The more ambitious this series gets, the more, alas, eyerollingly, distractingly, preciously didactic I find it. The oh-gosh-really moment of the inveThe more ambitious this series gets, the more, alas, eyerollingly, distractingly, preciously didactic I find it. The oh-gosh-really moment of the invention of currency is adorable enough, but what really made me chortle helplessly and give up on the book as an actual story I cared about, rather than an instructive on the subversion of fantasy trope X or Y, is Geder's cackling geek-boy-at-his-worst, like he's a psychological profile of someone who emails Anita Sarkeesian misogynistic comments. Interesting, sure. Admirable? Perhaps. A good read? ...more
So this is the most useful book I could find about Burundi, (of the seven the library held.) It's essentially the summary of several hundred in-depthSo this is the most useful book I could find about Burundi, (of the seven the library held.) It's essentially the summary of several hundred in-depth interviews conducted with Burundians in 2006 or so, delving into their opinion and experiences on everything from their personal life stories to their political opinions, worldviews and hopes and ambitions for the future. I expect the main criticism might be the synthesis Uvin does, boiling down hundreds of interviews into a few pages of a kind of national barometer on different issues - that interpretation is probably going to look a lot more debatable to those that know that society.
The picture that does come across is complex and difficult, but not without optimism. Peace, education and women's rights are preceived in complex and significant ways. One thing that struck me, and echoes what I know from Israel, is the importance of free movement and travel as a component of peace. It reinforces my sense that this is more than a bourgeouise whinging, but a deep aspect of the way people in conflict feel about their personal safety and their neighbours.
On that note, the attitude that Burundians have towards their recent past and conflict strikes me, as an Israeli, as disturbingly and almost obnoxiously healthy and positive. (And utterly foreign.) I almost instincitively don't trust the idea that the public sentiment towards ethnic conflict might be to move on, let sleeping dogs lie, and accept blame and responsibility as being evenly spread around. It will be interesting to see what we can learn from that.
Perhaps because I'm pretty much the choir here, there's nothing terribly interesting in explaining that neolToo much economics, not enough geography.
Perhaps because I'm pretty much the choir here, there's nothing terribly interesting in explaining that neoliberalism is a thing which is and which is not nice. This we know. I was hoping for more of an exploration of the actual spaces created, not just the fact of their existence and the ideology behind it. How do these places function? What tools, designs, aesthetics do they use to maintain themselves, and why? What story are they telling the people inside them? The people outside them? What can they tell us about the logic and worldviews of the people who created them? Why are they so often so fucking ugly?
Some of the articles touch on this, but often quickly dodge away again. The best, in this sense, is probably the article on Managua, which discussed the exclusionary functions of that cities new roads. Most of the rest were largely descriptive, showing how capitalism created this or that gated community and what's wrong with it, but not really saying much beyond. The essays were often fun reading (and short,) since describing someone else's appalling taste with one's best acidic quips is a happy sort of thing to do, but still left me wanting a deeper, perhaps bolder, investigation of this issue, that would pay more attention to culture, aesthetics and space itself, and less to the predictable effects of IMF policy. ...more
This is a delightfully eclectic book, with piles and piles of surprising information about just-pre-modern daily life. The way distance shifted betweeThis is a delightfully eclectic book, with piles and piles of surprising information about just-pre-modern daily life. The way distance shifted between eras and technologies, the way food and work and money functioned or didn't in this vast landscape before the state came along to make sense of them, the oddness and diversity of the way people moved and lived before, well, more practical universal solutions became available. It's a bit meandering and tended to lose my attention for weeks at a time, but overall perfectly fascinating. ...more
Slightly redundant. A collection of essays, speeches, columns, interview transcripts and, for the love of giant black hole at the center of the galaxySlightly redundant. A collection of essays, speeches, columns, interview transcripts and, for the love of giant black hole at the center of the galaxy, tweets from Tyson. It gets repetitive very fast, unfortunately, and is more focused on space advocacy, in the form illustratory histories of the space race, earnest all-American entreaties about soliloquies about destiny and exploration, half-formed economic points and entreaties to please study maths more, kids. All of which is fair enough, but not strictly terrible interesting. Here and there are occasional bits on science or various things that have been or will be sent into space and how they work or don't work, and that's pretty cool. More of that, please. ...more
I don't quite know hot to review this. There is just such a wealth of information about everything, and from such a novel and yet totally obvious persI don't quite know hot to review this. There is just such a wealth of information about everything, and from such a novel and yet totally obvious perspective. Just really, really good. Hopefully i'll come up with a longer review once i've thought about it a bit. ...more
Really interesting and well written, though quite often the sheer scope means that things are confusing and ocassionaly shallow. The best part is theReally interesting and well written, though quite often the sheer scope means that things are confusing and ocassionaly shallow. The best part is the first chapters, on the independence of African countries over the course 50s and 60s. It manages to really give a sense of the sheer epic scope of the end of colonialism, and the euphoric optimism that must have been in the air. The middle part is a bit less convincing, imo, tackling continent-wide political, economic and ideological trends. Theres simply too much variety. Finally, a major part is chapters about events largely in individual countries. Some are excellent (like South Africa) while others a bit less, at least for my particular attention span - the Rwanda Genocide/Congo Civil War/Central African War is way too big and complex for a few chapters.
