Stole this from a friend and really fell in love with it, reading it over the course of a long and rainy weekend. It's a rip-roaring adventure as muchStole this from a friend and really fell in love with it, reading it over the course of a long and rainy weekend. It's a rip-roaring adventure as much as anything else, following Mustafa ibn Muhammad over a long trip through the 16th-century Americas. But it's also a lot more touching and a lot more clever than that, showing travel through the eyes of a slave, freedom through the lens of someone who is actively defining it, and race through the lens of people just beginning to decide what race means. The historical research that went into this book is both really great and not show-offy. I appreciated that there is no map in the preface, no way to historicize any of this while reading because we are seeing it through a very non-omniscient narrator's eyes. It's the sort of book I wish that I read when I was still in middle school or high school – the sort of thing that would let me see there are protagonists in the world that are not white men. Instead, I'm reading it on the cusp of 30 and wish I had read it 15 years earlier. But I suppose it may not be too late for you....more
This was the first Mike Davis book I've read. It is very dense. The subject matter: how linkages to global capitalist market exacerbated famines causeThis was the first Mike Davis book I've read. It is very dense. The subject matter: how linkages to global capitalist market exacerbated famines caused by weak political systems during El Nino events, is not breezy.
It's also nearly 400 pages. Dense pages, full of reiterating historians of 19th century India, Brazil and China describing political breakdown and the starvation it caused. There are only a couple true antagonists (Lytton, mostly) and a lot of descriptions of the bleakest of all worlds. Cannibalism, starvation, and apocalyptic landscapes.
It is really impressive how he builds his case from all of this. Demonstrating the genesis of despair is a very difficult thing to do, and is very open to screeds, but Davis patiently builds a detailed argument of how markets in western Europe created a new economics that made traditional antidotes to famine (giving people food whether they can afford it or not) impossible. And that this new economics and the famine it caused was not an incident of capitalism, but the entire point — immiseration and destruction of surplus persons.
For me, the most impressive part of the book is his description of how devastating British imperial rule was. The statistics showing how not-bad of a place India was to live, until the Brits got there and exhausted markets to benefit Britain, is pretty remarkable. The way Davis demonstrates the lies the British told themselves about their rule is eye-opening.
It is a book full of good arguments, and the only reason I'm docking it a star is because he spends so much time building his case – often from secondary sources – and very little time collating those sources into an analysis. He really trusts the reader to follow him along, but there were times when all of that respect could be an overreach — I often went back a few pages while I was reading to make sure I was catching everything. And Davis is not an Asianist or a South Americanist, which is fine and great but means that he relies on a lot of secondary sources which can also mean for tricky reading.
It's a necessary book in a lot of ways. I wasn't surprsied to hear that many of my friends have already read it. It also deserves a larger audience, but the way it is written can make that difficult....more
This is a very easy read based on a pretty straightforward conceit: ghost stories represent more than spooky things, but are rather a way for humans tThis is a very easy read based on a pretty straightforward conceit: ghost stories represent more than spooky things, but are rather a way for humans to relate to the spaces they inhabit.
Dickey squeezes a whole hell of a lot out of this: chapters skip around the country to talk about different ghosts, the ghosts' oddities, and the stories they tell. Homes that are built strangely are not necessarily haunted, but disdained by neighbors because of the homeowner's exotic tastes. Brothels are stressful places to work, and stress can work on someone's mind. The tragic mulatto tale is the way Southern gentry regulate race.
The "An American History" part is really foregrounded here in a fascinating way: it's not _the_ American history, but rather about how ghosts are a way Americans negotiate their history, leaving out the nastier parts in order to elevate the more gruesome parts. Dickey does a great job negotiating this without being strident while remaining informative.
It was a really interesting read, and a great Winter-y thing to hang out with at nights. Dickey is a great Twitter persona as well. I can really recommend this book, especially as a way to look at the American psyche through the stories people tell (or choose not to tell)...more
I had this book recommended to me after kind of openly wondering on Twitter – "How on earth did Apartheid happen just a few years after World War II?"I had this book recommended to me after kind of openly wondering on Twitter – "How on earth did Apartheid happen just a few years after World War II?"
This book does a great job answering that question. The best part of it may be that it was published in 1988. There's no stunning tide of heroism at the conclusion, no heroes and no hagiography. Everybody, from Voerwoerd to Mandela, is trying to shift a policy in what is essentially a long present tense. Nobody is forseeing 1994.
The book also does a great job discussing just how buffoonish the National Party was and how they used that buffoonery to seize and hold power. The use of race, external enemies, and destiny is pretty, ah, instructive. As is Meredith's careful analysis of how a legal regime of apartheid was put in, not to mention how it was politically justified.
