Summer reading: Recommended books of 2012
For its final issue of 2012, Green Left asked staff, contributors and others to name their book of the year.
Co-editor of Green Left Weekly
By Paul Cleary
In his follow-up to Too Much Luck, Paul Cleary travels throughout Australia to speak to people affected by the rapid coal and coal seam gas expansion taking place.
Beyond the PR spin that promises jobs and thriving communities, he finds towns and farms suffering. He investigates the destructive impact that fly-in, fly-out work has on workers' health and their family lives. He speaks to families suffering health problems as mining companies are allowed to self-regulate the dust, noise and gases their mines produce, while governments turn a blind eye.
Cleary examines the political connections mining companies have, with ex-MPs employed as lobbyists or board members, and speaks to many farmers who feel they have been “betrayed” by the National party.
Though his conclusions are a little dubious, such as a call to exploit shale gas instead of CSG, this book is valuable for exposing the reality of the mining boom today.
Debates about how “revolutionary” the art-form of jazz is will likely never go away. Good thing too. American radical scholar Robin DG Kelley brought us an excellent contribution to this debate this year in his book Africa Speaks, America Answers.
Kelley traces not just the gestation of jazz on the African continent during a time of revolutionary anti-colonial ferment in the '50s and '60s. He looks at how American jazz artists in turn took inspiration from the musicians in the motherland, and how the links forged between the two helped form an identity of Black pride during a time when people of colour the world over were rebelling against their racist bondage.
Looking at artists overlooked far-too-often in the jazz pantheon, Kelley’s book presents us with a crucial and challenging chapter in the development of popular music and popular resistance.
London Recruits tells a little-known story from the history of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa: the covert assistance given to the ANC and SACP by a number of English leftists in the '60s and '70s.
Recruited by prominent SACP militant (and later cabinet minister) Ronnie Kasrils, these young people - mostly members of either the Communist Party of Britain or the International Socialists - used their skin colour privilege to smuggle leaflets and more into South Africa, setting off leaflet bombs, delivering messages, and raising the profile of the ANC when most of its top leaders had been imprisoned and it was struggling to re-group.
Although the work of the London recruits was a small part of the overall struggle, it is a valuable example of genuine, selfless and courageous international solidarity against imperialism and racism, and should serve to inspire the current generation of anti-imperialists.
A collection of postcards from the edge of the US underground as punks storm the ivory towers of academia and trash aesthetics. Its writers cut and paste the boundaries between punk and politics and show how the alternative tentacles are infiltrating and disrupting the routines of THEIR reality - the citizen zombies. Very interesting pieces on messthetics and the genderquake of punk and queer. Crazed crash-palace ramblings on how their lives were saved by rock and roll. As Operation Ivy put it in the song "Room Without Windows": "Walls made of opinions through which we speak and never listen."
Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark exposes the covert methods of corporations to evade democratic accountability and to undermine legitimate public protest and activism. Using exclusive access to previously confidential sources, Eveline Lubbers provides compelling case studies on companies such as Nestlé, Shell and McDonalds. "The aim of covert corporate strategy," she notes, "is not to win an argument, but to contain, intimidate and ultimately eliminate opposition."
Lubbers, an independent investigator with SpinWatch.org, also points out that dialogue, one of the key instruments of "corporate social responsibility", is exploited by big business "as a crucial tool to gather information, to keep critics engaged and ultimately to divide and rule, by talking to some and demonising others".
The book is a welcome antidote to corporate efforts to prevent civil society from obtaining real power.
Journalist, author, documentarian
The Silenced Majority: Stories of Uprisings, Occupation, Resistance and Hope
By Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan
The corporate media's reach into our lives can sometimes feel suffocating, with the same voices telling us that globalisation is good for our soul. For me, the best medicine is the daily news show Democracy Now!, a revealing program hosted by Amy Goodman that covers perspectives that should be far more prominent in our media.
In this stunning collection, we hear from Occupy, Middle East fighters for freedom, dissidents across the globe, climate change activists and the silenced individuals that real reporters would feature daily. It’s remarkable reading these short essays to imagine what a different press environment could look like, hearing from people whose lives are touched by the decisions of a few.
