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.
Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain - David Gerard
Great and tragically funny overview of what’s wrong with the whole blockchain thing up until 2017. Certainly still worth a read today, because most, if not all, issues still plague the scene to this day.
The Simple Path to Wealth - J.L. Collins
Blogger writes a book about sensible investing. Interesting as advice, but god are bloggers insufferable.
The Little Book of Common Sense Investing - John C. Bogle
The same, but written more dryly. About sensible investing your money without having to play the market, be a victim to opportunist scammers and the like, while managing expectations, by the founder of Vanguard.
A People’s History of the German Revolution - William A. Pelz
A gift by a friend of mine, it’s a welcome addition to the scarce literature on the German Revolution (although it seems to be growing these last few years). With its focus on the people instead of the broad, political analysis, it’s a worthwhile read.
Tentacles Longer Than Night - Eugene Thacker
The third part in the Horror of Philosophy series. While there’s interesting observations and references and the prose is very evocative, the formula has become a little stale by now. Fun, dark read but only for those really wanting more.
Eenheidscongres 2021 - PVDA
Great read about my own party, with lots of relevant reflection on my own position.
The Deficit Myth - Stephanie Kelton
I found this eye-opening. Not that I’m a full convert of modern monetary theory now (why would I be, I’m not an economist) but what it did for me was showing how even in more traditional economics, there’s heterodoxy. You don’t necessarily need to be a marxist. There’s a paradigm shift in this book, which, at the very least, makes you question the ‘who’s going to pay for it?’ narrative that has been prevalent in these neoliberal decades.
Caliban and the Witch - Silvia Federici
Marxism, history and feminism come together in this great book to shine a new light on the transition from the middel ages to the Renaissance and early capitalism. Or how the suppression of labour was a vital, necessary precondition to the introduction of it, and how the marginalizing of women, through things as the witch hunts, was a huge part of this (unconscious) effort.
The Will to Change - bell hooks
I had expected more of this. It’s about masculinity but ultimately, through the vague and fuzzy language, there was little I recognized in my own experience or around me, little I could connect to. I can imagine though that there are people for whom these situations do ring true.
Talking to My Daughter About the Economy - Yanis Varoufakis
It’s obvious I’m not Varoufakis' daughter, his descriptions of the economy are too simplistic and I didn’t really learn anything from it. Had expected more nuance of him.
Capitalist Realism - Mark Fisher
Lots of great sounding quotes, but ultimately a bit of a letdown. Fisher gets lots of praise but his writings lack a coherent analysis that feels like more than negative words thrown at a piece of paper.
Democratic Confederalism - Abdullah Öcalan
Mainly interesting for Öcalan’s view on the Kurdish struggle, more than his political and philosophical thought at least.
The Hilarious World of Depression - John Moe
While not smug, as many others, it still suffers from the problem of bloggers (or podcasters in this case) writing down their own experience: while they try to convince you of how their experience is the same as those of the common person reading it, it really is not. They don’t have a succesful career even though they suffer from depression, they just suffer from depression.
The Right to Sex - Amia Srinivasan
Great overview of some of the big debates in feminism in the 21st century, while also sketching the background and origin of these. While not neutral at all, there’s still enough room to show different viewpoints in a reasonable way.
Post Growth - Tim Jackson
I was looking into a good book about how a post growth world could look or how it could come about, different versions of it,… This book wasn’t it unfortunately. It’s more of a critique of the growth paradigm which, although interesting, wasn’t what I wanted.
Gangsters of Capitalism - Jonathan Katz
Part biography, part forgotten history of American colonialism, part travel anecdotes. This book gives a great, and at times shocking, overview of US colonialism in the early 20th century and its enduring legacy by following the career of the famed and flawed character of Smedley Butler, a marine officer deeply involved in these endeavours. Later in life, he came to see himself as a ‘racketeer for capitalism’ and turned against US military adventurism and fascism. Katz doesn’t embellish the ‘protagonist’ of his story and it’s very clear that he was an ambivalent person who struggled himself with his role in history. Great read!