This book is very readable and by no means a thorough treatise. What it does is get international audiences some understanding of what Apartheid actors were implementing, how they implemented it, and how they saw the stakes of their project.
It's fascinating stuff, and very digestable. And it gives a great understanding of the geopolitical climate of the 1980s: how South Africa fit into the anti-colonialist Africa of that time and how people my parents' age in the US saw the Apartheid regime.
This is a great book to get an idea of the longer arc of white supremacy in the world today....more
It's a real page-turner but also...really not well written? I read through it pretty quickly and even ditched a party to finish it, but it may not beIt's a real page-turner but also...really not well written? I read through it pretty quickly and even ditched a party to finish it, but it may not be a very good book.
This review is a lot better than mine: http://multiphaseflowers.tumblr.com/p..., basically saying that "it's no use blaming technology or society when there is actually a sociopathic witch in town killing people." And I'll do that one more, saying that I was trying to tie myself in knots to describe why once character seemed to go off-script, trying to be all "the witch was working through them," before realizing that hey, maybe it just didn't have any good reasoning behind it?
I'd feel a bit better if Olde Heuvelt had a better acknowledgements than "don't care, got paid." It's fun enough to read, but not like, great literature. Or takes care to acknowledge a world outside of middle class white dudes. But still, fun enough to read....more
Considering how much I loved Wind and Sheep Chase, I was pretty flat on this. There's some great Murakami one-liners, but it's a bit to po-mo and jittConsidering how much I loved Wind and Sheep Chase, I was pretty flat on this. There's some great Murakami one-liners, but it's a bit to po-mo and jittery for my tastes. ...more
After loving Wild Sheep Chase, I finally got around to reading the rest of the trilogy. It's, of course, great.
The narrator is such a wonderfully humaAfter loving Wild Sheep Chase, I finally got around to reading the rest of the trilogy. It's, of course, great.
The narrator is such a wonderfully human character, as are the rest of the people in the book. Everyone sort of lies in order to tell themselves the truths they want to believe. The Rat is insane, hopeless, and absolutely the best friend you wished you had.
It's a short slip of a book, more of a novella. Mine came with Pinball '73 in some insane back-to-front packaging. I read it over a short vacation and it became the sort of book I didn't want to read too much because I wanted to stretch it out. It's a lot of fun....more
Tom Reiss is really good at these "here's how one fascinating dude kinda demonstrates the bizarreness of a time," and is a really good writer to boot.Tom Reiss is really good at these "here's how one fascinating dude kinda demonstrates the bizarreness of a time," and is a really good writer to boot. This might be my favorite vacation book I've read in a while and it's just a blast to read how race/nationhood/gallantry was conceived of in the end of the 18th century....more
When I was like 10 pages into this book, I was pretty sure this was the most try-hard and not-great book I've ever read. But by page 40 it is pretty cWhen I was like 10 pages into this book, I was pretty sure this was the most try-hard and not-great book I've ever read. But by page 40 it is pretty clear that Bolaño knows exactly what he's doing and why he's doing it.
There's really no book I've read like this — dreamlike, epistolary, and just plain weird and at times horrifying. But it's brilliant in a quite insane way....more
Read on the suggestion of a Random Dude on Twitter, most of this is written very much like journalism from over a century ago. Yes, Trotsky really wroRead on the suggestion of a Random Dude on Twitter, most of this is written very much like journalism from over a century ago. Yes, Trotsky really wrote like that: lots of "dogs of capitalism" and the like, and there used to be several journalists from all over the world just like, hanging out in the Balkans.
But the real reason this book is interesting isn't Trotsky's style or even really the time he's living in but the way he defines it. Trotsky does a really interesting job interviewing soldiers, officers, citizens and politicians in order to come to a multifaceted look at the Balkan Wars. He does a great job demonstrating who suffers and who succeeds in war time, as well as how capital flows during times of violence.
It's really interesting stuff! I can't imagine any other war being covered this way, if for anything else than because of how the international calculus changed after the Russian Revolution. The sheer despair felt by the soldiers and citizens, the claustrophobia of the officers and the aims of several politicians becomes clear through his reporting. The fact that the Balkans are at the mercy of the great powers – and that Trotsky represents the great powers in many of his sources' eyes – plays in fascinating as well.
The correspondence is valuable as an alternative way to view war and an alternative way to view history. It's not necessarily more ~true~ or whatever, but it was neat to crawl into Trotsky's head for several hundred pages and look at how he came to an understanding of his time and place....more