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


Tue

22

Apr

2008

The Perile of Empire - Book Review by Jim Miles
Tuesday, 22 April 2008 10:12
by Jim Miles
The Perils of Empire. James Laxer. Viking (Penguin), Toronto. 2008.
The concept of empire has been discussed quite rigorously by various authors since the advent of the Bush administration, with views ranging from neocon jingoism through more academic apologists to those berating empire for the ills of the world. While not all ills of the world arise from imperialism, certainly a good portion of them do as many of them are strongly correlated - world debt, militarism, war, insurrection, global warming, the newly emerging food crisis are all related strongly with the imperial drive. The discussion of empire includes the obvious historical comparisons and the discussion as to whether or not the U.S. runs an empire, and again many authors with a wide range of views either deny what has tended to become a self-evident truth, to those that are capable of digging into the dirty world of empirical hubris and seeing it for what it has been historically and what it is currently. James Laxer’s “The Perils of Empire” is another useful addition to the imperial genre but it lacks the rigour of many of the more powerful works, at best it is an ‘adequate overview’.

The first section of the book is a relatively academic overview of the arguments swirling around empire, but mostly the apologetics of Brezenski, Fukuyama, Ignatieff, Fergusen, the Wilsonians, and the neocon PNAC members. There is little in the way of advocacy for a position to be argued and the author’s position remains somewhat ambivalent. There is a definite sympathy at times for the American empire starting with 9/11 as a “time of such understandable American popular fury,” that unleashed the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. However, there is no mention of the artifice of that fury created by American ignorance of its own background, historical amnesia concerning various American massacres at home and abroad, and the media circus and simplistic views that built upon that ignorance and amnesia.

When “Facing Up to Empire,” one of the initial statements is “An empire is first, last, and always an affair of blood,” while shortly Laxer says, “the benefits of empire are many,” without defining what the benefits are. The somewhat contradictory position is brought together indirectly by subsequent discussion on the “ruling class,” the “aristocrats,” the “upper classes,” suggesting that perhaps the many benefits accrue to the wealthy upper classes while the affair of blood remains mainly with the poor classes - suggested but not made into a central argument of his thesis. The concept of “elitism” recurs very frequently throughout the work, acting as a unifying theme, but it is not stated as such. I’ll return to this critique in a moment, but allow me to move on to another definition.
 

Tue

22

Apr

2008

Peter Hallward's "Damming the Flood" Book Review by Stephen Lendman
Tuesday, 22 April 2008 08:55
by Stephen Lendman

Peter Hallward is a UK Middlesex University Professor of Modern European Philosophy. He's written many articles; authored several books; edited, contributed to and translated others; and has research interests in a broad range of areas, including recent and contemporary French Philosophy; contemporary critical theory; political philosophy and contemporary politics; and globalization and postcolonial theory. He also edits the Radical Philosophy journal of critical and continental philosophy.

Hallward's newest book, Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment, is the subject of this review, and here's what critics are saying. Physician and Haiti expert Paul Farmer calls it "the best study of its kind (offering) the first accurate analysis of recent Haitian history." Noam Chomsky says it's a "riveting and deeply-informed account (of) Haiti's tragic history." Others have also praised Hallward's book as well-sourced, thorough, accurate and invaluable. This reviewer agrees and covers this superb book in-depth.

Introduction

First, a brief snapshot of Haiti. The country shares the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. It lies east of Cuba, west of Puerto Rico, and is about midway between south Florida and Venezuela. Haiti is small, around the size of Maryland in square miles, and has a population of about 8.8 million according to World Bank figures. It's two-thirds mountainous, with the remainder consisting of great valleys, extensive plateaus and small plains. Port-au-Prince is the capital and largest city. The country has some oil, natural gas and other mineral wealth, but it's main value is its human resource that corporate giants covet in an offshore cheap labor paradise for Wal-Mart's "Always Low Prices." The nation's official name is the Republique d'Haiti.
 

Thu

17

Apr

2008

Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine": Corporatism in Extremis
Thursday, 17 April 2008 06:19
by Dr. Bernard Weiner

Most of the books I've read about the awfulness of the Bush presidency remind me of the old story about the blind men trying to figure out what an elephant looks like. Each one feels the part in front of him and describes the elephant within that singular context. The blind men's descriptions are correct but they don't really capture "elephant-ness," the totality of what such an animal might be.

"The Shock Doctrine" by The Nation/Guardian writer Naomi Klein gets the pieces of the elephant right, but, more importantly, the book displays the author's deep understanding of the dangerous political/economic philosophies that undergird U.S. domestic and foreign policy.

In this, "The Shock Doctrine" is the most compelling, intelligent, meticulously researched and wholistic book I've yet read about how the U.S., over the past fifty years, got itself into the unholy mess it's in today.

