Let's get this out of the way - yes, Trotsky's history is self-serving, both as a defense of the October Revolution and as a prop for Trotsky's own st...moreLet's get this out of the way - yes, Trotsky's history is self-serving, both as a defense of the October Revolution and as a prop for Trotsky's own status as a revolutionary.
But this gets five stars for a number of reasons, first and foremost because Trotsky writes a gripping narrative that delves deep into the sociology that underpins 1917. But the real treasure in this read is the historical significance - has any other prime mover of such a massive historical event written an analytical history of that event? Other than memoirs, to my knowledge nothing else comes close.
Trotsky's greatest strength as an analyst is his understanding of the sociology of pre-revolutionary Russia and the social forces which propelled the revolution forward. His weakness - and the weakness of Bolshevism in general - is his blind faith in the science of history and revolution, that a "scientific" view of history and application of revolutionary technique could only produce such a result. This mechanistic view of society and how to manipulate it is the seed from which the totalitarian state grew.
This is a historical document of huge importance that also makes for a great read. Absolutely essential.(less)
A surprising book box find – a novel that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do (which, in this case, is be both literary and entertaining). Sal...moreA surprising book box find – a novel that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do (which, in this case, is be both literary and entertaining). Salisbury sets his book on the set of the birthplace of modern film and provides a compelling critique of early Hollywood art (and D.W. Griffith in particular), doing so in a way that reads like a well-crafted Golden Age film. It was fun getting carried away by this book.(less)
After reading Hobsbawm's excellent trilogy on political-economic history of the "long 19th Century" (1789-1914), this volume - the logical coda to tha...moreAfter reading Hobsbawm's excellent trilogy on political-economic history of the "long 19th Century" (1789-1914), this volume - the logical coda to that trilogy - is an obvious letdown. To be clear, it has nothing to do with the arguments presented in this book. That the early 20th Century was a catastrophic breakdown of the Western European (and increasingly North American) bourgeois order; that the "Golden Age" (1945-early 70s) of worldwide growth under a relatively stable (if, from the public point of view, incredibly terrifying) bi-polar Cold War order came as the result of post-war governments trying to prevent the catastrophes of the previous decades but only papering over the fissures which caused them; and that after 1970, these fissures reappeared and were increasingly globalized are theses that students of the 20th Century should take seriously.
Where the book falls down is the intimacy Hobsbawm has with these events - this is the history of his times. He, of course, acknowledges this up front, but it does not mitigate the problem. The subtext throughout this tome is Hobsbawm desperately wanting the catastrophic early part of the century to have been worth something, that the tens of millions of people who lost their lives for communism, for anti-fascism, for colonial liberation didn't die in vain - an understandable reaction to anyone of the generation who lived through these traumas. But the way this manifests itself in the text is a major distraction. It clouds Hobsbawm's historical judgement, and he posits historical openings or counterfactuals that didn't really exist, that, in fact, run counter to the rest of the historical evidence he musters. A case in point: Hobsbawm is rightly dismissive of the (consistently inconsistent) theoretical and political arguments used by Stalin to justify his brutality in the 1930s; pages later, however, he takes at face value Stalin's claim to wanting to continue the United Front policies of WWII (with closer cooperation and integration with the West and a reformed communism in the East) into the post-war era. He repeats this assessment of a tyrannical domestic realpolitik but naively idealistic international policy with Mao. Hobsbawm's claims that a better, more cooperative world was possible because of opportunities missed flies in the face of the brutality he acknowledges, and it grates every single time.
The distractions aside, this isn't a bad overview of the 20th Century. But the arguments presented in these book could've been better made, I think, by someone who doesn't carry Hobsbawm's historical baggage. If you're going to invest the time in Hobsbawm, stick with the writings in his wheelhouse on the 19th Century.(less)
What a disappointment. This book might open your eyes if you knew nothing about modern neo-imperialism or the role of the U.S. government in perpetuat...moreWhat a disappointment. This book might open your eyes if you knew nothing about modern neo-imperialism or the role of the U.S. government in perpetuating a system of "development" that only led to dependency. As is, I spent the majority of my time with this book thinking about how little sympathy I had for the author, who got rich for YEARS as an agent of empire, and is now laughing all the way to the bank with his New Age-y mea culpa. There are much better expositions of American empire with much less blood on their hands.(less)
I think it's easy for folks of any political persuasion to fall upon easy stereotypes of what it means to be a soldier - a guts-and-glory style action...moreI think it's easy for folks of any political persuasion to fall upon easy stereotypes of what it means to be a soldier - a guts-and-glory style action hero, a cold-blooded killing machine, etc. Mullaney's wonderfully written memoir does an incredible job of humanizing the American soldier and demonstrating that "soldier" is not an identity that is partitioned away from the rest of their lives. Their family and intellectual life all inform the way they perform their service, just as their military service impacts these other areas.
Fans of military history will enjoy the chapters about his military training and service in Afghanistan, but Mullaney broadens the comrades-in-arms narrative to embrace his changing family life and his scholastic adventures at West Point and Oxford. It's an engaging, warm-hearted read, and Mullaney does the United States Army proud with this memoir.(less)
I love Wolcott's writing, and his gift for snark is second-to-none. I'll be honest and say that I bought this book for the chapter on CBGB and the dow...moreI love Wolcott's writing, and his gift for snark is second-to-none. I'll be honest and say that I bought this book for the chapter on CBGB and the downtown punk scene, but was also pleasantly engaged by Wolcott's tales of the Village Voice and about (of all things) porn. Had I been a little more up on criticism (and in particular, the work of Pauline Kael and the world of dance), I'd probably get a lot of more of the inside jokes and snide remarks.
But as is, it's worth it just for the chapter on punk.(less)