I liked the focus on questions of economics and development, but I would have appreciated a bit more attention to culture and daily life, rather than just a relentless parade of corrupt politicians. Some of the most interesting bits came through the few times artists, journalists, etc were quoted, suggesting that people do live their lives over there somehow, seemingly often even in a socially and politically engaged manner. Otherwise, a good, super-big-picture overview. ...more
Better than the first one. Very readable. Still a little tepid somehow. Everyone is much too sensible and believable. It seems to be deliberate - andBetter than the first one. Very readable. Still a little tepid somehow. Everyone is much too sensible and believable. It seems to be deliberate - and realistic - that they only inhabit their roles, heroic, selfish or villanious, rather than really being them. The downside is that it does make the whole plot seem like a series of unfortunate misunderstandings that could really be solved if everyone just got together for a nice cup of tea and realized that they'd really all like to be friends. Sometimes it manages to hit a nice tragi-farcical note, other times, it just leaved everything a little bland. Some nice developments at the end though. Looking forwards to the next one. ...more
A cornucopia of interesting information, from the Samurai in 1600's Mexico to the history of the potatoe in Europe to current rubber farming in Laos.A cornucopia of interesting information, from the Samurai in 1600's Mexico to the history of the potatoe in Europe to current rubber farming in Laos. However, the books feels a bit like a huge journalistic article that weaves together all these colorful threads into something thats still shy of a coherent argument (unlike 1491, which comes to an intense and precise point,) and is ultimately just a bit too romantic about the idea of the global melting pot. ...more
Guha, however, has the benefit here of working with a continent-sized place which is a single country, so theres an order of magnitude more detail about Indian political history than about any single government in Europe or Africa. This is also kind of the book's downfall though. A political history of modern Indian is - seemingly inevitably - focused on the Congress Party. The Party is inevitably focused on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Despite the massive scope, the book feels a little thin at times. The cast of characters, so to speak, remains relatively limited.
Figures like Ambedkar or Vajpayee show up...kind of around the edges. I think - as someone totally unfamiliar with the issues - I would have appreciated more of a follow through of those ideologies and political currents, understanding more of how they interacted with and influenced rule, than another political shenanigan pulled off by Nehru et all. Theres just so much here that merely summing it all up is too much information already, but I still felt that somethng of the grand shape of things, even on the most superficial level, was still out of my sight. Regionalism, communalism, populism, language, caste, religon...they're all brought up and addressed often, but always circling around the straightforward linear narrative.
As a total aside, in a chapter about entertainment at the end, he mentions that the Independece movement always had a puritanical streak (and that Gandhi apparently never saw a movie all the way through!) That's fascinating to me. What happened to that? Where did it meet Indian society? How do these things carry through? Not that there isn't a solid effort to get at social history- there is, as well as technological, cultural and economic. All of it is fascinating and none of it is quite enough.
Maybe it's because I couldn't help comparing it to Israel at times. The scale is so ridiculously different, and yet there are familiar beats to the broad outline. The dates kind of line up (independence in 47/8, strong socialist centralization, first time opposition taking power in 1977, shifts into capitalism in the 90's along with rises of identity politics and hardening of secterian positions, etc.) and of course the usual questions of religion, communalism, democracy, identity, etc as issues. On the one hand, it kind of makes me feel a little more normal, to think that this is just the way these things play out. On the other hand, it's probably not a very good comparison and sent me looking for patterns that might not exist.
If there is a connecting thread that he attempts to follow through, it's the question of democracy on this vast - and varied - a scale. It's amazing to see some of the disdain the very notion of democracy in India was held in at the beginning. Could this many people, unconnected, uneducated, make meaningful political decisions? It jumped out at me, the occassional mentions of groups of people mired in poverty, still, as the years go by, into the 21st century, and I wonder if everything just went over them or if it mattered there. Well, they end up voting for populists and demagogues and sons-of and movie stars. So, they're pretty normal, really. I think the ultimate conclusion, despite Guha's final fairly complex and not unpessimistic assessment of the state of Indian democracy, is that it really, really matters.
Very recommended, even if it mostly raised more questions than it answered, for me.
Gripping. I particularly appreciated the constant effort Hochschild makes to track down Congolese voices, such as have survived, rather that keeping tGripping. I particularly appreciated the constant effort Hochschild makes to track down Congolese voices, such as have survived, rather that keeping them as silent victims in a European narrative, which is usually what annoys me in books about the Western encounter with the rest of the world. ...more
I got this book for my 12th birthday. I still haven't figured out if my parents thought it was actually a fictional adventure story, or just that a boI got this book for my 12th birthday. I still haven't figured out if my parents thought it was actually a fictional adventure story, or just that a book about economic development in Equatorial Guinea would be something I might enjoy. As it turned out, I did. ...more