Wages of Rebellion

Wages of RebellionWages of Rebellion may be Chris Hedges’ best book.

I’ve read a lot of Hedges, too often with mixed feelings. I’ve always liked his politics, but I’ve been put off by his left-evangelical tone. He can be pretty shrill, which lessens his power to convince.

In this book, in a remarkable mixing of scholarship and observation, Hedges submerges much of the personal pain so evident in books like The World As It Is.

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Seveneves

seveneves
Neal Stephenson

2015

I’ve read a lot of Neal Stephenson, from short books like Snow Crash to the 3,000+ page, eight-book trilogy that is The Baroque Cycle. Stephenson’s Anathem is my pick for the best contemporary sci-fi/futuristic/whatever genre book. Hands down, no contest.

So I hoped that Seveneves would be almost as good. Unfortunately, for me it wasn’t.

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The New Prophets of Capital

cover57380-mediumNicole Aschoff
Verso Books
2015

We live in a capitalist and free market world, and many of us struggle to keep our heads above the globalization waters. So when some-one, especially someone wildly successful, comes along to tell us how to stop clinging to the wreckage and swim safely to shore, we listen. After all, they made it, and now they’re telling us how to do it.

There’s just one problem. All of the solutions uncritically assume that the current economic and political system is a given: if not inevitable, it’s not going to change anytime soon. And that assumption condemns most of us to an unequal and inequitable existence. In a free-for-all market system of course there will be winners, but they always will be vastly outnumbered by the losers and the left behind.

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The Price of Paradise

Price of Paradise
David Dante Troutt
2014

 

The Price of Paradise is a closely-argued and carefully-documented accounting of the social segregation and inequality of services that are at the core of the ideal of “local control.”

Troutt argues that “economic collapse pulled back the curtain on the flawed ways we finance schools, public safety, and infrastructure repair, foreshadowing decades of limited services, unstable budgets, and grossly unequal communities.”

Troutt claims that these “flawed ways” are primarily a matter of a sense of place, a function of how defining the space in which one lives as a middle-class citizen dooms other, less fortunate citizens to reduced or absent opportunities for access to that middle class.

In other words, the very existence of middle-class towns and suburbs generates and perpetuates inequality: “Generations of inequitable localist policies have favored the places currently occupied by a fortunate few over those of the emerging majority. This distribution of public resources is unfair, unreasonable, and unsustainable.”

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Fighting Over the Founders

cover53134-mediumAndrew M. Schocket
January 2015

In Fighting Over the Founders: How We Remember the American Revolution, historian Andrew M. Schocket examines how much of contemporary American political discourse is expressed through the two fundamentally different ways that Americans portray the American Revolution.

Schocket writes that “anything written or spoken about the American Revolution inherently holds political and cultural implications.” This divide hinges on the answers one gives to two fundamental questions:

Is the United States a nation in decline from a golden past, a founding moment of perfection that we can only strive to emulate but are fated to miss the mark? Or did the flawed founders set a standard that they failed but that we are continuing to struggle to approach?

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The Internet Is Not the Answer

Andrew Keen Andrew Keen 2015

There have been many books about the evils of the internet, from complaints about the way that online life deadens our brains to warnings about the pervasive surveillance to which we subject ourselves whenever we use one of our electronic toys.

The Internet Is Not the Answer is a complaint and a warning, but its focus is different. Andrew Keen’s main concern is the economic consequences of what he sees as a libertarian hijacking of what began as a communitarian ideal: access for everyone, all the time, for free.

Today, argues Keen, “the more we use the contemporary digital network, the less economic value it is bringing to us.”

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Pay Any Price

James Risen
James Risen

2014

Pay Any Price, the title of James Risen’s new book documenting the excesses of the security state that the U.S. has become, has a number of significances, from the ironic to the outrageous.

The irony comes from the title’s origin. JFK’s inaugural address in 1961 is best known for his “ask not” challenge to America, but the speech also contained this passage: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

In Pay Any Price, Risen shows with disheartening detail that much of the price of securing the U.S. against the enemies who brought down the “twin towers” and ended the nation’s illusions of invulnerability has been “the survival and success of liberty.” In the years since 9/11, the U.S. has become a country where security trumps liberty.

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Fields of Blood

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Karen Armstrong
2014

What is religion? Has it been the same thing in all times and all cultures? Can we of today understand, much less appreciate, how premodern peoples lived in a world that merged the real and the spiritual?

And even if we can all answer these questions cogently, can we also say with legitimacy that religion is the cause of group violence, from the pursuit of heretics to the waging of war?

Former nun Karen Armstrong tackles these issues in a book that argues, simply, that we can’t blame violence on religion. Her core thesis is that while religious doctrines and motivations are associated with much mayhem, there is no fundamental, causal relationship between religion and violence. Not all religions are violent. Not all violence is religious. Not even all religious violence is religious — it just appears that way.

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The New Censorship

cover51555-smallJoel Simon
November 2014

In 1787,  the new U. S. Constitution was immediately amended, thanks to anti-federalist opposition to the creation of a too-powerful national state. The very first of these amendments guaranteed — along with freedom of speech, assembly, and religion — freedom of the press.

Press freedom was central to the informed oligarchy that the racially and economically privileged framers were actually trying to institute. And it’s even more important to the creation and maintenance of a true democracy. As Jefferson observed, only a well-informed citizenry can be trusted with its own government.

(I struggled to resist the temptation to make reference at this point to the results of the U.S. midterm elections, which can be understood by the rational mind only as a failure to heed Jefferson’s prescription. As you can see, I couldn’t resist.)

The New Censorship: Inside the Battle for Media Freedom centres its richly-detailed depiction of the state of world journalism on a belief in the need for a free press, and the report card it presents on the vitality, and the viability, of press freedom is not encouraging.

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God vs. the Gavel

cover53072-smallMarci A. Hamilton
2014

You know why we haven’t had a religious civil war yet, like the rest of the world? Because we did not have extreme religious liberty until now.

 

At the start of God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty, Professor Hamilton writes that she has produced this updated edition of her 2007 book because

we are at risk of a permanent shift that threatens to transform the United States from a thriving, diverse community of religious believers who share a marketplace and a public square into a collection of separate mini-theocracies, where we are more concerned about the religion of the person sitting next to us than the fact that they are a fellow American and where we need to know the religion of a Fortune 500 company’s owners to know what our health coverage will be.

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