A large part of Klein's book, as you might guess, involves the catastrophe that is Iraq and the "war on terror" in general. But those military misadventures, she says, are but symptoms of the more all-encompassing ideological mindset that breeds the reckless policies being pursued today both domestically and internationally.
 

Thu

17

Apr

2008

A Review of Eric Larsen’s "A Nation Gone Blind"
Thursday, 17 April 2008 05:33
by Sean M. Madden

A Nation Gone Blind: America in an Age of Simplification and Deceit
By Eric Larsen
Shoemaker & Hoard, 2006
ISBN: 1-59376-098-1
291 pp.; $16.00

Two years have passed since Eric Larsen’s A Nation Gone Blind was published — two long years during which time I, and doubtless many others, would have been less pained had I, we, known that another soul had penned these words of truth, nowadays so seldom heard. For it is truth which is central to Larsen’s book, his solitary search for it, and his well-wrought conclusion that the public at large and even our so-called intellectual classes — including writers, editors and academics (in the humanities no less) — are no longer able to think well due to a preponderance of feeling and zeal which has largely crowded out clear reasoning based on empirical evidence and logic.

Al Gore said as much, a year later, in The Assault on Reason. Like Larsen, Gore points out that the foot soldiers and carpet bombers of this assault are the mass media, especially the television broadcasters who have brought us — in their quest for maximized profits — not to our knees but onto our derrieres. In Gore’s words, “The Republic of Letters has been invaded and occupied by the empire of television,” which he goes on to report Americans watch “an average of four hours and thirty-five minutes every day,” or “almost three-quarters of all the discretionary time that the average American has.”
 

Tue

15

Apr

2008

The Three Trillion Dollar War – The True Costs of the Iraq Conflict - Book Review by Jim Miles
Tuesday, 15 April 2008 00:58
by Jim Miles

Following on their previous pronouncement that war costs could amount to as much as 1 trillion to 2 trillion dollars, ten times more than even then previously thought [1], Stiglitz and Bilmes have furthered their research into the cost of the war with their new title The Three Trillion Dollar War. But it isn’t – three trillion dollars that is. More than likely it will be much higher, as this “realistic-moderate” appraisal is continually described as conservative, with comments about always using the conservative numbers and even discounting certain costs as they could not be properly quantified. The “full tally” indicates “the numbers that we believe (conservatively) best captures the costs of the Iraq venture, even without counting interest – the total for Iraq alone is more then $4 trillion; including Afghanistan, it increases to $5 trillion.”

The book itself is generally a dry, well-written explanation of the kinds of costs incurred (death benefits, supplies and materials depletion, medical care into the future, future lost wages, interest on the debt, diseases, oil, rebuilding the economies…) and the methodologies used to establish the realistic value of the costs. There does not appear to be much room for anyone but a trained economist to argue with the figures, numbers so large that they are probably meaningless for most ordinary people to really comprehend.

Because the costs are being financed not through taxes on the citizens but through debt (money borrowed, mainly from overseas creditors) and because there is no readily visible military draft, the financial pain of this war is concealed from the American public, as are the physical and emotional pains of the returning personnel.
 

Mon

14

Apr

2008

The Zoo on the Road to Nablus – A Story of Survival from the West Bank. Book Review by Jim Miles
Monday, 14 April 2008 07:08
by Jim Miles

This tale from the West Bank operates at several levels. Nominally it is about one man – Dr. Sami Khader – and his attempts to sustain the dream of having an internationally approved zoo in the town of Qalqilya in the West Bank. Almost completely surrounded by the infamous ‘wall’, impoverished by the conditions of the Israeli occupation, Qalqilya would seem to be one of the least likely places in which to sustain this dream. By keeping this intriguing narrative on a basic descriptive level, an anecdotal history of current events, Amelia Thomas reveals not only the pathos of the situation, but also the indominatable will to survive – for both the human and animal menagerie – and the humour and everyday ‘ordinariness’ of those involved.

It took a few chapters to become fully involved in the work, perhaps more so as my expectations were not in line with the essential point of the story. But then having realized that this truly was the story of one man and his efforts to sustain his dream, and not a political or religious tract, I let the story speak for itself.
 

Mon

14

Apr

2008

Bad Samaritans – The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism – Review by Jim Miles
Monday, 14 April 2008 05:12
by Jim Miles

Every now and then a ‘prize’ of a book comes along that includes all the elements of good writing. Bad Samaritans is one of them. Using straightforward language that generally avoids using the lexicon of economists, and explains it well when it is used, Ha-Joon Chang writes a strong narrative about the ills of the capitalist world. It is a combination of anecdotal history and comparative history that uses many good statistical elements to support his common sense arguments. Most chapters begin with an interesting anecdotal tale that illustrates the theme of that chapter, and all chapters end with an effective summary of his arguments. His title is most appropriate as he readily supports his position that free trade is a myth, and a realistic presentation of the history of capitalism demonstrates the reality behind the myth.

