A meeting takes place of some unnamed individuals, barely described, and hinted to be a meeting of socialists. After two leave the meeting, one lament...moreA meeting takes place of some unnamed individuals, barely described, and hinted to be a meeting of socialists. After two leave the meeting, one laments to the other that if he could just see a glimpse of the future they are working toward, it would make his life much easier.
He goes home, falls asleep, and wakes up somewhere between a hundred and twenty and a hundred and fifty years later. (The book is vague and occasionally contradictory on timeframe. At any rate, events seem to be post-AD 2000.)
The entirety of the book, absent the opening chapter, is then this character's Utopian Tour, seeing just how gosh-darn nifty socialist anarchism will be in post-2000 Great Britain, and being reminded over and over (and over and over and over and over) that people in Tha Future! do not use "money".
In the end, he meets a pretty girl who figures out when he is from, seems to fall in love a bit, then vanishes back into the past.
I started this book blind, because I wanted to jump into the 1898 Top 100 Project, and I didn't want to prejudice myself against a book I'd never heard of.
Didn't make a difference. Though reasonably well-written, News from Nowhere is stupid.
The first chapter is written in a difficult style, to no obvious purpose.
Our friend says that from that sleep he awoke once more, and afterwards went through such surprising adventures that he thinks that they should be told to our comrades, and indeed the public in general, and therefore proposes to tell them now. But, says he, I think it would be better if I told them in the first person, as if it were myself who had gone through them; which, indeed, will be the easier and more natural to me, since I understand the feelings and desires of the comrade of whom I am telling better than any one else in the world does.
The viewpoint shenanigans serve no obvious purpose.
Thankfully, the rest of the book is narrated in straight first-person, and the prose is reasonably readable and clear (considering that it's a Victorian novel, I find it quite remarkable).
However, that is (almost) all that can be kindly said about the book. There are no characters, merely the author's various mouthpieces explaining why socialist anarchy is the way to go, and sooooo much better than any other system, plus the narrator, who forgets new information so quickly and so frequently that the reader cannot help but wonder if he is meant to be a moron.
The Message is never, ever subtle.
In order to throw off suspicions about his origins, the narrator (briefly making a big deal about adopting the name "William Guest", then basically dropping the idea for most of the rest of the book) lets his hosts believe that he has been abroad for a long time. They have no trouble believing this, because he is middle aged and wrinkled and gray, and so must have lived in "the unhappy lands". That is, lands where socialist anarchy is not yet in place.
He spends chapters and chapters and chapters discussing "history" with one character who specializes in it. One chapter is even written in the style of a Socratic dialogue. I couldn't work out whether this was the author attempting to show off, or simply that he got tired of writing out quotation marks for a chapter.
And the economics of it. Oy. I don't even know where to start. Factories in the 1800s, you are told repeatedly, made things that nobody wanted, on top of destroying workers' lives and polluting the nation. How were they able to stay in business, making things that nobody paid for? Don't bother to ask, it's never answered.
The ideal life for people, the author holds out, is to live an agrarian life, get transported by horses and carriages or rowboats (trains have been abolished because they were stinky and ugly), and work on whatever you want whenever you want, and otherwise not. Few people read, because that puts ideas into people's heads and makes them unhappy. And so on and so on.
The entire society isn't even remotely workable, even in some flight of fantasy way.
(It was unfair of me, because the author could not know what the twentieth century would hold, nor how communism would be put into practice in fact, but I could not read quickly, because I kept imagining all the mass graves the characters must be walking over or past or sitting on top of or near.)
And yet, this was the book that was just five books below Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment on that 1898 top 100 novels list.
This project might be far more painful than I had anticipated.
Gets a bit heavy on comparing what various economists said in which publication at times, but apart from that this is an absolutely fascinating look a...moreGets a bit heavy on comparing what various economists said in which publication at times, but apart from that this is an absolutely fascinating look at how prohibitions increase (or even create) the problems they are claimed to be trying to prevent.(less)
Essays by Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, and others less well-known giving an overview of the Austrian theory of the business cycle.
