My 2019 Reading List

31/12/2019

Admittedly, I thought I had read more books than the ones on this list, but alas it is much smaller than anticipated when I compiled it. I wasn’t expecting anything huge, and 16 books is still a reasonable feat, in my view, but I can’t help but feel a tinge of disappointment that I didn’t get through more. I would, however, suggest that finishing university and keeping up with news events and analysis probably makes up for that. Nevertheless, these are the books I read this past year, with a few thoughts looking back on them and links to piece that refer to them.

Pine Gap – David Rosenberg

As much as it dispels myths about the US intelligence base in the middle of Australia, this book also confirms a number of worries that critics have had against its continued role. Rosenberg gives a more personal account of his time working there, as opposed to an in-depth discourse over the base’s activities, but sadly anything more would never have reached the public – as it is, portions of it are redacted, and paragraphs of solid black remind the reader there is much we do not know.

Despite my disagreements with a few of the stances taken by Rosenberg – such as dismissing Pine Gap as one of the reasons for the removal of Gough Whitlam in 1975, and his tentative acceptance of what is essentially domestic spying – it is worth reading to gain an understanding of the base if you know little about it. It also shows, if it needs saying, that those who work in such professions are still human and not inherently evil – it is the system that employs them that is worthy of condemnation.

What is History? – E. H. Carr

A simple question, yet one no single person could ever hope to answer. Six lectures, done by Carr in the mid 1960’s, make up this book, and for anyone who is interested in history in any capacity, it should take a top spot in your next read. I’ve referred to it numerous times on this site since reading it myself and will undoubtedly do so again.

Equal Rites – Terry Pratchett

Perhaps more disappointing than how small this list is, is the fact that Equal Rites is the only fiction book I read. Pratchett never fails to provide some levity and simple wisdom, though, so I will have to ensure I take more time to step back from serious works and read some more creative content.

Viva La Revolucion – Eric Hobsbawm

While my knowledge of South America as a whole is rather limited, Hobsbawm did offer some insight into the political situation across a number of countries. He was perhaps blinded by his ideological positions as to the issues that “socialist” States had in the region, but otherwise his expertise on the history and making of the modern South America is the best I’ve read yet. Looking back, my biggest take away from it appeared to be a consolidation of my earlier negative disposition to the “left and right” labels.

Still true.

Gaza Unsilenced – Refaat Alareer | Laila El-Haddad (Editors)

A collection of works from those in and around Gaza and the West Bank, I recall this being a rather heartbreaking book to read at times, particularly when it came to stories about children. Particularly, stories about the death of children. As much as one may try – myself included – to decry the negatives of social media, one of its incredible achievements is creating communities where voices are otherwise left unheard. The title of the book is apt, given that so many suffer in silence and the whole premise is to shine a light on a destitute part of the world.

Described as the world’s largest open-air prison, since 2015 (when the book was published), things haven’t gotten much better for the Palestinians in Gaza. Thankfully, they haven’t entirely gotten worse, but that isn’t saying much – that just means they haven’t explicitly been invaded again. Not only does it remain a prolific collection of works from during Operation Protective Edge, to me it symbolises the necessity of giving a loudspeaker to the victims of injustice across the globe.

Lenin and the Russian Revolution – Christopher Hill

I remember reading this and coming away from it thinking along the lines of, “Gee, Lenin didn’t seem that bad, but he wasn’t very consistent or good at creating his vision.” I have already reflected on this book since, with a drastically different outlook on Lenin and his devastating commandeering of the Russian Revolution. Hill’s brief coverage is alright for a passable knowledge of the events, but I would certainly recommend further reading or at least some idea of the wider context before or after it.

Information Systems Consulting – Greg Timbrell

It almost seems silly to put this here, since it had nothing of value in it that is relevant to the content of this website. But, it was an ok book, one I had to read for university in a unit that was probably one of the more useful ones I’ve done. Won’t recommend getting it unless you really enjoy relatively basic consulting and business concepts.

Island Off the Coast of Asia: Instruments of Statecraft in Australian Foreign Policy – Clinton Fernandes

As I described in the piece on this book, Fernandes approached Australian foreign policy in a way reminiscent of Noam Chomsky. Often when you focus on global events, small players like Australia are not often mentioned, but when you dig down into the history, you can find some dark stuff. Our role is very much secondary to the US, an accomplice in numerous atrocities and swindles, mostly in the South East Asia region. Particularly in Timor-Leste, Australia has not been a beacon of peace and justice at all, attempting to be our own little Empire beholden to US puppeteers.

