Reviews

1 April 2019 Ian Sinclair

Penguin 2019 (2018); 368pp; £9.99

Originating in a 2013 essay for the radical magazine Strike!, David Graeber’s provocative book is an engrossing, if sometimes uncomfortable, read.

A professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics and an anarchist, Graeber helpfully works up a functional definition of what he considers a bullshit job: ‘a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though as part of the condition of employment the employee feels…

1 April 2019 Penny Stone

HammerOn Press, 2018; 384pp; £16

I must start this review with a statement of interest: I am a singer in the street choir / campaign choir movement. In many ways this makes me a more critical reader of this book, which collates the oral histories of over 40 voices from street choirs across the UK. It really matters to me that these stories are collected and made available, both to document the often unwritten history of ordinary people resisting social injustice, and to inspire others to become active!

The book details conversations with singers from across Wales,…

1 April 2019 Tomas Remiarz

Wolf Press, 2018; 232pp; £9.99

Winter isn’t coming – it has arrived in this chilling post-Brexit fiction set in the moors and towns of Northern England. Britain has become a cold place for EU citizens like Mara, the book’s main character. Mara’s life story – from rebellious punk in 1980s East Germany via road protester in 1990s England to an academic career – is revealed in a series of flashbacks, intertwined with the love story between her and Beth whom she met on a road protest in the 1990s.

The comfortable life Mara has built for herself abruptly comes to…

1 February 2019 Gabriel Carlyle

Adam Hochschild, Lessons from a Dark Time and Other Essays, University of California Press, 2018; 296pp; £22Rebecca Solnit, Call Them By Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays), Granta, 2018; 188pp; £12.99

The United States’ April 1917 entry into the First World War sparked a massive wave of internal repression that was to last until 1920.

US radical newspapers and magazines were targeted, with postmasters ordered to be on the lookout for anything ‘calculated to … embarrass or hamper the Government in conducting the war’.

The former secretary of war, Elihu Root (who would go on to co-found the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations) told a gathering at New York’s Union League Club that: ‘There are some newspapers…

1 February 2019 Jon Klaemint Hofgaard

Princeton University Press, 2018; 328pp; £14.99

There is a certain harmless air to tales. They are always fun to read and listen to because they conjure up worlds beyond our own doubtful and complex one.

What is fascinating about the stories collected by Michael Rosen in this book is that they give us a glimpse into a time – the late 19th/early 20th century – when the ideas and concepts of socialism were being tested and acted out in fictional realms peopled with elves, spirits, talking poultry, Martians and, especially, giants.

These were fantastical tales,…

1 February 2019 Cedric Knight

WW Norton & Company, 2018; 576pp; £19.99

Curiosity blows things up. Or at least, it vaporises interesting rocks using a laser designed by the US nuclear bomb laboratory at Los Alamos.

I am here referring not to the intellectual motivation behind much of ‘pure’ science, but rather to Curiosity, NASA’s robotic vehicle that is analysing the chemistry of Mars. This particular sharing of technology between ‘warfighting’ and the frontiers of science is one of the many diverse and disparate facts that you might glean from this wide-ranging book by historian Avis Lang…

1 December 2018 Gabriel Carlyle

University of California Press, 2018; 152pp; £17.99

On 15 February 2003, during the the famous million-plus-strong march against the US-led invasion of Iraq, I was handed a newsheet by an anarchist. Its gist, none too tactfully expressed, was that such mass demonstrations were pointless and that we were all fools for taking part. Whether or not he was right is one of the many questions about protest explored (in a US context) by LA Kauffman in this short but insightful book.

The mobilising director of some of the largest demonstrations in US history, including massive anti-war…

1 December 2018 Henrietta Cullinan

New Internationalist, 2018; 240pp; £9.99

In early October, the UN’s climate change body, the IPCC, released a report on climate change, leading media commentators in Britain to advise British consumers to stop eating meat and buy an electric car – lifestyle choices which do not fundamentally alter our privileged and protected situation. The Memory We Could Be has a very different message, calling for an end to ‘the separation of climate change from the deprivation it deepens’.

