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This Month In Books

Capsule reviews of new political nonfiction…

Whenever a book is released, the public has only one question. Not “Is it any good?” but “What does Respectable Opinion have to say about it?” As one of the country’s foremost manufacturers of Respectable Opinion, Current Affairs is here to ensure that the aforesaid question does not go unanswered.


Liza Featherstone (ed.), “False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton,” Verso, $14.95

Are we biased toward liking this book merely because it contains contributions from three Current Affairs writers? Of course we are. But that is only because a book containing contributions from Current Affairs writers is certain to be excellent. In assembling False Choices, Liza Featherstone has collected work from some of the most exciting and talented feminist writers in the country. This book is smart, fun, and iconoclastic. (Chapter One, by Kathleen Geier, is titled “Hillary Clinton, Economic Populist: Are You Fucking Kidding Me?”) It devastatingly punctures the liberal myth that Hillary Clinton is a reliable fighter on behalf of women; certainly that’s not true for the women of Honduras, or those in America’s prisons. False Choices should finally (but won’t) kill the nasty myth spread by Twitter-dwelling Clintonites that strong critiques of Hillary emanate from a cabal of misogynistic “Bernie Bros.” The book’s contributors approach Hillary’s record from a number of different angles, but always with wit and verve. But the best thing about False Choices has nothing to do with its subject matter. The book is refreshing because it shows that thoughtful, independent left-wing feminist criticism is alive and well. The writers in False Choices are not jargon-laden in their prose or dogmatic in their politics; they are fundamentally concerned with writing well. False Choices proves that feminist political analysis need not be predictable or stodgy; it can be fun, vicious, and vibrant. The women whose essays comprise False Choices are worth reading on any subject. If only there was a magazine in which one could regularly find their work.


Patrick Cockburn, “Chaos & Caliphate: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East,” OR Books, $28.00

Patrick Cockburn is strangely neglected by the American media, even though is doing some of the most intelligent analysis of the Middle East. This book is adapted from his diaries and articles of the past 10-plus years, recounting the breakdown of Iraq and the rise of ISIS. It’s a very good guide to the players and their motivations, though it can all get somewhat exhausting, and Cockburn’s documentation of the endless absurdity and futility of it all will no doubt depress.


Jonathan Tepperman, “The Fix: How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World In Decline,” Penguin, $28.00

We were badgered by a publicist into reviewing this book. When Current Affairs asked Penguin Publishing  for a complimentary review copy of Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, the publisher was happy to oblige. However, the Penguins imposed a condition: they asked if in addition to Desmond’s award-winning and harrowing account of residential instability among America’s urban poor, we would also be willing to receive a copy of Jonathan Tepperman’s The Fix (of which we had never heard). Because the motto of the Current Affairs book review desk has always been “We’ll review anything!” we dutifully assented, and now we have a copy of this Tepperman thing cluttering the office. Anyway, we haven’t read it. We meant to read it, or at least speak to someone who had. But time was short, and the back cover bored us. It looks, from our limited flick-through, like Tepperman is some kind of second-rate Thomas Friedman, and the book is one of those Big Thoughts surveys of the new global economic paradigm. He should probably do a TED talk, if he hasn’t already. Tepperman has a bulleted list of how to fix our global problems; as always, beware those who come bearing bulleted lists. Of course, maybe it’s not as bad as we suspect. Reading a book is often a good way to find out what it says, although you can nearly always judge a book by its cover. Nevertheless, we resent being deluged with unsolicited pop economics tomes. Besides, the motto is “we’ll review anything,” not “we’ll read anything.


Leigh Phillips, “Austerity Ecology and the Collapse-Porn Addicts,” Zero Books, $27.95

Leigh Phillips is a socialist, but one infuriated by the tendency of his fellow lefties to fall for ludicrous hippie woo-woo when it comes to industry and the environment. He smartly and brutally takes down a few doomsayer icons of the green left like Derrick Jensen; Phillips believes in harnessing capitalism’s productive powers rather then needlessly jettisoning them. He’s overly fond of  industrial monstrosities, but Phillips comes across a charming chap, well-read and good fun to spend time around.


Roger Stone and Robert Morrow, “The Clintons’ War on Women,” Skyhorse Publishing, $27.95

There is an excellent book to be written about the Clintons from a feminist perspective. Unfortunately, we have this book, a collection of bizarre conspiratorial innuendos. Did you know Bill Clinton isn’t Chelsea Clinton’s father? That Bill Clinton’s own father isn’t his biological father? That everybody’s father is somebody else’s? Some good stuff in here about the way the Clintons discredited Bill’s rape and sexual assault accusers, but it’s sandwiched between too much sleaze about Vince Foster to be of any use.


Bryan Magee, “Ultimate Questions,” Princeton University Press, $16.95

There are two kinds of books in this world; those that remind readers that they are a skeleton under their skin, and those that do not. Bryan Magee’s Ultimate Questions is in the former category. Magee insists on relating of all the terrifying truths about our mortality and our absurd condition; we do not know what we are or what we are doing here, we are unable to understand the world and everything in it is bizarre and curious, albeit fascinating. This book is not for those who dislike thinking of themselves as being confused, purposeless animals.


Charles Glass, “Syria Burning: ISIS and the Death of the Arab Spring,” Verso, $16.95

Charles Glass is very good at his job, if only because he thinks reporting on Syria should involve… talking to Syrians. The best parts of this book are his recounting of the effects of the present conflict upon the lives of ordinary people. This is an informative, succinct, and straightforward overview of the present state of Syria, featuring illuminating detours into the country’s history. Glass is the sort of fellow who helps us make sense of things.

Cover of latest issue of print magazine

Announcing Our Newest Issue


Spreading Sweetness and Light! Current Affairs takes on hellfire, why teens love socialism, the magic of Motown, and the legacy of Huey Long. Cover art by Aleksandra Waliszewska.

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