aged 90, led an extraordinary life.

He was sent to prison for refusing to be drafted at the time of the Korean War, worked as assistant editor at Peace News in the late 1950s, observed firsthand the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989, and trained activists in Burma in the early…

20 July 2021 Andrea Needham

MIT Press, 2020; 296pp; £15.99

As a nurse working in a care home where many residents have died of COVID-19, I’ve been increasingly frustrated about anti-vaxxers.

These include two members of my immediate family, one my disabled 87-year-old father, who insists that he’ll be better off ‘in the long run’ without a COVID-19 vaccine. Nothing I say can persuade him otherwise.

I had high hopes, then, for this book, with its enticing subtitle. Published last year – but too late for COVID-19 to make an appearance, except in the preface – Anti-vaxxers focuses on…

6 July 2021 Cath

Diggers & Dreamers Publications, 2021; 358pp; £12 and Diggers & Dreamers Publications 2020; 200pp; £12 Both available from: www.diggersanddreamers.org.uk

The Laurieston Hall and Lifespan communes are rare survivors of a wave of ambitious efforts by a generation who knew they were changing the world. The creation stories and quotes in these two books speak to a faith in oneself and in others, of the confidence of youth and the power of ideas to harness collective energy.

Laurieston, in Galloway, was born from a desire by London feminists to start living the feminist, ecological revolution as an experiment and an example. Lifespan’s ambition was to be a residential, intergenerational…

6 July 2021 Jessica Poyner

AK Press, 2020; 192pp; £9.95

In this book, Alexis Pauline Gumbs dives deep into the world of oceanic and freshwater marine mammals, stripping away the white heterosexual lens usually used to examine their lives by David Attenborough-types.

Instead, from a black feminist perspective, Gumbs reveals a world where co-operative forms of childrearing, rest and queer love are central to existence. Each short chapter explores how we survive and build loving lasting communities with each other.

I initially found this book challenging to get into. The prose is…

6 July 2021 Emily Johns

Thames & Hudson, 2020; 320pp; £35 (Lincoln et al) and Jonathan Cape, 2020; 272pp; £20 (Sacco)

The Arctic is our touchstone. We have been looking to it for decades for the physical signs of climate change: the retreat of the sea ice, the starving polar bears, the melting permafrost. We are looking to the North for what climate catastrophe looks like.

The British Museum curators have collaborated with Arctic peoples to create an exhibition (Arctic: culture and climate) and a series of events that could give us temperate dwellers an understanding of their culture and its changes over 30,000 years. And most particularly…

6 July 2021 Virginia Moffatt

The New Press, 2020; 298pp; £19.99

‘Does it not appear that the cause of all wars was and is: That the whites have always been the aggressors, and the wars, cruelties and bloodshed is a job of their own making and not the Indians?’ This statement by activist William Apess in 1836 could describe the US military at any time since its inception during the War of Independence, and is often at the heart of the dissent that Chris Lombardi documents in this book.

Beginning with the battlefield conversion of Lutheran Jacob Ritter during the War of Independence and ending with…

6 July 2021 Esme Needham

Revela Press, 2020; 256pp; £19.99

Was Cleopatra really a ‘girlboss’?

In the last few years, countless anthologies of great women from history have been published. Many of them, unfortunately, feature already well-known figures: I have three such books which have a section on Cleopatra, despite the fact that her fame probably doesn’t need much boosting.

Nina Ansary’s new contribution to the genre, however, features a very different Cleopatra: Cleopatra Metrodora, an ancient Greek woman who is thought to have been the first female medical scholar. Her treatise …