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Wednesday 17 October 2012

‘It was either us or them’

Unpatriotic History of The Second World War, by James Heartfield (Zero Books, 2012)

It was a conflict fought on racial and class lines. ‘Stay On The Job Until Every Murdering Jap is Wiped Out!’ ran one US Army Poster, while the old adage ‘A bayonet is a weapon with a worker at either end’ was re-worked by the American financier Jay Gould: ‘I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half’.

Fixed opinions?

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt (Allen Lane, 2012)

Haidt wants his readers to understand - in the sense of comprehend (rather than empathise with) - moral, social and political views that differ from theirs. But this aspiration has a wider application than the field of American politics, and stating it is the main value of the book. There can be no effective debate without comprehending an opponent’s point of view.

Friday 12 October 2012

Here comes the science

The Geek Manifesto, by Mark Henderson (Bantam Press 2012)

Where the call for ‘science’ in policymaking is legitimate – in deciding between different policy options within an already established political framework – it is technocratic and mundane; elsewhere it rapidly becomes either eccentric or authoritarian, closing down the scope for political action.

Saturday 7 July 2012

Hamlet as literature

Shakespeare: the invention of the human, by Harold Bloom (Riverhead Books, 1998)

The invocation of divine status leads Bloom to claim that Shakespeare’s intellect is greater than that any other writer, including ‘the principal philosophers, the religious sages, and the psychologists from Montaigne through Nietzsche to Freud’ (p.2). I offer the suggestion that Bloom may be over-stating his case here. Worse, in the process of assigning Shakespeare divinity, Bloom decouples him from his rightful place in the history of literature and art.

Saturday 19 May 2012

A surplus of subjectivity and conviction

A History of the World Since 9/11, by Dominic Streatfeild (Atlantic Books, 2011)

After the invasion, once it was shown there were only weapons of prosaic destruction ‘the administration decided it was best to assume they had never been there’. The compound where the conventional weapons were stored, in Yusifiyah, near Baghdad, was by-passed by the Americans, and then comprehensively looted by insurgents. One source in the book estimates that of the violence following the invasion, 90 per cent was facilitated by this looting.

Monday 9 April 2012

Libraries: the case for books

The Library Book, edited by Rebecca Gray (Profile Books 2012)

23 writers tell us why public libraries matter. They do so against a background of library cuts (and dumbed-down education - more of this later). And they not only make out a good case for libraries but also for reading itself — a wise move, given the dislike expressed in some quarters about ‘privileging’ the book over other sources of information.

Friday 17 February 2012

Dirty money?

Not If But When: Culture Beyond Oil, by Platform, Art Not Oil and Liberate Tate (2011)

The aim of Culture Beyond Oil, a book produced by the arts and activist organisations Platform, Art Not Oil and Liberate Tate, is to draw attention to cultural sponsorship by the oil industry. The book is a type of intervention that questions the status quo – just like the scenario described above, which was carried out by Liberate Tate in June 2010. What does oil sponsorship reflect of the culture it supports? What does culture do, for oil money? What does oil money do to culture?

Tuesday 7 February 2012

The dangerous book for women and men

The Bible Now, by Richard Elliott Friedman and Shawna Dolansky (Oxford University Press, 2011)

The efforts of two critical Bible scholars to bring their expertise to bear on contemporary debates in which the authority of the Bible is regularly invoked or assumed are undermined by their haughty dismissal of anyone else who ‘feels qualified to interpret the scriptures’ without sharing the authors’ learning, and in particular their knowledge of Hebrew

Saturday 4 February 2012

The play’s the thing

How to Direct a Play: a Masterclass in Comedy, Tragedy, Farce, Shakespeare, New Plays, Opera, Musicals, by Braham Murray (Oberon Books, 2011)

The book is not a bible in how to direct a play; it is one man’s account of what has, and has not, worked for him – a passionate, dedicated, lived and lively statement of what can happen when theatre is performing powerfully; and Murray believes deeply in the importance of theatre for the world beyond the stage.

Friday 20 January 2012

The Master Storyteller

Almodóvar on Almodóvar, by Pedro Almodóvar and Frederic Strauss (Faber and Faber 2006)

Throughout this collection of interviews, which took place of a series of months, Almodóvar exudes a well balanced streak of eccentricity, coupled with a sense of professionalism that is rooted in formality and devotion to his work. He explains in-depth the many disparate influences which inspired his earliest films, from Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe to the varied iconography of popular culture.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Towards ‘interculturalism’?

Multiculturalism: A Very Short Introduction, by Ali Rattansi (Oxford University Press, 2011)

Democracy, tolerance and equality are ‘core values’ that are frequently cited as the cornerstones of a British way of life, but as Rattansi points out, these values are vague, simplistic and not exclusive to Britain, and - especially historically speaking - have not always acted as the uniting undercurrent of British life.

Friday 16 December 2011

‘I am the simulacrum of myself’

Baudrillard, A Graphic Guide, by Chris Horrocks and Zoran Jevtic (Icon Books, 2011)

His ‘endist’ proclamations gave him the aura of a prophet. His mysterious pronouncements and penchant for irony, eclecticism and intellectual games had a Quixotic appeal. In many ways, Jean Baudrillard was a modern day Nietzsche: a difficult nihilist and sometimes obscure aphorist - a quintessential Romantic who declared the end of days.

Friday 25 November 2011

Food for thought

Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder, by Rob Lyons (Imprint Academic 2011)

Lyons’ intention in this book is to investigate food scares, both on their own merits and from an historical perspective, in order to understand our essential but often shaky relationship with what we eat. Today this means confronting and assessing the worth of a lot of government advice and challenging popular perceptions of modern mass-catering practices.

Not the whole story

Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital, by Catherine Hakim (Allen Lane, 2011)

Hakim’s book becomes more problematic when, building on this fieldwork, she argues that the use of erotic capital by women will not only change their role but also help them get a better deal in both public and private life, so revolutionising power structures as well as big business, the sex industry, government and… well, almost everything.

Monday 31 October 2011

Electric selves?

Alone Together: Why we Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other, by Sherry Turkle (Basic Books, 2011)

Given the social designation given to the new web, it at first seems paradoxical to claim that Web 2.0 could be undermining something about our social nature, yet this is precisely what is being claimed by many critics. So is this really the case? Sherry Turkle takes up exactly this question in Alone Together.

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