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The Dark Side of the Left: Illiberal Egalitarianism in America (American Political Thought)
The Dark Side of the Left: Illiberal Egalitarianism in America (American Political Thought)
by Richard Ellis
Edition: Paperback
26 used & new from $5.88

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rigorous and salutary analysis of utopianism, August 22, 2001
This is a terrific work of cultural history, literary criticism and political philosophy. Ellis declares early in his book his own liberal-left political sympathies, before proceeding to identify the inherent illiberalism of much that has passed for left-wing thought in American history. His range is wide, and his knowledge of American culture impressive. But what is most devastating about his descriptions and analysis of the romantic illusions he catalogues is his awareness of the ostensible justice of the claims underlying them.
The abolitionist movement against slavery was a great moral cause, yet it included a wing devoted to violent and messianic extremism. The early activists in Students for a Democratic Society at least were aware of the need to formulate their demands in the language of liberal rights, before veering into advocacy of Maoist terrorism. Ellis traces these developments not to any simplistic teleology of the collapse of radical ideals into totalitarianism, but to the implict illiberalism of believing that all good things are necessarily compatible with each other, and that mere preferences (environmental protection, for example) should be treated as moral axioms. The sharpest analysis of this phenomenon in the book is Ellis's devastating exegesis of Edward Bellamy's now-forgotten but once vastly-influential utopian novel Looking Backward. Because the scheme of social organisation depicted in the novel has no awareness of how to reconcile conflicting claims to scarce resources or incommensurable values, the vision that it propounds is one of unabashed totalitarianism. Illiberalism and even totalitarianism are integral parts of the American left now; Ellis demonstrates how and why that intellectual tradition developed.


The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
by Emily Dickinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.66
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest of all writers of poetry in English, August 4, 2001
This is the standard and authoritative collected edition of Emily Dickinson's poems. It is a book that will stay with you for the rest of your life. I can think of no finer writer of poetry in English who manages to invest so short and simple a construction - no more than a couple of lines in some cases - with such emotional force. I say 'simple', but her poems are simple only in a deceptive sense. An unfinished poem like "A letter is a joy of earth/ It is denied the gods -" (that's the whole poem) says more about the joy of constructing prose than any number of effusive efforts from the Romantics.
Miss Dickinson has suffered from having been appropriated by the rather dreary crowd of 'cultural critics' who cannot grasp that a work of art tells us primarily not about the social mores of the time it was written in but about the human spirit. She is especially vulnerable to this sort of irrelevant sophistry, having lived as a recluse for much of her life and thus being ripe for 'interpretation' that is nothing more than a recitation of modern political sensibilities. That's a shame, and it certainly shouldn't put you off reading her. So far as I'm concerned, there is no one - not even Shakespeare, not even Jane Austen or Dickens - whom I read more frequently, and with greater pleasure and benefit.


The Holocaust in American Life
The Holocaust in American Life
by Peter Novick
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.72
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18 of 40 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Well-argued exposition of a deeply flawed thesis, August 4, 2001
Novick's book has suffered by being considered in the same light as Norman Finkelstein's polemic The Holocaust Industry. That is an unfortunate comparison. Finkelstein's book is a crude work of conspiracist anti-Semitism, designed to bolster an overriding political agenda. Novick's book is a challenging work of sociology, attempting to identify how and why the Holocaust became a motif of American culture.
He makes some good points and has a particularly sharp eye for the appropriation of the Holocaust as kitsch. Yet this is not a point unknown to scholars of the Holocaust. (Lucy Dawidowicz, in The Holocaust and the Historians, observed that there is always a temptation in expounding the Holocaust to resort to inappropriate analogy; Novick certianly doesn't improve on this observation.) What is problematic about Novick's work is his explanation. He identifies the needs of the state of Israel and in particular military victory in the Six-Day War as the start of a cultural fascination with the Holocaust. This is to confuse correlation with causation. It seems to me much more plausible to infer that Jewish communities after the war were so shattered and traumatised by the experience of Nazi tyranny that they simply had more urgent tasks than to reflect on the Holocaust at length: they had to pick up the shattered remnants of European Jewry and *survive*. Only a generation later would Jews reflect and act upon the need to ensure that future generations remembered and were educated about the Holocaust. Sometimes, as has happened with sentimental films (one particular Oscar winner, for example) or museum exhibits, the attempt at remembrance has failed or even come close to blasphemous frivolity. But that the task of remembrance is a vital one, for which occasional excesses are a price we should willingly pay, seems to me incontrovertible and a necessary corrective to Novick's thesis.


Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust Holocaust And The David Irving Trial
Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust Holocaust And The David Irving Trial
by Richard J. Evans
Edition: Hardcover
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33 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An important exposition of the use and abuse of history, August 4, 2001
Since David Irving's disastrous libel suit against Penguin books, some highly disingenuous commentary has been written by people who clearly neither attended the trial nor understood it (some, for example, apparently not realising that Irving was the plaintiff, not the defendant). Richard Evans, who was an expert witness for the defence, puts the record straight in an important work. Much of the book is devoted to a devastating assessment of Irving's work as a historian; he demonstrates (with, most damningly, a detailed account of Irving's fabrications concerning the bombing of Dresden) that dishonesty has been at the heart of Irving's work since the 1960s. This done, Evans is in a powerful position to substantiate his judgement: the Irving libel suit went to the heart of what history - a contingent process of testing hypotheses - actually means. Irving subordinated historical inquiry to his neo-Nazi sympathies, in an egregious violation of the scholarly ethic.
The only substantial criticism I have of this salutary and important book is where, in his final chapter, Evans in my view deviates from the discipline of history and ventures some rather more speculative and tentative political judgements. He draws a sharp contrast between Irving's Holocaust denial and the work of those writers who have recently criticised the 'Holocaust industry', who at least do not doubt the historicity of the Holocaust. I'm not so sure. Evans describes the work of Peter Novick and Norman Finkelstein as displaying "widely differing degrees of detail and accuracy", implying - quite rightly - that Novick's book has a claim to scholarship whereas Finkelstein's polemic does not. Yet Finkelstein (and even more so his associate Noam Chomsky) display very similar characteristics to David Irving: an agenda of extreme anti-Zionist agitation in preference to scholarship; an adherence to conspiracy theories about Jews; documented links with neo-Nazis (Chomsky, for example, described one Holocaust denier whom Evans refers to, Robert Faurisson, as "a sort of relatively apolitical liberal"); and a willingness to fabricate source material (see Arthur Schlesinger's destruction, in his collection The Cycles of American History, of Chomsky's fabrication of quotations by President Truman). The Irving phenomenon is an extreme one, but it has its counterparts elsewhere on the political spectrum.


Memoir: My Life and Themes
Memoir: My Life and Themes
by Conor Cruise O'Brien
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.77
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificently crafted memoir of a great Irishman, July 23, 2001
O'Brien is the living embodiment of what it is to be a polymath and a man of letters. The range of his work as statesman, academic and author is rivalled in recent history only by Malraux. This is a magnificent memoir of an exemplary life.
The most striking characteristic of O'Brien the statesman is his extraordinary courage - physical courage, not merely the willingness to express a controversial view - in expounding the essential moral difference between democracy and terrorism, and the need for a democratic polity to defend itself against those who would undermine it by violence. One need not agree with all of O'Brien's policy conclusions - an unyielding rejection of the deeply flawed Good Friday agreement, and a curious addendum in this volume that nonetheless Ulster Protestants might have to reconcile themselves one day to a united Ireland - to be thankful for, and to benefit from, his lesson that the advocates of revolutionary violence stand in defiance of the values of a civilised and liberal order.
The recurrent theme of the book, reflecting O'Brien's lifelong fascination with the subject, is the interaction of nationalism and religion. He is deeply critical of the cult of revolutionary nationalism in his native Ireland, and analyses with great insight the sources of nationalist mythology. He is similarly knowledgeable of the connections between Jewish nationalism and religion, and takes the - by now, unfortunately rare - position of a Gentile with a principled and liberal sympathy for the cause of Israel.
It is, in short, a consistently thought-provoking book by a man of courage, literary skill and outstanding intellect. Highly recommended.


Stock Market Rules: 70 of the Most Widely Held Investment  Axioms Explained, Examined and Exposed
Stock Market Rules: 70 of the Most Widely Held Investment Axioms Explained, Examined and Exposed
by Michael D. Sheimo
Edition: Hardcover
57 used & new from $0.01

