Ahh this book is so great to read. If you consider yourself a student of history, you can't ignore the world's greatest power, the United States. If you can't ignore the United States, then you can't really know its history without understanding how it treated American Indians, African slaves, women, unions and those who dissented from its leaders picture of manifest destiny. History should not be the story of elite groups, it should not ignore the struggle of people to claim our humanity from powerful interests, it should not recount events divorced from the context of the wider society in which they occurred, it should not gloss over uncomfortable details in the interests of patriotism, religion or any other method of control. Howard Zinn tries to right that wrong in this highly enjoyable and inspiring classic. A must read.
Modern psychology evaluates an individuals sanity by their relationship to our society, are they successful socially, materially? With suicide and depression rates rising fastest in the very societies with the greatest access to modern psychological medicine, is reconciling an individual to our society really the path of sanity? The question Fromm is asking, is whether our society on the whole is sane, and whether asking an individual to judge themselves by their relationship to it is in fact leading them away from sanity. The first part of the book generally revolves around this theme, and whilst I agree wholeheartedly with it, I found that I enjoyed the book more as I got further into it. At this point Fromm talks about modern industrial society and how it might be reconciled with sanity, how it might become as productive for the human spirit, as it currently is at producing materialism. He discusses socialism as the way forward for humanity, his primary focus is based on two flawed visionaries, Marx and Freud. His choice of these two people who have had such a huge influence on our world, is indicative of the tone of the book, Freud with his concern about the pyschological state of humanity, and Marx with his emphasis on the materialistic sphere. Fromm sees the truth as dwelling somewhere between (and above) these. This book is fascinating, I couldn't put it down. It started out quite slowly, but by the end I was well and truly hooked, and Fromm had given me a more mature view of steps towards the ideal society I and most people I know would like to see. I bought this book by chance, and it has inspired me to read more alternative thinkers of the past (Fromm quotes a number in this book). Fromm may have written this in the fifties, but it could not be more relevant today.
Albert Einstein said of Gandhi: "Generations to come will scarcely believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood.". Gandhi was an extraordinarily complex man. Along with his better known qualities he was a believer in the central truth of all religions, he was a passionate vegetarian, wrote many books, was a qualified lawyer and had a fascination with his urine. Reading this book won't leave you with the impression that he was flawless, indeed he can be downright annoying and stubborn in sections of the book. What is the beautiful thing about him, the thing that set him apart from so many others, was his absolute conviction to live according to his ideals. As a London educated lawyer, a comfortable life would have been assured for him, however he could not live such a life in a world teeming with injustice, and he had the self belief that he could do something about it. In a world where compassionate ideals are dismissed as foolishness, here is a man who was prepared to stand for them to the point of great physical harm. In overcoming the British Empire's 100 year occupation of his homeland, he changed the world through his gift of an example of non violent struggle, and for this he will be remembered long after we are gone. Gandhi is one of the great men of history who succeeded against vast odds, and learning about him is a powerful tool for ones own life. "I can see in the midst of death, life persists, in the midst of untruth, truth persists, in the midst of darkness, light persists." - Mohandas K. Gandhi
"The True Martin Luther King Jr.". Martin Luther King Jr. was perhaps the greatest citizen of the US in the twentieth century and the US has a national holiday reflecting this status on his birthday. I knew little about him apart from his inspiring "I had a dream" speeches and a few sample's on PE records, and it was wanting to learn more about this great man that prompted me to buy this book. The main focus of the book is rescuing MLK's legacy from those who have shamelessly used his name to support their own, often right wing political agendas. MLK was a radical who believed strongly in Social Democracy, one of his famous quotes was "When you are right, you can't be too radical". He strongly believed in reform of our systems of government and in providing equality of outcomes to all peoples, not just theoretical equality of opportunity. A flawed man, particularly in his attitudes towards women, he also had profound, transcendent moments which will make him forever one of the greatest. Hounded by the Hoover's FBI who were convinced he was a communist, facing angry mobs and police dogs in the deep south and hated by right wing groups who eventually shot him down in Memphis, King lived a life unbowed. Reading this book was an inspiration to me. If you too would change the world, I recommend the words of this great African American man.
This book was released with enough hype that I had heard about it for a while before I had any idea what it was about, therefore I assumed it was a stupid novel or something. I'm not sure how I came about to know what it was really about and read it, but I was very glad I did. This book talks about what is behind the facade of trends and brands in our modern world, how they are created and sustained both in the factories of impoverished countries, and the soulless designer offices of the PR world. Like all great books, it goes beyond any description I could give it in a short space, unions, pr, sweatshops, corporations, advertising to children, temporary workers, and it even gets around to letting you know what resistance to this is forming. The western world has changed rapidly and deeply in the last few decades, and books like No Logo and Fast Food Nation fill you in on whats driving it and why it's so harmful. We have become the product - if you want your humanity back, read No Logo.
"The Truth About Corporate Cons, Globalization and High-Finance Fraudsters". Greg Palast proves two things with this mind blowing book (John Pilger said "This information is a hand grenade"). Firstly that investigative reporting isn't dead, secondly that it is the sort of reporting that really matters. Starting from a detailed account of how a daddy's boy with a low IQ stole the election for the leader of the free world, moving on to globalization, corporatization and privatization, he shows the seedy seemy side of political and corporate life that our media are paid to gloss over rather than look into. Through leaked documents, undercover operations and general hard work, he gives us a peek into the underbelly of the controlling elites culture. It is through the control of information that corporations maintain their stranglehold on our society, and it will be through the freedom of information that we will break that control. Someone once said "The Wars of the Future will be fought with information", and this information really is an intellectual hand grenade. Greg Palast has done his bit, the least you can do is read it.
