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The Hidden Roots of Political Orientations

Our Political Nature HCBy Avi Tuschman, author of Our Political Nature (Prometheus Books, September 2013).

In 2002 I found myself traveling to the far corners of Peru, visiting the country’s largest mining and energy investments for a political-risk consultancy. Peru still had fresh scars from the recent Maoist guerilla war and counterinsurgency; and the conflicts festering over the earth’s assets kept these ideological specters very much alive. While gathering field intelligence, I encountered an unlikely collection of movers and shakers: the CEOs of fantastically wealthy corporations, communist defense fronts, indigenous leaders, priests, and authoritarian thugs. I also saw greed, corruption, and coercion. These experiences exposed me to radically different worldviews – and to political extremism. I was riveted by how one group’s notion of good represented another one’s idea of evil.

Since the mining-and-energy sector had billions of dollars at stake in the country, we also kept close tabs on the political dramas that unfolded within the national government. I grew fascinated by the story of the president and first lady, who was also a Stanford alumna and anthropologist. Soon after meeting her I became the youngest advisor in the Palace, where I worked on indigenous people’s affairs. Eventually, I was recruited as President Toledo’s Senior Writer. In this role I crafted articles with the seasoned statesman to shape public opinion. As we traveled around the world after his term, I had the privilege to work with numerous other presidents, and to meet prime ministers, secretaries of state, and legislators from five continents. Continue reading

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Oil Wealth and Political Poverty: Rethinking the History of Energy

Carbon Democracy TPBy Timothy Mitchell, author of Carbon Democracy (Verso, June 2013).

In the eighteen months since the publication of the first edition of this book, the United States appears to have entered a new age of energy abundance.  The extraction of gas and oil from shale formations has led to the most rapid increase in new energy supplies in the country’s history. Political leaders and the news media present this sudden reversing of a thirty-five-year decline in the US production of fossil fuels as a sign of the recovery of the country’s national independence. After the breakdown of financial institutions in 2008 – which erased trillions of dollars in wealth as stock markets, pension funds and property values crashed, and led to the loss of 7 million US jobs in the recession that followed – the energy boom also seemed to promise a return of real wealth. The fragile paper economy of financial speculation and consumer credit would give way to a ‘potential re-industrialization of the US’, built on the solid foundation of expanding material resources. Continue reading

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Revising the Vietnam Narrative: No Longer “America’s War”

Embers of War HCby Fredrik Logevall, author of Embers of War (Random House, August 2012), winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in history.

The struggle for Vietnam occupies a central place in the history of the twentieth century. Fought over a period of three decades, the conflict drew in all the world’s powers and saw two of them—first France, then the United States—attempt to subdue the revolutionary Vietnamese forces. For France, the defeat marked the effective end of her colonial empire, while for America the war left a gaping wound in the body politic that remains open to this day.  In the below essay, Logevall distills key points from his book. Continue reading

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Charles Murray, Author of Coming Apart, Examines Demographic Shifts In This New Decade

Coming Apart TRby Charles Murray, author of Coming Apart (Crown Forum, January 2012).

Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart offers a thought-provoking commentary on class in contemporary America. Drawing on five decades of statistics and research, the book demonstrates that a new upper class, who live in hyper-wealthy zip codes called SuperZIPS, and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship—divergence that has nothing to do with income inequality and that has grown during good economic times and bad.  In the below essay, Murray discusses trends that have occurred since 2010. Continue reading

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Brokers of Deceit: Examining America’s Role in the Middle-East

Brokers of Deceit HC

By Rashid Khalidi, author of Brokers of Deceit (Beacon Press, March 2013).

I served as an advisor to the Madrid and Washington Palestinian-Israeli negotiations from 1991-1993, and long wanted to use documents that I collected then, but I never found an opportunity to do so. Then the research of one my graduate students on American Middle East policy revealed a trove of newly declassified American and Israeli materials that cast a fascinating light on what I had experienced in the early 1990’s. Together with my observations on the Obama administration’s failures in dealing with the Palestine issue, it inspired me to write this short book. This is not a comprehensive history of US Middle East policy, or of US policy on Palestine. Instead, it focuses on three “moments:” one is the period 1978-82, another is the 1991-93 negotiations, and the third is the last two years of Obama’s first term. I saw that the specific patterns of US bias in favor of inflexible Israeli positions that we had seen in our negotiations with the Israelis were precisely mirrored in earlier administrations, and that little or nothing has changed under this president.