The mainstream media bubble never seemed less relevant and the need for an alternative media more vital.
Writer, Green Left
People on Country: Vital Landscapes, Indigenous Futures
Edited by Jon Altman and Sean Kerins
A must-read antidote to the oft-repeated, always failing neoliberal “solutions” to Aboriginal disadvantage, and a plea for Traditional Owners to be front-and-centre of conservation programs, particularly in the country’s fragile north.
The book combines perspectives of Western researchers and their Aboriginal colleagues involved in Caring for Country programs. It celebrates the groundbreaking work of such programs, which have enabled Aboriginal people to incorporate Western employment and scientific knowledge with centuries-old cultural and land-management obligations.
But these programs, like the fragile ecosystems in which they operate, are under threat, as employment policies change and governments push to centralise remote populations, potentially leaving country uncared for.
People on Country offers an insightful and refreshing look at alternative models of economic development, education and employment – models that recognise the intersection of culture and country and the vital role scattered, remote Aboriginal populations can play in protecting biodiversity and mitigating climate change.
The popularity of collective, ecologically-responsible ownership is growing . From Venezuela's creation of 21st century socialism based on communal councils to the late great Professor Elinor Ostrom's Nobel Prize in economics, commons are becoming better known.
This is a superb collection of 73 short essays on the commons, covering very diverse and exciting perspectives. The essay on the connection between the indigenous idea of buen vivar (good living) is especially good. Massimo de Angelis warns how the commons can be co-opted by capitalism and Peter Linebaugh links commons to the work of Marxist historians like the great English ecosocialist E.P. Thompson.
David Bollier had the book printed at his local left and community printers in Amherst, Massachutes and you can order a copy via http://www.wealthofthecommons.org/.
However, being about the value of free, as in free beer, he and Silke will be putting the whole book on the web for free in the future. This is my favourite green left themed book of 2012. Commons is about property and, for me, whether it is indigenous land or fighting the enclosure of the web from corporations, property is about class struggle.
The People Smuggler: The True Story of Ali al Jenabi
By Robin de Crespigny
Blaming the shadowy, faceless "people smugglers" for asylum boats and recent deaths at sea has become the default for journalists, politicians and even some refugee advocates.
But Ali al Janabi shows with this gripping memoir that they can sometimes be compassionate, humanitarian and driven by a real need to help people. They can also be refugees themselves.
Through more than three years of interviews with filmmaker Robin de Crespigny, Ali tells his story of fleeing Saddam's Iraq and aiding other refugees in vivid, tear-jerking detail. It's compelling in its epic and at times horrifying scope, but also in its stark departure from the popularised spectre of the ruthless and greedy people smuggler. Just one example is he frequently helped refugees seek passage to Australia for free.
An eye-opening novel. Just don't read it on the train if you're averse to crying in public.
Greens Senator for NSW
Dirty Money: The True Cost of Australia's Mineral Boom
By Matthew Benns
Random House Australia
This is a book of horrors. Matthew Benns puts Australia in the frame of mining-related greed, pollution and murder. Our shameful history stretches around the world with the common theme of locals being robbed while mine owners reap massive profits. Offshore tax havens are a favourite with mining companies. In Congo, Senegal and PNG, people are dying when they protest against mining company land grabs and human rights abuses.
Back in Australia, Benns details the scams of former Labor ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald now before the corruption watchdog ICAC.
This saga of mining company abuse is entering a new stage. Aid agencies like AusAID are funding programs to open up mining in low-income countries. Senegal's President summed up the problem: “We've been mining since independence, but we're still poor. Where has all that money gone?”
I hope Benns is working on the next edition of his great book.
The fallacy that Britain’s military and intelligence services heroically refuse to torture captured enemy combatants, while scrupulously observing prisoners’ human rights, is laid bare in this excellent book.
Ian Cobain reveals with a well-researched investigation that Britain’s security apparatus not only routinely uses torture but also that the practice is endorsed at the very highest level. Unlike the United States, where torture is openly admitted, Britain has consistently denied employing what the Americans euphemistically describe as enhanced interrogation techniques.