Half-Earth Socialism - Troy Vettese & Drew Pendergrass
I didn’t expect it at the time of reading, but this book had probably the biggest impact on me this year. I didn’t want to avoid it because I knew it argued for veganism either, but it did manage to convince me to redouble my efforts to switch to a vegetarian diet in the short term. While the authors place themselves in the utopian tradition, I found that their utopianism actually paints a pretty dismal picture of the future but their critique on neoliberal solutions and, more importantly, their discussion of a few important alternative policies (rewilding, ecological planned economies) are extremely riveting!
Internet for the People - Ben Tarnoff
Split into two parts: the pipes (the hardware side) and the platforms (the software side). Sketches the historical origins of the internet, how it could’ve been different and some existing alternative ways of going about it. Good read.
A Spectre, Haunting - China Miéville
A book on The Communist Manifesto, about its historical background, its language, its usage. Itself written in Miéville’s lurid prose.
De religie binnen de grenzen van de rede - Immanuel Kant
I read this together with some philosophy friends. It felt mostly like a post-hoc justification of christianity and his argumentation that these religious ethical communities result from his own ethical framework expounded elsewhere (and which I do like) seemed shaky at best.
How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them - Barbara F. Walter
Liberal political theory in action: great on the data, bad on the analysis side. For academics like Walter, the liberal capitalist democracy (such as it is) is the highest attainable form of society and no better alternatives are possible, really limiting themselves in this way. The best part was where The purely descriptive aspects of the book are quite interesting - especially the chapter on the impact of social media - but it’s packed inside a framework where Western-style liberal democracy is somehow the highest form of government attainable. There’s little engagement on the topic of why or how more authoritarian systems stay stable, nor is the author self-aware enough to disentangle herself from American exceptionalism (at one point even naively claiming that the CIA’s research into the topic is to “stop civil wars before they start”).
How Not to Network a Nation - Benjamin Peters
Yet another book I read this year that deals, albeit not as its main focus, with a planned economy. This time about the computing and networking efforts in the Soviet Union that were important to the project of a fully planned economy. There’s the distinct impression that a lot of potential was squandered because of the bureaucratic competition, or to paraphrase Peters: because the socialists acted as capitalists (while the capitalist Americans created the Internet because they acted like socialists).
Kitchen Confidential - Anthony Bourdain
The main downside is that it’s just too long. Cut the book in half and you still get the best portions, the strong language, the laughs and the point still stands: working in the service industry is hell and requires a certain type of person to deal with.
The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt - Toby Wilkinson
I was playing a game about predynastic Egypt (fittingly called: Predynastic Egypt) and I was shocked to learn that the pyramids were built so early in it’s history. I decided I needed a good overview of ancient Egypt’s history and this book deliverd on that promise. Although it focusses almost exclusively on the classic dynastical view of history and there’s not that much engagement with daily life or culture, it was a nice read. It is quite a lot to pack into 600 or so pages.
Scattered Minds - Gabor Maté
While I’m still uncertain if I could label myself as having ADD, there were certainly recognizable aspects and helpful insights. I really liked Maté’s way of presenting the issue, showing how it’s very complex and nuanced and that, while some people can function or even thrive under its conditions, not everyone does. This is in stark contrast with how the aforementioned blogger-style writers usually approach a subject. I really appreciated this.
The Assassination of Lumumba - Ludo De Witte
I knew that Belgium had something to do with the murder of Lumumba, but this books lays it out in painful, horrific detail just how culpable the Belgian government was, from day one, in the undermining, sidelining, imprisonment, deportation and eventual murder of Patrice Lumumba. Shocking and a must read for everyone still in doubt about the realities of neocolonialism and especially fellow Belgians!
The Next Civil War - Stephen Marche
Another exemple of liberal political theory in action, although this one has some speculative fiction woven throughout. Unfortunately, it never gets really vivid in it’s descriptions to make it a bit more fun.
100 jaar om de zee te stoppen - Julie Steendam & Isabelle Vanbrabant
Written by a former fellow student of mine. Great overview of some of Cuba’s projects on sustainability and combatting climate change in the face of economic adversity, showing us another way is possible. I didn’t really like the travelogue style though.