A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet by Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore (University of California Press in the US / Verso in the UK, 2018)
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (Knopf, 2018)
Two very different and extraordinary books I have read this year contest the narrowing of the boundaries of historical, social and political imaginations and the limiting of concepts of citizenship. In contrast to contemporary calls to confine black history to an exclusive concern with lineage within the United States Esi Edugyan, a Canadian novelist, constructs a narrative shaped by movement and the concept of diaspora displacing the US as definitive of stories of black life. Washington Black is an epic narrative of black enslavement and fugitivity which transcends geopolitical borders. The narrator writes as a “Freeman in possession of his own person” who was born enslaved, possibly in Barbados in 1818 or, perhaps, shackled in the hold as illicit cargo in a Dutch ship. His difficult journey to emancipate his body and his sense of personhood traverses many landscapes of black presence, the Caribbean, the United States, the Arctic, Nova Scotia, London, Amsterdam and Morocco and in the process situates the human in multiple complex and rich environmental, ecological and scientific worlds. It is extraordinary.
In A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things, Raj Patel and Jason Moore want us to understand our planetary age as the Capitalocene rather than the Anthropocene in order to grasp what is at stake in current social conflicts, what reparations need to be made to enable meaningful solidarity, and to reckon with modernity’s capacity to make us forget the bloody history and consequences of the expulsion of most women, Indigenous peoples, and Africans from definitions of the human. Capitalism, they demonstrate is a violent and destructive world ecology with strategies and practices that cheapen all forms of work, human, animal, botanical and geological. In a series of brilliant, compelling, lucid and accessible analyses they show how our modern world has been produced from practices and sets of relations that cheapen nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. Their aim is that we not only understand the roots of contemporary economic, social, political injustice in the context of climate crisis and disaster of mass extinction but having faced this history transform our future. --Hazel V. Carby, author of Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands
Cruel Fiction by Wendy Trevino (Commune Editions, 2018)
Cruel Fiction by Wendy Trevino is a book of poetry you can read on the frontlines. Detonator sentences — such as, “[a] border, like race, is a cruel fiction” — draw lines in the dirt between “us” and “them.” Trevino’s searing poetry is both a revolutionary love letter to the comrades at the barricades and hate mail to movement sell-outs. Some who claim to be with us aren’t really with us, she warns. Certainly, Wendy Trevino is with us. Read it, let the feelings sink in, and join us. --Nick Estes, author of Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance
Retablos: Stories From a Life Lived Along the Border by Octavio Solis (City LIghts, 2018)
A mesmerizing memoir rendered in short stories of Octavio Solis' life growing up in El Paso, right along the border. Each story comes packed with wisdom, insight, and extraordinary compassion. It's the type of book that before you know it begins to swim into your thoughts (and maybe dreams) and subtly changes the way you think. This was especially true for me for another reason: I was reading Retablos at the same time the El Paso Walmart massacre happened in August. --Todd Miller, author of Empire of Borders The Expansion of the US Border around the World
Shout Your Abortion by Amelia Bonow and Emily Nokes (PM Press, 2018)
In what is surely the first coffee table book about abortion, the originators of the wildly successful hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion have compiled wonderful testimonies, photos, art, and stories of those who got abortions, along with interviews with abortion providers, to make this colorful, engaging book celebrating the right to control our reproduction. It’s a refreshing change from the apologetic defenses of abortion that have become standard from the nonprofits that claim to be leading our fight. These groups have been defending abortion as “our right to privacy” when it fact was speaking out publicly about our abortions fifty years ago that launched the successful women’s liberation struggle to legalize abortion on demand. Shout Your Abortion follows in this radical tradition, a necessary part of the feminist resurgence needed to expand reproductive freedom. --Jenny Brown, author of Without Apology: The Abortion Struggle Now (Verso, 2019), and Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight over Women’s Work (PM Press, 2019)