This book removes any pretence that the British media and public can be unaware of what is being carried out in their name. Astonishingly, though, Cobain’s work has raised hardly a ripple in the UK. There is something profoundly worrying about a society that is so indifferent to the barbarous torturing of defenceless human beings.
Green Left Weekly reporter and Palestine solidarity activist
After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine
Edited by Antony Loewenstein and Ahmed Moor
After Zionism is a compilation of the different strands of thought that seek to challenge the dominant narrative in the diplomatic community – that the only possible solution to the occupation of Palestine is with two states. Its dedication – "to the Palestinians and Israelis who deserve better" – and the presence of a variety of Israeli, Palestinian and other voices reflects the shifts that have occurred since the breakdown of the Oslo accords and the second intifada, and the escalating horror of the status quo.
Speaking at events in Australia, co-editor Antony Loewenstein has been quick to point out that the book does not seek to hold the solution to the conflict, but to ask the question: What could the alternatives look like? The contributors do not all argue the same vision – but the evidence presented across the essays, considering the question globally and regionally as well as within the Israeli and Palestinian communities, together builds a compelling argument that the two-state solution is dead.
Jean Paul Marat, Tribune of the French Revolution
By Clifford D. Conner
Pluto Press is producing a new series of cheap paperbacks entitled "Revolutionary Lives" and the first one I’ve read, about Jean Paul Marat, is a real cracker.
Marat was a radical journalist who played a key role in the French Revolution. After a couple of fairly slow chapters in which the author is at pains to answer slanders of Marat that followed his assassination, the book takes off at a great clip.
Essentially this is a short, compact history of the Revolution, explaining the leftward motion of the masses and how they drove their leaders to deal decisively with the Revolution’s enemies. It reads like a thriller as Marat is again and again forced to live underground – he was on the run for years living among the poorest of the poor in Paris.
The author, Clifford D Conner, has also devised a website, www.maratscience.com, where he explains Marat’s scientific legacy.
Academic working in New Zealand
Megrahi: You are My Jury – The Lockerbie Evidence
By John Ashton
Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001 of the bombing of Pan Am flight PA103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1998.
This is my book of 2012, as it clearly demonstrates that Megrahi – who died in May this year – was not (as often portrayed by the mainstream media) an unrepentant terrorist. Rather, he was an innocent victim of a combination of geopolitical manoeuvres involving the US and Libya following the first Gulf War and a trial described by a UN observer as “not fair and not conducted in an objective manner”.
The book is based on extensive interviews with Megrahi, and the author, John Ashton, worked on Megrahi’s legal team from 2006 to 2009.
Green Left book reviewer
Merchants of Doubt
Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway
A sparkling account of the misinformation campaigns by industry attacking the science of health and smoking, acid rain, global warming, toxic pesticides and ozone layer holes, fronted by a small coterie of pet scientists. Manufacturing scientific doubt and controversy where none exists, these highly vocal but isolated denialists are “bad losers” whose views have failed rigorous peer-review.
Politically conservative, these right-wing ideologues - frothing over a "Red Menace" behind the "Green Threat" - have been well-remunerated by their sponsoring industries whilst their corporate-friendly allies in the media dispense the baloney of "balance" and mainstream politicians exploit a concocted scientific "uncertainty" to argue for policy minimalism, delay and inaction.
With lucid argument, Oreskes and Conway practice good science, science history and science writing rather than the fun-house mirror travesty that passes for science by the climate change denialists and doubt-mongers.
Writer, Green Left
By Patrick Chalmers
For me, a truly great book is one that stays in your thoughts for a long time after reading it. I thought about this book daily for months after finishing it, because its main argument seems to be at the root of almost every injustice in the world.
Former Reuters reporter Patrick Chalmers gradually realised, through his job reporting on the European Union, that what is commonly passed off as democracy is anything but. Politicians are held accountable only once every four years or so, after which they break nearly every pre-election promise. Chalmers wants truly accountable democracy, in which politicians are held accountable for every decision they make.
In this endlessly quotable book, Chalmers says it is the job of every journalist to make accountable democracy part of the conversation. Technology may hold the key to eventually making it a reality.