Books

Why do we exist?

Author: 

Les Hearn

Stephen Hawking’s latest popular work (The Grand Design, written with physicist and author Leonard Mlodinow) seeks to answer questions that many have asked:

• Why is there something, rather than nothing?

• Why do we exist?

Hawking and Mlodinow (H&M) also pose a question which potentially answers the first two:

• Why this particular set of laws and not some other?

The answer, say H&M, is to be found in M-theory.

A review of 'The Grand Design' by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow

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Life in Kim's kingdom

Author: 

Tom Unterrainer

By the entrance to the British Museum’s Korea gallery is a case displaying a stone dagger dating from 1000-300 BC and a collection of stone arrow heads from 6000-2000 BC.

Next to these artefacts is a razor dating from the Koryo Dynasty of the 12th-13th century. The razor, used by Buddhist monks to shave their heads, was forged in the closing years of the Koryos — a ruling line from which the name “Korea” is derived.

A review of 'Nothing to Envy' by Barbara Demick about North Korea.

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Fit only for the recycling bin of history

Paul Hampton reviews Derek Wall, The Rise of the Green Left: Inside the Worldwide Ecosocialist Movement (2010)

Paul Hampton reviews Derek Wall's "The Rise of the Green Left: Inside the Worldwide Ecosocialist Movement".

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Marxist Theory and History: 

The new Marxist geography

Review of Noel Castree and others, The point is to change it: geographies of hope and survival in an age of crisis (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell).

Marxist geography has enjoyed an impressive renaissance in recent years. Paul Hampton reviews the new book "The point is to change it: geographies of hope and survival in an age of crisis".

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Trotsky in life and in history

Author: 

Stuart Jordan

As resistance to the public service cuts grows, and the labour movement reconstitutes, it will have to relearn the lessons of the past. This is no easy task given that much of history of 20th century is written by the anti-working class forces that crushed and defeated our movement — on the one hand the bourgeoisie, on the other the Stalinists.

A review of 'The Lacuna' by Barbara Kingsolver which presents a de-Stalinised portrait of Trotsky.

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Why we should switch our computers off more

Author: 

Martin Thomas

"The Shallows: how the internet is changing the way we think, read, and remember", by Nicholas Carr. Reviewed by Martin Thomas.

A friend recently told me about her 17 year old daughter's homework habits. She will habitually be watching a DVD on her computer and chatting by instant message with number of friends while simultaneously writing an essay for which she will get top marks.

Review of "The Shallows: how the internet is changing the way we think, read, and remember", by Nicholas Carr.

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Scott-land

Author: 

Dale Street

Dale Street reviews “Scott-Land – The Man Who Invented a Nation”, by Stuart Kelly

Even during his own lifetime Sir Walter Scott was simultaneously lionised and lampooned.

Was Sir Walter Scott a great ("Scottish") novelist or a churner out of literary dross? A new book surveys the controversies.

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Christoper Hitchens: never one of us

Author: 

Tom Unterrainer

Any number of questions popped into my mind whilst reading Hitch-22 – Christopher Hitchens’ recently published memoir – but two in particular kept coming back. The first: was Hitchens really ever “one of us”? The second: would it be easier to convince a Hitchens admirer or one of his mortally hostile “left wing” critics of my politics? Why did these questions keep coming back?

A review of 'Hitch-22' by Christopher Hitchens

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The trouble with Christopher Hitchens

Author: 

Tom Unterrainer

By Tom Unterrainer

Any number of questions popped into my mind whilst reading ‘Hitch-22’ – Christopher Hitchens’ recently published memoir – but two in particular kept coming back.

The first: was Hitchens really ever ‘one of us’? The second: would it be easier to convince a Hitchens admirer or one of his mortally hostile ‘left wing’ critics of my politics? Why did these questions keep coming back?

A review of "Hitch-22", the memoir of Christopher Hitchens, who died in December 2011.

