Don Hosek - Past reading - Political Science

In another life I could have been a PoliSci major. In this one, I just read books.

What I've been read in the past - Political Science
DateAuthorTitle
Red Chicago: American Communism at its Grassroots, 1928–35 by Randi Storch
[Finished 26 January 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

Unlocking the Census with GIS by Alan Peters and Heather MacDonald
[Finished 3 January 2016] See my review at dahosek.com

Best American Essays 2014 edited by John Jeremiah Sullivan
[Finished 22 May 2015] By far, to me the star of the volume was Lawrence Jackson’s “Slickheads,” which does a lot to work with language. Wells Tower’s piece on Burning Man was an intriguing look at a subculture from a “norm” perspective. John H. Culver’s essay about his wife’s death while on a trip to Rome was another dramatically memorable piece as was Ariel Levy’s account of her miscarriage in Mongolia.

In Defense of Lost Causes by Slavoj Žižek
[Finished 16 April 2015] See my review at dahosek.com

Dynamite: A History of Class Violence in America by Louis Adamic
[Finished 23 May 2012] I’ve been on a bit of a radical reading tear. Here, Adamic gives a history of the labor movement from the early nineteenth century until the late 1920s, using violence as his framing device for understanding the development of relations between labor, capital and the state. Adamic’s socialist sympathies are clearly on display and he’s more sanguine about the use of violence than my own Menshevik sensibilities can allow. On the other hand, he clearly blames the use of violence by trade unions for the eventual takeover of those unions by organized crime, itself a development which he doesn’t have a clear view pro or con for.

Most surprising, though, is how much the economic conditions of today mirror those of the early twentieth century. It makes me even more fearful of a Republican takeover of the government in this year’s elections.

An Anthology of Western Marxism from Lukacs and Gramsci to Socialist-Feminism edited by Roger S. Gottlieb
[Finished 22 May 2012] A nice diverse collection of essays. Some of the essays end up feeling a bit dated, especially many of the socialist-feminism essays, a fact thrown into stark contrast because of the presence of Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Life without Father” which points out how much of the patriarchy theory has fallen apart with the movement of women into the labor force since the 1970s (although having watched a fair amount of 1970s television I can understand how much those sorts of patriarchal ideas permeated American culture, at least).

Perhaps most interesting to me was Gramsci’s critique of the Catholic Church which managed to be especially apt with the state of the church in the early 21st century. I really need to read more Gramsci.

Man and the State by Jacques Maritain
[Finished 23 January 2011] An interesting bit of political philosophy. There are some things that I find myself feeling dubious about, and apparently Maritain is classified as a political conservative which would go a long way to understanding my discomfort.

I Don't Believe in Atheists by Chris Hedges
[Finished 29 August 2010] Frankly, a bit of a disappointment. I had expected a reasoned critique of the “new atheists”, but instead Hedges uses them as a launch pad for a critique of the neocon world view (a box I’m not entirely sure that the new atheists completely fit into). Add into it a rather didactic tone in the writing and I found myself put off from the book a good amount.

There are some good points, although a lot of these come not from Hedges so much as from his sources (his writing in the final chapter on Proust’s view of memories was especially nice, if not entirely on topic).

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber
[Finished 25 June 2010] As someone not especially sympathetic to either capitalism or protestantism, this was an odd book to read. There seems to be a fair amount of assertions made without basis, and assumptions of good in areas where I would argue that the premise is flawed (for instance, his view that a worker who responds to a pay raise by reducing the amount of work being done is acting against his own self-interest).

I remember this book being mentioned as important reading by one of my professors in my undergrad days, but I don’t remember which professor or why they felt that it was important to read, a question that I puzzled over as I read this. I think that I had a vague notion that Weber would be writing in a more critical mode than he was, and while he makes token efforts to establish his correlation does not imply causation bona fides, they remain nothing more than tokens.