The essays are generally...moreEssays by Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, and others less well-known giving an overview of the Austrian theory of the business cycle.
The essays are generally very accessible (particularly Rothbard's), and make the theory not only very clear, but almost painfully obvious. Let's just say that finishing this book, then hearing clips from Obama's 2013 State of the Union address did nothing to raise my estimation of his knowledge of how the economy works. It also sadly made clear that we're in for a real corker of a "market adjustment" (read: Depression) in the very near future.
The audiobook is a bit frustrating. The MP3 files are small, because they're 32 kbps, which means there is distracting audio artifacting at times. It also sounds to have been recorded in an amateur setting, as there is occasional airplane and car noise in the background, and noticeable "room echo" more often than not. I was able to adjust to these deficiencies, however, and was happy to have done so in the end.(less)
When Riggenbach lays out his project in the opening chapters of this book, it is not only reasonable, it is laudable: He wil...moreWhat a wasted opportunity.
When Riggenbach lays out his project in the opening chapters of this book, it is not only reasonable, it is laudable: He will, he claims, rescue the term "revisionist history" from the partisan ghetto, where it refers to historians who hate America and tailor their histories to that end, and restore it to its rightful meaning -- the checking and re-checking of the accepted historical narrative against facts as they are rediscovered and recontextualized.
Unfortunately, not only does that claim fall apart once the most interesting part of the book is past (and frays even in that part), but Riggenbach's inability to hold his prejudice and bigotry in check all but cuts the throat of his credibility right before the reader's eyes.
But the early, interesting part is interesting. Riggenbach posits that historical fiction is as valid a means of doing history as nonfiction works. Not all historical fiction, but researched fiction that attempts to present actual events. His point, and it is a good one, is that this is no different than what historians do -- research, get the facts, and then tell a story that, if you do it well, is both interesting and reasonably true to what happened.
His choice to focus on Gore Vidal's "American Chronicle" novels to exemplify what he means works fairly well, but would have worked better had he treated Vidal's positions in an adversarial manner. Instead, he comes off as a drooling fanboy, all but pumping his fist in the air and bellowing "IN your FACE!!!!" any time he describes Vidal acting the naughty schoolboy and contradicting The Man. (Note: I exaggerate, but only slightly.) Vidal was a pompous ass who was all too willing to ignore some facts in favor of others he found more congenial to his acid prejudices -- a fault that Riggenbach later in the book rakes another historian over the coals for doing, but which, in Vidal's case, goes unmentioned. Again, Vidal as an exemplar is not a bad choice, and many of the points made are good, but ignoring his not inconsiderable faults undercuts the example set.
Oh, but that was just the beginning of Riggenbach's folly.
After dealing with Vidal's novels and their relation to American history (he then keeps referring back to them as some sort of ideal, against which he measures other revisionists, judging their work by how much it agrees with Vidal; if it doesn't, they are wrong and bad; if it does, they are noble and good), Riggenbach lays out a history of Libertarianism, liberalism, leftism, and conservatism. And bigotry makes its first ugly appearance, here.
Jeff Riggenbach, you see, hates hates hates HATES conservatives. HATES them, and hates them more, and then some more after that.
Riggenbach maintains that leftism and liberalism are still the same thing today, as they always were. Socialists are really great people with their hearts in the right place, and Marx was all for individual freedom(!).
Conservatives were always evil and vicious and vile and opportunist, however. Beginning with the eeeeeevil rich white men who wrote that eeeeeevil document, the Constitution of the United States(!!).
And Lincoln and the early Republicans? Well, they didn't really care about slavery, they just wanted to establish a dictatorship in the US.
And, well, here's what it comes down to: everything the US government has ever done, from the writing of the constitution on down, is wrongbadwrongEVIL in Riggenbach's worldview.
Which is not to say that there is no evidence in support of this. Lincoln certainly did suspend habeas corpus (more than once), and many, many were imprisoned for publicly expressing the Wrong Opinions during the Civil War. Riggenbach is not wrong about that.