The main underlying position that demolishes the myth of capitalist free trade and its supposed successes with globalization is that all the current wealthy countries achieved their wealth not through free trade, but through the use of highly protective tariffs and effective use of subsidies and laws that regulated foreign business within their own country. He starts with his own country, Korea.

According to the neo-liberal economists – the supporters and apologists for free trade capitalism – Korea succeeded because “it followed the dictates of the free market.” The combination of this belief with Korea’s export success created a “popular impression” of this ‘truth’. As clearly explained by Chang, “The Korean miracle was the result of a clever and pragmatic mixture of market incentives and state direction.” Extending the same argument further he states what is his main theme on the history of capitalism as being “so totally rewritten that many people in the rich world do not perceive the historical double standards involved in recommending free trade and free market to developing countries.”
 

Sun

30

Mar

2008

The New Imperialists – Ideologies of Empire - Book Review by Jim Miles
Sunday, 30 March 2008 22:52
by Jim Miles

The New Imperialists: Ideologies of Empire

The new imperialism is part a recognition that, yes, the United States is an imperial power as accepted and supported by various neocon pundits and apologists, and part a recognition that it takes a different form than previous empires, no longer so much as colonial-settlement projects but an economically-ideologically based empire. There is still very much a land base to the empire with over seven hundred fifty military establishments of one form or another in over one hundred thirty countries. Yet it is the institutional structuring of global enterprises that now determines the nature and kind of empire, with a somewhat different rationale behind these structures. It could be argued that the ‘new’ imperialism is only different from the ‘old’ imperialism as a matter of degree and a few not so cleverly disguised rationalizations, as the military is a necessity to support the economic push of free-market capitalism, as militarism had always supported either the greed of the original corporate entities – the Hudson’s Bay Company, the East India Company (Dutch and British) – or the settlement policies that frequently accompanied them, especially in North America, South Africa, and Australia.

Accepting however that there are certainly new parameters to the current American empire – it being the sole empire; the emphasis on ‘neutral’ free market capitalism; the support of major world institutions such as the WTO, World Bank, IMF and more recently the UN; the rationales of ‘rule of law’ and ‘transparency’ – this volume deconstructs the arguments of the apologists for empire, those that see it as a valid and good thing for the world in general.
 

Thu

20

Mar

2008

War in Heaven – The Arms Race in Outer Space. Book Review by Jim Miles
Thursday, 20 March 2008 20:51
by Jim Miles

In this short volume, Helen Caldicott and Craig Eisendrath provide a sharp and concise analysis of the American nuclear weapons industry and its many ramifications for society and the peoples of the world in general. While they see the big picture, they ably document the details of theory and practice of the (mostly) American push towards bigger and better (deadlier and more accurate) nuclear armaments that accompany the American push towards global dominance.

The work rises from a conference in 2005 titled “Full Spectrum Dominance” sponsored by Caldicott’s Nuclear Policy Research Institute, and the subsequent articles following that conference. The title, as most should recognize, is borrowed from the neocon military agenda of the same name, formulated in part by the many neocon members of the Bush administration, many successful holdovers from the Reagan administration. This work examines the current administration’s efforts towards a full militarization of outer space (more correctly ‘near’ space as is evident from the details provided in the text of what is useful and functional as well as imaginary and fantastical), their desire to control the world by global surveillance and space based military action, and to deny the use of outer space weapons systems to any other contender.

Starting with a short historical account of the developments leading to the full spectrum dominance stage, the authors discuss the advent of satellite technology - its role with national pride, its development as valid scientific instruments, finally moving into the realm of monitoring the agreements on nuclear tests as well as monitoring as advanced warning systems. The latter was and remains in part, a section of the mutually assured destruction regime that guarded against false starts in the earth based ICBM nuclear war scenarios.
 

Fri

07

Mar

2008

Carolyn Baker Reviews "Path Through Infinity's Rainbow"
Friday, 07 March 2008 03:10
by Carolyn Baker

Examining the causes, consequences, and interrelationships of the current crises with actionable advice for individuals and governments

We must leave the old left/right, liberal conservative paradigm behind us. Smaller government under local control-as will be the case in the Renewal communities-could actually be considered a "conservative" idea....We are creating a new tomorrow from what will soon become antiquity; we are not rehashing petty divisions or reaffirming old prejudices.
- Mike Byron

I can't remember exactly how I met Mike Byron, but we encountered each other online a few years ago and immediately sensed that we were intellectual and political allies. Mike generously wrote an endorsement for the back of my book U.S. History Uncensored: What Your High School Textbook Didn't Tell You, and shortly thereafter, he sent me a copy of his first book, Infinity's Rainbow. After finishing it, as I recommended it and attempted to describe it, I found that I could best do so by calling it a catalog of the planetary emergency in which the earth community finds itself. Then Mike requested an endorsement from me for his next book, The Path Through Infinity's Rainbow which I was delighted to provide because it takes Infinity's Rainbow many steps further and offers options for individuals and communities in the wake of civilization's collapse.