Refugee Rights and Policy Wrongs – Jane McAdam | Fiona Chong

A quick read, perhaps this one suffers from the strides of history. It, when I bought it, was a brilliant recap of Australian policy and International Law regarding refugees, and would still be worthwhile to get a snapshot of the time. Not a lot, yet so much, has happened since, however, which leaves it a little behind if you are looking for a current depiction of the state of refugees in Australia’s wretched system.

Blockchain Revolution – Don Tapscott | Alex Tapscott

This book was kind of accidental. I had picked up an internship for university with a software development company that specialised in blockchain technologies, and so I need to research it to get up to speed on it – I had to know something about it if I were to help them write a blog and other stuff. The Tapscott’s are idealists, I feel. The book is good, and does give an explanation as to what blockchain is and what it can do, but do not look to it as an overly balanced work or a technical volume.

While I believe blockchain very much has a future – with or without cryptocurrencies, which is what everyone knows it to be, generally – the Tapscott’s see it almost as the solution to everything. There are still a number of obstacles though, and while they throw in a small chapter on a few of them, it’s best not to get too carried away with the hype.

An Introduction to Political Communication – Brian McNair

I don’t really have much to say about this book. Like all books, it has good sections, but it isn’t anything special or unique – the title says it all, really. An introduction. As with the blockchain book, if it is a topic you have a passing interest in, then it may be worth checking out, but there are probably countless other books that may be more relevant or comprehensive.

Addressing Modern Slavery – Justine Nolan | Martijn Boersma

One of my favourite books on this list, the authors really throw back the veil that covers the underground created by our consumerism. With a generally accepted definition of modern slavery, they take the reader through a series of examples and explanations. While never explicitly stated in the book, it could also be seen as a damning critique of the failures of capitalism as an economic system, being centred around the acquisition of wealth at the expense of those less fortunate or out of sight.

The worst part is, there are a number of easy solutions to this phenomenon, but obviously corporate powers won’t willingly implement them, and it has only been in the last few years that any real legislation and action has been taken by governments to rein in these abuses. Over 40M people fall under the current definition, and it won’t go down until we make individual and systemic overhauls.

The ABC of Anarchism – Alexander Berkman

A very simple explanation of anarchism, as Berkman sees it, accessible to pretty much anyone willing to explore what he has to say and what anarchism has to offer. If you have never heard about anarchism before (unlikely if you happen to be on the site, I imagine) then this is probably the book for you to acquaint yourself with it. It is also one of the resources that led me to completely shift my opinion on Lenin and his role during the Russian Revolution.

Why I am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto – Jessa Crispin

This was a fascinating read, probably more so as a straight white male, a demographic the author has no problem telling to essentially fuck off – that made me chuckle. I would recommend it, regardless of gender, simply because it is unapologetically angry and revolutionary in its scope. A tiny book (I finished it in a day), it maintains a nuanced stance on various issues facing feminism today and how it should approach its future if it is to remain a force to be reckoned with against the patriarchal world we currently have.

Rethinking Camelot – Noam Chomsky

Written in the 1990’s, it was still definitely worth reading as a JFK myth buster. JFK is often seen as a saint in the line of Presidents in the US, but many of the things people laud him for are either distorted through a favourable rewriting of history or are simply manufactured. Chomsky elegantly pulls apart the narrative, comparing past and contemporary (at the time) positions of JFK supporters. If you want to learn about JFK’s “darker” side, or perhaps a bit on the Vietnam War, it would be a worthwhile read.

The Lessons of History – Will and Ariel Durant

I am yet to write any pieces on this 1967 book, but there is a lot I have in mind. Suffice to say here: it was not what I expected. Instead of absorbing insightful lessons about history and the human condition through history, I found myself reading a swathe of comments about morals, religion, philosophy, economics, etc. that I completely disagreed with. Because of that, I still actually found it worth reading. As pieces in the new year will go through, I am choosing to look at the final book of 2019 as one to reinforce my own ideas and arguments, which is just as good (if not better) than simply reading content you agree with.

 

So, that is that. 16 books read, and many, many more to get to in the coming decade. I hope I get to read more than 16 in 2020, but we shall see how that goes. I hope this list was of interest, and will probably do a similar write up at the end of future years as well. I will have a piece tomorrow going over the progress of this blog, where it went well and where it didn’t.

I hope everyone has a good start to the New Year, and my thoughts are with those who I know will not – especially the people here in Australia affected by the blazing fires that have engulfed multiple states. Our government truly has no shame as the country burns.

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