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The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be
The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be
by Michael Lux
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.56
22 used & new from CDN$ 0.17

3.0 out of 5 stars Good Points, Poorly Argued, Aug. 6 2009
First off, I'd like to say that I consider myself a progressive, a product of having been born and raised in Canada. Therefore, it is easy for me to relate to and agree with most of Mike Lux's central argument, that America -- indeed the world -- is a better place because of progressivism.

The entire notion of progressivism, comes from the idea of 'progress' -- structural reform based on principles of human rights both civil and political. It is Lux's contention that American history is one long battle between the forces of conservatism and progressivism. "The Progressive Revolution" is therefore an exploration of that history according to Lux. Furthermore, Lux argues that the greatest of America's achievements have been the result of progressivism, such as the American Revolution, the victory of the North in the Civil War, the Civil Rights movement.

Where the book takes a wrong turn is mostly in the many contradictions of his supporting evidence and manipulation of historical data. The most glaring manipulation is when Lux claims that WWII did not end the Great Depression because unemployment dropped before the U.S. entered the war in 1942, but what he doesn't tell you is that if you look at the data closely, U.S. wartime production actually started ratcheting up as early as 1939 and unemployment started dropping from 1939 onwards.

The many contradictions: Alexander Hamilton is vilified by Lux for his advocacy of a strong federal government and specifically the creation of a central bank. Yet after all, it was Woodrow Wilson, the progressive era President, who created what we know now as the Federal Reserve, the mother of all central banks. According to Lux, the railroad and the interstate highway system rank as one of America's greatest achievements, yet they facilitated the robber barons and contributed to the environmental disaster we face today in global warming. Lux's polemic against conservatives for creating unnecessary wars is incredibly hypocritical considering Wilson in WWI and LBJ in Vietnam.

Perhaps most disappointing is that for a book about progressivism, Lux spends surprisingly little time on the actual progressive era and glosses over some of the major changes introduced. The Sherman and later the Clayton Antitrust Act were critical to the progressive reforms. Tragically, Lux barely mentions John Dewey and the progressive movement in public education. Finally, the Scopes trial is curiously omitted altogether, maybe because the discrediting of progressive reformer William Jennings Bryan would have introduced too many complications into Lux's simplified narrative. Additionally, can the full history of American progressivism be told without discussing Roe v. Wade, gay rights, and gun control?? Lux seems to think so.

Finally, Lux also deals heavily in counterfactuals and hypotheticals. He holds up the example of Thomas Jefferson, founding father, as one of the great 'progressives' in American history which no one questions. However, one of Jefferson's fundamental beliefs was in limiting the role of government and a staunch supporter of State rights. Lux claims that if Jefferson had lived to the Civil War and beyond, he would not have approved of Laissez-faire and would have advocated for a stronger role of government. If Jefferson was involved in the writing of the Constitution, he would have ended slavery right there. What ifs, hypotheticals, that is what the debate has come to?

Overall, I would have to say that I was extremely disappointed in how Lux decided to organize his book and his arguments. Instead of trying to fit the entire arc of American history into a progressive prism, he should have focused on fewer events with more depth to relate them to contemporary movements.

The City & The City
The City & The City
by China Mieville
Edition: Hardcover
15 used & new from CDN$ 12.97

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars To See the Unseen, Aug. 4 2009
This review is from: The City & The City (Hardcover)
This is my first China Miéville book but it's safe to say it won't be my last. The basic premise of this Sci-Fi mystery is the existence of 2 cities superimposed on one another in such a way that those who live in one city must not "see" those who live in the other city. The plot follows a detective who is investigating a murder which leads into contact with the omnipresent Breach who patrol the boundaries of cities and the complex network of the underworld -- people who believe in a third city existing between the 2 cities, unificationists, and various other unsavory characters.

There is not question that Miéville's imagination is superb. The book and story remind me of other futuristic type movies like Blade Runner or Minority Report. It has the same intelligent design and innovations. It definitely could be made into a movie which would really bring to life the 2 cities. As a story though, I did feel that parts of the book were repetitious and laborious to get through, especially in the latter third of the book.

Overall, "The City and The City" is a good read for anyone who is into mysteries or Sci-Fi thrillers.

