Saturday, April 24, 2010

Saturday Night Review of Book Reviews--April 24, 2010

The NY Times starts us off with a couple of reviews of colorful historical figures who personified the 20th Century American Empire:

Here is retired USC History Professor Ronald Steel's excellent review of two new books on the "splendid little war" that led to further US imperial adventures, and ironically sowed the seeds of Japanese aggression in the Pacific that led to World War II and later the US government's 50 year war against the Cubans for daring to institute their own dictatorship instead of submitting to ours. One can't help but conclude that perhaps the Japanese felt a bit double crossed by America entering into secret treaties in 1905 to allow Japan to take over Korea and China, and then thirty years later, accuse Japan of unwarranted military aggression. That is a mind-blower, though it does not forgive the infamy of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor nor even worse, Japan's brutality in China, including in Nanking.

Here is a somewhat long-winded (boy, do I know about that!:-)) review of a new biography of Henry Luce. Luce is a larger than life figure, somewhat foolish, somewhat of a marketing genius and, again, a personification of a liberal- minded conservative who wholeheartedly promoted the expansion of the American military and economic empire. Luce's failure of vision are the failures of the American empire overall, whether it be his blind love of Chaing Kai-Shek in China or his inability to foresee the futility and violent stupidity of America taking over the role of French colonialists in Southeast Asia. The biography is probably better than the review, as reviewer Bill Keller is unfortunately a mediocre mind who, ahem, personifies the debased American elite of our time.

And here is a too short review of a book that lays out the hubris of the debased (that word again!) modern American economic elite, with appropriate villains that include the odious Lawrence Summers, who might as well be a Republican--except I guess he has openly homosexual friends and doesn't want to force women to bear children against their will. That of course makes him "liberal" in the parlance of our shallow political discourse...The fealty of people like Summers to corporate America has never been greater, and we are continuing to find ourselves living in an extended Second Gilded Age. But heck, let's argue about zygotes, gay marriage and stay within the bounds of corporate priorities by thinking "cap and trade" is something really radical! :-(

If you can handle it--I barely kept my food down reading it--Army Archerd, I mean, Mark Halperin, reviews two stupid books by two cynical political figures of our time. If there is any insight in the review, I guess I missed it.

Think I'm too hard on the small-minded Halperin? Compare his People magazine equivalent piece of stenography and gossip to this piece in the London Review of Books, written by Jonathan Raban. Unlike Halperin, Raban uses names as a short hand for serious critical cultural and political philosophy and policy, and, near the end of the review, cuttingly exposes the vacuousness of the modern British Tory movement, both its current leader and its muse, Phillip Blond. The name dropping is difficult to traverse for most Americans who are not familiar with 20th Century British intellectual history, but it should cause an American with some curiosity to do some Google searches. Better than bathing in the shallow cold waters of conventional wisdom...

Finally, from the Los Angeles Times, here is perhaps an unduly negative review of an intriguing novel-biography of the wonderful Pearl Buck. Pearl Buck is woefully underrated in our modern cynical culture. I have found her books, and I have read several now, to be extraordinarily insightful about Chinese history and politics, and astute regarding American imperial designs. Buck's book on the Chinese Cultural Revolution era, "Three Daughters of Madame Liang" (1969) is emblematic of what I am discussing here. What knocked me out was that Buck was so amazingly insightful about the chaos and repression going on in China while it was occurring, and yet understanding how some otherwise decent people could be supportive of aspects of it from the inside. Buck also provided a longer-term view of China that most Americans political commentators and political scientists could not even imagine at that time, but would clearly appreciate now. Yes, "The Good Earth" (1931) is outstanding, but it is Buck's lesser known novels that deserve a review as well. This would include such largely unknown works as "Come, my Beloved" (1953), which is about India and British colonialism, written in a manner that channels Graham Greene, yet softer and surprisingly more forgiving of all involved. I found "Madame Liang" and "Come, My Beloved" to be deeply satisfying, and surprisingly sensual without being overt or base. That Pearl Buck was always supportive of the works of Sinclair Lewis endears her even more to me...:-) While I am not sure the novel-biography of Buck is worth reading, her novels should be far more read than they are in our current time.

Happy book review hunting...and good evening.


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