10 Books, #6

  1. Union Of Big Shoulders, Amalgamated Meatcutters and Butcher Workmen of North America
    This unpaginated commemorative booklet was published by the union in 1972 on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the founding. Looking back from nearly forty years later, this seems to be a high point of the "Meatcutters Union." The photos are amazing. There are white, black, and Latino men and women, presenting a very enlightened image of American labor. The slaughterhouse work is bloody and dangerous. Men wield sharp blades in cold rooms. There are striking verses narrating the images, running throughout. The supermarket butchers have it a little better. The booklet ends with a text reflecting on the past and looking towards the future. The authors, whoever they were, saw future challenges with remarkable clarity. They outline the changing conditions of labor, the increasing mobility of workers, the erosion of employer-employee loyalty, and the persistence of racism and sexism as obstacles to equality. Unfortunately, it seems that now we can say that the challenges, as seen then by the union itself, were not met with equal clarity of purpose and creativity by the union.

  2. Portraits From Above: Hong Kong's Informal Rooftop Communities, Rufina Wu and Stefan Canham
    Hong Kong must be the most vertical city on earth. It's common to meet people who have never lived lower than the fifteenth floor. One person I knew hated being anywhere between the ground and the tenth floor; she felt like she was suffocating. Stacking dwellings on top of already existing buildings seems to be a Hong Kong specialty, like the houseboats in Aberdeen Harbor or the notorious rental cages, and as in those cases, following specific histories of settlement and migration. This is a beautifully designed volume profiling a rich sampling of Hong Kong's improvised and often illegal rooftop dwellings in documentary photographs, short to-the-point but still poignant texts, and cool architectural graphics.

  3. Pencil Techniques In Modern Design, Atkin, Corbelletti, Fiore
    If you're looking to build up your instructional drawing books, you gotta get this one from 1953. It was meant for the architectural draftsman, but it really is quite useful for fine artists, too. Anyone who wants to improve their pencil skills, especially having to do with line and shading. There are plenty of example reproductions that inspire. I picked it up in the closing days of the Prairie Avenue Bookstore going out of business sale.

  4. Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt
    I started this book with the intention of only reading Part I, Antisemitism. It's a great dissertation, and breaks down the historical specificities of European antisemitism in detailed ways I had not read anywhere else. And if you have wondered about the Dreyfus Affair, what it was and why it marked an important turning point in the way the Jews were perceived in Europe, read Part I. Along the way I ran into Sophia Mihic, who teaches the book regularly in her political theory courses. She recommended that I read Part II, Imperialism. So I did. Oh my god. Totally relevant--for me, Part II is why this book is a classic. I read only a few pages of Part III, Totalitarianism, and stopped. Immediately it was clear to me that Nazism and Stalinist Russia, as examples of domestic political orders, are less relevant to our contemporary conditions than the paranoid would think. We face different kinds of dangers, a kind of control society that makes the totalitarianism of the twentieth century seem quaint.

  5. Feast Of Spain, Luis Bettonica, editor
    300 recipes from around Spain, organized by region. None of which I have even tried yet. But every recipe includes a photo, which makes browsing and fantasizing really fun. From where I live, the ingredients are not the easiest to procure. Woodcock, sea bream, and suckling lamb's feet, for example. The book is from 1981 and looks every bit the style: late 70s sans serif, dark-dot bullet-pointed recipe steps in unjustified paragraphs set in ultra-clean page layout. The design stands totally in contrast to the super-down home recipes, which are untouched by contemporary trends of lightening of our diets. Mediterranean use of olive oil is thickened by much bacon, lard, fatty pork, butter, and pig's blood.

  6. New Age Capitalism, Kimberly J. Lau
    I cannot recommend this book for its form. It is a standard academic treatment and the author is not a terribly lively writer. I happen to believe that even books that grow out of doctoral dissertations, as this one most likely did, ought to be enjoyable to read. That said, I can recommend the book for its exposure of the yoga and aromatherapy industries for the money-grubbing concerns they too often are, and of Aveda for its sham image of enlightened business.

