Books

Stars in their Eyes

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Review of 'Cosmology', Peter Coles, Oxford £5.99

This pocket size book starts with a history of how humanity came to terms with the universe and its creation, and then seeks to explain the modern understanding. On its way it covers Einstein's theories of relativity, how we know the age and size of the universe, the process of the Big Bang, and how the matter we see around us was created. In the latter stages it describes the structure of the cosmos in terms of galaxies and clusters, and ponders on matters such as whether a grand unified theory of everything can be created.

Watching the Detective

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Review of 'The Angst-Ridden Executive', Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Serpent's Tail £6.99

One of Europe's best known writers, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán was born in Barcelona in 1939, the year of Franco's civil war victory. He became an underground activist when he was a 20 year old student. Arrested in 1962, he was beaten up by the notorious torturer, police inspector Vicente Creix, and spent 18 months for political offences in Lérida jail. Throughout his successful literary career he has remained faithful to the PSUC, the Catalan Communist Party, which he joined while in prison.

Rehabilitating the Truth

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Review of 'Vietnam and Other American Fantasies', H Bruce Franklin, University of Massachusetts Press £15.95

Over the Xmas of 1972, with an agreement between North Vietnam and the US imminent, Richard Nixon ordered an all-out aerial assault on the North, with B-52s flying over 700 sorties in 12 days. The response to this stepping up of the war was a strike by those working at the secret 6990th air force security service base on Okinawa. The strikers cheered every time news came through that a B-52 had been shot down. At the same time four aircraft carriers, Ranger, Forrestal, Coral Sea and Kitty Hawk, were incapacitated by sabotage and mutiny, unable to play their part in the bombardment.

Ripe for Revolt

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Review of 'Against Global Apartheid', Patrick Bond, University of Cape Town Press £14.99

In 1995 after Chad, a country in West Africa, had been destroyed by war, an IMF official commented that at last there was an environment that they could work with. Structural adjustment and neoliberalism could proceed unhindered, as the country was now 'ripe for the development of a free market economy'.

The Lowest Climb the Highest Peaks

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Review of 'Tigers of the Snow', Jonathan Neale, Little, Brown £18.99

In the 1960s a generation of hippies rejected the emptiness of bourgeois Western values, and headed for Nepal, the home to the Sherpas farmers who migrated from Tibet to the Himalayan pastures below Mount Everest 500 years ago. They were Buddhists and were despised by most of the Hindu Nepalese elite. The British thought them more timid and subservient than the warlike Tibetans, and they became the 'natural' choice as porters for the gentlemen climbers in the heyday of capitalism--the late 19th century onwards.

Torn Between Love and War

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Review of 'At Swim, Two Boys', Jamie O'Neill, Scribner £19.99

This story interweaves the innocence and romance of two boys falling in love with a sharp narrative on the political climate and events leading to the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. The main characters' fathers, Mr Mack and Mr Doyle, joined the British army and served together. They are both Catholics and are now back in Ireland and living in a small coastal town near Dublin where their lives diverge. Mr Mack, a small corner shop owner, sees himself on the up moving into respectable society. He sees his old friend Mr Doyle as a drunk letting his family fall into poverty.

Poor State of Affairs

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Review of 'Rethinking Welfare', Iain Ferguson, Michael Lavalette and Gerry Mooney, Sage £16.99

When Tony Blair got into Downing Street, he threatened to 'think the unthinkable' about welfare. For Blair, this phrase was a code for launching an assault on the fundamentals of the welfare state itself through tuition fees for students, NHS privatisation, cutting single mums' benefits and a host of other attacks.

The Common Cause

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Review of 'The Wearing of the Green', Michael Herbert, IBRG £11.95

Over the last two centuries Irish people living in Britain have contributed to many campaigns and protest movements. But those few historians who have told their story, have most often written out this fighting past. Mike Herbert's history is the first full length account to give this radical history due weight.

Herbert does not just tell the story of the Manchester Irish, but locates their narrative within the linked stories of the movements for Irish independence, and of British working class history.

Toxic Shock

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Review of 'Five Past Midnight in Bhopal', Dominique Lapierre, Simon and Schuster £17.99

The tragedy of a toxic leak from Carbide's pesticide factory in Bhopal, India resulted in the worst industrial disaster in history, causing over 30,000 deaths and 50,000 injuries, and is felt almost 20 years after 'the event'. It was a request for help setting up a clinic that prompted Dominique Lapienne to spend three years searching for the truth behind the leak.

Riding the Crest of a Wave

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Review of 'The Scar', China Miéville, Macmillan £17.99

Fantasy is one of the most popular forms of fiction today. A visit to any bookshop will reveal row after row of fantasy novels, mostly adventure stories but with a growing comedy section as well (mostly written by Terry Pratchett). The great bulk of these novels are set in some sort of romanticised feudal society where good is battling against evil, the lower classes know their place and magic works. There are elves, dwarves, trolls, dragons, princes and princesses, wizards and, inevitably, those most maligned of fictional creatures, orcs, the despised proletariat of conservative fantasy.

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