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Atlantic Free Press Book Reviews
Book Reviews from Atlantic Free Press Writers and Bloggers 


Thu

14

Aug

2008

An Excerpt from Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland (AK Press)
Thursday, 14 August 2008 03:28
by Joshua Frank

You can go home again, but it might break your heart or turn your stomach. Even if your home is Montana. Perhaps especially here, where there is so much to lose.

No, Montana is not what it used to be. Corporate behemoths have taken over small family-owned farms, and public forests have been squandered and sold to the highest bidder. Poverty and racism run rampant. Native Americans are being corralled onto even tighter plots of land. But while things seem disheartening, voices of hope continue rumbling across the Big Sky Country.

With Montana, like so many other "lost cause" states, not fitting neatly into the Blue State/Red State dichotomy, even Thomas Frank would be baffled. Don't get me wrong: this is still Republican country. Oversized SUV bumpers flaunt "W" stickers, and almost every Ford truck touts a yellow "Support Our Troops" magnet. There is no question that these flag-waving Montanans overwhelmingly voted for Bush in 2004.
 

Wed

06

Aug

2008

Jeff Halper's An Israeli in Palestine
Wednesday, 06 August 2008 15:34
by Stephen Lendman

Jeff Halper is an American-born Israeli Professor of Anthropology as well as a peace and human rights activist for over three decades. In 1997, he co-founded the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD), and as its Coordinating Director "organized and led nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience against Israel's occupation policies and authorities."

ICAHD's mission is now expanded well beyond home demolitions. It helps rebuild them and resists "land expropriation, settlement expansion, by-pass road construction, policies of 'closure' and 'separation," and much more. Its aim is simple, yet hard to achieve - to end decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict equitably and return the region to peace. For his work, Halper was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Besides his full-time work, he writes many articles, position papers, and authored several books. His latest and subject of this review is An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel. Israeli-based journalist Jonathan Cook (jkcook.net) authored two insightful books on the conflict that are highly recommended. Information can be found on his web site and much more. He calls Halper's book "one of the most insightful analyses of the Occupation I've read. His voice cries out to be heard" on the region's longest and most intractable conflict.

Halper is a "critical insider" and insightful commentator of events on the ground that he witnesses first hand. This review covers his analysis in-depth - in two parts for easier reading. It exposes Israeli repression and proposes remedial solutions. It provides another invaluable resource on the conflict's cause, history, why it continues, and a just and equitable resolution.
 

Wed

06

Aug

2008

Descent Into Chaos - Book Review by Jim Miles
Wednesday, 06 August 2008 15:23
by Jim Miles
Descent Into Chaos – The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Ahmed Rashid. Viking (Penguin) New York, 2008.
The popular news reporting from Pakistan is limited, even more so than that coming from Afghanistan, which is even more limited than that from Iraq, in turn now becoming more limited as attention is directed towards Iran. For the most part it has all dropped off the scale as the U.S. elections start to power up for November, almost as if the main political contenders in each area are waiting to see what the outcome will be in order to determine their own next best move in the power games of the Middle East. Even when there is news front and centre, the observer is more often than not left without context as to what machinations are truly transpiring both on the scene and off the scene, as well as being ignorant of the historical context as well. There are a few observers whose work covers these areas much more thoroughly and help the curious, the interested, those looking for truths in amidst all the quick-hit sensational news reports to fill in the big picture. Ahmed Rashid’s “Descent Into Chaos” stands out among the best that I have read over the past several years.

There may well be other strong works on this part of South Asia, but I would hazard to say that for someone to truly understand global terrorism/current events in a wide-angle perspective combined with telephoto accuracy, this is certainly a book that should be read. From all that I have seen, heard, or read, this work has only corroborated and amalgamated those pieces that I have obtained into a strong picture, one that unfortunately remains difficult to focus on - as indicated in the title, the overall situation rests on the word ‘chaos’.
 

