Reviews

When Adam Delved and Eve Span

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The revolt of 1381 by tens of thousands of peasants shook England’s rulers. This new edition of Mark O’Brien’s short but powerful book recognises the importance of this entry of the poor into English history.

England was dominated by the king; lords and the church reached into every area of the peasants’ lives. The authorities imposed a poll tax on people to help finance wars against France.

The situation of unfree peasants or “villeins” was grim. They owned “nothing but their bellies”. There were laws on what they could wear, and on what and when they could eat.

A Rebel's Guide to Malcolm X

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This book is a celebration of Malcolm X’s legacy: his uncompromising championing of black pride and the right to self defence; his revolutionary opposition to capitalism; his relatable and inspiring oratory talent; and his militant and tireless organising in poor black communities.

As the Black Lives Matter movement brings the fight against racist police brutality to the forefront of struggle in the US, the ideas and iconic symbol of Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party are re-entering public consciousness.

Comrade Corbyn

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This book needs to be read, if it needs to be read at all, in the context of the general assault on the left as personified by Jeremy Corbyn. It comes at the more polite end of the scale of these attacks and uses condescension and damning with faint praise as its main weapons.

Respectable

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The moment I read the first sentence of this book I knew I’d made a mistake agreeing to write a review of it. Determining class based upon whether you call dinner “tea” or “lunch” doesn’t bode well for a book which seeks to focus upon the nature of class in Britain today.
Nevertheless, I’d agreed to write it so it was too late to change my mind.

Project Fear

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Project fear is a fascinating insight into the characters and thought processes of those at the heart of the Better Together campaign against Scottish independence during the referendum and the fallout in the 2015 Westminster elections.

The book is based on interviews with over 60 sources and filled with candid anecdotes showing the factionalism and egos of the three parties involved in the No campaign. Its very readable prose style races along and recaptures the frantic energy of the last days of the referendum campaign.

The Civilization of Perpetual Motion

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Nomads are often dismissed or overlooked. Indeed, one relatively recent book declared that nomads “have had no major role in world history for the past 500 years”. Such views are often based on inaccurate and outdated views of nomads and their role in the modern world. Historically, nomads have been seen as backward and violent people — Genghis Khan’s barbaric hordes pouring down on the defenceless civilised world, or more recently the romantic view of people “free of cumbersome city goods” living in empty, pristine wilderness.

Marx and Human Nature

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Norman’s Geras’s classic defence of human nature has been republished as part of Verso’s Radical Thinkers series.

Geras wrote this tightly argued little book as a riposte to Louis Althusser’s idea of an “epistemological break” in Marx’s writing. Althusser contended that Marx had decisively broken with his earlier humanist theories based on alienation, instead moving towards a “scientific” analysis of human beings as completely defined by their place within larger economic, political and ideological systems.

The Racket

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“A class war is being fought and the poor are losing.” Any book that acknowledges this harsh reality is worth a look.

The author, a former Financial Times journalist, goes on to write about how the “countervailing powers, such as strong organised labor groups, that previously had some check on business power have been eroded and fractured” and how today big business can, “like never before, write laws, weaken and destroy labor rights and the environment and control the media”. “The Racket”, as he calls it, is, at least for the moment, calling the shots.

The Senility of Vladimir P

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This page-turning, vodka-sodden, tragi-comic crime thriller about political corruption and moral predicaments is a brilliant holiday read.

It’s set in the future: Russia has been taken over by a new generation of despotic oligarchs, dissent is suppressed and former Russian president Vladimir P, now in an advanced stage of dementia, has been hived off to his luxury dacha near Moscow.

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