18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2012
"On History" is a nice little compilation put together from a conversation between filmmaker Oliver Stone and author/activist Tariq Ali on the topic of, well, history. This is a very entertaining, sharp and informative collection because it explores history without a dry, traditional narrative. Ali and Stone are interested in discussing actual history in the sense of the finer details and hard truths that traditionalist historians who like to keep their manners rarely mention in their own, more pompous works or the History Channel (whenever it isn't focusing on UFOs). Both authors are a perfect match. Stone is famous, respected (and loathed) for his bold, risky film projects ranging from the superb (JFK) to the somewhat miscalculated (Alexander) but always original and sharp, Ali has been a powerful voice for radical social change since the 1960s and his books are rich collections of history and commentary such as the recent "Clash Of Fundamentalisms" and "The Obama Syndrome." Here they travel continents to look at the past and where we are today.
The conversations in the book are fascinating explorations of key moments in recent history. The first chapter looks at World War I and it's impact on the rest of the 20th century. Ali discusses topics such as the Bolshevik Revolution's impact on world workers' movements it's later aftershocks during the Great Depression. While World War II is the conflict endlessly explored in books and film, Ali argues that the first Great War is really the defining event, it set the stage for a conflict of ideaologies that would continue through the Cold War well into the early 1990s. Ali and Stone also explore how the rise of fascism was another outcome of the general fear of the capitalist world of growing, radical popular movements, Ali reminds readers that Benito Mussolini was a darling of both England and the US, the first biography of the dictator even featured an introduction by the US ambassador to Italy and Churchill also adored Il Duce's iron fist. The New Deal is provided as an example of how popular pressure can influence presidents to pass populist legislation. Hitler's rise is also framed in the context of the continuation of World War I's aftershocks and Ali again looks at the more unpleasant truth behind the more nationalist narratives: Before the US eventually jumped into the war, the FDR White House was planning to adjust to a Nazi-dominated Europe, Hitler was seen as a pretty good business prospect and there was hope he would wipe out the Soviet Union.
Anti-colonial struggles are also given a much-needed focus as Ali and Stone discuss the post-World War II order now set by the United States which cut major deals with the Saudis and helped put the Shah of Iran back on the throne in a 1953 coup. Communism, socialism and social alternatives are also disucssed in a clear, intelligent way where the general reader can enjoy the air of intelligent conversation. The new, emerging multi-polar world is also explored including the emergence of popular governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, key issues in a world being rocked by economic uncertainty as societies also try to figure out alternatives for planning and building.
For fans of Ali and Stone, a lot of the material here might feel too familiar, these are topics and themes one can easily find explored in Ali's books or Stone's films and documentaries, both men collaborated on the 2010 film "South Of The Border" which chronicles many of the social, governmental changes happening in South America. But for students or average readers wanting a good, sharp quick read on topics rarely discussed in the mainstream, this is a nice volume. It's only major fault is that it gives us so little. Stone reportedly interviewed Ali for seven hours, there is no doubt more material. This book is also reported to be a small prologue to an upcoming, 10-hour documentary series directed by Stone on 20th century US/world history, so maybe we will get more soon. "On History" is still a breath of fresh air and a nice alternative to a market dominated by books authored by MSNBC and Fox News hosts.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2012
I needed to bone up on my world history since, mainly, World War I. My grandfathers were in World War I. My father was in the Korean War; he was in the Naval Reserves and got called to duty in 1950. The separation and moving around killed my parents' marriage, meaning that the Korean War had a direct effect on me. Or that Truman's presidency had a direct (negative) effect on me. Probably no other events effected me negatively more than what Truman did during his presidency. I needed to sort that time out to see where I fit. I was a child-of-circumstance, being pushed around by forces way bigger than me--as happens to everyone sometime(s) in their lives.
Americans have collective amnesia. We keep making the same mistakes over again. There are virtually no programs on TV that help us become better people. I am able to catch the rare TV documentary worth watching. Other than those rarities, TV is drivel. I don't understand why the networks don't have more history shows--which could really help Americans sort things out. But alas, that's not happening.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, I watched Vietnam unfold during each evening TV newscast in horror. After 1975, I thought "We won't do that again." But we did. The American military entered more Vietnams: Iraq and Afghanistan, to name two. I couldn't believe the personal axes to grind of the two Bush presidents: idiots. Americans didn't learn a thing from Vietnam.
It appears Americans are doomed because we can't learn from their mistakes; we continually let the US government walk all over us, again and again and again. Americans have turned (themselves) into milquetoasts (couch potatoes). Americans have themselves to blame for their own apathy and ignorance: when the economy tanked, they were surprised and upset, yet had they kept themselves informed and involved, they would have been (and now be) less disturbed, less caught off-guard, have made better financial decisions, and faster to recover career/job-wise. Things are foreseeable when you know history. A person has to dig out information, use their minds to sift out true and false stories from many sources, and make up their own decisions on issues. The info is there. Americans feel that making up their own mind takes too much energy, determination, and time.
This small book fills the history gap.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2012
Wonderful book. Kind of like a Howard Zinn kind of thing. A little too realistic for most people because Ali is a mixed bag of political belief's. Intriguing given that his background is very diverse and different from an American understanding. Oliver Stone is no newcomer to political rhetoric either. Saw the two of them on c span's book review. After listening to them more or less debate one another, I stepped up and bought the book. Not a bad move as it is revealing and well put together. If you question history as it was explained to you in high school, then here's a counterpoint. Always healthy to view the other aspect for one sided thinking is the bane of the political scene right now.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I rarely pick up a new book and finish it in one afternoon. I did with this one. It is informative, revealing, interesting, thought provoking, and well written. Our history books are filled with lies or twists of truths. Many of the falsehoods are brought to light here. This book appears to be a preview of the Showtime documentary debuting in 2012. It's a short book, 105 pages. I found the final chapter filled with interesting and hopeful ideas about what is needed to change things. I find it interesting that the environmental disasters, economic meltdowns around the world, and increased disgust of wars, give some hope that enough people will demand change. If not this empire we live in is doomed. Let's hope it's not too late. History ..."should be learned from---and not repeated. If politicians are only destined to repeat themselves historically, the world has a very sad fate ahead for it". This book is highly recommended. You need to read it with an open mind.