Phil Shannon

Celebrity Inc. ― How Famous People Make Money
By Jo Piazza
Open Road, 2011
231 pages

Celebrity is just like printing your own money, says Jo Piazza in Celebrity Inc.

Two rich, spoilt, talentless celebrity brats ― Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian ― are experts at the fame game. Kickstarted by family wealth, and propelled to fame through a steamy sex tape and reality TV, Hilton “earns” around US$10 million a year. The Kardashian family franchise raked in $65 million last year.

By David Marr
Black Inc., 2011
262 pages, $29.95 (pb)

Panic. “It’s so Australian,” says the dejected journalist, David Marr in his book of essays on the rise, decline and rise again of political panics in Australia.

Panic over the Chinese was the “midwife of Federation”, and subsequent alarms about German spies in World War I, Wobblies and Reds in the 1920s, Communists in the Depression, and the Red Menace all over again after World War II have kept the scares coming.

Dirty Money: The True Cost of Australia’s Mineral Boom
By Matthew Benns
William Heinemann, 2011,
296 pages, $34.95 (pb)

Australian mining companies hand over $10 million a year in political donations to state and federal political parties. They don’t expect to be bitten on the hand by those they are feeding, as the Rudd Labor government did with its proposed mining super profits tax.

Time for the big stick of a fear-mongering $22 million campaign to remind the government who really rules in Australia.

Stop Signs: Cars & Capitalism ― On the Road to Economic, Social & Ecological Decay
By Bianca Mugenyi & Yves Engler
RED Publishing & Fernwood Publishing
2011, 259 pages,
$27.95 (pb)

The car, say Canadian authors Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler, who took a bus ride across the United States, is a doomed jalopy going nowhere. It fails, especially in the “home of the car”, on every green count.

Cars are the single largest contributor to US noise pollution and 40,000 people in the US die from car accidents each year (one million across the globe).

Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life
By Michael Moore
Allen Lane, 2011
427 pages, $29.95 (pb)

In 1968, the 14-year-old Michael Moore was expelled from the seminary where he was training to become a Catholic priest. His offense had been to ask awkward questions, like why can’t women become priests.

As Moore had to be reminded by Church authorities, “you either have to accept things or not”. For Moore, accepting the status quo was not an option, so authority would always be having trouble with Moore.

The Man on Devil's Island: Alfred Dreyfus & the Affair that Divided France
By Ruth Harris
Allen Lane, 2011
542 pages, $26.95 (pb)

The Dreyfus Affair in France a century ago shows how little has changed. “National security” was on the lips of politicians and military officers as an innocent man from a vilified group was framed for treason in a rigged military court and sent to rot in a prison hell-hole to serve political ends amid war hysteria.

Make the name “Alfred Dreyfus” or “David Hicks” and the template fits.

Strong>The Short Goodbye: A Skewed History of the Last Boom and the Next Bust
By Elisabeth Wynhausen
Melbourne University Publishing, 2011
219 pages, $29.99 (pb)

From writing stories about workers being sacked during the 2009 global financial crisis, Elisabeth Wynhausen, a journalist at Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian, got a taste of the real thing when she was handed a pink slip of her own.

Inside Pine Gap: The Spy Who Came in from the Desert
By David Rosenberg
Hardie Grant Books, 2011
216 pages, $35 (pb)

David Rosenberg found 1960s television show Mission Impossible “irresistible” with its patriotic tales of high-tech US government spies thwarting the “bad guys”.

After an 18-year career as a US National Security Agency (NSA) electronic signals analyst at the CIA’s Pine Gap spy base in Australia’s remote interior, Rosenberg’s book, Inside Pine Gap, makes it clear that he has yet to grow up.

Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy
By Lindsay Tanner
Scribe, 2011
232 pages, $32.95 (pb)

Lindsay Tanner, the former finance minister in the federal Labor government, laments in his book, Sideshow, the rotting core of democracy in Australia that plumbed its most dismal depths in the lacklustre, “non-of-the-above” elections of 2010.

The commercial media, he says, have been responsible for dumbing down the quality of political debate and sapping the level of popular political engagement.

There is much in Tanner’s critique that is accurate.

The Woman Who Shot Mussolini
By Frances Stonor Saunders
Faber and Faber, 2010
375 pages, $32.99 (pb)

The Honourable Violet Gibson was not like the other women of the Anglo-Irish elite when it came to Benito Mussolini, the leader of Italy's fascists.

While Lady Asquith (wife of the former prime minister) was delighted by Mussolini, and Clementine Churchill (wife of the future prime minister) was awestruck by “one of the most wonderful men of our times”, Violet Gibson aimed a revolver at the fascist dictator in Italy in April 1926 and shot him in the nose.


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