The stated aim of this book is to build ecological literacy: to help us understand…

1 December 2018 Emily Johns

Myriad Editions, 2018; 80pp; £19.99

Why make reportage drawings? Graphic artist Olivier Kugler was commissioned by Médecins Sans Frontières (‘Doctors Without Borders’) to travel to Iraq, Kos and Calais to interview Syrian refugees. He took photographs and used translators to record stories. So why not stop at that?

On first viewing, I didn’t like the drawings in this book. I shrank back from lines that didn’t please me, from flat Photoshop washes. But I was curious because something interesting happens in these illustrations. They are complex; they operate as a…

1 December 2018 Gabriel Carlyle

Pluto, 2018; 208pp; £16.99

For an event with such a pivotal role in the history of the 20th century (see PN 2622), the German Revolution of 1918-19 has a very low profile. Indeed, when he asked an upper-level class on Modern European History ‘What was the German Revolution?’ William Pelz received a number of incorrect answers (Hitler’s 1933 burning of the Reichstag, the 1989 fall of the Berlin wall, and ‘something to do with Luther and the Reformation’). But none of his students connected the words with ‘a movement that saw millions of people rising up to…

1 December 2018 Esme Needham

Myriad Editons, 2018; 264pp; £16.99

There are quite a lot of graphic novels around today whose main selling points are their beautiful, elaborate drawings. This book is not one of them. But while some people might be put off by the artwork here – anyone familiar with Darryl Cunningham’s other books will instantly recognise his faceless human figures and blocks of plain colour – I think it’s one of the best graphic novels I’ve read.

Featuring short biographies of seven different scientists who ‘for reasons of gender, race, mental health, poverty’ the author…

1 December 2018 Ian Sinclair

Pluto, 2018; 272 pp; £24.99

This is an essential read for anybody – activists very much included – who wishes to gain a deeper understanding of the 2007–2008 economic crash and its subsequent political after-shocks, from the election of Donald Trump in the US to Brexit and rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK.

However, first and foremost, the book is a sharp critique of the media’s coverage of the economic crisis.

As well as interviewing journalists, Laura Basu, a researcher at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Utrecht University, has analysed 1,133…

1 December 2018 Henrietta Cullinan

Polity, 2018; 224pp; £15.99

Mary Kaldor uses the term ‘security culture’ to refer to any set of tools and practices that a nation state, a non-state actor, or an armed (or unarmed group) uses in seeking to address or perpetuate violent conflict. In this book she focuses on four such ‘security cultures’: ‘geo-politics’, ‘new wars’, the liberal peace and the war on terror, examining their histories, the forces that motivate and sustain them, and their relationships to power.

Of the four security cultures, ‘geo-politics’ is still the most dominant, and the…

1 October 2018 Samra Mayanja

Verso, 2018; 352pp; £9.99

When I told a friend that I was reviewing this book she was very excited to learn that Segal, a seasoned feminist academic and activist, was reaching a younger audience. This was because of the impact Segal had on my friend’s own feminist thought, years ago. Those, like myself, who have not encountered Segal’s work before, will find this book transformative in its ability to communicate the power of collective joy as a tool for resistance.

Segal’s thesis is meandering in style, straightforward in argument and essential in content…

1 October 2018 Emily Carrigan

PM Press, 2017; 288pp; £17.99

In his preface to this book Noam Chomsky claims that the book ‘merits great respect and close attention’ and I cannot disagree. In fact, I strongly recommend it to anyone presently involved in activism or movement building aimed at meaningful social change.

In part two, Albert puts forward a persuasive argument for ‘participatory economics’ (an economic system  based on participatory decision making) as an alternative to markets and central planning.

Thankfully however, he does not think that wider change will be…