Reviews

1 April 2019 Fiorella Lecoutteux

OR Books; 2018; 226pp; £16 (purchase online here)

How can we hold dictators to account? The list of those who have enjoyed complete impunity is long. Lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck has spent his whole life fighting to reverse this state of affairs: using the law to challenge Latin American ex-dictators, representing the families of US drone-attack victims in Yemen, and filing criminal complaints against the likes of ex-US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld.

Kaleck’s latest book is a manifesto for international law and how it can be used to change the status quo. As Edward Snowden…

1 April 2019 Benjamin

Zed Books, 2018; 400pp; £12.99

In 2014, captain Peter Hammarstedt and his crew, from the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd, set off from Tasmania on ‘Operation Icefish’. Their mission was to search the Southern Ocean for six illegal fishing vessels, wanted by Interpol. These ships were accused of poaching endangered Patagonian toothfish. Against the odds, the activists were able to locate one of the wanted vessels, Thunder, stop it fishing and set it to flight.

The book is a thrilling roller-coaster story, as packed with surprises and intrigue as…

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 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 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 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 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

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 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 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 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 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 October 2018 Esme Needham

Aurum Press, 2018; 336pp; £20

If you asked someone who had never read or heard anything about the origins of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) who they thought might have founded it, the chances are they would guess something along the lines of ‘some well-meaning elderly man who was opposed to the shooting of rare birds for sport’, or something like that. But it seems very unlikely that they would come anywhere near the real founders of the RSPB: a group of women who were passionately opposed to the shooting of rare birds for feathers.

They…

1 October 2018 Erica Smith

Four Corners Books, 2018; 152pp; £12

In 1979, the trade unionist and communist Richard Scott founded Leeds Postcards, which he named after the city where he lived and worked. The first postcard, beautifully illustrated by Peter Smith, was sponsored by the occupational health and safety magazine, Hazards Bulletin and warned of the dangers posed by ‘visual display units’ – the name given to computer screens when they began to be used in the workplace. Forty years later, despite computers taking over our lives and social media diminishing the use of the post service, Leeds…