Books

The Fearless Benjamin Lay

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The just man who is resolute/ Will not be turned from his purpose/ Either by the rage of the crowd or/ By an imperious tyrant. Roberts Vaux, an early biographer of Benjamin Lay, quoted these lines by Rome’s lyric poet of antiquity, Horace, to describe the fortitude and courage Lay showed throughout his remarkable life in the face of the ill will and taunts expressed towards him by those who benefitted from the vile transatlantic slave trade. And where not better to start a review of this simply very good book?

The Caseroom

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Saltire Society first Book of the Year for 2017 has nominated this book for it’s prize. The Caseroom opens in 1891 with 13 year-old Iza Ross starting work at Ballantyne’s Pauls print works in Edinburgh, quickly moving on to 1894 at which point Iza is fully trained as a typesetter or compositor. We learn quickly women doing this work have a different experience to men. “It’s women’s work too” Iza explains, adding, “But lads serve a seven-year apprenticeship; we spend just three years learning.”

Memphis 68

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From resistance to the American war in Vietnam to the instantly recognisable image of Tommy Smith and John Carlos holding high their clenched fists on the Olympic podium, 1968 was a year of uprisings and resistance.

But it was also a year of tragedy, of the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis, and the fall out from the death of Stax star Otis Redding at the end of 1967. Stuart Cosgrove’s Memphis 68 is the second in a trilogy looking at soul music in one of the most inspiring decades of US history and a bittersweet tribute to the city.

1997: The Future That Never Happened

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The 1997 general election saw the hated Tories thrown out, indeed humiliated, and a bright New Labour government take office under an idealistic young leader, Tony Blair. There was widespread hope of change and improvement. It is useful to remember how enthusiastic much of the left was about Blair at this time with one former Communist Party intellectual actually describing New Labour as a “Gramscian project”!

The Corbyn Comic Book

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This collection of comic-strips on the subject of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn comes out of an open call for submissions to writers and artists by the publisher, Self Made Hero, which had the deadline of 12 July this year. It features contributions from professional cartoonists like Steve Bell and Steven Appleby and Martin Rowson from The Guardian. Most of the contributions come from more unknown artists.

The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness

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With wry wit, vivid observational clarity and self-depreciating put downs, Caveney tells of the loves and let downs, the highs and the hangovers of growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He tells of the enthusiasms his teenage self-discovered: The Fall, Satre, Marx, The Pretenders, Shelley, socialism, Tom Robinson, Paul Foot, The Feelies, Tony Cliff, Orange Juice, Oscar Wilde, Patti Smith and many more surprisingly familiar cultural and political landmarks are enjoyed as he seeks to create an identity.

Lovers and Strangers

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In today’s fight for the right of free movement, countering racist myths is at the heart of our task. We need to know the history of migration and this well written, easy to read book can help. It is ambitious, aiming to capture the experience of those who came here in the years 1945 to 1968, in particular up to 1962 before when entrance to Britain by Commonwealth citizens was still officially unrestricted.

Struggle or Starve

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The dominant narrative in Northern Irish politics from both imperialist and nationalist perspectives is the existence of two tribes with separate and incompatible interests. We have argued that unity between Protestant and Catholic workers was not only possible in the North of Ireland, but had been realised, albeit too briefly, in the dock labourers’ strike of 1907, the engineers’ strike of 1919 and the unemployed workers’ strike and riots in 1932. It is the last of these that Seán Mitchell’s marvellous new book bears witness to.

Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason

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2017 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Volume 1 of Capital and David Harvey rightly wants to commemorate this with a reassertion of the importance of Marx’s writings on political economy and the insights they can provide in understanding the world in which we live. The title (taken from Marx) is apposite in foregrounding the economic madness of a world in which problems of hunger and shelter could be solved, but where property is about making money and the Earth’s environment is being destroyed.

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