Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Summer Reading

Back now from several weeks of summer R & R....

I've been reading a number of books this summer I'd highly recommend. Here's a list of several of the best, with some of the dust-jacket blurbs:

-Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy (2006) - dedicated "to the millions of Republicans, present and lapsed, who have opposed the Bush dynasty and the disenlightenment in the 2000 and 2004 elections," American Theocracy describes how "every world-dominating power from ancient Rome to the British Empire has been brought down by an overlapping set of problems: a foolish combination of global overreach, militant religion, diminishing resources, and ballooning debt. In American Theocracy, former Republican strategist and noted political and economic commentator Kevin Phillips argues that it is exactly this nexus of ills that has come to define America's identity at the start of the new century. Matching his command of history with a penetrating analysis of contemporary politics, Phillips presents a searing vision of the future, confirming what too many Americans are still unwilling to admit about the depth of our misgovernment."

-Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present (1980) - with its telling of America's story from the point of view of America's women, factory workers, African Americans, Native Americans, working poor, and immigrant laborers, A People's History of the United States has become a modern classic, translated now into a dozen languages. Historian Eric Foner states, in the New York Times Book Review, "Professor Zinn writes with an enthusiasm rarely encountered in the leaden prose of academic history, and his text is studded with telling quotations from labor leaders, war resisters, and fugitive slaves. There are vivid descriptions of events that are usually ignored, such as the great railroad strike of 1877 and the brutal suppression of the Philippine independence movement at the turn of the last century. Professor Zinn's chapter on Vietnam - bringing to life once again the free-fire zones, secret bombings, massacres, and cover-ups - should be required reading for a new generation of students." Howard Fast adds, "One of the most important books I have ever read in a long life of reading.... It's a wonderful, splendid book - a book that should be read by every American, student or otherwise, who wants to understand his country, its true history, and its hope for the future."

-Cullen Murphy, Are We Rome? (2007) - longtime Atlantic Monthly managing editor Cullen Murphy "ventures past the pundits' rhetoric about the rise and fall of ancient Rome to draw draw nuanced lessons about how America might avoid Rome's demise. Working on a canvas that extends far beyond the issue of an overstretched military, Murphy reveals a wide array of similarities between the two empires: the blinkered, insular culture of our capitals; the debilitating effect of venality in public life; the paradoxical issue of borders; and the weakening of the body politic through various forms of privatization. Murphy argues that we most resemble Rome in the burgeoning corruption of our government and in our arrogant ignorance of the world outside - two things that are in our power to change."

-Chalmers Johnson, Nemesis (2007) - following from his earlier books, Blowback, linking the CIA's clandestine activities abroad to disaster at home, and The Sorrows of Empire, exploring how the growth of American militarism and the garrisoning of the planet have jeopardized our safety, Nemesis shows how imperial overstritch is undermining the republic itself, both economically and politically: "Delving into new areas - from plans to militarize outer space to Constitution-breaking presidential activities at home - Nemesis offers a striking description of the trap into which the grandiose dreams of America's leaders have taken us. Drawing comparisons to the Roman and British empires, Johnson explores in vivid detail just what the unintended consequences of our dependence on a permanent war economy are likely to be."