I read quite a lot of books. So I’d like to talk about the one which I consider most influential upon my worldview. This wasn’t Smith nor Marx, not the Bible nor Quran. It wasn’t particularly well written, nor did it contain groundbreaking ideas. I don’t even remember the title or author. The book which has remained lodged in my mind is the biography of Saddam Hussein which I read in high school.
Ideas are one driver of our society, along with material conditions, power dynamics, great men and a swathe of smaller influences. But are they the central pillars, or just of tangential importance? John Ralston Saul’s The Unconscious Civilization posits that a corporatist ideology is responsible for the ills of society, and that throwing off those intellectual shackles will resolve them.
There are many motivational aphorisms which have passed from supposition to accepted fact without containing even a grain of truth. The Motivation Hoax by James Adonis sets out to disprove axioms like ‘the more you sweat, the luckier you get’ and ‘success is a journey, not a destination’. While this book achieves its measurable goals, it falls short of providing a genuine understanding.
The self-immolation of Tunisian vegetable seller Mohammed Bouazizi in late 2010 set off a wave of protest and revolution against stagnant dictatorships across the Arab world. Ordinary citizens stood up against their tyrants and forced them out with people power. Lin Noueihed and Alex Warren’s The Battle for the Arab Spring tells the story of these rebellions – a tale which should be heeded by those who seek a better world.
Tony Abbott is not a smart man. Beneath the thin veneer of political savvy lies a man whose politics are solely derivative of an enormous ego. Tony personally identifies with conservative institutions like the monarchy, family and church, and so his inability to perform any kind of self-reflection extends to these as well. This is a man born in privilege whose greatest challenge in life was when the media once scrutinised him and who claims that being a politician is as hard as a soldier. A man who has been handed every job he’s ever had by an old boys network, yet asserts that folks on disability pensions need more incentive to work. The 28th Prime Minister of Australia.
Ken MacLeod’s strength as a sci-fi writer is his inventive world building. He pulls together elements from history and social theory to create future societies which are unexpected yet plausible. Descent serves primarily as a tableau which Ken paints with echoes of the New Deal, as the reader follows Ryan’s coming of age journey and those of his close friends who share a tight bond. The bond of an alien abduction. This is still sci-fi, after all.
All Your Friends Like This: How Social Networks Took Over News provides a great demonstration of how the short staffing and search for impressions over substance has crippled modern journalism. Unfortunately, this book is an example rather than an explanation.
Bob Katter Jr is a riddle wrapped in an enigma topped with a cowboy hat. A man renowned for the social conservatism which led him to claim there were no gay people in his electorate, and yet who also criticises the Rudd/Gillard industrial relations reforms as not going nearly far enough in favour of workers. A man who lists as paragons ‘Red Ted’ Theodore and Ben Chifley but who served in the cabinet of Joh Bjelke-Petersen. The best way to understand a man is to listen to what he has to say, so I’m reading An Incredible Race of People to see if this enigma can be unravelled.
Once a professor of economics, Andrew Leigh is now the MP for Fenner and one of the leading intellectual lights of the Labor Party. Having reached the shadow cabinet without the backroom benefits of factional alignment, he brings a vision beyond simple pugilistic politics to parliament. Andrew is also a prolific author, so I picked up his Battlers & Billionaires to see what insights could be gleamed from the unaligned man.