Continuing on with this year’s reader’s indigestion series, here are the seven books I’ve read in February, and what I thought of them.
- Imperial America by Gore Vidal
This is my first venture into Vidal’s wealth of prolific political work, and I cannot be happier to be introduced to this man’s genius. I have since read a number of his books (as this February entry will attest to) and have been informed, enlightened, and moved to great smirks and occasional bouts of laughter from the joy of reading his work. In this book, Vidal highlights the imperial traditions of the USA and the thrashing of our Bill of Rights through congress and various administrations. Among my favorite lines in the book, “We are permanently the United States of Amnesia. We learn nothing because we remember nothing.”
2. Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges
Mr. Hedges is much more somber writer than Gore Vidal. Yet I found this book to be nonetheless fascinating and informative. Death of the Liberal Class centers around the fact that liberal apologists and their out-casting of the radical left in favor of more “centrist” or more accurately, right-wing political candidates and/or writers/speakers have decimated liberalism to a subservient and tattered status of ideology. The word “liberal” has in many fashions been downgraded to a pejorative, especially since the 1940’s and 50’s headed the Communist witch hunt, in which the left were demonized as either communist or communist sympathizers. Thus, the left of politics watered itself down. Indeed, the left spends too much time rolling in the muck of old, social democratic rhetoric and too little in the way of radical congressional action. The Democrats are corporate-sponsored wolves in sheep’s clothing, most no better than the Republicans. Topics such at the rise of the Federal Theater, WWI paradigm setting of propaganda during the Woodrow Wilson administration (among the most hilarious things I’ve read about — “liberty cabbage!”), and the shallow distractions of our consumer culture. A tremendous read.
3. Hegemony or Survival?: America’s Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky
Here is yet another of my first ventures into the work of an iconic political/linguistic intellectual. I must admit, I find Mr. Chomsky’s lectures to be full of vital information — yet his vocal delivery is dry and monotonous. It is difficult for me to sit through an entire video lecture of his. So, I prefer his writing, as his voice is easily substituted for a preferable one, my own. In this books, concepts such as “humanitarian intervention” and “noble uses of force” are widely held excuses for ripe abuse of US military power — primarily, an excuse for further imperialism and domination of an other country’s land and resources. Also discussed is our administrations’ lack of care for UN advisory. The US has a history of invading other countries whether the charters agree or even the opinion of the rest of the civilized world agrees or not. We do what we want, and often take force over the law in the interests of our “national security”. We topple democratically elected governments in favor of dictatorships which will serve as better sports to US foreign property interests — to often include, oil and natural gas.
4. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
A classic and important political document which I made sure to visit, along with a regular re-visiting of the US Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. I believe the Communist Manifesto has a few viable ideas worthy of contemplation — though I do not identify with such a pure democracy. The words “bourgeoisie” and “proletariat” are cemented in the popular lexicon for all time, I believe, due to this vital pamphlet which argues against the rich minority oppression of the working class majority.
5. Dreaming War: Blood for Oil & the Cheney/Bush Junta
After reading Imperial America, I had to search out more of Vidal’s latter works regarding our century of American history. In a matter of no more than a night and a morning I had finished this short book, and despite its brevity in length, I found it very informative. In Dreaming War, I learned that Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor was not unprovoked by FDR, that Harry Truman did not necessarily have to drop atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (as Japan wanted to surrender by May 1945 after the devastation of Tokyo by US B-29 bombers), and that Stalin did not start the Cold War via denying our access to Berlin. I have much research to do on these topics still, but I am intrigued.
6. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
My first official introduction to Stoic philosophy. It occurs to me how much better off this country would be if it unilaterally decided to ditch the Gideon Bible from every hotel room in the country in favor of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. The Stoics believe in the rule of our will/reason over our passions and desires, that we should not worry about things out of our control (which happens to be most things), that we should accept death gracefully and set our sights not on immortality, but on the present as it exists. Also curious is the ancient physics theories of Stoicism, which posits a universal substance out of which is manifested you, me, that tree in the backyard, the planets and stars, etc. etc. This universal material is referred to by many names such as “Reason”, “Nature”, “Logos”, “Mind-fire”, ETC. I’m partial to that last title, myself.
Marcus wrote a series of very wise and reflective proverbs and aphorisms over a period of ten years while serving as emperor of Rome from 161-180 AD. I have many favorite passages, but for now I’ll share just one, from Book Twelve, passage number 21:
“Soon enough, remember, you yourself must become a vagrant thing of nothingness; soon enough everything that now meets your eye, together with all those in whom is now the breath of life, must be no more. For all things are born to change and pass away and perish, that others in their turn may come to be.”
I think we could all due with a little resilience and fortitude and acceptance of things as they are. The Stoics had a lot of things right, I think.
7. Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How We Got to be So Hated by Gore Vidal
My last read for February required that I return again to Vidal, whose writing is clear, direct, powerful, and incredibly brilliant and witty. The man was an incredible writer and personality. I highly recommend his books, as well as watching the very well-made documentary about Gore Vidal, “The United States of Amnesia”. Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace is another book about American imperialism, especially centered on the fact that counter-attack terrorism or “blow-back” is a real and serious reality for countries whom spend most of their time attacking and establishing constant military presence in lands foreign to their jurisdiction. Subjects such as 9/11 and Timothy McVeigh are highlights of this short book, along with a list of 200 unprovoked attacks by the US military on other countries. Can we not see how other countries might not be a bit grumpy with us?
Hope you enjoyed this list of authors and books.