05 December 2011

Summer reading: Recommended books of the year

Because Green Left Weekly is taking a break for the summer, it asked staff, contributors — or just people it likes — to name the best books published this year. Here are their suggestions

By Mat Ward | Green Left Weekly | December 3, 2011

Tim Dobson, Green Left journalist and blogger at Press Box Red A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke by Ronald Reng Yellow Jersey Press, 2011

Gary Speed hanged himself on November 27. He was the manager of the Welsh Football team and a long-term professional player in the English Premier League. The week before, German referee Babak Rafati slit his wrists in an attempted suicide. Welcome to the world of professional sport.

Robert Enke was set to become the long-term number one goalkeeper for the German national side when he threw himself in front of a train. This book, written by a friend, painstakingly details the extraordinary and unique pressure faced by professional sportspeople in their day-to-day lives, how it can ruin and destroy people and how no sport has been active enough in facing the problem, especially professional football.

Sportspeople are often depicted as cartoon characters or robots. This book shows they should perhaps be seen as tortured artists, forever straining for a perfection that they will never quite achieve.

Ian Angus, editor, climateandcapitalism.com
What Every Environmentalist Needs To Know about Capitalism by Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster
Monthly Review Press, 2011

Environmental destruction isn’t caused by ignorance or mistaken policies: it is the inevitable result of a social and economic system that puts profit before people and must constantly expand to survive.

In this short and clearly written book, Magdoff and Foster explain why that is, why there can be no permanent solution to the environmental crisis so long as capitalism continues, and why greens and socialists must join forces to make an ecological revolution. Every socialist should buy two copies: one to read and learn from, and another to give to a friend who wants to go beyond environmental concern to effective action.

Ben Courtice, Green Left reporter and blogger at Blind Carbon Copy
The Lionel Bopage Story: Rebellion, Repression and the Struggle for Justice in Sri Lanka by Michael Cooke
Agahas Publishers, Colombo, 2011

This political biography is most timely because it comes at the end of Sri Lanka's long civil war that ended with the destruction of the Tamil Tigers and the victory of the Sinhala state.

Lionel Bopage's biography examines critically the ways in which nationalist chauvinism and political impatience and opportunism repeatedly prevented the Sri Lankan left (especially his party, the JVP) from developing into a force that could lead the nation away from communalist and racist strife, let alone deal with widespread poverty and violence.
For those considering the way forward for Sri Lanka, it's a must read.

Derek Wall, author and activist
Broken Republic by Arundhati Roy
Hamish Hamilton, 2011

Arundhati Roy's Broken Republic isn't just about India and it certainly isn't an apology for the Maoists, it's about the whole world.

Roy's poetic anger shines through. The Maoists are fighting a forgotten war on the side of the indigenous whose land is being stolen by mining corporations. Roy is often critical of the Maoists, but her account of meeting them is fascinating. She castigates India as a corrupt nation wrecking the environment and destroying lives, but praises the diversity and strength of the varied movements fighting back.

Her book shows how it is, globally. Governments work for the rich, assault the environment and crush their citizens. A society that respects nature and humanity is possible, but this will involve a huge fight. Roy's book is a powerful call for resistance. This is an astonishing and subversive title and it takes courage to tell it how it is. Roy has more courage than it is easy to imagine.

David Cromwell, co-editor at media-analysing website www.medialens.org
More Bad News From Israel by Greg Philo and Mike Berry
Pluto Press, 2011

It makes for deeply uncomfortable reading for journalists and editors reporting from the Middle East, but this book is a godsend to readers trying to understand the history and propaganda surrounding Israel-Palestine.

In the largest study of its kind, the authors illustrate major biases in the way Palestinians and Israelis are represented in the media — such as how the motives and rationale of the different parties involved are depicted. The book also reveals the extraordinary differences in levels of public knowledge of the conflict. Unsurprisingly, the glaring gaps in media coverage and public understanding reflect pro-Israeli propaganda.

No wonder Tim Llewellyn, a former BBC Middle East correspondent, told Media Lens that he fully agrees with Philo and Berry's careful analysis. BBC coverage of Israel and Palestine is, he said, "replete with imbalance and distortion".

Mat Ward, Green Left writer/subeditor
Too Many People? by Ian Angus and Simon Butler
Haymarket Books, 2011

For me, a great book is one that substantially changes the way people see the world. Nicholas Shaxson'sTreasure Islands, which came out this year, definitely does that. It exposes the extent to which tax havens have corrupted the entire global financial system, resulting in governments slicing away at corporate tax to try to compete.

But Ian Angus and Simon Butler's Too Many People? is a game-changer on steroids. The book's release, coming as population hysteria reached a peak with the world's head count hitting 7 billion, could not be more timely. Whereas Shaxson's book sees capitalism as essentially benign, Too Many People? shows, clearly and concisely, that capitalism — not population — is the very root of the world's problems. It will challenge the views of many on the left; it certainly changed mine.

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