Reviews

Safe as Houses

Issue section: 

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

Issue section: 
Author: 

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

Issue section: 
Author: 

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

Issue section: 
Author: 

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

Issue section: 
Issue: 
Author: 

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

Issue section: 
Issue: 
Author: 

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.

The Case for Universal Basic Income

Issue section: 
Issue: 

Louise Haagh mounts a passionate defence for a Universal Basic Income (UBI), “to give all residents a modest regular income grant that is not dependent on means-tests or requirements”. Her book “argues for basic income as part of democratic reconstruction at a juncture of global crisis in governance”. She makes some big claims for it: “By weaving basic security into the fabric of society, basic income is a rising tide, lifting all boats, whilst bringing those stranded into common waters”.

Mohandas Gandhi: Experiments in Civil Disobedience

Issue section: 
Issue: 

Talat Ahmed’s new book chronicles the life of Mohandas Gandhi, who was one of the leaders in the Indian Independence movement. She critically examines Gandhi’s political career and provides an understanding on how socialists should view him and his legacy. This is important because, in the UK especially, Indian history is taught with a rose-tinted lens regarding either the British state or Gandhi himself.

Germany’s Hidden Crisis

Issue section: 
Issue: 
Author: 

Germany dominates Europe, so news in April that German business confidence had fallen for a seventh month in eight and that the government had halved its growth forecast for 2019 to 0.5 percent suggests there is more than Brexit weighing on Europe’s economic prospects.

The German working class remains Europe’s most powerful. Yet Germany’s equivalent of the Labour Party, the SPD, is in spectacular decline after entering one coalition after another with conservative chancellor Merkel and, between time, making a wholesale attack on welfare provision.

Pages