The Red in the Rainbow, by Hannah Dee

Since 1970, struggles against LGBT oppression have won impressive legal gains alongside a sea-change in social attitudes. Liberation remains a distant prospect, however, and in this context Dee constructs an entertaining and thoroughly cogent exposition of the classical Marxist theory of sexuality. In examining how economic organisation underpins social structures surrounding sexuality – and what this means for transforming such structures – Dee presents a rich seam of historical detail; for instance the often-neglected sexual radicalism of early Social Democratic perspectives. Despite tending to the mechanistic in an over-hasty rejection of queer theory, this is recommended reading for any non-expert.

Bookmarks; 2011; 192 pages

The City and the City, by China Miéville

Through Tyador Borlu, a police Inspector conducting a murder investigation in decaying Beszel and wealthy Ul Qoma, two Eastern European cities inhabiting the same space, Miéville explores the extent to which borders determine the lives of ordinary people. The best scenes describe Borlu experiencing the architecture, culture and people he has always lived with but that he has learned to ‘unsee’ since birth; scenes during which the reader shares in the sense of unease and shock. This is a gripping crime novel that develops pace and intrigue although in terms of narrative and analysis, the concluding pages are slightly disappointing. MM

Pan; 2010, 373 pages

New Left Review: Fifty Years 1960-2010

This fiftieth anniversary edition demonstrates NLR’s strengths and weaknesses. Stridently intellectual but sliding into pretension, it is devoted to the idea of a left-wing movement but divorced from actually existing social forces. Here we are presented with, among other articles, Perry Anderson’s incisive analysis of Russian and Chinese revolutions, Robin Blackburn on class struggles in post-reconstruction era America, and a US medical doctor’s searing call to arms in the battle for healthcare. Editor Susan Watkins ponders the future: “Can a left intellectual project hope to thrive in the absence of a political movement?” Her answer? “That remains to be seen.” SS

Second Series, Number 61, January/February 2010; 232 pages

Bonfire of Illusions: The Twin Crises of the Liiberal World, by Alex Callinicos

Plenty of illusions but no bonfire. The problem with this book’s title – acknowledged by Callinicos – is that the ruling neoliberal ideology is very much alive and kicking. Fixing as his point of departure the timely conjunction of the financial meltdown of 2008 and the Russia-Georgia war, the author argues that these events marked the end of the post-Cold War epoch of unipolar US supremacy and neoliberal orthodoxy. A detailed accounting of the financial crisis, informed by an understanding of falling profit rates, gives way to a weaker outline of geopolitical strategy that frequently reiterates the earlier economic arguments. SS

Polity; 2010; 179 pages

Stalin and Shostakovich, by Solomon Volkov

This account of the perilous, unremitting battles between Stalin and Shostakovich charts an engrossing history which extends well beyond the book’s protagonists. Lacking incisive political perspective, Volkov nonetheless unearths a wealth of detail on the whole structure of state-regulated cultural production during the Stalin era. With disaster an ever-present threat, figures such as Shostakovich, Eisenstein and Pasternak engaged in a compex set of cat-and-mouse relations: often barely surviving through a combination of guile and Stalin’s uncertain desire for international recognition. Incorporating fascinating analysis of Shostakovich’s key works, Volkov’s readable fusion of the musicological and the social is a clear success. AB

Little, Brown and Company; 2004; 384 pages

No Place Like Home: A Black Briton’s Journey Through the American South, by Gary Younge

Premised on The Guardian columnist’s journey along the route of the 1961 Freedom Rides, this somewhat confused book mixes travelogue and political analysis, sometimes to the detriment of both. Younge is at his best when talking to civil rights stalwarts, discussing contemporary social relations in the South and their intersection with history and sharing his experiences growing up in Britain as the son of immigrant parents from Barbados. He frequently returns to the nexus of race and class. But the book is weak in parts, occasionally slipping into banal description or simplistic cliché: like Bill Bryson but without the laughs. SS

Picador; 1999; 280 pages

Red Riding Quartet, by David Peace

Through four novels, innumerable ruined characters, the Yorkshire Ripper murders and more than a few scenes of utterly shocking intensity, Peace’s Red Riding quartet interrogates a core of disturbing themes with hypnotic single-mindedness. Returning constantly to sadistic police brutality, unconquerable sexual obsessions and the torture of children, Red Riding succeeds overwhelmingly because the horrifying cruelty depicted is borne not of abstract evil nor incomprehensible psychology, but simple greed (the motive which is, of course, indispensable to all free-market economic theory). Wealth buys immunity from democratic control; Peace’s exposition of this process is as cogent as it is viscerally, terrifyingly powerful. AB

Serpent’s Tail; 1999-2002


Language ought to be the joint creation of poets and manual workers. George Orwell

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