Red & Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934-1957
Red & Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934-1957
by Matthew J. Smith
Edition: Hardcover
11 used & new from CDN$ 61.15

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Struggle For Radical Change, Aug. 2 2009
In this academic study, Matthew J. Smith explores the historical processes that shaped post-occupation Haiti up until the prolonged Duvalier dictatorship. According to Smith, this period is traditionally thought of as an interregnum between the 2 dominant periods in Haiti's history, but as Smith shows, much of the ideological movements were developed in this formative period.

The central argument of the book is that the struggle of radicals during this period transformed the political culture of Haiti. Anyone who knows anything about Haiti can come to appreciate the complex nature of social relations, the intersection of ideologies in race, class, anti-imperialism, and populism. The story of this struggle for power in Haiti foreshadows what happened to many other Caribbean nations.

While I found the book and Smith's research quite fascinating, I must admit that for the neophyte to Haitian history, many of the particularities were a little above my head. Given my limited knowledge on ideas like noirisme, I was unable to fully grasp the significance of parts of Smith's conclusions, which is unfortunate for me anyways.

Overall, I would recommend "Red & Black in Haiti" for anyone who wants to learn more about this important period in Haitian history, but certainly the book is not of a beginner level, some background knowledge is required to fully absorb the author's arguments.

A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel
A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel
by Ronald, Professor, and Radosh, Allis Radosh
Edition: Hardcover
25 used & new from CDN$ 1.02

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Most Reluctant Ally, Aug. 1 2009
The formation of the state of Israel is one of the most remarkable narratives in the history of the 20th century. There are no "good" guys and "bad" guys here, but rather a series of complex web of networks and interests which resulted in a most improbable outcome. I think given the politics of today, it was a given that the U.S. would be the first to recognize the state of Israel, but as Radosh shows, that was clearly not so.

The central thesis of the book is to show how President Harry S. Truman came around to becoming the first leader to officially recognize Israel as a nation-state, without which Israel would probably not have survived according to Radosh. American policies towards the issue of Palestine had always been ambivalent going all the way back to FDR.

One of the central questions of the immediate postwar period centered around the issue of the Jewish DPs. It was estimated some quarter of a million Jewish refugees -- survivors of Hitler's "Final Solution" -- wanted to leave Europe, but to where? According to Radosh, the majority wanted to go to Palestine. This is disputable as many scholars claim the majority wanted to join relatives in the U.S. Regardless, the U.S. had not liberalized their immigration quotas yet and a strong nativist sentiment still existed at the time, which made mass resettlement to Palestine the prime solution. Problem, was that the British colonial administration stuck to its policy of limiting Jewish immigration into Palestine, going back to the pre-war White Paper, influenced by the Arab majority.

With the British government insolvent, they turned over administration of Palestine to the newly created United Nations who decided that given the tensions between the Jews and Arabs, a 2-state solution should be implemented, UN resolution 181. After the last British troops withdrew, the Jews proclaimed their nation-state, their Arab neighbors attacked, but the Jews not only survived by resoundingly defeated the Arabs.

Truman's role in all of this? Succumbing to intense pressure from lobby groups like the Jewish Agency and personal relationships with influential Jews like Chaim Weizmann and Rabbi Wise, Truman adopted the 2-state solution and was the first leader to officially recognize Israel. Also crucial was the fact that he did not intervene militarily to enforce the U.N. partition plan after Israel won the war and occupied more land than they were initially allocated.

While Radosh is not able to conclusively show exactly why Truman acted as he did, it appears from the evidence provided that he did so more out of political motivations -- votes and the Cold War -- than out of any ideological stance on Zionism. It was important to secure as much Jewish support in the 1948 elections and to beat the Soviets to the punch in recognizing Israel, more so than any personal convictions.

We all know how the story eventually turns out, a miracle for the Jewish diaspora, and a nightmare for Palestinian Arabs. There is a heavy tinge of irony in reading this history given that it is now the Jews who seek to maintain the status quo by opposing UN resolution 181 advocating for a 2-state solution, refusing to receive the Palestinian-Arab refugees, and fighting Palestinian-Arab terrorists. Not so much a holy war but a battle over a tiny strip of land.

