Good Minds Suggest: Pankaj Mishra's Top Picks for Understanding an Angry World

Posted by Goodreads on February 6, 2017

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How do we explain the current wave of bubbling anger in the world, from militants and fanatics to the casual hatred of social media trolls?

For author Pankaj Mishra, the seeds of today's rage were planted in the 18th century's thoughts and ideas. Age of Anger explores how a combination of politics, technology, and the pursuit of wealth and individualism has cast billions of people adrift.

Mishra, the author of several books, including the novel The Romantics and From the Ruins of Empire, shared his top books for understanding our "age of anger" and which informed his new work.

Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
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"This is the first major book to explore resentment—the modern emotion par excellence whose universal explosion has brought demagogues to power around the world. The novella's protagonist is the quintessential loser privately railing against his social superiors, and the most vivid illustration in literature of how human beings are driven by fear and loathing as much as by rational self-interest."

The Birth of the Modern World by C.A. Bayly
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"This truly global account breaks free of the parochial national histories we have all grown up on. It shows how the interconnected and interdependent world we actually inhabit came into being, and how many of its apparently insurmountable problems, especially of inequality, first emerged."

The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt
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"It's worth reading all of Arendt, the most sensitive and acute of modern political philosophers. This book was one of the first to explore what went so horribly wrong in early-20th-century Europe. It reveals, among other things, the troubling continuities between what we have assumed to be opposites: liberal democracy and Nazism."

The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi
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"Published during the Second World War, this book analyzed why the market society, hailed in the 19th century as the herald of human freedom, had resulted in totalitarian regimes and extensive wars on Europe. It is more relevant today bizarrely because many of the pathologies Polanyi imagined himself to be saying good-bye to in the 1940s became institutionalized in recent decades."

Oppression and Liberty by Simone Weil
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"I am interested more and more in religiously motivated thinkers, such as Czeslaw Milosz, Charles Taylor, Jacques Maritain, and this French essayist, who broke with all the ideologies of her time (liberalism, fascism, and Marxism) and had, as T.S. Eliot wrote, 'a kind of genius akin to the saints.' It is both bracing and rewarding in the age of Trump to reflect on her thoughts on the complex nature of individual freedom."

Looking for even more book recommendations from authors? Check out our Good Minds Suggest series.

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Rohan (new)

Rohan In his notes for the dostoevsky book, I think you mean ressentiment and not plain resentment.
In Mishra's own words:

Ressentiment – caused by an intense mix of envy, humiliation and powerlessness – is not simply the French word for resentment
Certainly, the current conflagration has brought to the surface what Friedrich Nietzsche called “ressentiment” – “a whole tremulous realm of subterranean revenge, inexhaustible and insatiable in outbursts.”

message 2: by Robert (new)

Robert The best analysis I have seen of the psychological origins of terrorism is Dostoevsky's novel The Adolescent, not Notes from the Underground, which deals with a completely different, more mature and less effective psychology. The Adolescent thoroughly portrays the collision of untrammeled youth fantasy with adult reality and the devastation that can result. It is no accident that most terrorists are under 30, even under 25 (it is their ideologically dedicated and hardened handlers that are older, and know and understand what they are doing).

message 3: by Susan (new)

Susan Schl interesting, indeed ---

message 4: by Ton (new)

Ton Lenssen Robert wrote: "The best analysis I have seen of the psychological origins of terrorism is Dostoevsky's novel The Adolescent, not Notes from the Underground, which deals with a completely different, more mature an..."

Very true, Robert.

message 5: by Ton (new)

Ton Lenssen I always think the Anonymus of Dostojewski's Underground, in the second part, is symbolic for Germany at the end of the 19th century: he in vain tries to belong to the club and ends in ressentiment.

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