10 Books

  1. Mike Marqusee, Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties
    By the time I was old enough to pay attention to sports, Muhammad Ali was already an icon nearing the end of his boxing career. The controversies of his earlier days were done deals. So I'm glad to have read this detailed history of Ali's evolution through the most challenging of times. The man truly waded into uncharted waters, and never looked back. Can one imagine any sports or entertainment celebrity taking these kinds of risks today? The introductory account of boxing as a long established arena in which ideologies of racial difference were hoped to be verified is by itself very useful.

  2. John Strausbaugh, Rock 'Til You Drop
    This guy argues that rock is an art form by and for the young, that its vitality and integrity are inevitably compromised when adopted by the parental generation. The over-thirty rocker set is bad enough, but the over-fifties are beyond the pale. Taking the Stones as the example to not be followed, Strausbaugh makes a pretty good case for systematic baby boomer euthanasia, starting now. Includes an entertaining chapter on the pathetic decline and hollowing of Rolling Stone magazine.

  3. Kristin Ross, May '68 and Its Afterlives
    Another in my recent readings about Sixties fates. The second chapter in particular, "Forms and Practices," is valuable for its reminders of what made May '68 singularly radical, in the sense of not being categorizable as a political expression. Written in a non-jargony, not overly academic style, it really is quite accessible considering its methodological rigor. One criticism is that there are a few too many untranslated fragments of French that leave the anglophone frustrated and wondering.

  4. Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space
    More poetic in its organization than his Disenchanted Night, this is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the nineteenth century intersection of mechanical technology and modern social experience.

  5. C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins
    Just finishing up this one. Highly recommended for those who have ever wondered about the American ethnocentrism that says everything started and ended with the American War of Independence. For inspiration these days, the Haitian Revolution is where it's at. James's profile of Toussaint L'Ouverture paints a portrait of a striking figure, illiterate and already pushing fifty when the slave revolts swept the island, and untrained in military strategy. And yet he not only successfully led the ex-slave armies, but skillfully used the diplomacy game for a number of years, playing the British, French, and Spanish off each other while protecting his gains. James argues that it was L'Ouverture's very belief in the ideals of French republicanism and the democracy it promised that led to his downfall.

  6. Tom Frank, What's the Matter with Kansas
    What I like most about this book is not the analysis (even though I find much of that convincing), but the delivery. Leftists customarily give conversion experiences short shrift, while right wingers constantly refer to the personal turning point, the clear-sighted moment, the "born again" experience. While never dwelling on it, Frank takes a page out of the right wing punditry book of tricks and testifies, and makes it clear that at some point he turned left from a Republican adolescence in Kansas. We've seen how effective the testimony has been for the right wing; maybe this book will help give leftists a little of that spirit so essential to building an active political base.

  7. Maria Lugones, Peregrinajes/Pilgrimages: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions
    Maria Lugones is an amazingly articulate and forceful philosopher. Forceful, but in a nurturing kind of way. In some academic circles her ideas have been fairly influential, but her published writings until now have been hard to find. I think it is safe to say that this thinker has not made academic writing a priority; she is one of the few academics who is not afraid to admit that she gives her best energy to other work. In her case, it is her work as a seasonal community activist and popular educator in the Southwest, serving a diverse and long politically marginal population. Not surprisingly, the writings in this volume are very much informed by her community work, which makes it an even more valuable collection of ideas for readers who actually do stuff.

  8. Rodney Mace, British Trade Union Posters: An Illustrated History
    I am a letterpress printer and I am regularly printing up posters in small batches of between thirty and fifty. For friends, for events of interest to me, and for activist causes. Though this book takes the history through the Thatcher era, of most interest to me is its great selection of nineteenth century posters, all of which were letterpress printed from wood and metal type. They are great inspiration for what I do, in both layout and rhetoric, and help make more concrete other histories of that period, such as Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class.

  9. Immanuel Wallerstein, The End of the World As We Know It: Social Science for the Twenty-First Century
    Ever since I read Race, Nation, Class about three years ago I've been a fan of Wallerstein's writing. This volume is another helping of his recent stuff, which tends to be very digestible and from essay to essay somewhat redundant. That's not such a bad thing, because after a book or two, you really get his basic analysis down: capitalism is running its course, its terminal contradictions are manifesting themselves right now, and the next several decades are gonna be world-shakingly unstable, with great opportunity for both democracy and turmoil . Such grand theses presented in 15 page essays are necessarily superficial, but convincing nonetheless. Plus, there is the added excitement of the author often tacking on a few speculative remarks, which for me always trigger some serious pondering of the future.

  10. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire
    Not many books get the buzz going as much as this one did. It lived up to the hype. I couldn't believe it, didn't want to admit it, but had to when I realized that I hoped it wouldn't end. That said, I thought the first third was only so compelling, perhaps because the authors have to cover so much ground in laying out their basic framework. The last half was the inspiring part, and contain the sections to which I return.

 

Until the next ten

- Dan S. Wang