One of the most interesting tidbits I found was the contention raised by Radosh that many Americans supported a Jewish state through the analogous comparison of America's Manifest Destiny to settle the west. Indeed, FDR asked TVA man David E. Lilienthal whether Palestine could be transformed into an agricultural breadbasket through industrial modernization. Something definitely to be researched further.

Overall, I think this is an important and well-researched book with incredible relevance to the current situation. It is only by understanding the history that we can begin to comprehend the real problems of the present and formulate suitable solutions for the future.

Rebellion Of Ronald Reagan, The
Rebellion Of Ronald Reagan, The
by James Mann
Edition: Hardcover
28 used & new from CDN$ 1.56

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What Reagan Knew that Everyone Else Didn't, July 29 2009
While arguing for a more nuanced interpretation of both Ronald Reagan the President and his role in the collapse of the Soviet Union, James Mann attempts to show that while Reagan was not the central figure in ending the Cold War but allowed Gorbachev the political space to reform the Soviet system.

The so-called "rebellion" wasn't so much as stated but more like a deviation from the anti-communist right who saw Gorbachev as just another iron-fisted Soviet ruler intent on crushing the capitalist west. Reagan started out from the same stance, but steadily moved to a middle position. Mann seems to put a large emphasis on the role of Suzanne Massie for Reagan's shift on Soviet policy but a more likely explanation was the many tete-a-tete meetings the Reagans had with the Gorbachevs.

One point that would seem to contradict Mann's central argument was the "tear down this wall" speech, of which Mann spends a great deal of time explaining. First off, Gorbachev's reforms of Glasnost and Perestroika had been initiated before Reagan's Berlin speech, therefore any linkage between the 2 does not fit the chronology. Second, the speech was mostly received by the Soviet bloc as a provocation, a dare, if so, how does this advance Mann's thesis that Reagan allowed for political deference to Gorbachev?

Mann generally does a good job covering the many summits between the two leaders and the discussions over arms reduction and missile-defense, the so-called Star Wars program (SDI). However, Mann fails to mention 2 points. The desire to reduce medium-range missiles was due to the fact that they were no long tactically necessary. With the advent of inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the U.S. could launch missiles from the continental U.S. and reach Russia, and vice-versa. Thus, the primary reason the war hawks were so intent on keeping the medium-range missiles was to protect the military-industrial-complex and maintain the defense budget -- any reduction would mean decreased production and therefore decreased profits for defense corporations -- and not because of any ideological anti-communist bent. The reason why Gorbachev and the USSR were so adamant on halting SDI was because it would prevent second-strike retaliation capability, fundamentally altering the balance of power to the U.S., a minor or major point (depending on how you look at it) that Mann neglects to mention.

And while you may ultimately find that Mann is unable to provide sufficient evidence to indicate exactly how much effect Reagan's political accommodation had if any, Reagan's role in ending the Cold War is best summed up by simply stating that: Reagan empathized with Gorbachev, due to the privileged information about Gorbachev's humanism gained through their several intimate meetings of which the political punditry the likes of Nixon, Kissinger, and George Will were never privy to.

Overall, this is a good book explaining from the American perspective how Reagan's foreign policy was implemented in the final crucial years leading up to the end of the cold war. And while Mann's interpretation does not disclose anything new, his presentation of the facts are clear and concise and can only add to our understanding of one of the most momentous moments in the history of the world.

The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom
The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom
by Steven Hahn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 25.83
20 used & new from CDN$ 22.30

4.0 out of 5 stars Subaltern perspectives, July 28 2009
In this short essay-driven book, Steven Hahn attempts to debunk several myths about how the Civil War and African-American history is written about and remembered by the collective consciousness of the American public.

The books is divided into three sections. First, Hahn attempts to locate the institution of slavery within the national development of the United States but also in the broader context of European colonization in the western hemisphere. This contextualization helps to nuance our understanding of how slavery developed and adapted given the changing circumstances especially in comparison with the only slave revolution ever recorded in history in Saint Dominique.

The second section develops from the first, and boils down to Hahn's argument that the Civil War should be thought of as a slave rebellion with revolutionary undertones. Hahn argues that traditional historiography has largely suppressed the "agency" of slaves in order to mythologize the narrative to one of the Union North emancipating the slaves. Notwithstanding this obvious paternalism of whites in the North, African-Americans themselves tended to accept this version of history because they preferred to be portrayed as patriotic Americans who sought to live the ideals of American liberty -- rather than a vengeful pack of insurrectionists seeking to overthrow the system.