But a curious pattern emerges from his analysis of the Civil War onward. It was not, he maintains, about slavery. Which is a fair reading of the beginning of the conflict. Lincoln did not care about freeing the slaves, he was against secession and cared only about "preserving the union". Which is only a little bit shakier than the war not being (initially) about slavery -- it is a fair, if arguably incomplete, reading of the events of history.
The Confederate States of America, Riggenbach implies at one point, was the most liberal/libertarian/freedom oriented polity in American history.
Yes. Really. After earlier paying (very slight) lip service to the evils of slavery, Riggenbach completely and totally ignores the fact that the South had millions of slaves during the Civil War, and lauds its government's disposition toward freedom. He admits that it got despotic toward the end of the war, but manages to blame that, too, on Lincoln.
A later example of what I'm getting at comes when Riggenbach touches on World War II. Roosevelt was a Very Bad Man (a position with which I am in much sympathy), and one of the reasons given is that he did nothing for the Jews, when advisors had suggested bombing train tracks leading to concentration camps, thus potentially saving thousands or millions of lives.
Two points on that. First, as far as I am aware, the horrifying extent of the Holocaust was not known (or, at least, understood) by anybody outside of the upper Nazi echelons until April of 1945 when concentration camps were being liberated. Concentration camps were known, almost from the very outset of their operation. But the fact that they were (or became) human slaughterhouses was not. And, quite honestly, even if some facts were known, it is easy to imagine Roosevelt or his advisors not believing or comprehending the extent of the Nazis' "final solution" in practice. That is to say, unless Riggenbach can demonstrate without room for doubt that Roosevelt knew what was going on, it strikes me as unfair to hold him to be evil for not doing enough about it. Could he have? Certainly. But he was, so far as I have ever read, in the dark as to how much such measures would have changed things. Riggenbach does not demonstrate that Roosevelt knew, or even could have known. He just wants to slag him.
But that's not the worst thing. My second point is that even as Riggenbach tars FDR for not saving Jews or caring to do so... he is arguing that Roosevelt should never have gotten the US involved in World War II at all. He makes no mention of what would have happened in the European theater without US intervention (hint: nothing good), and sneers that Roosevelt liked Great Britain far too much. What would have happened to the European Jews in Riggenbach's preferred version of WWII? Funnily enough, he never deals with that. All he deals with is how awful and horrible the US was.
And his analysis of the Pacific Theater of WWII is, if anything, worse. First of all, he paints Roosevelt as scheming (all but twirling his non-existent mustache and cackling) to "force" Japan to attack the US, so that FDR can have an excuse to get the US into the war. See, the US cut or hampered supply lines to resource-poor Japan in the 1930s. Might this have anything to do with Japan's violent and murderous invasions of many, many countries in the region, beginning with but not limited to China? Funny, but Riggenbach never mentions it. Also unmentioned by Riggenbach are how subjugated populations were treated by the invading Japanese in China, Korea, Indochina and the Philippines. The illiberal actions of Imperial Japan are of no importance to Riggenbach. Only the awful evil of the US government.
Which, did you know?, murdered Japanese outright by dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for no good reason at all. Riggenbach paints a Japan eager to surrender from January 1945 onward, but FDR and, after his death, Truman just would not let them. Yes, FDR and Truman forced Japan to keep fighting, some-crazy-how.
Of course, in order for this narrative to even begin to make sense, Riggenbach needs to rely on his reader not knowing what was happening culturally in Japan in 1944 and 1945. He wants the reader to assume that, having been kicked out of just about everywhere but China, and having their supply lines destroyed, and having most of the cities and industrial base bombed to rubble, people in Japan were weary and ready to surrender. Which, without knowing what was occurring there at the time, is a pretty reasonable assumption.
The problem is that it's just not true.
I point to just one primary source, easily available in English, to show what utter garbage Riggenbach's pretence is. There are mountains and mountains of other sources that all paint similar pictures, but this one will do.
In Akira Kurosawa's Something Like An Autobiography, he refers to something that you probably have not heard of called "The Honorable Death of the Hundred Million".