Sun

13

Jul

2008

Marching Toward Hell – America and Islam after Iraq - Book Review by Jim Miles
Sunday, 13 July 2008 13:03
by Jim Miles


Marching Toward Hell – America and Islam after Iraq. Michael Scheuer.


Michael Scheuer’s new work “Marching Toward Hell” is very clear with its overall purpose of exposing where American interests have gone wrong in their interactions with the various peoples, beliefs, and religions of the Middle East. As an ex-CIA agent specifically working on gathering information on Osama bin Laden and al Queda, Scheuer appears to have a solid background of information on the message and intentions of bin Laden. He also has a solid perspective of putting ‘America first’ that more often than not contradicts the neo-traditional view of American exceptionalism and unilateralism.

There are moments when his obvious pro-American rhetoric becomes too edgy, but given the nature of his career and his place within the American establishment, those moments can be seen as a natural part of his personal paradigm – America first, quit the stupidity of a foreign policy that only attracts more people of the world to dislike, hate, and attack us. There are several main ideas that run through the course of the work, each receiving slightly different emphasis as time and place changes through events.


 

Wed

09

Jul

2008

Imperialism and/or Democracy – A Discussion of Chalmers Johnson’s book, NEMESIS
Wednesday, 09 July 2008 02:38
by Stephen Bindman, Ph.D

In this most fascinating of his trilogy about the American Empire, Johnson writes of our end, and attributes it to Militarism and the breakdown of constitutional government. He compares the imperial pathologies of Rome, Britain, and the United States.

Rome:
"The collapse of the Roman Republic offers a perfect case study of how imperialism and militarism can undermine even the best defenses of a democracy”

Johnson argues that writers today have largely the same sources to understand Roman history that Shakespeare consulted in writing his plays. The question becomes how to interpret or digest Roman history.

One view is that Julius Caesar was a military populist, the leader of the mall against the Senate, and himself a tyrant.
 

Fri

27

Jun

2008

Superclass - The Global Power Elite and the World They are Making - Book Review by Jim Miles
Friday, 27 June 2008 17:56
by Jim Miles
Superclass - The Global Power Elite and the World They are Making - by David Rothkopf

This book is written by a person with the right credentials to do so, as David Rothkopf has worked within the edges of the Superclass. As he describes his credentials, "I came to this book with not an insignificant amount of personal experience - experience that has given me useful perspectives into the connective tissue of the global super class and introduced me to representatives of the group from every sector and from every region of the world."

Not surprisingly, his position comes out in support of this superclass group, as perceived through the lenses of finance and power, lenses that too frequently call on the guru of globalization, Thomas Friedman, for support of his views. Globalization, as perceived in Rothkopf's terms is good, and in a summary statement, that is more of a "well duh" factor, says that for all the power clusters "we have examined, it becomes clear that the most powerful are the most global." The "clusters" that he looks at are the usual ones implicated in the problems of globalization by its many detractors: the military, politics, finance, and religion.

His final argument in simplest terms is that the nation state as we have envisioned it has ended and that we - the people of the globe I assume - need a superclass to lead us into the future. Built into his conclusion is a well known contradiction - that while Rothkopf needs the superclass to lead us powerless folks, at the same time he recognizes that "Without the emergence of countervailing power centers to represent and ultimately institutionalize the will of the people at large, we will continue to get only partial solutions." Unfortunately as he observes earlier in the book, this superclass is quite open about its own self-interest and greed and is not really concerned about the rest of us. All that is well and good and it does make for some informative reading - starting off with the statistics that highlight the enormity of this groups personal wealth and power - but Rothkopf's presentation never does support the idea that "many in this group have made enormous contributions to the well-being of the planet."
 

