Books

Poets Delight

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Review of 'Red Sky at Night', eds. Andy Croft and Adrian Mitchell, Five Leaves £9.99

Socialist poetry: two words to conjure images of earnest but artless efforts by would-be Woody Guthries. But this is a collection to dispel such prejudices, with two centuries worth of poems ranging from the melancholy to the inspirational, the whimsical to the sharply satirical.

Blacks and Reds

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Review of 'Race and Revolution', Max Shachtman, Verso £14

Lenin and Trotsky often raised concerns about the passivity of the US left on issues of race. Talking about the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party in 1939, Trotsky stated, 'It is very disquieting to find that until now the party has done almost nothing in this field. It has not published a book, a pamphlet nor even any articles.' This wasn't strictly true, as in 1933 Max Shachtman, a leading Trotskyist in the US, produced a pamphlet that Trotsky himself received a draft of.

Shining the Light on Corruption

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Review of 'Power Failure', Mimi Swartz and Sherron Watkins, Aurum Press £14.99

Sherron Watkins was an Enron vice-president who, as the company teetered on collapse, wrote a memo to her boss Ken Lay saying, 'We will implode in a wave of accounting scandals.' She met Lay and suggested more honest bookkeeping. Post-collapse, she cooperated with Congressional inquiries while most of Enron's management took the Fifth Amendment.

Lurking in the Shadows

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Review of 'Reefer Madness', Eric Schlosser, Penguin £10.99

When I was young I would happily sit listening to my nan's accounts of life in west London during the Second World War. Inevitably the discussion would move on to the question of rationing and the black market. She would recount how it was possible to buy anything - from meat, chocolate, cigarettes and the obligatory 'nylons' - from the spivs and black market racketeers. That was then. But how much have things really changed? Are the jeans you got down the market really Calvin Klein's? Have you paid the duty on your fags and what about the eighth tucked away in your bottom drawer?

Outcasts, Underdogs and Barbarians

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Review of 'What I Saw', Joseph Roth, Granta £14.99

This is a curious little book of 34 short essays that at first appears like a cross between an urban country diary from the 'Guardian', a latter-day Mayhew's London, or Orwell's classic 'Down and Out in Paris and London'. It is an eclectic mix of observations of everyday life in Weimar Berlin that ranges from construction sites to traffic, leisure, individual profiles and finally, albeit sparsely, a political commentary on the Weimar Republic's decline into Nazism.

Not So Gentle

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Review of 'Get Your War On', David Rees, Soft Skull £7.99

David Rees's clip art cartoon strips first appeared just a month after the attack on the Twin Towers. In this world US office workers phone each other to laugh at Operation Enduring Freedom, the War on Drugs, the War on Terrorism, corporate condolence adverts and hysteria over suspected terrorists. Nothing escapes their notice--Bush, Ashcroft, Cheney, Enron, Sharon and Palestine. All the political hypocrisy that makes us retch is skewered here.

Peron's Perfidy

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Review of 'The Real Odessa', Uki Goñi, Granta £9.99

In the twilight of the Second World War hundreds of Nazis fled to Argentina. The fugitives included some of the vilest figures of the 20th century: the architect of the Holocaust Adolf Eichmann, Auschwitz's 'angel of death' Josef Mengele, Erich Priebke and Klaus Barbie.

A Better View than Buena Vista

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Review of 'Tropical Animal', Pedro Juan Gutierrez, Faber £7.99

'Filth, stink, disregard, neglect, everywhere you look. I do what I can to escape from this apocalypse. At least mentally and spiritually. My material, though, remains anchored amid the wreckage.' For some readers, the surprise will be that the human flotsam who populate Pedro Juan Gutierrez's novel live in Havana, Cuba. The fleeting sex in half-ruined buildings, overcrowded, noisy and competitive; the half-lit world of prostitutes, rent boys, petty thieves and peanut sellers are the setting of what Gutierrez calls his 'dirty realism'.

Empiricist Against Imperialists

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Review of 'Power and Terror', Noam Chomsky, Seven Stories Press £7.99 and 'American Power and the New Mandarins', Noam Chomsky, The New Press £12.95

The publication of Chomsky's latest book, 'Power and Terror', and a new edition of his first major political work on the Vietnam War, 'American Power and the New Mandarins', could not be more timely. They span his remarkable 36 years as the US's foremost intellectual and anti-imperialist champion. During that time he has written extensively about all the major US imperialist adventures and has demonstrated an admirable level of consistency in his principled opposition to them.

Progressing Ever Upward

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Review of 'A Renegade in Springtime', Edward Upward, Enitharmon £15

Edward Upward, now approaching his 100th birthday, is the last of the 1930s generation of British left wing writers. This selection of short stories spans his entire output from the late 1920s to the 21st century.

The novelist Christopher Isherwood and the poets W H Auden and Stephen Spender are generally well known. Their work has often been taken to define the literature of the 'red decade'--that period when the triumph of fascism in Germany and the Spanish Civil War politicised a generation of writers who had come to maturity after the First World War.

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