The Japanese people knew they were losing the war, but surrender was not what they expected. The Honorable Death of the Hundred Million was the last-ditch effort of all last-ditch efforts. If word came from the Emperor, all the Japanese people would commit ritual suicide, and thus (in theory) shame America before the rest of the world. (It was the Emperor himself who quashed this when he learned of it; the plan was actually the design of the one the general who was in de facto control of the government before Hirohito reasserted himself on learning just how dire the situation was.)
Kurosawa, understand, was not writing to provide fodder for evil American historians. His book was for a Japanese audience of a younger generation, and only years later translated into English.
And he provides two stories related to the Honorable Death that are both very characteristically Japanese, and grimly hilarious. And they tend to support that it was a very real idea, and that he and those around him fully expected to carry it out when the time came. (Which is interesting, given how anti-authoritarian Kurosawa was even before the war.)
First is how he proposed to his wife:
"My proposal went something like this: 'It looks as if we are going to lose the war, and if it comes to the point of the Honorable Death of the Hundred Million, we all have to die anyway. It's probably not a bad idea to find out what married life is like before that happens.'"
And he and his filmmaking friends also had a plan for the film censor board:
"Toward the end of the war I even made a pact with some of my friends: If it came to the point of the Honorable Death of the Hundred Million and every Japanese would have to commit suicide, we vowed to meet in front of the Ministry of the Interior and assassinate the censors before we took our own lives."
Riggenbach is either utterly ignorant of what Japanese culture was like at the time, or he's hoping his reader is. You cannot know the above, and what it implies about the culture, and believe that Japan was honestly "suing for peace" as Riggenbach keeps repeating. The atomic bombs set off a power struggle in the highest circles of the Japanese governement and military (which were basically the same at the time), and it was not a forgone conclusion that the more rational faction would win out.
And it continues on. Everything bad is all America's fault, while bad things that affect minorities or underclasses elsewhere in the world do not get mentioned, only get mentioned in passing, or somehow get blamed on America in the end of a tortured chain of rationalizations.
I'm not saying that the US is blameless, mind. I'm saying that Riggenbach is spectacularly biased, lets that bias affect his judgement to the detriment of the book, and also lets it infuse his book to such an extent that it's hard not to get the unsettling feeling that he might even be racist, he's so completely callous to the plight of the Jews in Nazi Germany, the Chinese under Imperial Japan, slaves in the Confederate States of America, Kulaks in Soviet Russia, and on and on and on. I don't know if he is racist or not, but going from the way he presents things in this book, he's open to the charge. (I would prefer to think not, that he's simply blinded by his rather bizarre ideology. But that, too, is a personal preference.)
Need I tell you that, toward the end, Howard Zinn is lauded and praised? Yeah.
So there you go. A book that should have been interesting, that should have had substantial things to say about questioning what you learned in school and re-examining what you thought you knew in light of new evidence, utterly destroyed by the author's insensate rage at the US government in all its manifestations, and willingness to ignore (or lack of interest in learning) things that might upset his preferred narrative of America's Is The Most Evil Government EVER.
It is this sort of codswallop that makes most people look at libertarians askance. That this is the level of "scholarship" among libertarian academics is risible.
[This review is copyright 2013 by D. Jason Fleming. It is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license (CC BY-SA 3.0).](less)
An excellent, excellent collection of essays representing a first assault on Marxist literary orthodoxy, Literature and the Economics of Liberty exami...moreAn excellent, excellent collection of essays representing a first assault on Marxist literary orthodoxy, Literature and the Economics of Liberty examines how economics suffuses great works of literature that are not often thought of as economic, and also presents compelling, radical reinterpretations of texts that were considered Marxist-leaning in the past. The free market perspective is refreshing and, in a few cases, downright invigorating. The fact that it's all from the perspective of Austrian economics does no harm, as I don't think anarchism is mentioned even once in the book.
The first essay looks not within literature, but at literature itself, to demonstrate how the 19th century serial novel, a form that arose from the free operation of the marketplace, influenced and improved writers at a micro and a macro level, letting authors respond to their audiences before a work was complete, and letting some, including Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, attempt a new type of novel completely, one without any plan, which formed itself in the writing and, due to coming out in instalments, could not undo in a rewrite what was already done.