This book looked really interesting from the first time I heard about it, and with Noam Chomsky recommending it on the cover (Along with Rev Tim Costello and Natasha Stott Despoja) I kept trawling the library for it until it finally came in. I must say the first few pages really rocked my world, particularly about the disjunct between the union and social justice facets of the left. From then on it got into what the book is about, that we have given economics far too central a position in the political and social life of our culture. It makes this point well, and quite thoroughly, I think it's a book that is important for people who think economic growth is the be all and end all of society to read. For those of us who already understand that this isn't the case, it will be less enlightening. However I don't think it was written with someone like me in mind, though that is not to say I didn't enjoy it, it is an easy read and makes a lot of points without which our culture will not move beyond it's current self destructive phase.
Joseph Stiglitz went from academia on to some of the most powerful positions in the world possible for an economist, from advisor to the Clinton government to chief economist at the World Bank, he also picked up the 2001 Nobel Prize for Economics along the way. Stellar credentials indeed, yet I have heard reports that at meetings of the major world economic instituions, he is forced to stand behind the barriers along with the protestors, barriers which make sure the economic tyranny is not threatened by an outbreak of social democracy. His crime is to look at economics from a view point of helping poor countries and people, and of not conforming to the unchecked free market ideology that has become an article of religious faith in economic schools around the world. To them there is only one solution to every country in the worlds ills, remove tarriffs, cut social spending, disempower unions and create a wealthy controlling class. There are of course minor problems with their placebo for all economic ills, it doesn't work and it is socially devastating. It doesn't achieve their stated aims but this is only a problem of propaganda, as very few people actually believe their stated aims are what they are really interested in. Stiglitz is painstaking in his dissection of the simplistic free market economic models so favoured in todays neo-liberal climate. He shows why they have failed Africa, Russia, South America and other nations, and why other nations have succeeded doing the exact opposite of what western economists were recommending to them. If anything Stiglitz is a little too painstaking for a non economist like myself, too cautious, but I guess he has to make his case and the only way to do that is by showing the repetition of evidence. There are also a few occasions where he holds back from telling it like it is, the prime one being where he says that if you look at the economists actions and pretend they are only acting in the interests of the investor community and don't care about the poor, their actions start to make sense, but he is very careful to state that this is not necessarily what is happening. This is not a book I would recommend to anyone who wants an enjoyable read, but if you seek to understand economics on a larger scale and to gain an insight into the mindset of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund written about by an insider of the highest calibre, then I think it is a book you have to grit your teeth and read.
When I sit on the train watching people reading crime and fantasy novels, I despair at how stupid most non fiction is, and then I remember George Orwell's 1984. This is a towering work of fiction, whilst I love the Lord of the Rings which won a number of polls of best fiction book of the 20th century, 1984 would be my choice. I remember talking to a female friend who saw it as a love story, whereas I hardly noticed that aspect of the book, this is part of Orwell's genius, to write on so many levels that different readers will take away different aspects. Set in a future world where the fascist ideological state controls every aspect of the citizens lives, it details the struggles of a man to find truth, love and his own distinct identity within it. The Party, personified by it's omnipotent leader Big Brother, controls Oceania, one of the world's three parts, along with Eastasia and Eurasia. They are perpetually at war with one another, shifting allegances so that no region ever gains complete dominance. The war is used as a reason to pry into peoples lives, to repress them, to give them a shoddy standard of living, and the battle front is an ever consuming machine for the consumption of goods. The main character in the book Winston Smith, despises his controlled life amidst the party, and hearing rumours of a resistance attempts to seek it out. What he finds is that War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength, and 1 plus 1 equals 3. To find out what this means you will have to read the book (although War is Peace is on often repeated line of our political leaders). 1984 is a classic of alternative thought, you will find it quoted by Chomsky, Pilger and many great writers, artists and thinkers. I sometimes wonder if the leaders of our current planet also use 1984 to advise them on how to control the population. In the book, ultimately there is no escape from Big Brother, let us hope this doesn't reflect our own world too closely.
"The Indispensable Chomsky". Noam Chomsky is the author I have read the most of in the last few years. Brilliant, articulate, compassionate, well researched, insightful, he has inspired a generation of activists, and enraged a generation of those who have grown fat from the status quo. In a world where everyone was involved in a vibrant discussion of ideas he would be a household name. This book transcribes Chomsky's discussions on many of the important topics in our world over the last decades. His favourite topic is the use of US power to dominate world politics for the purposes of maintaining US privilege and position. He doesn't ever forget though, that the US has the highest proportion of people living in poverty and in prisons in the western world, and that it is not the land of plenty for everybody. The elite which dominates the US, has more in common with corporate elites in other countries than their own less well off population. Indeed they fear that potentially democratic population and do what they can to ensure that they are kept in line. If you would like to reclaim our world from corporations and vested interests, from military hegemony and corrupt elites, if you would like to see a world where the purpose of our institutions is helping people live their lives, rather than being used to make a dollar for an elite, you should read some Chomsky and this book is a great place to start. The Nation was right when they said "Not to have read [him] is to court genuine ignorance", whatever side of politics you are on, you should know what he has to say.