Reviews

Heineken in Africa

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This book is a neat corrective to the dominant narrative that Africans have been in control since direct colonialism ended about 60 years ago. Therefore, if Africa is still backward and underdeveloped, it is the fault of Africans alone. Olivier Van Beemen demonstrates that it is the relationship of multinationals like Heineken with members of the African ruling class that upholds the dystopian dysfunction of African underdevelopment.

Extract: A Rebel's Guide to Alexandra Kollontai

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In this extract from her new book, A Rebel’s Guide to Alexandra Kollontai, Emma Davis sets out the Russian revolutionary’s views on sexuality and relationships under capitalism and beyond.

Alexandra Kollontai described how women’s oppression resulted in unequal and often fraught relations between men and women.

While relationships occupied an important part of Kollontai’s life, they also frustrated her. She expressed this frustration in one of short stories: “I’ve read enough novels to know just how much time and energy it takes to fall in love and I just don’t have time.”

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.

Safe as Houses

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The Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 was an atrocity waiting to happen and there were a thousand warning signs which were not acted on.

There were the obvious ones — members of the Grenfell Action Group explicitly warning of a “catastrophic fire”. And then there were the hundreds of smaller ones — every shoddy repair job and ignored complaint in social housing developments.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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