Books of 2021 (non-fiction)

My yearly retrospective on the books I read, general impressions they left on me (if any of note). This post will go over the non-fiction works I’ve read and what I think about it in a line or two.

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism - Shoshana Zuboff

A truly monumental work. Blending philosophy, psychology, media studies and techno-criticism, Zuboff dissects the new type of capitalism as practiced (firstly) by the tech giants such as Google and Facebook. It’s excellent, insightful and warrants a whole review on its own. One that I started but ultimately never finished. Very much recommended.

1491 - Charles C. Mann

Not the most up-to-date history of the Americas before the European invasions, but still good to be confronted with my own misunderstandings of that other contintent, most especially the myth of the nature-loving ‘noble savage’ so to speak.

Cannibalism - Bill Schutt

I remember this as being a fun dive into the world of biology from an unusual perspective, without getting carried away and just be sensationalism. Good stuff.

Can Political Violence Ever Be Justified? - Elizabeth Frazer & Kimberly Hutchings

Short and clear overview of some of the different theories on political violence. I don’t necessarily agree with their conclusion that, in the end, it’s never justified, but the overview is definitely worth the read.

The Civil War in France - Karl Marx

Marx shows himself yet again a keen observer and interpreter of contemporary events - a very rare talent in any given age.

The Old Is Dying and the New Cannot Be Born - Nancy Fraser

The first of two Gramscian analyses I read this year on our current hegemonic period of struggle, mostly focussing on the American case. Inspiring in how to think about the advent and meaning of ‘neoliberalism’.

The Lost Revolution - Chris Harman

Trotskyite history of the German Revolution. Worth it, if only because the literature on this pivotal moment in history is spread very thin.

Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder - Vladimir Lenin

Post-revolution essay dealing with the left-wing adversaries, both inside Russia as internationally. Interesting as a historical document but in the end not as poignant as his other works.

Starry Speculative Corpse (Horror of Philosophy 2) - Eugene Thacker

Inspiring account of negative philosophy and the concept of ‘nothing’. Thacker shows an openness often lacking towards the religious and non-Western. Although ultimately, it’s more of an aesthetic appreciation for the dark, morbid and negative that is being explored, rather than a real philosophical defense, it’s a recommended read for those so inclined (such as myself).

Vooruit! - Ico Maly

A critique of the new direction of the Belgian social-democratic party in three parts: 1) the role of social media in the political landscape (the first writer in the Dutch language area who seems to get it); 2) the restyling of the party to Vooruit and it’s attempt to re-invent the socialist brand; and 3) the figure of Connor Rousseau himself. He is highly critical of it’s so-called socialism and drawing interesting analogies to the socialism being promoted by the Belgian interbellum figure Henri De Man.

De Bourgondiërs - Bart van Loo

A whimsical history of the Northern Burgundians masquerading as a venerable tome. It’s… okay, at best. There are some interesting tidbits and a general historical overview of the Burgundian state, but the author embellishes needlessly and focusses too much on the dynastic side of things, while neglecting the material, everyday realities.

Breaking Things at Work - Gavin Mueller

Great work on the history and philosophy of luddism, arguing it’s mainly a form of rebellion against the capitalist tendency to use technology to take away autonomy from the workers, instead of empowering them. Mueller even extends his analysis to current technological advances in software development and the like.

Strange Histories - Darren Oldridge

The one book I’d hoped to be a little more sensationalist, turned out to be quite dry. I got the point of the author - that people in olden times weren’t stupid to believe weird, supernatural things - but I’m fairly certain there was a lot more material to be found.

Atomic Habits - James Clear

A very generic self-help book, with some tips and musings on the importance of forming habits, and tracking them. Too bad it’s largely focused on its self-centered author and his success.

The Great Railway Bazaar - Paul Theroux

Supposedly one of the great books of travel literature. I found it quite boring and at times frustratingly superficial, arrogant and even borderline racist. You can glimps elements of the beauty of the railway journey, but it remains obscured by the author’s thickness.

Virtue and Terror - Maximilien Robespierre & Slavoj Žižek

A selection of primary texts (mainly speeches) by Maximilien Robespierre, the great figure of the French Revolution and its Terror with an excellent introduction by Slavoj Žižek. It really gives a better framing of Robespierre going beyond the usual fearmongering happening about him.

Washington Bullets - Vijay Prashad

Lots of interesting facts and critiques and insights about the history of Western imperialism, that seem to lack any coherency in its writing. Prashad seems to be a better speaker than writer. Still, it was a worthwhile read.

Under the Black Flag - David Cordingly

A general overview of piracy in the West-Indies and all the important piracy tropes. A fun read, nothing too heavy.

Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism - Kristen Ghodsee

A surprisingly nuanced view on the accomplishments of state socialism for women’s rights and similar issues.

Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master - Michael Shea

Some tips for mastering roleplaying sessions. A lot of tips are obvious or I have used naturally, but still worthwhile to have it written out, and inspiring to try my hand at it again.

For a Left Populism - Chantal Mouffe

The second Gramscian analysis I read this year, also on the current hegemonic gap after the loss of legitimacy of the neoliberal consensus (the dying of the old) and how we could build a progressive alternative (the birthing of the new). Interesting too as a short introduction to the ideas of Mouffe, although I don’t have the impression there is a lot more to it than I’ve found here.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline - Andreas Malm

The last book I finished this year was also quite a kicker. Engaging with the question of violence in the face of climate catastrophe: why hasn’t it happened yet? Why wouldn’t it be a viable strategy? Malm engages with a necessary subject that others don’t dare touch with a remarkable amount of nuance.