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Mike Davis reading list

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Mike Davis and Jon Wiener provide the first comprehensive movement history of L.A. in the sixties, drawing on extensive archival research and dozens of interviews with principal figures, as well as the authors’ storied personal histories as activists. Following on from Davis’s awardwinning L.A. history, City of Quartz, Set the Night on Fire is a historical tour de force, delivered in scintillating and fiercely beautiful prose.
 

Los Angeles in the sixties was a hotbed of political and social upheaval. The city was a launchpad for Black Power—where Malcolm X and Angela Davis first came to prominence and the Watts uprising shook the nation. The city was home to the Chicano Blowouts and Chicano Moratorium, as well as being the birthplace of “Asian American” as a political identity. It was a locus of the antiwar movement, gay liberation movement, and women’s movement, and, of course, the capital of California counterculture.

Davis explores Marx’s inquiries into two key questions of our time: Who can lead a revolutionary transformation of society? And what is the cause—and solution—of the planetary environmental crisis? Davis consults a vast archive of labor history to illuminate new aspects of Marx’s theoretical texts and political journalism. He offers a “lost Marx,” whose analyses of historical agency, nationalism, and the “middle landscape” of class struggle are crucial to the renewal of revolutionary thought in our darkening age. 

Prisoners of the American Dream is Mike Davis’s brilliant exegesis of a persistent and major analytical problem for Marxist historians and political economists: Why has the world’s most industrially advanced nation never spawned a mass party of the working class? This series of essays surveys the history of the American bourgeois democratic revolution from its Jacksonian beginnings to the rise of the New Right and the re-election of Ronald Reagan, concluding with some bracing thoughts on the prospects for progressive politics in the United States.

In City of Quartz, Davis reconstructs L.A.’s shadow history and dissects its ethereal economy. He tells us who has the power and how they hold on to it. He gives us a city of Dickensian extremes, Pynchonesque conspiracies, and a desperation straight out of Nathaniel Westa city in which we may glimpse our own future mirrored with terrifying clarity.

In this brilliant and ambitious book, Mike Davis explores the future of a radically unequal and explosively unstable urban world. From the sprawling barricadas of Lima to the garbage hills of Manila, urbanization has been disconnected from industrialization, and even from economic growth. He argues that the rise of this informal urban proletariat is a wholly unforeseen development, and asks whether the great slums, as a terrified Victorian middle class once imagined, are volcanoes waiting to erupt.

Examining a series of El Niño-induced droughts and the famines that they spawned around the globe in the last third of the 19th century, Mike Davis discloses the intimate, baleful relationship between imperial arrogance and natural incident that combined to produce some of the worst tragedies in human history.

In this provocative history, Mike Davis traces the its worldwide use and development, in the process exposing the role of state intelligence agencies—particularly those of the United States, Israel, India, and Pakistan—in globalizing urban terrorist techniques. Davis argues that it is the incessant impact of car bombs, rather than the more apocalyptic threats of nuclear or bio-terrorism, that is changing cities and urban lifestyles, as privileged centers of power increasingly surround themselves with “rings of steel” against a weapon that nevertheless seems impossible to defeat.

Davis focuses on the great drama of how Latinos are attempting to translate their urban demographic ascendancy into effective social power. Pundits are now unanimous that Spanish-surname voters are the sleeping giant of US politics. Yet electoral mobilization alone is unlikely to redress the increasing income and opportunity gaps between urban Latinos and suburban non-Hispanic whites. Thus in Los Angeles and elsewhere, the militant struggles of Latino workers and students are reinventing the American left.