Reviews

The Fearless Benjamin Lay

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The just man who is resolute/ Will not be turned from his purpose/ Either by the rage of the crowd or/ By an imperious tyrant. Roberts Vaux, an early biographer of Benjamin Lay, quoted these lines by Rome’s lyric poet of antiquity, Horace, to describe the fortitude and courage Lay showed throughout his remarkable life in the face of the ill will and taunts expressed towards him by those who benefitted from the vile transatlantic slave trade. And where not better to start a review of this simply very good book?

Memphis 68

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From resistance to the American war in Vietnam to the instantly recognisable image of Tommy Smith and John Carlos holding high their clenched fists on the Olympic podium, 1968 was a year of uprisings and resistance.

But it was also a year of tragedy, of the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis, and the fall out from the death of Stax star Otis Redding at the end of 1967. Stuart Cosgrove’s Memphis 68 is the second in a trilogy looking at soul music in one of the most inspiring decades of US history and a bittersweet tribute to the city.

Protest: Stories of Resistance

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The question on the book’s jacket, “Whatever happened to British protest?” is silly, particularly given the 20 marvellous incidents it records. But don’t let that put you off a really good anthology about protest movements in the UK. Starting with the Peasants Revolt of 1381 and finishing with the anti-Iraq War demonstration of February 2003, a series of writers provide real colour to each protest or movement with often moving short stories.

Fractured Continent

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This book examines the present state of Europe and its relationship with America at what the author sees as a crucial time for the world. His perception is that with the EU in possible danger of breaking up and Trump’s America retreating into “America First” isolationism threatening to tear up trade agreements and military treaties, the world is at a point where decisions will lead to either peace or calamity in the next century.

The Violence of Austerity

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This is a collection of 24 short articles covering different, but interlinked, aspects of austerity. Perhaps the book’s most important contribution is to describe recent and current government policies as violent. As the articles show, in rich detail, this is metaphorically and literally true. Ken Loach referred to the “conscious cruelty” of the Tories. Cooper and Whyte show it goes beyond that. And then came Grenfell.

Lovers and Strangers

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In today’s fight for the right of free movement, countering racist myths is at the heart of our task. We need to know the history of migration and this well written, easy to read book can help. It is ambitious, aiming to capture the experience of those who came here in the years 1945 to 1968, in particular up to 1962 before when entrance to Britain by Commonwealth citizens was still officially unrestricted.

Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason

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2017 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Volume 1 of Capital and David Harvey rightly wants to commemorate this with a reassertion of the importance of Marx’s writings on political economy and the insights they can provide in understanding the world in which we live. The title (taken from Marx) is apposite in foregrounding the economic madness of a world in which problems of hunger and shelter could be solved, but where property is about making money and the Earth’s environment is being destroyed.

Isaac and I: A Life In Poetry

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This is an autobiography of Chris Searle, who was inspired by poetry, especially by the East End (of London) poet Isaac Rosenberg. More than that, he inspired children, teenagers and working class men and women to write and recite them.

His secondary schooling didn’t start smoothly because he needed several attempts to get into grammar school. He was encouraged by his English teacher, whose choice of exciting class readers like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and plays, including Shakespeare, “opened up the heart of language within me that I had to dive into!”

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