Reviews

Top of the Crops

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Review of 'Coffee with Pleasure', Laure Waridel, Black Rose Books £10.99

It may only be a small cup of latte in your hand but, together with all the other coffees that are simultaneously knocked back across the world, coffee is one of the three most important commodities in the world. The trade, amounting to over $70 billion annually, sits alongside oil and arms at the peak of the world economy. Yet, as the most recent Oxfam report puts it, the huge profits produced by our infinite taste for coffee go to the four or five giant multinational corporations that control its distribution.

Bankrupted by the World Bank

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Review of 'Zimbabwe's Plunge', Patrick Bond and Masimba Manyanya, Merlin Books £14.95

The economic crisis in Zimbabwe--with unemployment now at over 60 percent, inflation hitting 114 percent and 76 percent of the population below the poverty line--is in urgent need of analysis.

Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, and inherited debts of nearly $700 million from the white minority regime. The authors of this book argue that Mugabe's Zanu government had the option of repudiating this debt. Had this happened, the government would have had much more flexibility to implement its social policies and address the land question.

The Setback That Lasted Thirty-Five Years

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Review of 'Six Days of War', Michael B Oren, Oxford University Press £25

The Arab governments referred to the Six Day War, with tragicomic understatement, as 'the setback'. In reality the conflict, in June 1967, was a shattering example of Israel's military superiority over its Arab neighbours which left it in illegal occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The Meat of Capitalism

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Review of 'The Pig and the Skyscraper', Marco d'Eramo, Verso £20

First published (in Italian) in 1999, two years before four hijacked planes shattered American illusions of invulnerability and changed our world, this book explores capitalism in the US--the land where it stands exposed in 'all its naked force'. The author, an Italian journalist and writer, uses Chicago as a prism through which to track, analyse and comment on the history of US capitalism in all its complexity.

No Age of Innocence

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Review of 'The Edge', Alan Gibbons, Orion Books £4.99

Children's books are making the headlines. This isn't new, as any book that deals with sex, drugs or rock and roll is worth a scream from the 'Daily Mail'. What seems to be new is that some children's books are being read by adults. Philip Pullman, author of the 'Dark Materials' trilogy, won an adult prize, the Whitbread Award, and the 'Harry Potter' books are published with more serious 'adult' covers. Meanwhile Terry Pratchett has always written books that have been read by anyone over the age of eight.

Strong with the Weak, Weak with the Strong

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Review of 'The Moro Affair', Leonardo Sciascia, Granta £7.99

Leonardo Sciascia was one of Italy's greatest modern artists. He was also a member of the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry set up in March 1978 to investigate the kidnapping and subsequent killing by the Red Brigades of the former prime minister and president of the ruling Christian Democratic Party, Aldo Moro. He produced a report that raised questions that the Italian state did not want asked. This book contains his report and also his analysis of the Moro affair.

The Great Walls of Mexico

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Review of 'Jose Clemente Orozco in the United States', eds. Renato Gonzáles Mello and Diane Miliotes, WW Norton £40.00

The Mexican Revolution, whatever else may be said about it, succeeded in producing an astonishingly rich visual art. This was the political mural, a unique form of expression, particular to the time and place of the Mexican Revolution. The three most famous and successful practitioners of this art form were Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco.

The Complete Works of Isaac Babel

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Review of 'The Complete Works of Isaac Babel', ed. Nathalie Babel, Picador £30.00

As one of the greatest writers of the early Soviet period in Russia, the first single volume edition of the works of Isaac Babel is an event. In the epoch of war and revolution Babel is an author of the first rank.

Born in the busy Russian port of Odessa on the Black Sea in 1894, Babel grew up in a shtetl, a Jewish village. The son of a small businessman of mixed fortunes, he grew up amid cultural riches and material poverty, assailed by racism from all sides.

Antiques or History?

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Review of 'What is History Now?', ed. David Cannadine, Macmillan £19.99

This collection was supposed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of EH Carr's seminal work 'What is History?' Carr was a fascinating character--a Foreign Office diplomat who became a Marxist, a columnist on the 'Times' who wrote history, a friend of Trotsky's biographer Isaac Deutscher, and a rebel in his way.

The Carbon Club

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Review of 'Private Planet', David Cromwell, Jon Carpenter Publishing £12.99

This book is full of shocking figures. According to the United Nations the gap between the richest fifth of the world's population and the poorest grew from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 74 to 1 in 1997. Three fifths of the population in developing countries--that's almost 3 billion people--lack basic sanitation. In Mozambique, the IMF-imposed measures mean that patients at Maputo Central Hospital have to pay $4 to see a doctor--this is the equivalent of the average person in Britain paying £160.

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