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Engineered identities

Author: 

Tom Unterrainer

“It hurts to be misrepresented, but there is no representation without misrepresentation… Bangladeshi Britons would be better off not reading — or, when it comes out, seeing the film of — Brick Lane.” Germaine Greer, ‘Reality Bites’, the Guardian, 24 July 2006

The furore that accompanied plans to film Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane in the eponymous east London neighborhood were just the latest in a long-running series of incidents that have come to signify — if not define — the deterioration of the left, its understanding of race and identity.

A review of From Fatwa to Jihad by Kenan Malik.

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Hurricane Katrina: jailed for helping people in New Orleans

Author: 

Tom Unterrainer

As the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed New Orleans in late August 2005, Abdulrahman Zeitoun remained tucked in the relative safety of his daughters’ second floor bedroom. Around him were gathered the books, photographs, mementos and other less valuable but expensive-to-replace items from around the house.

A review of 'Zeitoun' by Dave Eggers.

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The Miliband with something to offer

The state in capitalist society

Author: 

Martin Thomas
Despite the record of his sons David and Ed, we can learn from the writings of Ralph Miliband.

At a recent Labour left conference, the writer David Osler quipped that Ralph Miliband, father of David and Ed Miliband, had written at length to show that the Labour Party was no good for the working class - and that the sons are now doing their best to prove the old man right.

Ralph Miliband died in 1994. He had been active in the "Bevanite" Labour left movement of the early 1950s and the "New Left" of the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was the prime mover in setting up the Centre for Socialist Education in 1966.

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Is neoliberalism dead?

Harvey

Author: 

Martin Thomas
Review of The Enigma of Capital: and the crises of capitalism, by David Harvey (Profile Books) and Meltdown: the end of the age of greed, by Paul Mason (Verso).

Review of The Enigma of Capital: and the crises of capitalism, by David Harvey (Profile Books) and Meltdown: the end of the age of greed, by Paul Mason (Verso).


Paul Mason's book, written in February 2009, is the best (and best-written) narrative I've read of the world financial meltdown of September 2008.

Mason goes for journalistic sharpness rather than academic hedging-of-bets, and concludes unequivocally: "Whatever you think about it, the neoliberal experiment is over".

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On human fear

Author: 

Cathy Nugent

Christian belief in Jesus relies on the idea that Jesus existed and he was a very special man. That he worked miracles — e.g. whether he cured the sick. That he was the son of God, born to a virgin. If Jesus was not as unique as Christianity tells us he was, then Christianity loses its reason-to-be.

Philip Pullman’s retelling of the Jesus story shows, hypothetically, how the all-important miracles in the Bible could have been invented. Pullman creates situations to “explain” how the events in Jesus’s life could have happened.

A review of 'The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ' by Philip Pullman.

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'The Bolsheviks Come to Power'

Alexander Rabinowitch’s The Bolsheviks Come to Power is one of the best accounts available in English of the 1917 revolution in Russia. First published in 1976 and republished in 2004, it covers the period from the July days, when it looked like the revolution would be rolled back, to the victory of the Bolsheviks in October, crowning the working class seizure of power for the first time in history. Although confined to Petrograd, the study synthesised the source material available at the time with a brisk narrative.

Alexander Rabinowitch’s 'The Bolsheviks Come to Power' is one of the best accounts available in English of the 1917 revolution in Russia, from the July days, when it looked like the revolution would be rolled back, to the victory of the Bolsheviks in October, crowning the working class seizure of power for the first time in history.

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Agitation and accommodation: the union "organising agenda"

SEIU

Author: 

Martin Thomas

Review of " Power at work: Rebuilding the Australian union movement", by Michael Crosby. Federation Press, Sydney, 2005.

In later writing, Crosby has described a union-organising campaign which he considers a model as "unashamedly top-down". This book is the view from "the top" of the "organising agenda" which US, Australian, British and other unions have adopted since the late 1990s.

A handbook by a leading advocate of the "organising agenda" of unions like SEIU and LHMU shows the merits and limits of that "agenda".