Finally, Hahn turns his attention to Garvyism -- the post-WWI political mass movement which capitalized on ideas of self-determination, anti-colonialism, and pan-Africanism. While much of Garvyism has focused on Marcus Garvey the man, Hahn instead chooses to focus on the followers of the movement, why they joined, what their motivations were, and how it came to influence much later movements like Black Power and the Panthers of the 70s. Again, Hahn attempts to show why much of the African-American experience has tended to emphasize the ideas and influence of W.E.B. Dubois and Martin Luther King, rather than Marcus Garvey or Malcolm X.

Ultimately, this short book is more about the writing of history and the politics of history more than the actual history itself. Still, Hahn forces us to challenge our own preconceptions of the history we are taught and the supposed facts. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is a student of history.

My Father's Tears and Other Stories
My Father's Tears and Other Stories
by John Updike
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.16
44 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Updike Will be Missed, July 26 2009
From American novelist and literary critic John Updike, this latest book of short stories, published posthumously, was a joy to read. Like all collections of short stories, some are better than others, but overall I think they reflect well on Updike and his legacy as one of America's most prolific writers.

Unfortunately, I did not find the title short story "My Father's Tears" all that enthralling. But probably my favorite story in the book is "Varieties of Religious Experience". Updike recreates the events surrounding September 11, in a fictional non-fiction sort of way. I was entirely engrossed into the narrative but at the same time it was frighteningly eerie because of course we all know the outcome and the circumstances surrounding the hijackers, and those passengers on United flight 11.

When reading Updike, I think what most readers will immediately notice (at least I did) was his obsession with eroticism -- to such an extent that he challenges our preconceived notions of what is socially acceptable. But fundamentally, Updike explores the complexities of Freudian logic like the oedipus complex to great effect. Certainly, Updike is not for everyone, but the many machinations of the sexual mind are truly fascinating.

I am sure there will be more of Updike's previously unpublished works that will get bundled together in the future. It's just good to read Updike again and "My Father's Tears" will compliment any good Updike collection.

The Housing Boom and Bust
The Housing Boom and Bust
by Thomas Sowell
Edition: Hardcover
50 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A No Nonsense Explanation, July 25 2009
If you want to learn why this latest economic crisis began explained colloquially in ordinary language, then Thomas Sowell's "The Housing Boom and Bust" is definitely a must read. With an economists acumen combined with the journalists touch, Sowell navigates us through the complex processes involved with the origins and the politics of housing.

I won't go through the details as Sowell's short book does a great job explaining them, but I will highlight what I thought were unique insights into the subprime crisis. Firstly, Sowell explains how certain housing markets like California had certain restrictions like lot-size laws, agricultural and environmental land reserves, which ironically helped accelerate the boom-bust cycle by artificially inflating house prices. As Sowell shows, this was in stark contrast to places like Dallas. This leads into one of Sowell's primary arguments, that government intervention actually led to the crisis through it's crusade for "affordable housing." So instead of removing these developmental restrictions, the government simply sought to force the private sector to make it easier to loan to the so-called 'subprimes' thus making housing more affordable for people with low-incomes.

I think a disclaimer though is in order. Sowell is a conservative, and so therefore his selectivity reflects his political biases. For example, Sowell does not even mention the "structural investment vehicles" like mortgage-backed securities or credit-default swaps which hedge funds used to finance these subprime loans. This unregulated securitization and financial innovations in the mortgage bond market is fundamental in understanding the macroeconomics of the crisis and the international scope. Although, not specifically in the scope of this book, Sowell's omission is rather unfortunate because it does distort the picture. The only other criticism is Sowell's over-emphasis on California while only briefly mentioning Cleveland which is often thought of as the center and origin of the subprime crisis, of which many homeowners were not actually subprime but were manipulated into refinancing or reversing (coincidentally, most were working-class black homeowners).

The book is incredibly relevant in learning about how and why we got to where we are now. I've read many books on this subject and I can say with confidence that Sowell's book is probably the easiest to understand and one of the most transparent. Overall, this is a must read.