Fri

27

Jun

2008

Thine Alabaster Cities Gleam - Book Review by Eric Larsen
Friday, 27 June 2008 17:36
by Eric Larsen

Occasion For Thought Number 2 (New Series — 2008)
Thine Alabaster Cities Gleam “A Slightly Fictionalized Memoir of a Career in the Last Half of The Twentieth Century” by Lawrence R. Velvel, Dean, Massachusetts School of Law

1

Some books still matter — even greatly — although generally they’re not the ones you’ll have heard about. In our grim day, if a book is visible enough for it to be on your radar, the chances are high that it’s a product of the enemy — of the culture of fraud and prefab lies, of the “official” and “acceptable” culture, the never-quite-the-real-thing culture of the New York Times, just say, and of the entirety of mainstream publishing. Yes, yes, I know: There are exceptions and some good stuff gets known. But to dwell on the exceptions is like taking time to express joy and wonder at the success of the one well-educated flea that manages against all odds to survive on the hide of a rogue elephant — as the latter trammels your vegetable garden, destroys your home, and curves its tusks through the bodies of your children and neighbors.

2

And so my own measure of what makes a book a good one — or makes an object in any of the arts a good one — is short and simple: It’s the truth-measure. The definition of this measure, that is, is short and simple. Explaining why or how something fits it may be another matter altogether, as complicated as the piece under consideration.

In the case of Lawrence Velvel, however, clarity and simplicity (that’s a good word, by the way) are the rule from opening words to final paragraph, and with good reason: The author’s subject through all four volumes of this memoir is the simple and consistent truth that honesty in America is a big disadvantage, in fact a crippling disadvantage, to a person’s profession, career, success, stature, income, and life achievement. At least this is so if the person’s profession happens to be the law. And if that person’s career had its beginning somewhere around mid-century, right after World War II had been won by the forces of freedom, a time when, as Velvel puts it in his preface to Volume One, “the American Dream was in full flower.”

It’s worth lingering for a minute over that preface, and over Velvel’s simple — again, good word — descriptive definition of “the American Dream” as having had one of its central origins in the life and thought of — yes — Abraham Lincoln. “It is Abraham Lincoln’s life and views,” writes Velvel,

which most strikingly illustrate the idea that in America you can rise as high as talent plus hard work can carry you. It is Lincoln’s life and views which most strikingly show that, in the process of rising, it is not enough to do well for yourself. Rather, you must also help your fellow man. And thought one an argue about it because Lincoln was so political an animal it is probably Lincoln’s life and views which best illustrate the belief that in the long run the race belongs to the man who does what is right. [vol. 1, p-i]
 

Wed

18

Jun

2008

Doug Dowd's "At the Cliff's Edge" (Part II)
Wednesday, 18 June 2008 22:38
by Stephen Lendman

Dowd's book is an essential text for students and adults. It's a critical review of 500 years of history that brought us to today's unprecendented dangers. Part I covered four and one-half centuries through WW II. Part II continues the story to the present.

Part III - Our World Today: Great Possibilities, Worsening Realities - 1950s - 1960s: Monopoly Capitalism, Cold War

Compared to what followed, the 1950s (post-Korean War period) were placid by comparison. Things changed:

— 1960 - black student sit-downs began at store counters; civil rights agitation revved up;

— 1961 - Eisenhower warned of a "military industrial complex;" it wasn't heeded, and Cuba foiled the Bay of Pigs invasion; it was the first of hundreds of attempts to remove Fidel Castro; most by assassination, and once it nearly succeeded;

— 1962 - the Cuban missile crisis; later evidence showed how close the world came to nuclear disaster;

— 1963 - Martin Luther King marches on Birmingham; his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington; JFK assassinated in November; Vietnam hostilities escalate;

— 1964 - the Senate passes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution "legitimizing" war on Vietnam; only two senators opposed it;

— 1965 - war intensifies; North Vietnam bombed; Malcolm X assassinated; riots erupt in Los Angeles Watts District;

— 1966 - US troop buildup escalates;

— 1967 - Martin Luther King's anti-Vietnam war speech one year to the day before his assassination; American street riots spread;

— 1968 - Tet turns the war; Martin Luther King assassinated; also Bobby Kennedy; Nixon elected; six and half more years of war;

— 1969 - Nixon announces "Vietnamization;" promises to end the war; intensifies it instead; secretly bombs Cambodia and Laos; North Vietnam as well; secret peace talks begun between Kissinger and Le Duc Tho; US duplicity highlights them; the Paris Peace Accords signed in January 1973; Saigon falls in 1975; remaining US civilian and military forces withdraw; Vietnam is still recovering; no reparations paid or war criminals prosecuted; the Cold War spreads; capitalism solidifies.
 