  7. GONZO, Hunter S. Thompson
    This is a posthumous deluxe picture album that was first published as a limited edition volume that retails for $400, complete with slipcase and bonus photographic print. Later Ammo Books produced a popular edition for $39 and small version for $20. I found a copy of the large format popular edition at a used bookstore. But had I not stumbled upon this bargain, I might have sprung for the full-cost version anyway. Because for anybody who worships at the altar of the Good Doctor, this is a must. Air Force journalism hi-jinks. A $2 million check, with "cocaine" on the memo line. Joan Baez gutting a boar. Yup, this man lived a Great American Life. This nation should be so lucky to produce such fine citizens again. The cover image says it all: a young HST, in the stages of honing his craft--that is to say, writing and living--in obscurity and traveling bohemian poverty, but, as with an entire generation, accumulating psychedelic coals that are about to shoot out flames in all directions....

  8. The American Revolution: Pages From A Negro Worker's Notebook, James Boggs
    This book has been recently released in a new edition by the Monthly Review Press, with a new introduction by Grace Lee Boggs and commentary by several activists who knew and worked with Jimmy Boggs. Reading this book, my mind was continually blown by how much hadn't yet happened when it was first written. It came out in 1963, before all the big crises of the later Sixties, before the ill-fated American War on Vietnam went all-out, and before the militancy of the later struggles emerged. And yet even then Jimmy Boggs could see the crisis all around him. Of course, this was in Detroit, where the advanced industrial state was ahead of every else, including in its own demise. Which of course makes us think of Detroit today, that it is again ahead of the rest of the deindustrialized region and world. What happened there in 1963, and what informed Jimmy Boggs' analysis of capitalism and the left, was a window into the future, and is so today: future/now, just like that other great Detroiter, Rob Tyner, said.

  9. Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, William Cronon
    Reading this book, I feel like I have already absorbed the main theses over years of conversation and reflection happening in the place of the author's study, but never got the details. Which makes is a great read. Getting the particulars of how the commodities markets actually came together in Chicago, how the railroads and telegraphs were important factors, how the eastern markets--and the routes to them--shaped the narrative is invaluable. Naturally great for anybody interested in Chicago and the Midwest, but also for readers interested in how the trade in any kind of agricultural and/or extractive resource becomes a determining factor in city and regional development.

  10. The Battle For China's Past: Mao And The Cultural Revolution, Mobo Gao
    Here we have an impassioned argument for fairness in assessing the Cultural Revolution. The author is working against a twenty-five year tidal wave of literature and official pronunciations, inside and outside of China, condemning the Cultural Revolution as a "mistake of history" and "ten-year catastrophe." Gao begs to differ, and tries to do it without positioning himself as a simple Mao apologist. He uses the methods of the historian, going back to primary accounts, interviews, and documentary evidence. What he finds are the nuances of what actually happened being quite a bit more complex than how the Cultural Revolution is generally cast in popular media. For example, on the topic of Tibet during the Cultural Revolution, he points out that much of the destruction of religious temples was actually carried out by young Tibetans rebelling against the old hierarchy, and that the mostly Han Chinese Red Guards stationed in Lhasa were tasked with tempering the attacks on the religious sites, which is why most of the temple destruction that occurred happened outside of Lhasa. Hm. Throughout, Gao asks the reader to keep in mind who all the negative voices are, what interests they represent, and yes, from what elite classes they originate (answer: elite urbanites who have always despised the rural peoples of China). Also, there is one full chapter slamming the shoddy, ideological "scholarship" of Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. This is a valuable book for anybody willing to accept the complexities of the Cultural Revolution, and who accepts some skepticism about simple readings presented by the mainstream media.


Happy reading!

- Dan S. Wang