Reviews

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 …

6 July 2021 Andrew Bolton

London: Bloomsbury, 2020; 463pp; £8.99

The Israel-Palestine conflict reminds me of tribal Northern Ireland, segregation in the southern US states, and apartheid in South Africa. These comparisons also make me hopeful – to some degree justice has come in all these places.

Israel is the land of Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Micah and Jesus. It is the Holy Land for Jews, Christians and Muslims with holy potential for peace, shalomsalaam. It is also the place where my wife, Jewell, and I were engaged, so Israel/Palestine is more than just another conflict and…

4 July 2021 Andrew Bolton

Pax Christi International, 2020; 324pp; £20.50

Early on in WWII my dad, already in uniform, went to the Catholic army chaplain, troubled about being a soldier. Was it right for him to participate in the war?

He was single, still living at home when war came. The Catholic chaplain assured my dad that he was fighting in a just war. For a while Dad was okay, but then he asked himself this question: ‘Are German Catholic army chaplains telling German Catholic soldiers that this was an unjust war and that they should not fight?’ Bitterly he knew they were not. At this point, betrayed,…

4 July 2021 Henrietta Cullinan

PM Press, 2020; 288pp; £17.99

This book offers an unusual perspective on the Catholic Left, focusing on groups that formed to protest against the US draft during the Vietnam War. 

Famous examples such as the Baltimore Four and the Catonsville Nine, who destroyed thousands of draft cards, inspired dozens more, including Ted Glick’s own group, ‘The East Coast Conspiracy to Save Lives’. In this highly thoughtful and self-critical account, Glick tells the story of how his participation in a series of actions, and the resulting jail sentence, drew him into a lifetime…

4 July 2021 Erica Smith

Unbound, 2019; 312pp; £10.99

A couple of years ago, I picked up a flyer promoting this (then forthcoming) book from Unbound. During lockdown, I finally tracked down a copy. You may wonder whether a book about wrestling deserves space in Peace News. I hope I will persuade you that it does.

The author was an awkward schoolgirl with no more than a passing interest in wrestling, who discovered the underground punk movement, Riot Grrrl and feminism. 

Wrestling seems an unlikely saviour, but at 21, as an unfit and unsure borderline alcoholic, she…

4 July 2021 Gabriel Carlyle

Orbit 2020; 576pp; £20

When it published it’s landmark 2018 report on Global Warming of 1.5°C the UN’s climate change body, the IPCC, noted that limiting global warming to 1.5°C – the stretch goal of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement - ‘would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’.

In his latest utopian novel – part of his longtime project to try and populate the …

4 July 2021 Milan Rai

The New Press, 2019; 240pp; £22.50

Ian Haney López starts this fascinating and important book by describing his struggle to persuade (older, overwhelmingly white) trade union leaders and racial justice activists (mostly young women of colour) – all in the US – of the need for a cross-racial class fight for economic and racial justice. 

Trade union leaders are easier to persuade. Right-wing politicians have used racist appeals to get white people to elect governments that have attacked working-class people. It’s relatively straightforward to see how racism has…

4 July 2021 Ian Sinclair

Hachette USA, 2020; 288pp; £28  

Written in the wake of the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, Vicky Osterweil’s central argument is that looting and rioting are positive actions, which ‘in most instances… transform and build a nascent moment into a movement’. 

Unserious and incurious, In Defense of Looting won’t change the minds of seasoned peace activists though, worryingly, it might influence those who are in the process of forming their views on protest and political change.

Osterweil maintains that looting makes ‘day-to-day life easier by…

4 July 2021 Andrew Bolton

Francis Boutle, 2020; 560pp; £30

The First World War was the first mechanised, industrialised, chemicalised war and the founding catastrophe of the 20th century. It led to the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the rise of Hitler and the Second World War, the Cold War, and much more. 

Conscientious objectors (COs) have been called the shock troops of dissent in the First World War, and they were on the right side of history. 

Cyril Pearce’s magnificent new book about the men who refused to fight on grounds of conscience is surely now the definitive historical work…