The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It
The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It
by Joshua Cooper Ramo
Edition: Hardcover
39 used & new from CDN$ 0.10

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very Disappointing, July 24 2009
I picked up this book after watching Joseph Cooper Ramo on Fareed Zakaria's GPS. He seemed very astute and a keen observer and commentator on current geopolitical events so I took a chance on his book thinking that it would be just as enlightening. I couldn't have been more wrong.

My first major criticism of the book is the reckless use and abuse of history for the purposes of furthering his unoriginal arguments. He completely misrepresents the historical causality of the events leading up to the collapse of the Soviet Union by claiming that Gorbachev was oblivious to the impending collapse and Ramo falsely claims that the CPSU establishement simply flipped sides -- if Ramo had bothered to spend 2 seconds to look up the failed putsch on wikipedia he would've seen how wrong he was. He fundamentally misreads the multiple wars between Israel and Lebanon and his hagiography of Hezbollah is almost criminal. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

My second major criticism is his dismissal of some of the major western philosophies without a whisper of any empirical or reasonable arguments. Instead, Ramo endorses eastern philosophy without so much as a single critical eye whatsoever.

Finally, his analysis and exploration of the "revolutionary" movements and the individuals who inspired them amounts to little more than sensationalist journalism. It is one thing to say that the world is complex, that we need new ways at looking at the world, thinking outside of the box, etc..., and quite another to explain how these exceptional ideas came about. In other words, don't tell us some fluff story about the guy who saved the Internet by geeking it up on a Saturday night with his LAN buddies, or a David and Goliath story of how Nintendo's Wii beat Sony. Tell us about what makes them special, is it biological, is it socio-economic, is it cultural?

I rarely give anything less than 3 stars and this may very well be one of the most disappointing books I have read in over 2 years. I had high expectations going in and have nothing but negative things to say about this book. Save yourself the two hours and skip "The Age of the Unthinkable."

Canada's 1960s: The Ironies of Identity in a Rebellious Era
Canada's 1960s: The Ironies of Identity in a Rebellious Era
by Bryan Palmer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 22.53
25 used & new from CDN$ 6.91

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shedding Canada's British Past, July 22 2009
When we think of Canadian identity today and the major historical events and processes that helped to construct that identity, the 1960s usually registers only tangentially and not front and center where it really should be. That is what Bryan D. Palmer has attempted to do in this volume, to show that our own ambivalence in what defines us as Canadians is a direct result of the identity crises (and there were many) of the 1960s.

First off, I do want to mention that overall I really enjoyed the book but at over 400 pages, the book includes about 200 pages of information that I would categorize as background information (diefen-dollars, Marshall McLuhan, Ali vs Chuvalo). That is to say, half of the book does not directly contribute to Palmer's arguments but help to contextualize his later, stronger claims.

Having said that, there are some very strong chapters in the book, mostly found at the end. First is the breakdown of student radicalism, evidenced by the many campus protests across the country such as at SFU, and in Quebec. Second, is Palmer's lengthy analysis into the so-called Quiet Revolution and its many nuances, a fusion of anti-racism, nationalism, Marxism, and anti-colonialism, embodied in Vallieres and the FLQ movement. Finally, Palmer discusses the Red Revolution, the attempt by aboriginal peoples to reclaim their heritage and end the paternalism and unequal relationship that existed between aboriginal and white society. The book is very well researched and the historical questions Palmer confronts us with are relevant and timely. He ends the book by asking this question: "Is national identity really what we need?"

In my opinion, the 1960s represents all that we celebrate today as the cornerstones of Canadian society. Multiculturalism, universal healthcare, and the welfare state. It was the moment that Canada grew up and finally shed its "British past" full of the injustices and inequalities of empire to become a fairer and more just society. It is precisely because of those core values we all believe in, abstract and intangible, which makes it so hard to define. Thus, Canada as an imagined community is distinct from other nation-states which define themselves primarily by their distinct culture, or a long territorial history, or a revolution, or a great imperial domain -- and is instead a construction of social values.

This is an important historical text for anyone studying contemporary Canadian history. Palmer's analysis is not only insightful but very well-researched.

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