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The Book Review Thread.

Tadhg Gaelach

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I'm surprised to see this book available on iTunes/books, I don't normally like e books, but I think I'll get this one for the sake of ease.

I wonder if you could check, there are two available, one is 18.99 and the other is 20.99... I'm not sure if there's a difference, or if there were two editions?

No there's only one edition. They should be the same.
 

Tadhg Gaelach

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Labharfad Le Cách \ I Will Speak To You All

Peig Sayers

Editors Bo Almqvist and Pádraig Ó Héalaí


This is a treasure of a book. In the 1940s and 50s, RTÉ and the BBC traveled to the Great Blasket several times to record the voice of Peig Sayers. As usual, they wanted her to tell them stories from her vast repertoire of traditional seanchas, which consisted of literally thousands of stories, songs and tales of how places got their names - dinnseanachas. These recordings are now available in a book and set of two CDs. The book has the Irish text, word for word as Peig speaks it, on one side, and a close English translation on the other. And I dare say even very good Irish speakers will have to look at the English from time to time as Peig had a vast vocabulary. Peig speaks out clearly in a strong Gaelic Kerry accent, and the Irish speaker will be struck by how clear and concise her diction and grammar is, along with her total lack of fear of the recording apparatus. Even though many will remember the book Peig as being somewhat sad, with a lot of hardship and tragedy, Peig sitting by the fire, telling her stories is full of life and laugher. I've posted a short extract from the recordings below to give a taste of the power of her storytelling.



 

Tadhg Gaelach

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Economic Philosophy by Joan Robinson.



I just started reading this book, so I can't say a lot about it. It's free online, so I thought I'd put it up here straight away. From what I have read, I can say that the book is written in a very easy to understand and lively style - which is highly unusual for a book on either philosophy or economics. But it does not compromise on quality for being easy to understand. The great thinkers of modern economics are surveyed, from Ricardo to Smith to Marx, to the proponents of Utility Theory such as Walras, to Keynes in the 20th century. The book was written in the 1960s, so the Neo-Liberals are not dealt with. The book looks like an excellent start for anyone who wants to get a better understanding of what modern economics is all about. Joan Robinson was quite a character - born into the English ruling class and educated at Cambridge, where she became a lecturer in economics, she was a constant thorn in the side of the same ruling class with her constant questioning of the economic exploitation that made that ruling class possible.

http://digamo.free.fr/ecophilo.pdf
 

Heraclitus

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An excellent book which demonstrates, with solid data, how civilisation has accelerated human evolution -- in contrast to the mainstream of evolutionary biologists, who seem to think very little has changed in our biological make up since the Pleistocene epoch.


Scientists have long believed that the “great leap forward” that occurred some 40,000 to 50,000 years ago in Europe marked end of significant biological evolution in humans. In this stunningly original account of our evolutionary history, top scholars Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending reject this conventional wisdom and reveal that the human species has undergone a storm of genetic change much more recently. Human evolution in fact accelerated after civilization arose, they contend, and these ongoing changes have played a pivotal role in human history. They argue that biology explains the expansion of the Indo-Europeans, the European conquest of the Americas, and European Jews' rise to intellectual prominence. In each of these cases, the key was recent genetic change: adult milk tolerance in the early Indo-Europeans that allowed for a new way of life, increased disease resistance among the Europeans settling America, and new versions of neurological genes among European Jews.
 

Heraclitus

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Anyone who hasn't read "thinking fast and slow" should be ashamed of themselves.

 
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Heraclitus

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An evolutionary psychology book that focuses on the origin of human consumption habits, which I also highly recommend.



 
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Tadhg Gaelach

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Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement - Gilles Dauvé and François Martin


Here's another book that I've only started looking though, but again, since it's free online I thought I'd put it up as soon as possible. It's written by two French intellectuals and has a rather intellectual rather than proletarian tone. All I've actually read is the last Appendix, Letter on the use of Violence, which deals with the issue of political violence. This is an issue that has come back into discussion - but more now by the Far Right than the Left. If you swap the words "Far Right" for "Communist," you will notice how strangely apt it is to today's situation. You can download the whole book on a pdf file, or just click on each of the chapters to read them online.

Eclipse and re-emergence of the communist movement - Gilles Dauvé and François Martin
 

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The Tribal Imagination - Civilization and the Savage Mind
by Professor Robin Fox

This is one of the best books I've ever read. Professor Fox is an anthropologist with a career spanning over five decades. Unlike the more trendy anthropologists today, he still considers the study of kinship to be the basic grammar of anthropology, and this book is dedicated to Claude Lévi-Strauss and Ernst Gellner – two giants of the study of kinship structures. Be that as it may, Fox’s main interests here are the underlying structures of Western, post-industrial, society – a society that has all but abandoned the whole idea of kinship. To reach these structures, Fox must undertake a vast journey, spanning millions of years of hominid development, and focusing on everything from food in the Old Testament, to the metre of Gaelic poetry, to the marriage customs of today’s Iraq. This book is a truly remarkable achievement. It is one of those rare books, that having read it, you will never think of the world in quite the same way again.