Wed

18

Jun

2008

Why the Left doesn’t get it (Book Review by William Bowles)
Wednesday, 18 June 2008 12:23
by William Bowles
Book Review: ‘Deer Hunting With Jesus - Dispatches from America’s Class War’ By Joe Bageant
“Never experiencing the life of the mind scars entire families for generations.”
This is the hardest review I have ever had to write. Who am I writing it for seems to be at the heart of my dilemma. But let me say first that this book is a witty, insightful and sympathetic portrait of a world most of us are only aware of through cliché or stereotype. Who are we talking about? The so-called American Redneck.

The reason I’m having such a hard time ‘interpreting’ Bageant’s book is simply because much of what Bageant deals with, white working class America, guns and life as it is lived in Small Town USA (actually Joe’s home town in Virginia to which he has returned after an absence of thirty years) has no equivalent in the UK or, for that matter anywhere else in the world except perhaps white, rural South Africa but even here, the resemblance is only skin-deep if you’ll excuse the pun (although according to Bageant, Australians do get it, which may explain why the book has been a big hit in Australia).
 

Thu

05

Jun

2008

Pens and Swords – (Book Review by Jim Miles)
Thursday, 05 June 2008 12:43
by Jim Miles

Pens and Swords – How the American Mainstream Media Report the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Marda Dunsky. Columbia University Press, New York, 2008.

In an era when American foreign policy has reached the pinnacle of unilateralism by invading other countries pre-emptively, threatening others with nuclear annihilation, and abrogating in doing so many decades if not more than a century of international law development, Marda Dunsky’s book Pens and Swords presents a very strong, well-referenced argument illuminating the bias within American media reports on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That bias develops under two main themes – a lack of historical context, and a lack of recognition of the effects of U.S. foreign policy. Along with those two major themes, are the related ideas of weaknesses in analysing and criticizing sources, and in not providing references for what discussion there is as the arguments already fit the generally accepted ‘Washington’ consensus. Other ideas that accompany the discussion are the use of language that biases an argument, and the desire for the “amorphous if not impossible standard of objectivity.”

Overview

The book is well organized and well developed. It begins with an introduction that presents a brief summary of some current communication theory. This is followed by a discussion of the “policy mirror” between the Washington consensus and the media. Next is a limited presentation of historical context – the nakba, international law and the right of return - in order that the reader does have some background knowledge, leading into Dunsky’s first discussion on reporting on the Palestinian refugee story. From there the main presentation works through discussions of media reporting on Israeli settlements, the violence of the second intifada, the ‘war at home’ or how the local media is perceived by various sectors. The two final sections “In the Field” and “Toward a New way of Reporting…” carry significant and well-reasoned perspectives on what is happening and what could or should be happening.
 

Fri

09

May

2008

Our Eyes and “Dreams of Home” - Book Review by Jim Miles
Friday, 09 May 2008 23:37
by Jim Miles

Our Eyes and “Dreams of Home” created by the children of Lajee Center with Rich Wiles. Lajee Center, Bethlehem, Palestine. 2007.

The pictures arrive at first in the sad multi-tones of greys, the ever-present grey concrete walls of the narrow alleys of the refugee camp, the shadows and lines on faces, the abstract shadows of wire and fence on concrete, and the loom of the Wall that separates the camp from its outlying fields. At first sombre within all that grey, the pictures reveal many levels of understanding and feeling, as if each shade has it own significance, each texture its own meaning, each face its own hopes and dreams clouded by narrow horizons.

As described in the introduction “the idea behind this project was for the young people of the Lajee to constructively and creatively respond to the environment in which they live…producing…an international voice that transcends borders and languages…that can get over the Wall…pass through checkpoints…louder than gunfire.”
 