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Twenty-one hours a week - the right to work less

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) has published a report calling for a large reduction on the working week – to around 21 hours. The report, 21 hours is worth a read, as it marshals evidence against the long hours culture of advanced capitalism and because it puts a number of good human and ecological arguments in favour of a much shorter working week.

Shorter working week

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Tanks on Trotsky

Anyone who believes that the Stalinists who run the Morning Star have repented might want to read their review of Robert Service’s biography of Trotsky (2 December).

According to Roger Fletcher’s review, Trotsky death in Mexico was “bizarre”, rather than a well-documented state assassination carried out by paid agents of the USSR.

Stalinists on Trotsky.

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Review of Robert's Service's biography of Trotsky

By Paul Hampton

Oscar Wilde remarked in The Critic as Artist (1891) that while “formerly we used to canonise our heroes, the modern method is to vulgarise them”. He went on to lament that, “cheap editions of great books may be delightful, but cheap editions of great men are absolutely detestable”.

Service's biography is shoddy.

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Leon Trotsky and the annihilation of classical Marxism

Author: 

Paul Hampton

Paul Hampton reviews Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky by Bertrand Patenaude

In the early hours of 24 May 1940, twenty men in uniform led burst into the last refuge of Leon Trotsky. The muralist David Siqueiros and his Stalinist cohort riddled Trotsky’s Mexican sanctuary with over 300 shots.

Paul Hampton reviews Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky by Bertrand Patenaude

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Scottish history: well-chosen target, poor critique

Author: 

Dale Street

Somewhere, out there, there must be a book which provides a decent analysis and critique, from a socialist perspective, of the SNP and the SNP minority government which has been in power at Holyrood since May 2007. Unfortunately — for reader and author alike — Tom Gallagher’s recently published work is not that book.

The book begins with a history of Scotland from the Treaty of Union of 1707 through to the SNP’s election victory three centuries later. It is the good part of the book.

A review of 'The Illusion of Freedom: Scotland under Nationalism' by Tom Gallagher

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Whose city is it anyway?

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Bruce Robinson reviews 'Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the 21st Century City' by Anna Minton

A few years ago, some of us were leafletting for No Sweat outside the Doc Martens’ shop in the Triangle shopping centre in Manchester, which is pictured on the front of Anna Minton’s book.

A review of 'Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the 21st Century City' by Anna Minton

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Cold War spies and 80's women

Author: 

Cathy Nugent

In the final book of his Millennium Trilogy, Stieg Larsson turned to the nefarious activities of Sweden’s secret state for inspiration. It is the only area of public corruption this one-time editor of the Swedish Trotskyist journal Fjärde internationalen, and expert on the European far-right, had not yet exposed.

A review of 'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest' by Stieg Larsson

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The mistakes of Mandel and Cliff on the Russian question

The “class nature of the Soviet Union” was for most of the twentieth century a debate that defined the meaning of socialism. Stalinism soiled the socialist project and stood as a discredited monument to attempts to overthrow capitalism. Whether it was fending off the taunts of “Get back to Russia” on a paper sale or engaging in academic discussion on the peculiarities of the bureaucracy, no socialist could survive for long without a robust characterisation of the USSR.

USSR

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An example to be proud of

As all the main parties agree there is no alternative to cutting back services, Janine Booth’s timely history of the struggle of Poplar’s Labour Council reminds us there is and has always been an alternative — struggle. Poplar’s revolt is generally known of on the left but speaking for myself I didn’t have had a real understanding of the significance of the struggle until reading this book.

Mike Fenwick reviews Guilty and Proud of It: Poplar’s Rebel Councillors and Guardians 1919–25 by Janine Booth (Merlin Press)

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Leon Trotsky and the annihilation of classical Marxism

Trotsky
The murder of Trotsky

In the early hours of 24 May 1940, twenty men in uniform led by a world-famous artist burst into the last refuge of Leon Trotsky. The muralist David Siqueiros and his Stalinist cohort riddled Trotsky’s Mexican sanctuary with over 300 shots.

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