Books

Up, Down and Out

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Review of 'Milosevic: A Biography', Adam LeBor, Bloomsbury £20

The Victorian writer Thomas Carlyle once commented that a well written life was as rare as a well spent one. Adam LeBor's biography of Slobodan Milosevic is that common thing--an inferior book about an infamous life.

Trouble and Strike

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Review of 'The Secret History of the IRA', Ed Moloney, Penguin £20 and 'Sinn Fein', Brian Feeney, O'Brian £11.99

These are two very different but equally invaluable books charting the tortured journey of contemporary Irish Republicanism towards constitutional politics. They are particularly illuminating about the transformation of the Provisional IRA from its pursuit of armed struggle against the British presence to ministerial office in the Stormont Assembly following the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which at the time of writing has been suspended for the second time in recent years.

Life of the Struggle

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Review of 'Free at Last!', Tony Benn, Hutchinson £25

Tony Benn is equally loyal to socialism and the Labour Party. The latest edition of his diaries, covering the last decade, describes a period when the rightward gallop of Labour brought those two loyalties into greater conflict. The decay of Westminster politics is so great, Benn jokes, leaving parliament leaves him 'free at last' to be involved in politics.

Mersey Memories

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Review of 'A Different World', Liverpool Women's History Group, Bluecoat Press £7.99

This book, beautifully produced, is a collection of memories of Liverpool in the 1930s and 1940s. They are recalled by a group of 15 older women, three of whom are octogenarians, others in their mid to late seventies and the youngsters who are between 50 and 60 years old.

Daring But Divided

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Review of 'The Resistible Rise of Benito Mussolini', Tom Behan, Bookmarks £8

The battles against Italian fascism in 1921-22 erupted as spontaneous self defence against the terror tactics of Mussolini's squads. Many of the left at the time dismissed these brave struggles. The reformist Socialist Party preferred to think that they could beat Mussolini at his own parliamentary game and paid for their error dearly. The new Italian Communist Party (PCI), instead of jumping in feet-first where workers resisted fascism, stood on the sidelines finding errors with those who fought back. The cost of failing to join the struggle on the streets was the victory of fascism.

Minority Report

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Review of 'At what Cost?', Rachel Morris and Luke Clements, The Policy Press £18.99

This study by the Traveller Law Research Unit (TLRU) seeks to fill a gaping hole in governmental auditing of one of Britain's most vulnerable and maltreated minorities--an estimated 200,000-300,000 Gypsies and travelling people. The authors expose the hidden costs of the 1994 legislation which released local authorities from the duty of providing travellers with authorised camp sites. A primary motive for the reforms was financial. Yet no study was ever done into the costs of not providing safe, legal stopping places.

Text Messages

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Review of 'Shakespeare is Hard, but So is Life', Fintan O'Toole, Granta £6.99

Shakespeare, we're told, is uniquely great--every school student aged 11 to 16 has to study his works. Yet the dominant ideas about Shakespeare--which Irish drama critic Fintan O'Toole confronts in this cheery polemic--make the plays seem boring and incomprehensible.

The Warmongers' Poisoned Chalice

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Review of 'The Final Frontier', Dominick Jenkins, Verso £19

As the US prepares to invade Iraq, ostensibly to stop Saddam Hussein using biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, a historical account that looks at how the United States played a central role in the development of such weapons is very timely. The book begins in July 1921 with New York in ruins following a bomb attack, the majority of its inhabitants wiped out by poison gas.

Imperial Roots

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Review of 'Striking Terror', eds. Robert B Silvers and Barbara Epstein, New York Review of Books £10.99

As George Bush prepares to launch an attack on Iraq the publication of this book is a timely reminder of the horrors of US imperialism. This collection of essays puts together a series of articles that originally appeared in the 'New York Review of Books' in the months following 11 September 2001.

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