The book addresses some of the common distortions of language that are so prevalent where the Palestine issue is concerned in Israeli-American official and media discourse. I deal with corrupted terms like “peace process,” “Palestinian autonomy,” “Israeli security,” and “terrorism,” all of which in this parlance have a heavily loaded meaning. I thus am challenging both those who use these terms in policy-making, political discourse and the media, and the vast literature that reproduces them without critical analysis of what they actually mean. As I suggest in the book, this is truly Orwellian, and this corrupt language has a profound impact on reality. Continue reading

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Why Nations Fail authors respond to Bill Gates

9780307719225In Why Nations Fail professors Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson assert that strong, inclusive political and economic institutions—not geography, culture, or market-based tendencies—determine a nation’s success or failure. Their findings, based on fifteen years of original research, have garnered excellent to favorable reviews from academia as well as from leading voices in the international aid and development community. However, in February, Microsoft founder Bill Gates criticized the book in a much-publicized review on his website (link to his review).

In response to Gates’ assessment, the authors responded with a pointed and detailed retort:

“Why Nations Fail received the harshest reviews from those who see geography and culture as the root causes of poverty, and enlightened leaders — or even more enlightened outside donors and organizations — as the keys to economic development. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his dedication to international aid, billionaire foundation chief Bill Gates falls into this category: His Feb. 26 review of our book was particularly uncharitable. Unfortunately, however, it was also dead wrong on many counts.”  To read the rest of their essay, click here.

What do you think of Bill Gates’ assessment of Why Nations Fail?  What of the counterpoints made by the authors?

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Who Stole the American Dream?

Who Stole The American Dream HCby Hedrick Smith, author of Who Stole the American Dream? (Random House, September 2012).

For years, hundreds of colleges, university, and high school courses have used my books, The Russians and The Power Game: How Washington Works, in their courses. Professors and teachers have trusted the quality of my reporting, research, and writing. Students have found my work readable and intellectually engaging.

My new book, Who Stole the American Dream?, is especially well suited for university courses and seminars and high school classrooms. It combines on-the-spot reporting and storytelling with academic-level research (more than 1,000 footnotes), making it both authoritative and highly readable. My thematic treatment of American political and economic history from the 1970s to the present would work well in interdisciplinary seminars as well as courses in government, economics, political science, public policy, journalism, and modern American history. Continue reading

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Discovering the Dark Side of Communism with The Taste of Ashes

Taste of Ashes HCby Marci Shore, author of The Taste of Ashes (Crown, January 2013).

The first five commenters will receive a free copy of The Taste of Ashes.  Email us at rhacademic@randomhouse.com with your mailing address.

I was at an impressionable age when the revolutions came. This is the short answer I often give when asked by Poles or Czechs or Russians why I became interested in their part of the world. In 1989, I was seventeen years old and knew nothing about Eastern Europe. Yet growing up in suburban Pennsylvania, it was impossible not to absorb that we were locked in a struggle with the Evil Empire that might well bring about the end of the world.  Continue reading

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How You as Educators and Consumers Can Help Solve Our Water Problems

Taking On Waterby Wendy Pabich, author of Taking on Water (Sasquatch Books, September 2012)

Water is getting scarce. This year has brought extreme drought, low snow packs, and record low stream flows in a number of river systems. We see Las Vegas waging water war with the open ranch lands to the north, Atlanta in protracted battles with downstream states over its primary water supply at Lake Lanier, and water tables beneath the San Joaquin Valley—the source of 40 percent of the nation’s fruits and vegetables—dropping. A recent study by the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) suggests that by mid-century, half the counties in the U.S. will be facing water scarcity.

For any one of us, these problems can feel overwhelming. We may sense that our own role is negligible, our power to make change inconsequential. And, it’s easy to find fault with government policies, corporate behavior, and farming practices. Yet, taken together, our aggregate behavior is the source of these problems. An individual home can waste 10,000 gallons of water a year to leaking fixtures; as a nation, we lose one trillion gallons of water to leaks. We buy 450 million pair of blue jeans every year, each of which requires about 2,200 gallons of water to produce, mostly to grow cotton for denim. That’s a total of 990 billion gallons of water, or enough to provide copious domestic water supplies to almost 10 billion people. And the list goes on. Continue reading

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Occupying Wall Street: Stephanie McMillan’s experience with the movement

by Stephanie McMillan, author of The Beginning of the American Fall, from Seven Stories Press.

The first major protest movement in decades—a response to austerity measures, rising food prices and unemployment—sparked into life in North Africa and Europe, circled the globe, and finally came to the United States in the fall of 2011.

With the economy in deep crisis, the population was seething. It finally erupted with the launch of Stop the Machine and Occupy Wall Street.

I participated in protests in several locations, not only as a journalist or cartoonist, but also as an organizer. The book that resulted is an account of the first few months of the movement.

It goes beyond dry observation to provide a genuine insider’s perspective.  The text and drawings combine interviews, dialogue, description, political struggle and personal observation, to present a well-rounded picture of a unique historical moment. Continue reading

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