Social and Political Philosophy: Readings From Plato to Gandhi edited by John Somerville and Ronald Santoni
[Finished 13 November 2009] A nicely curated selection of readings from Plato to Gandhi. It was my first time reading any of Hitler’s writings and I have to admit feeling violated as a I read his racist and anti-semitic ranting. Truly disturbing. Jefferson’s comments about the political theorists of past ages not necessarily being applicable to his present time seems surprisingly applicable now. And reading Marx and Engels I was reminded that yes, I am truly a Marxist at heart.

The Zapatista Reader edited by Tom Hayden
[Finished 9 November 2009] I had decided that I needed to know a bit more about the Zapatista movement than my casual acquaintance with the facts provided (and that the wikipedia article covered), so based on a citation of this book by wikipedia, I decided to dig a bit deeper.

As might be expected in a book edited by Tom Hayden, there is a strong leftist slant in the information provided, something which left me a little dissatisfied as I found a fair amount of the writing felt more like hagiography than analysis (although there were a few token dissenting pieces, I would expect there to be a greater depth of serious critique of the Zapatista project in existence. Then again, given the intellectual bankruptcy of American conservatism, perhaps not). Most appealing were the direct interactions with Subcommandante Marcos whose intelligence, wit and charisma show in his writings and his interviews with others. I also found a wealth of background on the history and sociology of Mexico in general and Chiapas in particular.

My primary complaint about the book is that the choice of organization fails to provide a comprehensive narrative and Hayden’s introductions tended to be redundant rather than illuminating.

Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organizationm and Strategy in the California Farm Workers Movement by Marshall Ganz
[Finished 24 September 2009] My wife saw this book sitting on my desk while I was reading and asked whether I had been inspired by an exhibit of photographs of Chicano history we had seen a week earlier. I told her no, I needed to learn how to organize farm workers for a short story that I was writing.

And given that I had this rather prosaic goal in mind, this book did a great job of explaining what made the UFW movement so successful. Ganz was one of the early outside volunteers with the movement who later moved into an organizational position with the UFW. He provides a clear-eyed accounting of what happened, and is never afraid to talk about mistakes that were made, nor does he treat Cesar Chavez as an infallible saint (the final chapter that talks about the decline of the UFW is especially noteworthy in this respect; it’s very common for progressives to want to overlook the faults of their leaders, especially charismatic and successful leaders like Chavez. Ganz has no such illusions and while he is able to point to the successful moves of Chavez with the rest of them, he has no problem discussing Chavez’s failings and the organizational problems of the latter-day UFW).

Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring by Pete Earley
[Finished 18 July 2009] As much a character study of a man (John Walker) with antisocial personality disorder as an account of espionage. Earley makes some odd decisions, like not pointing out until near the end that there are some big questions about how Walker first approached the Soviets to begin his spying. Perhaps some of the pages that had been torn out of the library copy that I read would have resolved these issues I had with the book, but it was still a fast compelling read and I had a hard time putting the book down during the time I spent reading it.

God in the White House: A History: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush by Randall Balmer
[Finished 14 May 2009] A bit disappointingly thin. I felt like there was a great deal more that could be said on the subject than Balmer does, and was left wondering why he couldn’t have written more on the topic.

For example, a single chapter covers religion and presidential politics from Alfred Smith through Kennedy, and it seemed like we were rushing through each presidency thereafter.

The Bush Tragedy by Jacob Weisberg
[Finished 5 September 2008] An intriguing look at Bush’s background and ruling through the lens of Shakespearean tragedy. A surprisingly sympathetic yet disturbing account.

Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia's Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War by Pete Earley
[Finished 4 August 2008] An interesting account of the life of a KGB officer who ultimately defected to the U.S. at the end of his career, not because he had ever grown disturbed by communism, but because he had become disturbed by the kleptocracy which replaced it.

