Even the Best Laid Plans Go Wrong

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Review of 'Russia: Class and Power 1917-2000', Mike Haynes, Bookmarks £12

For most of the 20th century anyone who described him or herself as a socialist would quickly be asked where they stood on Russia.

Today such questions are presented as being of historical interest, but as soon as we try to articulate a vision of a different world, the question of Russia reappears. Is any attempt at a radical transformation of society doomed to reproduce the horrors of Stalinist repression?

Revolution on a Galactic Scale

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Review of 'Dark Light', Ken Mcleod, Orbit £16.99

Dark Light' is the second instalment in Ken Macleod's science fiction space opera, 'Engines of Light'. Ken Macleod is one of a handful of contemporary left-wing authors--others being China Miéville, Iain M Banks, Marge Piercy and Ursula LeGuin--who have shown the power of this genre to explore alternative histories and imagined futures.

Scar on the Conscience of the World

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Review of 'Class Struggle and Resistance in Africa', ed. Leo Zeilig, New Clarion Press £12.95

Tony Blair's stance towards Africa effectively sums up that taken by the rulers of the world more generally. At the Labour Party conference last October he called Africa 'a scar on the conscience of the world'--before authorising the sale to impoverished Tanzania of a military air traffic control system that even the World Bank has condemned as inappropriate. Africa, in other words, is a basket case, there just to be exploited economically and militarily.

The plight of Africa is indeed grim. Giovanni Arrighi sums it up in the latest issue of New Left Review:

The Attack Queers

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Review of 'The Attack Queers', Richard Goldstein, Verso £14

The 'attack queers' of the title are various right wing gay journalists in the US, and Goldstein's book is a critique of everything they stand for. He sees in columnists such as Camille Paglia and Andrew Sullivan a fundamental threat to the gay movement.

Food for Thought

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Review of 'The Irish Famine', Colm Tóibín and Diarmaid Ferriter, Profile £8.99

The Almighty indeed sent the potato blight but the English created the famine'--a voice from the time of the Irish Famine of 1847-1849 during which 1 million people died and a further million emigrated. John Mitchell, a journalist, historian and political activist, wrote one of the documents collected in this new volume from a wide spectrum of people affected by the tragedy. From politicians debating their response, to the clergy in Ireland attempting to alleviate the suffering, this selection gives an insight into the lives and deaths of the Irish population.

Not in Denial Anymore

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Review of 'Telling Lies About Hitler', Richard J Evans, Verso £14 and 'The Holocaust on Trial', DD Guttenplan, Granta £9.99

In April 2000, at the cost of a three month, £2 million trial, David Irving was confirmed as a 'pro-Nazi polemicist', who had deliberately falsified the historical record in order to deny the reality of the Holocaust. 'The Holocaust on Trial' and 'Telling Lies About Hitler' are two accomplished accounts of Irving's attempt to sue Deborah Lipstadt for libel, after she exposed his methods.

Deadly Fibres

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Review of 'Asbestos Blues', Jack McCulloch, James Currey £12.95

With the exception of cigarettes, asbestos is the most common carcinogen in the developed world. The fibre was once promoted as a 'wonder mineral'--crucial to many of the industrial processes and commodities developed after 1945. Asbestos fibre causes three major diseases--asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma --the last of which can occur with minimal exposure and has a latency period of up to 40 years and is incurable.

Explaining a World of Extremes

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Review of 'World Development: An Introduction', eds. Prodromos Panayitopoulos and Gavin Capps, Pluto £16.99

In 1999 World Bank president James Wolfensohn admitted, 'At the level of people, the system isn't working.' This book will help you understand why. Introducing students, teachers and NGO workers to debates about the relationship between state, industrialisation and Third World development, it makes it clear that capitalism is a highly uneven system, creating winners and losers.

Good introductory academic books, such as this, used to be standard in development studies. Hopefully students will read this one before they are fed the routine sycophantic books found on courses today.

Twilight of the Gods

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Review of 'Berlin: The Downfall', Antony Beevor, Penguin £25.00

Antony Beevor's new book, 'Berlin', is a follow up to his bestseller 'Stalingrad'. The book outlines the last apocalyptic months of Hitler's Reich. Germany was all but destroyed under the weight of the Red Army's attack on Berlin. Stalin threw over 2.5 million men, 41,000 guns and more than 6,000 tanks into the campaign to seize the German capital.