This is part 2 of my reading list for this year, continuing in order of when they were read following part 1 HERE.
Consequences of Capitalism: Manufacturing Discontent and Resistance – Noam Chomsky | Marv Waterstone
This book was based on lectures and content from a university course Chomsky and Waterstone had run for a few years before publication. In alternating chapters, Waterstone laid a general theoretical groundwork, and Chomsky, in usual style, brought in the history and effects of (mainly US) policies over the past half century or so. It is interesting, but nothing overly groundbreaking – it read like a course in politics and economics from the perspective of someone economically “left-wing” who does not have much knowledge of how the system works. I would recommend it, if at least for the theoretical background and Chomsky’s ability to link it to real world examples.
Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice – Rudolf Rocker
A relatively short read, Rocker wrote this book (in response to Emma Goldman’s insistence, including a threat to apparently spank him) during the Spanish Civil War, when anarcho-syndicalism had a moment of prominence before being crushed by both the fascists under Franco and the so-called communist Republic with Soviet Union backing. It describes the goals and ideas of this branch of anarchism, focused very much on the trade union movement and federations of workers. While beyond its brief stint in Spain syndicalism hasn’t manifested much elsewhere, it is still a worthwhile concept to look into.
Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter and Meaning in an Evolving Universe – Brian Greene
After du Sautoy’s exploration of science on the edges, Greene takes a grand journey from the very beginning, describing entropy and what we believe to be fundamental laws of physics, the creation of stars, our planet, and life (albeit this is still a question being explored), and how each of them obey these laws. It touches on consciousness too, and takes a deterministic and physics based approach to arguing why free will may not exist. But as the subtitle suggests, it also explores deeper, more human questions of meaning. Like with Krauss below, Greene concludes there is no inherent meaning, that particles do not carry it, and that our meaning is the one find for ourselves – understanding, the stories we tell, what we leave behind that “at its best, stirs the soul.” Unlike Krauss, he does face religion and, while not subscribing to faith or the existence of a deity, has a much more open view to how religion evolved with us and the human need for creativity and understanding.
It was an excellent and reflective book, well worth looking into. It also discusses Boltzmann brains, which one of my brothers now hates because I described them to him – queue yet another reason to endure multiple endless existential crises.
An Economy Is Not a Society: Winners and Losers in the New Australia – Dennis Glover
Compared to the heavy nature of the previous book, this was a walk in the park. Or, for Glover, a walk through the old and previously bustling suburb of his youth, filled with factories, families, businesses, a community. Then comes the new modern miracle of economics, heralded by Hawke and Keating and exploded by Howard. Doveton has since become a shadow of its former self, in Glover’s telling, with the closure of many of the town’s major employers. Was it inevitable? Without the overwhelming profit motive, perhaps not, but in our globalized world it was bound to happen, and by the 1990’s the old glory was all but gone.
Glover’s argument wasn’t just that these businesses and companies packed up shop and left, but that many, including the younger generations, were left with few options afterwards, and the government, seeing all the good numbers going up, left them behind. Through no fault of their own, it was a story we see playing out on a larger scale as globalisation accelerates and as we reel from a mismanaged pandemic response. It’s a sobering and local account of the need to invest in communities, in the society we want to live in – not just the economy for the elite to play with.
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women White Feminists Forgot – Mikki Kendall
Being a white man from Australia, I am certainly missing a fair amount of context for this book about black communities in America, but it was a short and fascinating read describing the specific struggles faced by black girls and women, particularly in poorer areas. It covers the intersecting points of class, race and gender, including where white women get it wrong, and the sexism from black men. One of the key take aways I got from this was how black communities needed to face and overcome their own issues, without intervention from white people. That isn’t to say solidarity between groups is wrong or bad, but that certain issues need to be dealt with internally, along with others externally.
Understanding these boundaries and how they interact is important, particularly if you want to help in any way.
The Mess We’re In: How Our Politics Went to Hell and Dragged us With It – Bernard Keane
This was another okay book, discussing various political, social and economic concerns in Australia. Keane is an editor of Crikey, a former public servant, and a former neoliberal who became disillusioned. It’s nothing overly special, but does offer insight and perspective on Australian politics – that is, before it got worse with Morrison, bushfires, Covid, etc…
Rebel Lives: Louise Michel
This was a small Louise Michel “reader”, a woman I’d never heard of until I stumbled across this short collection at the Lifeline Bookfest. In short, I want her autobiography, because she seems to have been an incredible woman and incredible influence in anarchist and feminist circles. She was a part of the Paris Commune, turning up to both women’s and men’s meetings, ending up in prison on occasion, exiled and became friends with the native peoples where she was sent – there was an attempted rebellion at some stage. She eventually returned to France, and while the Commune was short lived, she lived on and kept causing trouble until her death. If you want a strong historical woman, she sounds like the go-to.
A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing – Lawrence Krauss
Despite titling the book “Why”, Krauss is at pains to explain that the question really should be “How?”. As mentioned above, Krauss sees no meaning in the universe, that neither it, nor the science we use to attempt to understand it, owes us anything, and that we will all die, with the universe following well after on immeasurable timescales. Bleak.
But through the scientific explanations, Krauss also notes many things that are positive. The first, the cliché of physics – we are all born of stardust. Billions of years of physics, chemistry, and biology have led to us being here, not for a reason, but because that’s what happened. He is also excited about the prospects of this timing, because we are at a unique moment in cosmic history – from our earthbound perspective – to make the observations we can. Many, many, many years into the future, astronomers may look into the sky and see a void, believing as humans did a mere century ago that the galaxy is the universe, due to the expansion of space. This is a neat book on physics, if a little overbearing on the constant derision of religion.
Because We Say So – Noam Chomsky
A short compilation of articles by Chomsky during the Obama years, it’s central theme is the world does things a certain way because the US wills it to. It uses a number of examples and events to really just drill that point, noteworthy more for the historical notes and details than as a book on a well-covered premise.
The Platform Society: Public Values in a Connective World – Jose van Dijck | Thomas Poell | Martijn de Waal
This was another textbook I had in second semester at university this year, and it was the shittiest unit I have done. It was so boring and pointless, genuinely hated it. The book, however, was okay. It’s fairly generic, basically explaining how technology and platforms shape how different sectors function. I only read the interesting bit – that is, I read the introduction and the chapter on news, which had some interesting insights. In fact, something they mentioned was also mentioned by one of my journalism lecturers in the slightly different context.
As clickbait sites like Buzzfeed have shown us, platforms can dictate what news will sell, and therefore have a lot of inherent, if not intentional, editorial power over what media outlets might report on. My lecturer, who lived in Korea for a while, used the example of K-Pop, explaining that a “big” news story on some K-Pop group would have way more traction than any political or societal news in the region. That isn’t because that news doesn’t exist – it absolutely does – but it doesn’t play as well with the algorithms that drive the platforms we use daily.
Part 3 soon.
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