On the book's cover, we see a very young boy on a Belfast street of the 1970s. He is aiming a gun in a classic TV detective pose. Behind him, we see women going about their daily business, as they practically ignore the heavily armed British soldiers who patrol the street. Straight away, an Irish person will say that this is a Catholic street. Why? For one thing, it was rare to see such heavy British army presence on Protestant streets. But, more importantly, in Ireland, it is thought that the Protestant settlers have more square faces, while the native Catholics have more round faces. This boy has a round face. The toy gun in his hand probably came from China, but the guns his older brothers probably carried came from Libya – a gift of revolutionary solidarity to the Irish Republican Army from Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi.

So, what is a tribe, and how do tribal people really think? One can certainly gain some insight into this question by following the intellectual and emotional development of Muammar al-Gaddafi. Al-Gaddafi was born into what we would usually regard as a tribe–the Arabized Berber tribe, the Al-Gaddafa. He was born and reared in a tent – as were 90% of Libyans, until he took power. But, even in his father’s tent, on the sands of Sirte, it is unlikely that the young Muammar ever regarded his own familial tribe as the limit of his allegiance and affection. His paternal grandfather, Abdessalam Bouminyar, was martyred in 1911, defending Libya from Italian invasion. Muammar later recounted an incident, as a young Libyan Army officer attempting to enter a US Army base in Tripoli on some errand. He was told that Libyans were not allowed to enter without the authorization of an American officer. Muammar protested that this was Libya, and he was a Libyan Army officer. That didn’t matter, he was told. Such incidents were repeated all over the Colonized World in the 1950s and 1960s, and young tribal men and women began seeing the nation as their tribe. The nation as the one solid defense Third World peoples had against the plague of imperialism and predatory transnational capital. In the case of Muammar al-Gaddafi, it was not only the Libyan nation that he aspired to consolidate, but a Pan-Arab nation – following the inspired teachings of the great Abdel Nasser. Such a nation would be founded on language, culture and religion – not on blood. Later again, Al Gaddafi attempted to unite a whole continent. This time, the bond could be neither blood, nor language nor culture nor religion, but a single idea – a United Africa. And here we see the ultimate progression of a young mind, formed in a Bedouin tent, amongst the most traditional tribal ties, to elaborate those blood ties into ties of abstract idealism – ties that could unite not just a few families, but hundreds of millions of people.

For two million years, humans walked in small family groups, hunting and gathering. Marriage between maternal cousins was found to be the best way to maintain the coherence of the group, while allowing just enough genetic diversity. For all of this time, no other, larger, form of social organisation was considered to be necessary. So, what happened to change this mindset, and how was this change organised? The most generally accepted explanation is that growing populations and depletion of hunting stocks forced humans to begin saving seeds and cultivating them. Agriculture, because it has a much lower Energy Return on Investment (EROI), when compared to hunter gathering when wild animals and fruit are abundant, forces a much more hierarchical and disciplined form of society. Class structures form when land is claimed as private property, i.e. populations are divided into owners and those who work for them – be it as slaves or wage slaves. Religions are founded to explain and justify these class divisions, and to keep the underclasses in “superstitious reverence,” as Engels so aptly described it. However, Professor Fox shows that this cannot be the whole story. He gives several examples of civilization, i.e. city dwelling, which emerged not from agriculture, but from harvesting of abundant seafood – a form of hunter gathering. The Calusa Indians of southwest Florida and the Norte Chico of Peru built extensive city structures without any agriculture, depending entirely on the always abundant sea and complimenting their dietary and other material needs from gathering in the local forests. The peoples of the northwest coast of North America have long been famous for their astounding cultural achievements and large population centers – again without any extensive agriculture, but abundant seafood. The Potlatch custom of these peoples has inspired many great writers, including Franz Boas, Marcel Mauss and Ruth Benedict. A central question is always: Are these class societies? Class structure being generally considered a sign of civilized development. There are certainly differences in rank and wealth but is that the same as class? Is there a fundamental difference between a rank based society and a class based society? Of course, any Marxist will answer in the affirmative. The sea is not conducive to private property rights, and the Potlatch makes sure that very little wealth is inherited from generation to generation. A man makes his name and rank from giving away the wealth he has won from the sea. As Marx points out, class is a relation to the means of production. In a society where any man can go out to sea, enjoy an abundant catch, and then share his catch with his neighbours in ceremonial feasting, class has no meaning. Rank, in contrast, has great meaning, and is greatly desired. Here, a man’s worth is not in how much he accumulates, but in how much he gives away.

