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Back You are here: Home Reviews Books Recommended Reading: May 2011

Recommended Reading: May 2011

BookgenericBe inspired, motivated, challenged and intrigued by this month's selection of books.







15 May 2011

Political Awakenings: Conversations with History
Harry Kreisler
UWA Press

Political_AwakeningsIn this thoughtful and inspiring series of interviews, twenty of the world's most influential writers, thinkers and activists reflect on formative experiences that shaped their own political commitments.

For Noam Chomsky it was handing out the Daily Mirror as a kid at his uncle's New York newsstand and becoming part of a buzzing intellectual and political hub for European immigrants.

Human rights Nobel Prize-winner Shirin Ebadi and her husband signed their own legal contract to restore equality to their marriage after the Iranian Revolution effectively erased the rights of women.

A young Tariq Ali bet a friend that he could work the Vietnam War into every answer on his final exams at Oxford.

Distinguished academic and ex-CIA man Chalmers Johnson changed his political position much later in life to become a trenchant critic of American imperialism.

“A fascinating insight into the lives of some of the greatest thinkers, writers and activists.”




Less than Human
David Livingston Smith
St Martin’s Press

Less_than_Human“Brute.” “Cockroach.” “Lice.” “Vermin.” “Dog.” “Beast.” These and other monikers are constantly in use to refer to other humans—for political, religious, ethnic, or sexist reasons. Human beings have a tendency to regard members of their own kind as less than human.

This tendency has made atrocities like the Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda, and the slave trade possible, and yet we still find it in phenomena such as xenophobia, homophobia, military propaganda, and racism.

Less Than Human draws on a rich mix of history, psychology, biology, anthropology and philosophy to document the pervasiveness of dehumanization, describe its forms, and explain why we so often resort to it.

David Livingstone Smith posits that this behavior is rooted in human nature, but gives us hope in also stating that biological traits are malleable, showing us that change is possible.

Less Than Human is a chilling indictment of our nature, and is as timely as it is relevant.

“David Livingston Smith shows us that speciesist language is not only detrimental to animals, but to groups of humans too. A powerful insight into the concept of dehumanization.”


Wikileaks and the Age of Transparency
Micah Sifry

WikiLeaksAgeOfTransparencyThe United States government is diligent — some might say to the point of obsession — in defending its borders against invaders. Now we are told that a small, international band of renegades, armed with nothing more than laptops, presents the greatest threat to the US regime since the close of the Cold War.

WikiLeaks’ release of a massive trove of secret official documents has riled politicians across the spectrum — even free-speech advocates.

Welcome to the uncomfortable Age of Transparency. Political analyst and writer Micah Sifry argues that WikiLeaks is not the whole story: it is a symptom, an indicator, of a generational and philosophical struggle between older, closed systems, and the new, open culture of the internet.

Despite the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the publication of secret documents continues around the world, and citizens are demanding greater accountability from those who wield power. As Sifry shows, this is part of a larger movement for greater governmental and corporate transparency:

“Essential reading for journalists, publishers, bloggers and anyone who shares information.”


Virtual Water: Tackling the Threat to Our Planet’s Most Precious Resource
Tony Allan
L.B. Tauris. Distributed in Australia by Palgrave Macmillan.

Virtual_WaterHow much water does it take to make a cup of coffee? The answer may shock you: 140 litres! That's the true amount of water used in growing, producing, packaging and shipping the beans you use to make your morning coffee.

Your lunchtime hamburger takes 2,400 litres and that favourite pair of blue jeans a whopping 11,000 litres. In fact, all the goods we buy - from food to clothing to computers - have a water cost in the form of virtual water: the powerful new concept that reveals the hidden facts of our real water consumption.

At a time when the world's resources are being used up at increasingly alarming rates what can we do to help tackle the threat to our planet's most precious resource? World water expert Tony Allan - creator of the virtual water concept - shows the way.

In this stimulating and enjoyable book he exposes the real impact of our modern lifestyle and shows how we as individuals, and governments globally, can make a vital contribution to managing our water use in a more sustainable and planet-friendly way.

“An accessible book that offers a wake-up call to our water useage as well as offering practical solutions of how to save water.”

Geek Nation: How Indian Science is Taking Over the World
Angela Saini
Hachette Australia

Geek_NationIndia: it's a nation of geeks, swots and nerds. Almost one in five of all medical and dental staff in the UK is of Indian origin, and one in six employed scientists with science or engineering doctorates in the US is Asian.

By the turn of the millennium, there were even claims that a third of all engineers in Silicon Valley were of Indian origin, with Indians running 750 of its tech companies.

At the dawn of this scientific revolution, Geek Nation is a journey to meet the inventors, engineers and young scientists helping to give birth to the world's next scientific superpower - a nation built not on conquest, oil or minerals, but on the scientific ingenuity of its people.

Angela Saini explains how ancient science is giving way to new, and how the technology of the wealthy are passing on to the poor. Delving inside the psyche of India's science-hungry citizens, she explores the reason why the government of the most religious country on earth has put its faith in science and technology.

Through witty first-hand reportage and penetrative analysis, Geek Nation explains what this means for the rest of the world, and how a spiritual nation squares its soul with hard rationality. Full of curious, colourful characters and gripping stories, it describes India through its people - a nation of geeks.

“An entertaining read, Geek Nation captures history in the making.”


Ideal Illusions: How the US Government Co-Opted Human Rights
James Beck
Metropolitan Books. Distributed in Australia by Palgrave Macmillan

Ideal_IllusionsThe United States has long been hailed as a powerful force for global human rights. Now, drawing on thousands of documents from the CIA, the National Security Council, the Pentagon, and development agencies, James Peck shows in blunt detail how Washington has shaped human rights into a potent ideological weapon for purposes having little to do with rights—and everything to do with furthering America's global reach.

Using the words of Washington's leaders when they are speaking among themselves, Peck tracks the rise of human rights from its dismissal in the cold war years as "fuzzy minded" to its calculated adoption, after the Vietnam War, as a rationale for American foreign engagement.

He considers such milestones as the fight for Soviet dissidents, Tiananmen Square, and today's war on terror, exposing in the process how the human rights movement has too often failed to challenge Washington's strategies.

A gripping and elegant work of analysis, Ideal Illusions argues that the movement must break free from Washington if it is to develop a truly uncompromising critique of power in all its forms.

“A much-needed expose of America’s co-option of the human rights movement and a call for the latter to break free.”



Books selected and reviewed by Katrina Fox, Editor-in Chief.

For details of where to send review copies, click on the Contact menu.





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