Beyond the Book

‘Why the West Rules – For Now’ Review

January 17th, 2011

A book very well worth reading. Morris is an excellent historian and a great story teller. He weaves the exploding body of empirical evidence about human history into an easily followed story line culminating in the emergence of the contemporary “world order.” However, as a theorist of history he has a long way to go.

Morris attempts to begin this intellectual journey with the origins of humans ca. 2 million years ago. But evolutionary biology and paleoanthropology are not his forte and this early part of the book is a little shallow and unsatisfying. However, as he reaches the eras where his specialties, archaeology and history, get traction, the story gains powerful substance and narrative force.
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‘Griftopia’ Review

January 4th, 2011

Stop everything and read this book – not tomorrow, today! Taibbi is the latest and, by far (so far), the best of the army of scholars and journalists illuminating the horror of the recent financial crisis and the malfeasance of major players. His directness and candor is refreshing and informative. He lays out the real significance of the AIG bailout, the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the taxpayer-subsidized super-profitability of Goldman Sachs, Greenspan’s insane shenanigans at the Fed, the authentic toxicity of the health care bill (not the brainless critique from the radical right) among other things. You will emerge from this book understanding your world and its mortal perils with astonishing new lucidity. Another outstanding book, Winner Take All Politics (Pierson and Hacher, 2010), gives you the 30 year strategic history of the most recent seizure of our country by financial elites. Taibbi gives you the tactical implications of this seizure. If we are to take back our political and economic systems, this kind of clear-eyed understanding is the crucial first step.

Reviewed by Paul M. Bingham and Joanne Souza
Coauthors of “Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe”

Matt Taibbi
Spiegel & Grau (2010)

‘Inside Job’ (documentary) Review

December 31st, 2010

This documentary does an outstanding job of bringing home the details of how a series of truly bad financial actors catalyzed the current (and still ongoing) financial crisis. Many of the specifics of this story will not be new to readers of the outstanding books on the financial crisis. However, to see all the threads of this story pulled together with such clarity and dramatic power is extremely bracing. Equally importantly, this documentary brings home another crucial point, which has previously been little understood. Some segments of academic “economics” have been bought by elite financial interests (through donations, speaking fess, rich consulting contracts, etc). The professional academy is supported by all of us (through massive tax-payer-funded government support of both public and private universities). Thus, this breach of trust is especially egregious. We have, tragically, come to expect our politicians to be prostitutes, but we should never tolerate whores in the academy. It will be of the greatest interest to see how (or, sadly, if) the economics profession moves to clean up its house. We should all see this documentary and have its message ever in mind as we listen to the dubious pronouncements of politicians and bought economists. Those who have criticized this important piece as “socialists” are either clueless or have some very narrow interests to protect – interests not confluent with most of the American electorate. If you want to be a part of taking back the American economy for most Americans (rather than the hyper-rich) this film is a must-see.

Reviewed by Paul M. Bingham and Joanne Souza
Coauthors of “Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe”

Starring Matt Damon, Directed by Charles Ferguson
Representational Pictures (2010)

‘Third World America’ Review

December 30th, 2010

Huffington uses her vantage at The Huffington Post to gain access to the best thought on the financial crisis. She capitalizes on this perspective to add to our understanding of how millions of American lives have been damaged or destroyed by the narcissistic behavior of some truly bad actors in our financial and political communities. This individual, personal perspective is the greatest value of this book, allowing us to see exactly how so many of us have been brutally harmed by parasites on our system of democratic capitalism. The individual accounts here are heart breaking. This evocative perspective arms us to move forward (as we must) to ostracize corrupt or incompetent politicians and reassert common control of the economic system that, after all, belongs to all of us. Huffington also adds to our empirical ammunition against bad actors – she names names, specific acts, individual politicians, particular financiers. This detail is a useful addition to the insight we also get from powerful recent accounts by professional scholars (see, especially, “Winner Take All Politics” by Pierson and Hacker and “Predator State” by Galbraith). Policing bad actors on the basis of the information we share as members of the pan-human wise crowd is our ancient strategy for dealing with all adaptive challenges. Huffington makes a powerful addition to our mutual use of this ancient human strategy as we proceed to recapture our society and our economy.

Reviewed by Paul M. Bingham and Joanne Souza
Coauthors of “Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe”

Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington
Crown (2010)

‘The Predator State’ Review

December 29th, 2010

Galbraith does a masterful job of educating us in some illuminating ways. Though the book starts a little slowly, the reader who stays with it will be richly rewarded. If we are to assert our mutual control over our economic system, we must first become much more knowledgeable about how it works. Most of us (including a shocking number of politicians and business people) are blithely ignorant in these matters. As Galbraith compellingly argues, our system of democratic capitalism is not, even in principle, a “free market,” for example. Rather, our economics and politics emerge from the clashing (often) or cooperating (occasionally) of interest groups who mostly seek to manipulate our larger society in pursuit of their own narrow goals. Worst of all, these interest groups concoct “ideologies” (belief systems) justifying their actions – dressing up what otherwise would be transparently naked self-interest. “Free-market capitalism” is one of these ideologies. This belief system is like fundamentalist religion, serving the common interests of its elite adherents with no need for facts or empirical support. From this bracing perspective, Galbraith gives us an insider’s tour of how our economic system came to its present, grossly distorted state. No one who is looking to reclaim control of our financial system in the interests of all of us should miss this potent book. All activities (financial or otherwise) not monitored and managed by the people for the people through regulation are predicted to become predatory on the people. And they have.

Reviewed by Paul M. Bingham and Joanne Souza
Coauthors of “Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe”

‘Winner-Take-All Politics’ Review

December 28th, 2010

As professional scholars we are in awe of the powerful economy of this masterful book. In this tour de force, Pierson and Hacker systematically unfold the story of the gradual construction of our now failing political and economic system over the last three decades. All of us old enough to have the appropriate perspective are very well aware that we have been sinking into a condition where our economic systems bleed us dry and gives us no security (or even adequate education or health care), while demanding ever greater sacrifices and brutally demanding work from us – at ever lower wages. For example,the American economy has continuously grown more productive over the last three decades; however, unlike earlier eras, virtually all the material benefit from this increased productivity has gone to a tiny group of individuals at the top of the wealth/income pyramid. [Not coincidentally, the last time wealth was this concentrated in elite hands was during the run up to the Great Depression of the 1930’s.] Moreover, these hyper-wealthy interests have increasingly purchased our political system (we no longer own our own country). As Pierson and Hacker carefully (and very readably) document, this ownership has allowed the hyper-rich to skew the rules of the game in their interests, more extremely every day. The recent financial crisis is just the latest rupturing of this political pustule – and it will not be the last or, horrifyingly, the worst. For those who seek to take back democratic ownership of our county (and the economy that is supposed to nurture us), this book is absolutely indispensable.

Reviewed by Paul M. Bingham and Joanne Souza
Coauthors of “Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe”

Paul Pierson and Jacob S. Hacker
Simon & Schuster (2010)

‘Storms of my Grandchildren’ Review

May 3rd, 2010

This book is a detailed, personal, and inside account by world-famous environmental scientist, Jim Hansen, of the unfolding of our insight into what is euphemistically called “global warming.” Perhaps, instead, we should rename this process “the unfolding planet-killing disaster.” We read about Hansen’s experiences as a NASA climate scientist (ultimately director of its Goddard Institute for Space Studies) from the 1980’s through the present. As a testament to his blunt, truth-telling grit, these experiences include the Bush I White House trying to get him fired for protesting their doctoring of his Congressional testimony. Continue Reading »