Fri

09

May

2008

Muqtada – Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and The Struggle For Iraq. Book Review by Jim Miles
Friday, 09 May 2008 22:45

by Jim Miles

An excellent work, Muqtada ends off right where current events pick up with the recent Iraqi army attacks ordered by Nuri al –Maliki in southern Iraq, Basra in particular. The media view that this was purely an Iraqi effort is put into place with one of author Patrick Cockburn’s closing comments that Maliki “had limited real power” and felt “that he could not move a company of troops without American permission.” This morning’s news on al-Jazeera fully demonstrates American involvement with the new surge into Sadr City - the Baghdad stronghold of Muqtada’s Mehdi army – supported by American Abrams tanks and aerial bombing.

Patrick Cockburn has written a fascinating account of Muqtada al-Sadr, with his departure point being the long history of Shiism in the Middle East. Muqtada neither extols the virtues of his subject and the heroic valour of his resistance, nor does it denigrate the Shia beliefs or the man himself. There is a fully balanced perspective and a good deal of critical analysis which allows the reader to place Muqtada accurately – or as accurately as can be given considering his elusive nature – within the overall historical context of the war in Iraq.

A deeper understanding of Muqtada comes indirectly from an understanding of his family’s background, the martyr status of his father and grand-father and the murder of many of his family including his older siblings under the regime of Saddam Hussein. Much more than simply a radical firebrand cleric, Muqtada is seen as a more complex person “a cautious man” with a “sure instinct for the swift tactical retreat when confronting an opponent of superior strength.” Coming of age during the unsuccessful Shia rebellion against Saddam, the fault being placed on the lack of American support, and then having to survive through the many years of sanctions and oppression, Muqtada developed a wily sense of survival, knowing when to confront, knowing when to back off, knowing when to disappear altogether.

 

Tue

06

May

2008

There Will Be Blood - Book Review by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad
Tuesday, 06 May 2008 09:38
by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad
Voice of Hezbollah: The Statements of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, edited by Nicholas Noe, Verso, 420 pp., £12.99, 978 1 84467 153 3
Since the assassination in Damascus of Imad Mughniyeh, a leading Hizbullah operative, a sense of foreboding once again grips Lebanon. The Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah says the bombing foreshadows Israeli aggression and has declared his willingness to wage 'open war' should there be another invasion. Fighting words are not uncommon to the region; leaders often compensate for lack of action with bravado. However, no one is ready to discount the significance of Nasrallah's statement. Why?

As the Israeli Air Force decimated the exposed Egyptian infantry in 1967 Nasser's propagandists were forecasting success. When the US-UK air armada pummelled the hapless conscripts of the Iraqi army in '91, Saddam's propaganda mill promised imminent victory (which it duly claimed shortly after signing unconditional surrender). Likewise, Saddam's Minister of Information greeted the US-UK invasion in 2003 with similar fanciful flourishes. An object of frequent ridicule, such mendacity is often adduced by born-again Orientalists as a function of the addled 'Arab mind'. That is, until one voice emerged that undermined stereotypes and restored dignity and trust.

Syed Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of the Lebanese Hizbullah movement, has established a reputation for saying only what he means and promising only what he is able to deliver. Islamic Resistance, the guerrilla wing of Hizbullah, has evolved under his helm from its ragtag origins to the world's most effective resistance movement, twice defeating the vaunted Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in battle. As a testament to his intelligence and organization skills, Hizbullah has also developed an efficient and extensive social service network – hospitals, educational institutions, a construction company and its own media – that caters to its mostly impoverished Shia constituency. As a result he has emerged as the most popular figure in the Middle East. The Syrian Bashar al-Assad according to Seymour Hersh claims to be in 'awe of Nasrallah' and 'worships at his feet'. Secular MPs in Egypt revere him as an 'heir to Saladin'. Christian divas in Lebanon have immortalized him in song. The modest Shia cleric is a living legend in the mostly Sunni Middle East.
 
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