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disgracefully ignorant, May 20, 1999
According to the dust jacket, the author earns his living as an investment adviser. One can only marvel at the generosity of his clients in retaining him if this book is anything to go by.
Mr Sheimo affects to "explain" and "examine" some investment notions, and to "expose" the ones he finds contentious. In order to do any of these things, it would help if he were actually to trouble to acquaint himself with what these "axioms" are in the first place. All too often he merely displays his own ignorance by getting them not only comprehensively wrong, but wrong in such a form as to constitute a schoolboy howler.
I take just one example as representative of Mr Sheimo's cluelessness: chapter 65, which attempts to debunk the "random walk hypothesis". The author considers that he has accomplished this task by setting a chart of numbers generated randomly in a lottery draw against a chart of the Dow Jones price index, over two years. And, duh, they look different. It beggars belief that a professional investment adviser should be in business at all let alone could have written stuff like that without first having worked out what variable it is that the hypothesis posits as random. It isn't *prices* that are hypothesised to follow a random walk, but price *changes*. If Mr Sheimo goes back to his database and tries this exercise again, but does it properly this time, I suspect he will see immediately why his published work has - to coin the euphemism to end all euphemisms - somewhat missed the point of the exercise. Having started with a howler of monumental proportions, the author then goes on to a series of misconceptions buttressed by non sequiturs. The most egregious of the lot is his misconception that in an efficient stock market the past doesn't predict the future. Wrong yet again: to the contrary, in an efficient stock market, where all publicly available information is already discounted in market prices, today's price is the best possible predictor of tomorrow's price. It's today's price *change* that has no implications for tomorrow's price *change* - thereby rendering the disciplines of technical analysis and stock market forecasting a damaging irrelevance at best.
It would be difficult to do justice to the sheer awfulness and ignorance of this book in a single review. But the effect after a while is just tedium rather than the majesty that you sometimes get from reading something that is unspeakably bad. Don't bother buying it, in any event.


One World Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism
One World Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism
by William Greider
Edition: Paperback
Price: $25.15
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17 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An almost complete misunderstanding of economics, February 19, 1999
Paul Krugman of MIT - one of that rare breed, a serious economist who can write - has famously called this "an astonishingly silly book". I have to disagree: the book is much, much worse than that.
Greider's thesis boils down to the "global excess supply" nostrum - and it's based not only on a fundamental misunderstanding of economics but also on straightforward innumeracy and an inability to think critically. As Keynes tells us, wages reflect the marginal product of labour. Any increased production in the Third World must *go somewhere*, in the form of increased income either to labour (wages) or capital (profits). That increased income must be either spent or saved - so if there really were inadequate aggregate demand (or equivalently excess capacity) then we would expect savings to exceed profitable investment opportunities. Do they? Well, Greider provides no evidence - which is unsurprising....
Greider's economic analysis is thus wrong - indeed, absurd and intellectual disreputable. His policy recommendations derived from his wrong-headed arguments are downright destructive, however. They amount to a recipe for a misallocation of scarce resources to unproductive uses and a hike in inflation. There could be few more damaging courses for the developing world, or surer ways to cut real wages and depress living standards. But then the identity of interest between the far Left (Chomsky, Nader etc.) and the far Right (Pat Buchanan) has never had logic or reason on its side.


The Soviet World of American Communism (Annals of Communism Series)
The Soviet World of American Communism (Annals of Communism Series)
by Harvey E. Klehr
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $63.90
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A model of historical documentation and interpretation, May 27, 1998
Interpretation of US domestic politics during the Cold War has been bedevilled by ad hominem accusation and counter-accusation. The undoubted injustices perpetrated by McCarthyism have also long obscured the subject. The work of these authors - and also, in other books, of Ronald Radosh - must be counted not only impressive, but definitive. We now know, thanks to their efforts, that the Communist Party of the United States really was a tool of Soviet clandestine operations, and that those "revisionist" interpreters who portrayed it as merely a persecuted and progressive group of idealists were egregiously mistaken. In short, what was wrong with McCarthyism was its wild and irresponsible exaggeration, not its premise; there really was an organised attempt on the part of the CPUSA and its front organisations to infiltrate Soviet influence into the liberal democratic American polity. The authors demonstrate this with meticulous scholarship; their book is one of the most important works of contemporary history to have been published since the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Europe: A History
Europe: A History
by Norman Davies
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $127.78
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23 of 67 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A much-hyped work suffering from innumerable errors of fact., January 22, 1998
This review is from: Europe: A History (Hardcover)
This is a most perplexing work. It has received extensive and highly favourable reviews, but its reliability as a general work of history is slim. The straightforward and quite extreme errors of fact are almost as numerous as the page numbers - for example, Davies gets the dates of all but one of the British Tudor monarchs wrong. What I find especially misleading, though, is its relentless stress on the centrality of Polish history to Europe; this reflects the author's specialism, not a disinterested judgement. Finally, his treatment of the term "genocide", with its bizarre attempt to identify analogous experiences with the Holocaust, runs perilously close to frivolity. All in all, this book will probably be forgotten in a few years' time; at least, I hope so.
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