Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Book Nook

The Stand, Stephen King
This was the 1100-page "expanded edition" published in 1990, 12 years after the original version came out. In this post-apocalyptic tale, inspired by Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, a bioweapon virus escapes from a military installation in California and kills 99.4% of the world's population within two weeks. The story focuses on about 20 of the "immunes" as they slowly polarize into two camps, Good and Evil. As a fan of post-apocalyptic scenarios, I enjoyed King's imaginings of how the authorities would respond to a fast-moving, unstoppable, and lethal virus, and then how, after the authorities had been wiped out, how the few thousand survivors who remained would organize themselves. Also: richly detailed characters and spot-on, often hilarious, dialogue. I finished this book in about three days, basically reading non-stop.

Natural Capitalism, Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins & Hunter Lovins
Lots and lots of examples of how manufacturing, transportation, construction, and urban planning can be done more efficiently and more profitably by learning to mimic nature's automatic recycling processes. A key insight is to reorient business toward providing services, rather than manufacturing and selling products. The photocopier industry already operates like this. Another example: instead of manufacturing and selling big rolls of carpet that have to be ripped up and landfilled when it gets stained and worn out, Interface Corp. sells "floor covering services," using individual carpet squares that can be pulled up and replaced as needed. Since the customer is paying for the floor covering service rather than for the carpet, Interface has an incentive to produce long-lasting carpet. Not only that, Interface completely recycles the old carpet into new carpet. This book made me want to learn more about the pros and cons of tradable polution credits as an alternative to regulation as a means getting polluters--both businesses and consumers--to properly account for the damage they cause to our air, water, and soil.

It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States, Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks
A sober, scholarly look at an old question: Why no Socialism in the U.S.? Lipset and Marks identify several factors, including the lack of a feudal heritage, the two-party duopoly, the refusal of the Socialist Party to work with organized labor, particularly the AFL craft labor unions in the early part of the 20th century, a high degree of ideological orthodoxy which turned off the great mass of Catholic white ethnic immigrants, a refusal to organize among African-Americans, and a rigid sectarianism which prevented a coalition with FDR's Democratic Party. (Even the Communists, as part of the "popular front" strategy, joined the New Deal coalition, but the Socialists refused to make any such compromises.) Overall, the Socialists come off as a sectarian, educated clique more concerned with ideological purity and hostility to "reformism" than with gaining power, and it is little wonder that they failed as a political party. I see some of the same dynamics in the American left today.

Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell
A first-person account of Orwell's service on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War. Fascinating description of the sectarian struggles among the various Marxist and Communist factions. The infighting on the Republican side probably contributed to their defeat. As in America during the New Deal, the Communists here are the pragmatic ones, trying to support the bourgeois Republicans against the Fascists while at the same time fighting the hard-line Marxists on the Communists' left who wanted an immediate workers' revolution in Spain. One reason the USSR didn't want a revolution in Spain is because it didn't want to upset its bourgeois ally France.

The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell
In 1937, a Socialist book club in the UK sent George Orwell north to coal mining country to document the condition of the unemployed worker. In the first part of this book, Orwell paints a gripping but unsentimental picture of a coal-miner's life: 12 hours a day, six days a week, shoveling coal while on his knees because the ceiling is only 4 feet high and prone to cave-in. In the second part of the book, Orwell tears into the smug complacency of his fellow middle-class Socialists for whom Socialism is little more than a fashion. He doesn't believe, if push came to shove and Socialism really did come, that these armchair theorists would actually give up the class privileges that they enjoy.


Anonymous said...

Hey, does this mean that you finally made it home from Ireland? What a vacation! Now if we can just get some summer league boxscores....

First, I love George Orwell as I think you know. He was dead on with that comment, as with most others.

Second, on the why never socialism never got established here, you missed some good Samuel Gompers stuff at the party last year.. hope you guys can make it down this year. We're looking at mid September 16th.


P.S. Don't worry -- we will have plenty of sauces for you and Helen to try...

Eve's Apple said...

I'm a big fan of those post-apocalyptic scenarios, too! It's been ages since I read The Stand...

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