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Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-First Century, by Giovanni Arrighi

This expansive work seeks to understand differing paths of capitalist economic development and portends tectonic shifts in world capitalism as China emerges as challenger to US hegemony. Beginning with a theoretical discussion of Adam Smith’s political economy, Arrighi contrasts Europe’s historical development with the purer market economics of the contemporaneous Far East. By examining historical transitions from one world-leading centre of capitalism to another, considering the role of financialisation in these processes, Arrighi ponders the future of US dominance after a series of monumental political and military failures. In the background China is rising; the new workshop of the world. SS

Verso; 2008; 418 pages

We Saw Spain Die: Foreign Correspondents in the Spanish Civil War, by Paul Preston

We Saw Spain DieFacing reactionary press barons’ hostility to socialists and Western governments’ deals with fascism, foreign reporting on the Spanish Civil War was accurate only through constant struggle. We Saw Spain Die recounts the stories of the many correspondents who risked lives and careers to carry out this struggle – international journalists whose bravery and determination informed a mass audience of the astonishing, tragic courage of ordinary Spaniards battling fascist military onslaught. Weaving together personal, professional and political detail Preston offers unusual insight into the defeated Revolution and journalistic practice, and through individual experiences constructs a valuable addition to the Revolution’s historiography. AB

Constable; 2009; 512 pages

The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, by Erich Fromm

Regarded as one of Fromm’s masterworks, this book mixes psychology, palaeontology and anthropology in its endeavour to address a simple question: why are humans violent? The underlying answer for Fromm is rooted in this social animal’s general condition of unfreedom since the Neolithic revolution some 10,000 years ago. In lengthy meanderings he takes in animal behavioural science, sketches the structure of Neolithic society and produces psychological biographies of Hitler, Stalin and Himmler. But for large parts of the book his central argument takes a back seat. While much of the material is fascinating its fragmentary character surrenders its polemical force. SS

Pimlico; 1997; 688 pages

Pimlico

Absolute Friends, by John le Carré

Despite being a Cold War author who successfully reconfigured his writing for the post-Soviet era, John le Carré doesn’t always remain as sharp in his contemporary storytelling. Such is the case in Absolute Friends, a book whose shifts in time and place sharply juxtapose the le Carré of old with his modern approach. The best of this book is the tension built around our protagonist’s adventures among Cold War double agents but the narrative is far weaker in other places, especially the finale – intended as an indictment of “war on terror” politics and subterfuge – which is bewildering and unconvincing. SS

Coronet Books; 2004; 338 pages

Spaces of Global Capitalism: Towards a Theory of Uneven Global Development, by David Harvey

Here are three lectures delivered by Harvey, a geographer by trade, in 2004. In the first he analyses neoliberalism in what is a finely composed exposition of its meaning: the restoration of ruling class power. The second is focused on uneven geographical development and Harvey masterfully employs his Marxian analytical toolbox to demonstrate how this unevenness is inherent to the system via processes of primitive accumulation, competing capitals and commodity fetishism. Finally, for the specialist Harvey tackles the notion of ‘space’, producing a nine-coordinate ‘matrix’ of different conceptions which we are asked to consider simultaneously and dialectically; it’s challenging stuff. SS

Verso; 2006; 154 pages

Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance, by John Berger

Sixteen short essays, written between 2001 and 2006, linked by the thread of the hope (or in Berger’s coinage ‘undefeated despair’) that enables people to continue the struggle – ‘surviving the nights and imagining a new day’ – in an era of unrestrained capitalism and the ‘war on terror’. A thread that takes him through the plight of the Palestinians, the poetry of Nazim Hikmet, Hurricane Katrina, the films of Pasolini, the music of Dvorak, the invasion of Iraq, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the stories of Platonov,  9/11, the July 7 bombings, and much more besides. AS

Verso; 2007; 142 pages

Militant Modernism, by Owen Hatherley

When devastating capitalist crisis offers a justification for the savage intensification of market discipline (for the masses), to counter-attack on either political or aesthetic grounds may seem audacious enough. To do so on both at once is outrageous and, in the case of Militant Modernism, outrageously brilliant – with thrilling style and a swaggering contempt Hatherley dismisses the pathetic unoriginality of new private housing, market-fetishising artistic practices and much else besides. He serves up a newly emancipating rediscovery of socialist modernism in public housing, planning, film and sexuality and writes with exhilarating confidence and astonishing thematic breadth: “Forward! Never forgetting.” AB

Zero Books; 2009; 160 pages


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

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