Books

A Serf’s Journal

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This short book is the important story of the 2001 week-long wildcat strike at JeffBoat, at one of the US’s oldest shipyards on the Ohio River in Indiana. Terry Tapp, who worked there during this time, describes the build up to the unofficial strike and the strike itself. You can get some sense of the place and barge production from the glossy promotional video on the company website.

Go Went Gone

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Berlin is a city where the dead continue to walk. History remains alive in its streets. Yet Berlin is also a vibrant modern city. This novel displays both sides, its prose sparse and modern, but underneath the surface lie layers and layers of hidden memory.

The story is of Richard, a retired classical academic who, in search of something to occupy his time, begins researching the lives of the refugees displaced by the wars in Africa and who are occupying a square in the city.

Nagasaki

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On 9 August 1945, three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the United States dropped a second atom bomb on Nagasaki, a small port city on Japan’s southernmost island. An estimated 74,000 people died within the first five months, and another 75,000 were injured.

Art and Production

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First published in 1926 and written a few years before, this small book is a fascinating read written at a watershed of Soviet history both in the debate over art and the revolution, and more generally over the direction of the revolution. It reflects and was part of a turn away from the experimental art after 1917 to what became social realism of the 1930s and beyond, a move that mirrored the counter revolution.

Cosmic Shift

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The centenary of the Russian Revolution has seen some excellent publications on the subject, but very little of it from Russia itself. Conceived as the first anthology of Russian art writing outside of Russia, Cosmic Shift is, in the words of curator Elena Zaytseva, “a collection that explores the aesthetic and moral legacy of the Russian Revolution in the field of contemporary art”, bringing together a vast array of artists, curators, writers and the philosophers in a shared task on an epic scale. The results are discursive and idiosyncratic in their treatment of the subject.

Russia in Flames

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Engelstein’s contention in this detailed look at war during 1914-1921 in Russia is that “Lenin had replaced Nicolas”, the former Tsar. From the outset Lenin was allegedly opposed to Soviet rule and fundamentally undemocratic. He fomented rebellion from below to create the conditions in which his autocratic and authoritarian regime could come to power.

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”!

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