In a chapter entitled “In the Company of Men – Tribal Bonds in Warrior Epics”, Professor Fox looks at the phenomena of male bonding as a possible avenue from the blood ties of the familial group to the abstract ideas that can function as Master Signifiers to unite nations. He writes: “In the prehunting stage of hominid development, males had not been responsible for provisioning females and young. Male chimpanzees occasionally hunt, but the meat is not part of the steady food supply. They do, however, form cooperative male bands, which operate exclusive of females for a good part of the year and which carry out lethal raids on other such bands.” This is not to suggest that male groups are the basis of society – society already existed for humans, as it does for all primates and most of the higher animals. If the oldest part of our brain is the reptilian complex at the base of the skull, then we have good reason to believe that our social consciousness goes back to then – female crocodiles operate a system of child care, where one mother will look after the young of the other mothers, to allow them to go hunting. However, as we see with the chimpanzees above, the male bond, by its nature, is not so much about the practicality of reproduction and food provision. Professor Fox reviews the great epics of male bonding, from Gilgamesh to the Táin Bó Cuailnge to the Knights of the Round Table, and finds in each case an often-fatal contradiction between the ideals of the warrior band and the necessities of the heterosexual bond, sexual reproduction and child care. He writes: “Without sex between male and female there could be no reproduction, but the male group reproduces first by recruitment (knighthood is a kind of cloning).” This is important. One cannot simply breed a nation. A nation must always be the result of the recruitment of many tribes, and a class of warriors is needed to create, defend and enforce that new identity. Male bonding allows concrete phenomena such as kinship to be abstracted and elaborated into abstract ideals, including the tribe as a religious ideal, extending to racial and national identities, and then extending to even more abstract concepts such as Socialism. But, the tension between the warrior ideal and the warrior’s duties as a husband and father remain. Professor Fox writes: “It could be argued that the most successful males would be those that balanced male bonding, for the protection of and provisioning of the whole group, with the particular care of their own mates and young.” Atomized bourgeois society tries to overcome this tension by encouraging men to become entirely private beings, caring only for their own private households, or, if they must, giving vent to their need for male bonding through harmless outlets such as football supporters clubs etc., where they not only remain harmless, but boost corporate profit to boot. Needless to say, the result has been a masculinity in crisis – and a society in collapse.
In conclusion, this is a very readable book, and will be enjoyed by the anthropologist and the lay reader. It dares to look at topics that more trendy and PC writers prefer to avoid. Its scope and erudition is enormous, and I recommend it without reservation – though, as a Communist, I do not share the book’s hope that “liberal democracy” will continue. I finish by quoting Professor Fox on a topic that is, sadly, always current:

“We of the post-Enlightenment Anglo-Saxon West are among the most earnest of givers. We are not, like our medieval Catholic ancestors, really proponents of the Crusade and the holy war against the heathen. We are at heart Protestant missionaries. We want to bring the good news and the benefits of civilization to the benighted of the earth. And if they don’t want it, then like good Protestant parents, and entirely for their own good of course, we must sternly make them accept it. Certainly we hoped to make good profits and attain political power in the process, but these were small prices that the benighted had to pay for the incomparable gifts we had to offer.
“Critics of colonialism miss the point if all they see is the profits and the power. Our civilizing mission was, and still is, as dear to us as jihad is to Muslims. Even when it is not Protestantism per se that we are offering, it is the children of the Protestant ethic that we know as democracy, liberty, equality, and the free market. Our learned men tell us in fact that we are the foreordained bearers of a truth so fundamental that with its triumph history will come to an end, there being nothing left for mankind to achieve. If this is so, how can the benighted so stubbornly, and even violently, refuse our gift of a free leg up onto the stage of world history? There is no question that we went into Iraq to defend our oil interests: that at least was the rational part. But the Holy Warriors in the White House saw a far greater opportunity. They could plant the banner of liberal democracy in the heartland of Arab totalitarianism, and thus change the world for the better.”
 

Tadhg Gaelach

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Here is one of the authors of a recent book on the reality of Capitalist markets. It's called Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception. In case you think this book is written by some alternative types who are always criticizing Captialism, both authors are Nobel Prize winning economists who teach at very mainstream universities - the other author, Robert Shiller, teaches at Yale and is one of the most respected economists in the world today.


 

Heraclitus

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Here is one of the authors of a recent book on the reality of Capitalist markets. It's called Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception. In case you think this book is written by some alternative types who are always criticizing Captialism, both authors are Nobel Prize winning economists who teach at very mainstream universities - the other author, Robert Shiller, teaches at Yale and is one of the most respected economists in the world today.


There's not really anything new in that book. Misbehaving: the making of behavioural economics, by Richard Thaler is probably a better investment of your time.
 
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