Books

System Change Not Climate Change

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This new collection of articles brings coherence to the climate maelstrom. Reading it shifted me from depressed romanticism to a deeper understanding of humanity’s relationship with the rest of nature. That understanding brings hope that, as Sarah Ensor puts it in her chapter on biodiversity, we can “shape a convivial, sustainable Anthropocene.” The Anthropocene is the idea that we have entered a new geological epoch characterised by humanity’s dominating influence.

The Quarter

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In his brilliant essay “The Storyteller” Walter Benjamin reflects on the work of the Russian writer Nikolai Leskov, concluding that “the storyteller is the figure in which the righteous man encounters himself”.

We could do no better than if we approach the work of Naguib Mahfouz with Benjamin’s reflections of Leskov in mind.

Mahfouz was born in Cairo in 1911 and died in 2006. He created a body of work that is regarded as some of the most influential Arabic literature of the 20th century. In 1988 he became the first Arab writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Common Freedom of the People

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John Lilburne spent much of his adult life in prison, often in appalling conditions. Punished in the late 1630s for his suspected involvement in printing and distributing subversive literature, he was whipped brutally through the streets of London.

He fought for parliament in the English Civil War against the Royalists in the early 1640s. Nonetheless, he was subsequently put on trial for his life twice by parliament in the years following the execution of Charles I and the establishment of Cromwell’s ascendency.

Stalingrad

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There are some people (full disclosure: I am one) who regard Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate (1960) as the defining novel of the 20th century. So some celebration is called for because Grossman’s companion novel, Stalingrad, published in Russian in 1952, has finally been published in English with a superb translation by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler. In their introduction the Chandlers claim that this is a superior work to Life and Fate.

Mohandas Gandhi: Experiments in Civil Disobedience

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Talat Ahmed’s new book chronicles the life of Mohandas Gandhi, who was one of the leaders in the Indian Independence movement. She critically examines Gandhi’s political career and provides an understanding on how socialists should view him and his legacy. This is important because, in the UK especially, Indian history is taught with a rose-tinted lens regarding either the British state or Gandhi himself.

The Case for People’s Quantitative Easing

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Financial blogger Frances Coppola has written a clear, informative little book arguing the case for what she calls “quantitative easing for the people” which she believes can end the stagnation in the world economy since the financial crash of 2008.

Quantitative easing (QE) is a process by which central banks create money digitally (“print money”) and use it to buy bonds in government, banks and corporations. QE played a crucial role in propping up the financial system in the US and elsewhere following the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

The Case for Universal Basic Income

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Louise Haagh mounts a passionate defence for a Universal Basic Income (UBI), “to give all residents a modest regular income grant that is not dependent on means-tests or requirements”. Her book “argues for basic income as part of democratic reconstruction at a juncture of global crisis in governance”. She makes some big claims for it: “By weaving basic security into the fabric of society, basic income is a rising tide, lifting all boats, whilst bringing those stranded into common waters”.

Writing the Lives of the English Poor 1750s-1830s

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The “Old Poor Law”, first passed in 1601, was a series of pieces of legislation to attempt to deal with poverty in England and Wales. It lasted, with amendments, until 1834 when the New Poor Law was finally introduced after growing discontent at the system’s inadequacies.

These laws have been closely studied by historians, because the treatment of the poor gives an indication of wider changes in society. The Old Law covered the period from the end of the Tudors to the birth of capitalism and industrialisation.

The Border

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The Brexit vote in June 1916 reignited the historically contentious issue of the Irish border. As the only land border between the EU and Britain it became the focal point of arguments about a withdrawal agreement, encapsulated in the “Backstop” proposal for Northern Ireland, the purpose of which was to ensure the continuation of the existing “frictionless” border and avoid the politically explosive prospect of a return to customs posts and tariffs on trade.

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