Follow Me Akhi: the Online World of British Muslims by Hussein Kesvani (Hurst, 2019)
A really interesting book I read this year is Hussein Kesvani’s, Follow Me Akhi: the Online World of British Muslims, an absorbing account of the diverse digital worlds inhabited by young British Muslims. What is really important about the many stories that comprise this narrative is the sense of diversity, dissent & debate that arises from them, militating against the routinely homogeneous sense of diasporic Muslim communities that circulate not just in the mainstream media but sometimes in progressive circles too. Here are stories, some funny and others sad, covering dating disasters and porn habits to arguments over correct religious practices and feminism. We hear of fascinating encounters with online abusers and far-right trolls sitting in lonely bedrooms as well as vloggers and influencers who navigate the interstices of pop culture and orthodox Islam. This is an at once politically significant account of a heterogeneous milieu and a wonderfully lively narrative of lives lived as all human lives are—full of paradoxes, doubts, humour, love and poignancy. --Priyamvada Gopal, author of Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent
Time is the Thing a Body Moves Through by T. Fleishmann ((Coffee House Press, 2019)
Time is the Thing a Body Moves Through really gave me joy. How do we make a way of life together, here in the ruins? How do we share stories, with and for and about each other, but discreetly? Without any compulsion to confess. How can we practice an aesthetics that is also a politics of everyday life? How can we put gender in question, but without expecting any answers? Loved it so much I had to write, not about it, but with it, as if it was a new friend. --McKenzie Wark, author of Capital is Dead: Is This Something Worse?
Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family by Sophie Lewis (Verso, 2019)
My holiday wish is for the surrogates of the world to unite! I’m using Sophie Lewis’ definition of “surrogate” here, because it’s my great hope that it catches on: "By surrogates," writes Lewis in Full Surrogacy Now, “I mean all those comradely gestators, midwives, and other sundry interveners in the more slippery moments of social reproduction: repairing boats swimming across borders; blockading lake-threatening pipelines; carrying; miscarrying. Let’s all learn right now how comradely beings can help mitigate, interrupt, suffer and reorganize this amniotic violence." Full Surrogacy Now swept me away with its capacious scope and political vision: it’s a book about labor–the text offers a searing critique of the surrogacy industry under philanthro-capitalism and the nauseating myths of that surround it–but it is above all a utopian challenge to put "full surrogacy" into practice every day. To recognize our "wateriness" and implicatedness; to live with and for each other. To decimate the original/surrogate dyad tout court. Not to mention Lewis’ delicious prose: lyrical, philosophical and biting. I’ve not read anything like it in years. --Natasha Lennard, author of Being Numerous: Essays on Non-Fascist Life
My Affairs: A Memoir of the Magazine Industry (2016-2076) by Nathan J. Robinson (independently published, 2019)
One of the exciting features of our political moment is that, for the first time in decades, it’s possible again to envision a socialist future. A fictional memoir written in the year 2076 by an eccentric magazine editor, My Affairs recounts the socialist transformation of the United States and the world after Bernie Sanders becomes president, followed by Sara Nelson, then Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It’s a lovely and eccentric book, overflowing with food for thought and vivid descriptions of what a better world would look and feel like. By envisioning a radically different tomorrow, Robinson allows us to see how the current state of affairs is strange and arbitrary, not inevitable. --Eric Blanc, author of Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics
A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal by Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofrancos (Verso Books, 2019)
We all know what the science says about climate change. Until recently, and despite the best efforts of a militant movement for climate justice, increasingly gloomy reports from bodies like the IPCC have been met mainly with ineffectual market-oriented policies and admirable but small-scale utopian experiments. The Green New Deal promises something far more ambitious and radical: a wholesale process of decarbonization that simultaneously dismantles the nation’s festering social inequalities. The most comprehensive blueprint for GND yet published, A Planet to Win offers admirably detailed and engagingly imagined plans for transforming our energy systems, housing, cities, and transportation. The book convincingly demonstrates that the only path to avert ecocide is a radically egalitarian just transition. As we struggle to build a climate politics for the 99%, A Planet to Win is a beacon in the dark. --Ashley Dawson, author of Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change
Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 by W.E.B. Du Bois (Simon & Shuster)
I recently read W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction and was blown away. It is a masterpiece of Marxian historiography–on a par with Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution and, for that matter, with The Eighteenth Brumaire. A brilliant, towering achievement. --Nancy Fraser, co-author of Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto
Red Tory: My Corbyn Chem-Sex Hell by Huw Lemmey (Montez Press, 2019)
I read all manner of incredible books by mostly American comrades this year, but because (back over the other side of the Atlantic) the Labour Party is writhing around in precisely the kind of phobic anti-utopian convulsions Huw Lemmey caricatures so brilliantly in his pornographic parliamentary fan fiction, this Christmas I have to nominate Red Tory: My Corbyn Chem-Sex Hell - for reasons of pleasure and post-election palliative care. Not only did I laugh so hard I injured myself (at the Islington falafelistas; flying croissants; orgies of sodomitical delight ruined by pig-fucker Tories), I was profoundly moved by the vision of porous transcorporeal acid communism on which Red Tory ends, having dosed the nation's water supply. This summer, friends of mine spontaneously launched dramatic readings of the entirety of this novel over the course of a weekend in the English countryside, explaining to the non-Brits amongst us that "this was all you would ever need to know to understand UK politics." I stand by this, now more than ever. --Sophie Lewish, author of Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family
Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance by Nick Estes (Verso Books, 2019)
Nick Estes’ Our History Is the Future is an instant classic. The book is many things at once: a personal and collective recounting of the Standing Rock protests to block the Dakota Access Pipeline; an indigenous peoples’ history of the place now called the United States; a manifesto for decolonization and socialism; and a meditation on the past, present, and future of indigenous internationalism. As a planner and a geographer, I particularly appreciated Estes’ descriptions of how another world can be made – both in the barricades of an encampment and in the long, hard work of revolutionary transformation. As the title suggests, Our History Is the Future illuminates not only how the world we know came to be, but how it might be remade anew. --Samuel Stein, author of Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State
Neoliberalism from Below: Popular Pragmatics and Baroque Economies by Verónica Gago (Duke University Press, 2017)
This book by Veronica Gago, argentinian social scientist brings a new and refreshing view on neoliberalism. Published in Argentina in 2014 and focusing the illegal market of La Salada in Buenos Aires —Verónica Gago demonstrares that neoliberalism is promoted not just from above by international finance, corporations, and government, but also from bellow, the so called “informal” activities of marginalized groups.
--Raquel Rolnik, author of Urban Warfare: Housing Under the Empire of Finance
Mornings in Jenin: A Novel by Susan Abulhawa (Bloomsbury, 2010)
October: The Story of the Russian Revolution by China Miéville (Verso Books, 2017)
I’m always behind in my reading, so the two books that impressed me most in 2019 are a few years old. Susan Abulhawa’s Mornings in Jenin, and China Miéville’s October. Both of them revisit momentous historical events—the Nakba, the Naksa, and the Jenin Massacre in Abulhawa’s case, and the Bolshevik Revolution in Miéville’s—in ways that are irresistible. Abulhawa’s is a multi-generational narrative about a family whose members find themselves at the center of almost every drama in post-48 Palestinian history. In another author, these happenstance encounters might have come off as cheesy. But Abulhawa’s story (which I read with my 13 year old daughter) is about the inescapability, for Palestinians, of tragedy after tragedy, and she writes it with elegance and fiercely felt justice. Miéville manages to make 1917 fresh again through his painstaking reconstruction of the revolutionary months. In his re-telling, the dogma is wrung out to dry, there’s hope in the margins, and there is nothing like the decisive arrival on the scene of the radical sailors from Red Kronstadt. --Andrew Ross, author of Stone Men: The Palestinians Who Built Israel
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