Other essays deal with Don Quixote, Willa Cather, Thomas Mann, and Ben Okri, and virtually every one of them inspired me to want to read the works they dealt with, or at least the authors. (Proof: I'm currently [re]reading Don Quixote, in spite of my personal dislike of picaresque tales. And O Pioneers! is in my queue.)
In short, though I wish there was more, or in some cases (like the first essay) a longer and more detailed account of the subject covered, I can't recommend this highly enough.(less)
Published in 1939, this survey of how the fascist economy actually worked (or, mostly, didn't) in Germany under Nazi rule is fascinating and scary in...morePublished in 1939, this survey of how the fascist economy actually worked (or, mostly, didn't) in Germany under Nazi rule is fascinating and scary in equal measure. It lays out the kind of detail that you don't usually get, explaining just how the National Socialists took control, and kept things running even as they ran them into the ground.
It bogs down a bit in a couple of chapters, when Reimann lays many, many charts and numbers on the reader. But that sort of detailed comparison is precisely what makes the book so valuable, along with the snapshot of pre-war Germany inherent in the book having been written in 1939.(less)
Interesting and informative, albeit brief, biography of one of my favorite composers. It's a bit quirky in what it assumes the reader already knows, a...moreInteresting and informative, albeit brief, biography of one of my favorite composers. It's a bit quirky in what it assumes the reader already knows, and in how it divides up its subject between life events, professional events, critical reaction, and larger issues of his reputation, both personally and professionally. The quirks might have been conventions when it was published, I don't really know.
The Gutenberg edition is surprisingly well formatted for an epub, integrating the book's many illustrations into the text nicely, and even including advertisements for other music books from the edition that was scanned. Some of them even made me want to hunt up the books promoted and read those, too.
On the whole, I'm happy I read it, but I feel sure there is a much more definitive bio of the odd and difficult Nicolo out there, somewhere.(less)
Teddy Roosevelt's memoir of the less-than-six-months' existence of the Rough Riders, a volunteer cavalry unit formed for the sole purpose of serving i...moreTeddy Roosevelt's memoir of the less-than-six-months' existence of the Rough Riders, a volunteer cavalry unit formed for the sole purpose of serving in the Spanish-American War, is a breezy and entertaining read.
It is also a rather astonishing look into an alien world --- the world that used to be the United States, but is no longer.
Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1898. Though he doesn't make this clear in the book, he was the de facto Secretary and basically in charge of the Navy. And he resigned in order to form a new cavalry regiment and go serve on the front lines of the war that everyone knew was coming.
Try to imagine ANY modern politician doing this. Some, certainly, served in the military prior to their political careers. Many, in fact, did so in furtherance of those same careers. None, not one, would voluntarily surrender political power to risk death. It's inconceivable.
Roosevelt, for all his swaggering bombast, did just that.
TR not only tells the story of the regiment from his perspective, he contrasts his observations and experiences with Spanish accounts of the battles in which he was involved (and, not surprisingly, finds them wanting), as well as including an appendix of "Corrections" where he shares observations from other Rough Riders that contrast somewhat with his memories, as well as taking apart completely another book that supposedly told the story of the taking of Santiago, Cuba.
Another historical insight that doesn't get taught today is that at this time, the US Army was all but racially integrated. TR and the Rough Riders fought side by side with at least two black regiments, and while his attitude toward them is somewhat patronizing, it is far less so than one would expect for the period. And he expresses zero reservations about black troops wielding weapons, not even implicitly. The Rough Riders themselves had many full-blooded and half-breed Indians in their ranks, also without any hint of tension or discord.
(The armed forces were re-segregated under Democrat Woodrow Wilson, whose racist policies were carried through World War II.)
In all, an informative and entertaining read, though it does not supply the entire context that it might have (it was written for an audience that TR presumes -- correctly -- already knew that context), and he might have taken more time to let the reader get to know more of the soldiers whose names he lists so frequently. But these flaws are simple absences. In my quick reading, there is no flaw of inclusion in the book, only things that were not there that I wish had been.(less)