Lest the reader erroneously infer from the words "infinity's rainbow" that either of these books are pieces of abstract, airy-fairy fluff, I hasten to assure you that they are not. Mike Byron is a professor of political science and history and in my opinion, has critically analyzed the complex relationships between the monumental issues of our time: Peak Oil, climate chaos, and the economic sea changes that "a world gone mad" is forcing us to address. In his words, The Path Through Infinity's Rainbow offers a guide to: "Navigating the coming years of crisis; surviving and transforming our world; and participating in the creation of a new, sustainable economy."
 

Fri

22

Feb

2008

REBELS IN HELL - A Book Review by Kathleen Hayden
Friday, 22 February 2008 19:13
by Kathleen Hayden

Picture a time of oil wars, a constant specter of terrorism and trampled civil liberties, all orchestrated by a corrupt political system. Think you’re living in it? Sorry, today’s world is child’s play compared to the one imagined by Michael O’McCarthy in his new book, "Rebels in Hell."

The novel accelerates the fears of today into the realities of a not-too-distant tomorrow. And it’s not pretty. Assassination is a political weapon wielded freely by corrupt power brokers to neutralize opponents, silence dissent or to just avenge hurt egos.

One such death order – of a liberal blogger who writes a tad too liberally – sends the reader down a path toward revolution. The journey isn’t obvious. Several plot twists shift the central character focus until it finally lands on a young man, who calls himself Coilean, La Artista, and his small make-shift family of rebels.

A disclaimer: O’McCarthy’s lengthy writing resume includes political blogging for a site I ran. (I was uninvolved with editing this book and read it for the first time after it was published.) So, I am well versed in Michael’s political views, as well as with his work as a writer. "Rebels in Hell" is the best of it.

The pacing of the action is quick and the story concise without losing its color. The book spans five years of a fictional future, set just after the current Bush administration. The settings jumps around from the paradise of the Florida Keys, to the rough beauty and driving conditions of Costa Rica, to the atmosphere of Miami’s Little Havana and finally to the excess of Washington, D.C.
 

Sat

01

Mar

2008

Carolyn Baker Reviews Dmitry Orlov's "Re-Inventing Collapse"
Saturday, 01 March 2008 15:01
by Carolyn Baker

undefinedThe old normal is that life will go on just like before. The new normal is that nothing will ever be the same Rather than attempting to undertake the Herculean task of mitigating the unmitigatable-attempting to stop the world and point it in a different direction-it seems far better to turn inward and work to transform yourself into someone who might stand a chance, given the world's assumed trajectory. Much of this transformation is psychological and involves letting go of many notions that we have been conditioned to accept unquestioningly. Some if it involves acquiring new skills and a different set of habits. Some of it is even physiological, changing one's body to prepare it for a life that has far fewer creature comforts and conveniences, while requiring far more physical labor.

These words from Pages 125 and 126 of Dmitry Orlov's Re-Inventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects leapt out at me as perhaps the most definitive in his marvelous new book in which Dmitry illumines the collapse of the American empire, now well underway, with his insights from living through the collapse of the Soviet Union.
By way of background, I will be using his first name throughout this review because although I've only met him once, he feels like an old friend. I first heard of Dmitry several years ago when I became a subscriber to From The Wilderness where I was captivated by his article series "Post-Soviet Lessons For A Post-American Century." Later in 2007, Dmitry wrote an exclusive article for my website entitled "Collapse And Its Discontent." I was then honored and humbled by his request for an endorsement of Re-Inventing Collapse and immediately requested a review copy from his publisher, New Society.
 

Fri

22

Feb

2008

Rebels in Hell - Book Review by Alan Bisbort
Friday, 22 February 2008 18:51
by Alan Bisbort

Michael O’McCarthy has been many things during his eventful and occasionally tumultuous life. Not only has he been a journalist, poet, novelist, film producer and artist, he has also been what you might call a political prisoner. He walks, in other words, the walk. On his good days, he says, he is “a revolutionary humanist” and on his bad ones, he “simply hates the ruling class.”

Well, yes, judging from his new novel, Rebels in Hell (iUniverse), O’McCarthy hates the ruling class with a sort of white-hot intensity. He proves himself to be a polemical fictionalist in the mold of Orwell and Huxley. Take his protagonist, Healy, an idealistic writer whose ire was “focused on the politicians who had stolen the country for the rich.” Hmmmm. Sounds familiar. Healy’s foil is Miguel, the assassin for hire who learned his craft (extremely well!) in the U.S. Marines.
 
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