Reviews

Art and Production

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First published in 1926 and written a few years before, this small book is a fascinating read written at a watershed of Soviet history both in the debate over art and the revolution, and more generally over the direction of the revolution. It reflects and was part of a turn away from the experimental art after 1917 to what became social realism of the 1930s and beyond, a move that mirrored the counter revolution.

Politics of the Mind

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The crisis of mental health has become a key issue. In an era of brutal cuts to welfare and public services, levels of mental distress and suicide are rising drastically among those out of work. This is as true for low paid workers, women and young people. The World Health Organisation estimates that by 2020 depression will be the leading cause of disability. In the UK one in four people will experience mental distress of some kind. With all that in mind this book could not be timelier.

Go Went Gone

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Berlin is a city where the dead continue to walk. History remains alive in its streets. Yet Berlin is also a vibrant modern city. This novel displays both sides, its prose sparse and modern, but underneath the surface lie layers and layers of hidden memory.

The story is of Richard, a retired classical academic who, in search of something to occupy his time, begins researching the lives of the refugees displaced by the wars in Africa and who are occupying a square in the city.

Russia in Flames

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Engelstein’s contention in this detailed look at war during 1914-1921 in Russia is that “Lenin had replaced Nicolas”, the former Tsar. From the outset Lenin was allegedly opposed to Soviet rule and fundamentally undemocratic. He fomented rebellion from below to create the conditions in which his autocratic and authoritarian regime could come to power.

A Serf’s Journal

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This short book is the important story of the 2001 week-long wildcat strike at JeffBoat, at one of the US’s oldest shipyards on the Ohio River in Indiana. Terry Tapp, who worked there during this time, describes the build up to the unofficial strike and the strike itself. You can get some sense of the place and barge production from the glossy promotional video on the company website.

1997: The Future That Never Happened

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The 1997 general election saw the hated Tories thrown out, indeed humiliated, and a bright New Labour government take office under an idealistic young leader, Tony Blair. There was widespread hope of change and improvement. It is useful to remember how enthusiastic much of the left was about Blair at this time with one former Communist Party intellectual actually describing New Labour as a “Gramscian project”!

The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness

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With wry wit, vivid observational clarity and self-depreciating put downs, Caveney tells of the loves and let downs, the highs and the hangovers of growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He tells of the enthusiasms his teenage self-discovered: The Fall, Satre, Marx, The Pretenders, Shelley, socialism, Tom Robinson, Paul Foot, The Feelies, Tony Cliff, Orange Juice, Oscar Wilde, Patti Smith and many more surprisingly familiar cultural and political landmarks are enjoyed as he seeks to create an identity.

The Caseroom

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Saltire Society first Book of the Year for 2017 has nominated this book for it’s prize. The Caseroom opens in 1891 with 13 year-old Iza Ross starting work at Ballantyne’s Pauls print works in Edinburgh, quickly moving on to 1894 at which point Iza is fully trained as a typesetter or compositor. We learn quickly women doing this work have a different experience to men. “It’s women’s work too” Iza explains, adding, “But lads serve a seven-year apprenticeship; we spend just three years learning.”

The Corbyn Comic Book

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This collection of comic-strips on the subject of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn comes out of an open call for submissions to writers and artists by the publisher, Self Made Hero, which had the deadline of 12 July this year. It features contributions from professional cartoonists like Steve Bell and Steven Appleby and Martin Rowson from The Guardian. Most of the contributions come from more unknown artists.

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?

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