books

The year 1917 offered an extraordinary course in political literacy for the people of Russia.

In the February anti-Tsarist revolution, which “dispensed breakneck with a half millennium of autocratic rule”, and then in the October socialist revolution, eager workers and peasants stumbled over and then mastered a new way to speak of economic and political democracy, writes China Mieville in October, his narrative of the Russian Revolution.

The Case Against Fragrance
Kate Grenville
Text Publishing, 2017
198 pages

The fragrance industry really gets up Kate Grenville’s nose. 

The Australian novelist has gradually worked out that artificially-scented consumer products, from high-end perfume to toilet cleaner, were the cause of her debilitating headaches and wooziness.

Hit and Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan & the Meaning of Honour
By Nicky Hager & Jon Stephenson
Potton & Burton, 2017 
159 pages

In this well-written and powerful book, Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson present a barrage of evidence that “New Zealanders and their United States allies were involved in war crimes” in Afghanistan in 2010.

No Way But This: In Search of Paul Robeson
By Jeff Sparrow
Scribe Publications, 2017
Paperback, 292 pp

Melbourne writer Jeff Sparrow’s new book, No Way But This is a thoughtful, sensitive and respectful examination of the life and work of Paul Robeson, the great African-American baritone, Shakespearian actor, and left-wing political activist.

Caught In The Revolution: Petrograd 1917
Helen Rappaport
Windmill Books, 2017
430 pages

In 1916-17, millions of starving Russian workers queued for hours for scarce bread, perished on the eastern front or were left unemployed in a country where the living conditions were as atrocious as the record winter cold.

A look at three important new books on the growing global environmental crisis and two that mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

Lady Constance Lytton: Aristocrat, Suffragette, Martyr
Lyndsey Jenkins
Biteback Publishing, 2015
282 pages

When Lady Constance Bulwer-Lytton was arrested in 1909 for protesting outside British parliament, and went on prison hunger-strike, for demanding women’s right to vote, she was, to prevent an embarrassing political fuss, released early.

This avoided the spectacle of one of Britain’s best-connected aristocrats being subjected to the government’s policy of force-feeding hunger-striking suffragettes.

Eleanor Marx
By Rachel Holmes
Bloomsbury, 2015
508 pages

“Is it not wonderful when you come to look at things squarely in the face, how rarely we seem to practise all the fine things we preach to others?” lamented Eleanor Marx in 1892. 

Karl Marx’s youngest daughter was to be the tragic victim of this truism, as Rachel Holmes explores in her biography that extricates this pioneering revolutionary socialist feminist from the giant shadow of her father.

Having come back from a much needed break with much time spent curled up with books, here are some notes on seven of interest to ecosocialists.

I particularly enjoyed two excellent accounts of the role of trees and other plants in Earth System. The Emerald Planet, by David Beerling, (Oxford University Press, 2007) covers the 500 million years since plants migrated from the oceans.

Nazis In Our Midst: German-Australians, Internment and the Second World War
David Henderson
Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2016
197 pages

When World Word II began, Australia’s then Prime Minister Robert Menzies said that it would be “absurd to intern refugees and anti-fascists when they were on the Allies’ side”.

Yet, writes La Trobe University historian, David Henderson, in his case-study history, Nazis in our Midst, this is exactly what happened in Australia during the war.

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