Reviews

Coercion and Consent

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Review of 'The Workers' and Peasants' State', eds. Patrick Major and Jonathan Osmond, Manchester University Press £15.99

When I was active in Natfhe in the 1970s and 1980s the Communist Party bureaucrats in the union saw East Germany, rather than Russia, as the 'socialist' motherland. In East Germany there were no show trials of the sort that had taken place in the rest of Eastern Europe in the early 1950s, women were positively encouraged to enter the labour force and so on.

This new book looks at the reality behind the surface. It contains a range of studies of the politics, society and culture of East Germany between 1945 and 1971.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

In the Imagination

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Review of 'Albion', Peter Ackroyd, Chatto and Windus £25

Peter Ackroyd has written a range of great books that explore the relationships between a variety of historical times and places and the imaginations they foster. In his new book he sets out to find a 'native spirit that persists through time and circumstance' by looking for what was modern in Anglo-Saxon and medieval literature.

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.

All About Eric: A Cautionary Tale

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Review of 'Interesting Times: A Twentieth Century Life', Eric Hobsbawm, Allen Lane £25

I wrote a letter to the 'Guardian' about six years ago suggesting there might be two Eric Hobsbawms. One ended his book on the 20th century, 'The Age of Extremes', by describing the system as out of control and threatening all of humanity. The other was at that very time praising New Labour's approach to politics.

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