The Unknown Karl Marx edited by Robert Payne
[Finished 5 October 2007] This was a less interesting collection than I had hoped. It’s a hodge-podge of materials by and about Marx which had not been previously published in English. These included Marx’s essays for graduation from gymnasium, a pair of embarrassing conspiracy theory pamphlets about how the Russians were secretly controlling Lord Palmerston, his wife’s unpublished short autobiography (with deletions, presumably, by Marx’s daughter) and some letters from Marx’s daughter to his illegitimate son). Nothing that really justified the purchase price. There was more of an intriguing look at the “unknown” Marx in the introduction to the Viking Portable Karl Marx.

Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter
[Finished 18 January 2007] I was curious to hear what Jimmy Carter had to say about the Palestine-Israel matter, especially in the wake of the controversies which followed the publication of his newest book. Was Carter really presenting an unbalanced view of matters in Israel?

Having finished the book, I think that the answer is that he’s probably not being unfair in his assessment of the situation. I think that one could make a case for unbalanced, but unbalanced is not the same as unfair. A balanced view of global warming or evolution, for example, would not be appropriate since one side is clearly in the wrong on the matter.

In the case of Israel, there is nothing in Carter’s book that contradicts the reporting from the area that I’ve read previously. There have been some facts that I was not aware of (for example, the Israeli security fence is entirely within Palestinian territory).

The history of the conflict that Carter provides is essential reading for anyone interested in knowing the background of the situation.

The only sustainable solution to the Palestinian question has been known for almost four decades: Israel needs to withdraw to its 1967 boundaries. Israel’s claim to any foreign occupation only provides justification for continued attacks upon Israel.

The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power by James Traub
[Finished 4 December 2006] I first heard about this book during an interview of James Traub on Fresh Air, so I decided to request it from the library. The interview turned out to be a bit more interesting than the book, largely a consequence of Traub’s writing style: The book reads as if it is a book-length newspaper article. Traub doesn’t provide many inessential details, a failing that reveals how essential the inessentials are.

The tale that Traub tells is an interesting account of recent history, largely focusing on the last decade. What I found most striking here is the contrast between the original hopes for the U.N. (FDR viewed it as a continuation of the alliance that won World War II), and the body which seems incapable of doing anything substantive, largely because of the unwillingness of the member states to take action. The Bush years have been hard on the U.N., but they’re to a certain extent a continuation of the US’s ambivalent relationship with the U.N. As someone who was raised on idealistic internationalism (not to mention eight years of Model U.N. in High School and College), it’s a tough pill to swallow when looking at how the world community has let the U.N. turn things into such a bad situation. I almost wonder if a new body needs to be created, one which is closer to a United States of Earth model (similar to how the original articles of confederation of the US gave way to the constitution). Perhaps using economic cooperation as the bait to get states to guarantee basic rights to their citizens and to yield the necessary level of sovereignity to this global body to make it truly workable.

On Atheistic Communism by Pope Pius XI
[Finished 16 March 2005] Written in 1937, Pius’ primary concern is the anti-Catholic activities of the Communists in Russia, Spain and Mexico. And certainly from this perspective a harsh perspective on communism is well-granted, but I question the doctrinal foundations of a Christian right to private property. Perhaps more interestingly, though, the politics of this letter seem to be pretty much aligned with American liberalism (which is not to be confused with Liberalism as it is referred to in the book, which in many cases, is not what a contemporary reader would recognize as liberalism at all). Pius goes to great lengths to speak of the importance of workers receiving a just wage and fair conditions, and ultimately that the most important Good is spiritual and not materialistic.

The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century by Paul Krugman
[Finished 17 December 2003] A disturbing look at what’s happening in America today. I was only able to read this a few columns at a time. More than that and the despair got to be too much.

One of the startling things is just how far to the right the Republican leadership has taken the country. The Bush crowd are still worse as they aren’t even driven by ideology so much as the sheer desire for power regardless of the consequences. I hate to imagine what will be left of this country should Bush be elected in 2004.

The Elements of Social Scientific Thinking by Kenneth R. Hoover
[Finished 6 May 2003] A fairly non-descript textbook introducing social science majors to the methods used in social science research.

Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution by Che Guevara
[Finished 12 June 2002] A fascinating collection of essays and speeches by Che Guevara, arranged in chronological order, they provide some insight into the development of the Cuban revolution. Some of the most fascinating, to me, are the speeches from the 60s where we learn how the Cubans were struggling with transitioning to a strictly sugar-based economy to one where they began producing some of the goods which previously had to be imported, in particular soda and toothpaste, both of which provided unique challenges to the nascent industial sector.

And through it all, Che’s idealism remains, which is perhaps the most interesting part of all.

Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose
[Finished 3 June 2002] Let’s see:

  1. There’s not enough money in the world to get me to live in Texas. Man, that place is messed up.
  2. This is the guy who’s running the U.S.? Things are worse than I thought.

Written before the election, but still very much relevant.

The Making of the President 1960 by Theodore H. White
[Finished 17 August 2001] WIth all the attention focused on his assassination, it’s easy to overlook the bitterly contested and controversial election of John F Kennedy in 1960. This book was san early example of the “instant” book, compiled shortly after the election.

For me this was an eye-opener: It was fascinating to get a snap-shot of the realignment of American politics that began with Roosevelt’s election in 1932 and reached its culmination with Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”. Definitely worth reading, especially in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election.

Chicanos, Catholicsm And Political Ideology by Lawrence J. Mosqueda
[Finished 14 April 2001] Heavy number crunching looking at the patterns of religiosity and political belief among Mexican immigrants in the American southwest. Much of what the mainstream media seems to find surprising (they’re not all Catholics and they’re not all democrats) is quite clearly outlined here.

My Life by Leon Trotsky
[Finished 11 December 1999] Perhaps it’s because I read this immediately after Newman’s autobiography (below), but I saw a lot of parallels between the two works. Both use the autobiography form as a means of justifying their opinions and actions in the face of the attacks of an opponent (Stalin in the case of Trotsky, Kingsley for Newman). Trotsky’s autobiography is less rhetorically sophisticated than Newman’s but ultimately is a more interesting read, because of that very trait.

Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words
[Finished 23 November 1999] I picked this book up at an anti-war rally back in ‘91, but never got around to reading it. Frankly it struck me as being unlikely to be interesting (why I got in the first place escapes me). But it finally percolated to the top of my reading list and it’s been quite a surprise. Much of what Peace Pilgrim says could be my own words and her life is one that I have aspired to. I find some of her spiritual perspectives to be a bit odd, but her life, truly in the spirit of St Francis, is quite astonishing.

Modern Political Analysis by Robert A. Dahl
[Finished 31 July 1999] Not particularly remarkable. Some leftover unread stuff from college.

The Portable Karl Marx edited by Eugene Kamenka
[Finished 6 May 1999] A nice collection of writings by and about Marx. I especially love the story early on where Marx “swopped knives” with a youth who had no idea to whom he was making his request.

The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, translated by Richard Crawley
[Finished 3 March 1998] A long dry account of a long dry war between Athens and Sparta. I have to rank this as a book that I’d rather have read than read.

Mouthful of Rocks by Christian Jennings
[Finished 27 June 1997] This is why I’m not going to join the French Foreign Legion.

Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture edited by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg
[Finished 29 April 1997] An incredibly jargon-laden work. Sadly, many of the contributors really have nothing to say and spend a long time not saying it. On a few occasions, however, some of the contributions really shine and remind one that not all of academia is populated by mediocrity.

Analytical Marxism edited by John Roemer
[Finished July 1995] An interesting book, taking, as its title suggests, an analytical approach to Marxist ideas. Since there is no sense of sola scriptura among Marxists, every idea and assumption is open to critique (more so, even then among capitalists, for whom profit is an unquestionable Good). Tools such as game theory help bring Marxist ideas into better focus. Interestingly, many of the authors reach contradictory conclusions. As is all-to-common among contemporary social scientists, there is a tendency to obfuscate the prose with needless mathematics, but there is still quite a bit to be learned here.