The Return of Sunday Book Review reading
It's been a work and volunteer summer for me, which made it difficult to get past articles and opinion pieces on the web for linking. However, I am bringing back (at least this week) the venerable Sunday Book Review reading link post:
1. This week, in the Washington Post's Book World, there is a short and well-written review of "The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation" by Giles MacDonogh. The book review provides a succinct and clear understanding of the exile and violent retribution against German nationals in what became known as Eastern Europe after World War II. The reviewer correctly says any discussion of this horrible retribution against German civilians after World War II must include the context of the German-Nazi brutality. Whether the book fails as badly in providing this context, as the reviewer indicates, is less certain, but still likely. This earlier book by MacDonough shows him quoting the notorious pro-Nazi historian, David Irving, in various footnotes, according to an otherwise favorable review of that book (scroll down in the Miran Ali's review where he is critical of MacDonough citing Irving).
However, if we are truly providing context, we should also recall that some of the most heinous acts of cruelty against Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals were engaged in by non-German nationals in each of those countries, as well. The period of 1938-1988 is an ugly, violent-laden period in Eastern European history where those engaging in the acts of cruelty often became the next victims and then, when the political tables turned again, engaged in retribution against others. Hatred of Jews may have ebbed, but never really went away.
2. A review to stay away from is David Leonhardt's reivew of a ridiculous new book attacking the New Deal (Amity Shales' "The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression"). The book reviewer wrongly assumes, for example, the New Deal did not solve the Great Depression. Conrad Black, himself an unlikely historian with spectacular flaws as a human being, is one of the few writers about FDR to actually look at how the government in the 1930s defined unemployment. What he found is that, if you worked for the Works Progress Administration, the Public Works Administration, or Civilian Conservation Corps, building bridges, roads, public buildings, clearing forests, etc., you were still "unemployed." When one counts such working folks as employed, the unemployment rate in 1938 and 1939 was often below 5%. When one considers unemployment was 33% when FDR began his administration in 1933, this is not a failure except in the fevered minds of capitalist ideologues with axes to grind. Next time one of these libertarian idiots go on about FDR prolonging the Depression, they should be confronted with this fact--and also the fact that GDP growth during the mid- to late 1930s was very strong, which again supports the point that lots of folks were working when before, they were not.
Also, Leonhardt takes a shallow swipe at farm subsidies, focusing only the fact of their abuses where folks are paid not to farm, and how the subsidies wound up helping what we could easily call "agribuisness." However, one should recognize that farm subsidies created the system that led to an overabundance of food which had not been the case before the subsidies were created. In fact, if one reviews the history of how government subsidies developed railroads, airplanes, computers and medical technology advances, one would be forced to abandon most of what passes for libertarian thinking. The truth is that mixed economies work better than societies that attempt anything close to pure capitalism or socialism. That's what grown ups understand.
Finally, there is nothing new in Amity Shales' analysis, as anyone who read John Flynn's works on FDR during the 1930s through 1950s could explain. I admit to enjoying Flynn's "The Roosevelt Myth" (1948)--see Book Two, Chapter Three of the book for Shales' analysis almost 60 years ago--and Flynn's early anti-Cold War essays. While attacking FDR made Flynn a prominently featured writer in newspapers and magazines across the country, his refusal to support the Cold War sent him into political oblivion for reasons having to do with the fact that, at that point, Big Business interests had made peace with the Democrats still basking in the sunlight of the New Deal.
3. If you know nothing of India's history after its independence from Great Britain in 1947, then this review should be read as an introduction. Another review of the book is contained in the Washington Post Book World here. Ironically, for more comprehensive reviews, one should read the Amazon web site for this book on Indian history, "India After Ghandi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy," by Ramachandra Guha.
4. Here is an eye-opening review of a book about the often losing fight against AIDS in Africa (Helen Epstein's "The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West and the Fight Against AIDS"). Just read this review. It provides one more example of how the US war against Iraq has reduced our ability to think about, let alone do much about something as pervasively horrible as the spread of the AIDS disease throughout Africa.
5. Finally, this review from the New York Review of Books is a perfect example of how a book review can illuminate important ideas and information beyond the books under review. The subject of the review is the Prophet Muhammad and the works of Tariq Ramadan published by the Oxford University Press and elsewhere. The review provides us with important insights into the history of Islam and how its relationship with the West, with Jews and Christians shaped its often violent tendencies. This is not comforting reading, but it does help us navigate through the present challenges we in the West face with regard to Islamic fundamentalism. Still, count me as a skeptic as to the strength of Islamic fundamentalism for reasons too detailed to explain here. Suffice it to say that the Communist threat against America was similarly overhyped and further, we should be carefully monitoring the upcoming elections in Iran in March 2008. The most oppressively anti-Western mullahs are in danger of losing to those who seek accomodation with the West, and may still yet declare a "state of emergency" or otherwise undermine electoral protections for citizens to avoid defeat. When understood in this context, the Cheney (formerly Cheney-Rove) administration's sabre rattling against Iran does little to help reformers in Iran, which makes Cheney a strange bedfellow after all with the current Iranian leader, Ahmadinejad.