MixedThe New Statesman (UK)... the irony of Graeber and Wengrow’s \'new history\' becomes evident. Though the authors argue convincingly that Rousseau’s sequential account of early societies is mistaken, they retain—and even accentuate—his story of civilisation as a fall from a condition of primordial grace. Having rejected Rousseau’s account, they need an explanation of their own for what they regard as humanity’s descent into servility, but it never appears. A few pages before the end of this bold and thought-stirring book, they are still asking ... At times Graeber and Wengrow come close to the neoliberal view of recent history ... Graeber and Wengrow share with neoliberals a marked hostility to the welfare state, which they dismiss as undermining working-class self-help ... They are persuasive in arguing that early human societies were much more varied, and at times more experimental, than has been commonly supposed. Yet what Graeber and Wengrow have done is to re-embellish a familiar myth propagated by Rousseau and his many unwitting disciples: the belief that humankind has been \'stuck\' throughout much of its history. There is no reason to believe an original condition of freedom and grace ever existed. We are where we have always been, making the best of our difficulties and somehow getting by.
MixedNew Statesman[A] bold, gripping and arrestingly readable universal history of magic ... This is a path-breaking study of a pervasive and strangely neglected phenomenon ... The great strength of Gosden’s book is its rejection of the primitive evolutionist ideology that dominated the study of magic in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Its weakness is his failure to examine how science became a channel for magical thinking ... Gosden begins by rejecting the evolutionist model, and throughout the book repeats that all three strands of human culture are equally important. But his typology is too simple to capture their complex interactions ... Gosden’s over-simple understanding of religion has another and larger defect: it cannot properly acknowledge secular religions ... The weakness of Gosden’s analysis is shown in his account of magic in the 19th and 20th centuries ... Although Gosden insists that magic remains a powerful force in society, he effectively confines its recent manifestations to the cultural margins. Gosden also misses how science has been deployed as a tool of magical thinking ... At the end of the book Gosden mounts an extended defence of magic as a benign force. The belief that we inhabit a sentient universe may help us deal with the environmental crisis, he suggests. But as he says himself, magic is nothing if not practical, and the sad truth is that it doesn’t work.
MixedThe Guardian (UK)This Changes Everything is as much about the psychology of denial as it is about climate change ... Much of this book is concerned with showing that powerful and well-financed rightwing thinktanks and lobby groups lie behind the denial of climate change in recent years ... As a result of human activities, large-scale climate change is under way, and if it goes on unchecked it will fundamentally alter the world in which humans will in future have to live. Yet the political response has been at best ambiguous and indecisive ... For Klein none of this is accidental ... Klein is a brave and passionate writer who always deserves to be heard, and this is a powerful and urgent book that anyone who cares about climate change will want to read. Yet it is hard to resist the conclusion that she shrinks from facing the true scale of the problem ... This is a dangerous world, but not because an all-powerful elite is in charge. None of the states contending for power in the Middle East, Ukraine or the South China Sea can control or predict the consequences of their actions. No one is in charge in the world’s conflicts. Another problem with pinning all the blame for climate crisis on corporate elites is that humanly caused environmental destruction long predates the rise of capitalism ... Throughout This Changes Everything, Klein describes the climate crisis as a confrontation between capitalism and the planet. It would be more accurate to describe the crisis as a clash between the expanding demands of humankind and a finite world, but however the conflict is framed there can be no doubt who the winner will be. The Earth is vastly older and stronger than the human animal ...The change that is under way is no more than the Earth returning to equilibrium – a process that will go on for centuries or millennia whatever anyone does. Rather than denying this irreversible shift, we’d be better off trying to find ways of living with it.
RaveThe New Statesman (UK)Holland focuses on the story of Jesus’s crucifixion, which by showing God in the form of a broken and tormented human being upended the pagan worship of vitality and beauty. But if anything, this may understate the moral revolution that Christianity accomplished ... Holland is less illuminating on the relationship between Jesus and the religion he is supposed to have founded. \'Nothing was remotely as uncanny as the character of Jesus himself,\' he writes. But how does he know Jesus was so unusual? ... Holland comes into his own when he shows how Christianity created the values of the modern Western world ... Dominion presents a rich and compelling history of Christendom. What makes the book riveting, though, is the devastating demolition job it does on the sacred history of secular humanism.
RaveThe Daily BeastThe Memory Chalet is quite different from anything Judt ever wrote ... The style is as lapidary as ever, but strangely the mood is lighter than before ... Each of these beautifully crafted pieces presents a self-contained vignette. Together they form a picture of an age, seen through the prism of an extraordinary mind ... A truth-teller by nature, Judt never pretended that the illness that befell him was a hidden blessing ... But if tragedy cannot be redeemed it can sometimes be defied, as Judt confirms in this exquisitely graceful memoir of a happy life.
PositiveThe New Statesman... not a great work of fiction, but it succeeds in capturing vividly the bathos of the self-pitying modern nihilist ... Mishima’s work continues to be of interest because it deals with a dilemma that has not been resolved. His abiding preoccupation was with what being modern meant for Japan, but in pursuing it he opened up a question that resonates everywhere.
PositiveThe GuardianThere are very few books that really help us understand the present. The Shock Doctrine is one of those books. Ranging across the world, Klein exposes the strikingly similar policies that enabled the imposition of free markets in countries as different as Pinochet\'s Chile, Yeltsin\'s Russia, China and post-Saddam Iraq. Part of the power of this book comes from the parallels she observes in seemingly unrelated developments ... Yet I remain unconvinced that the corporations Klein berates throughout the book understand, let alone control, the anarchic global capitalism that has been allowed to develop over the past couple of decades—any more than the neo-liberal ideologues who helped create it foresaw where it would lead. Rightly, Klein insists that free market ideology must bear responsibility for the crimes committed on its behalf—just as Marxist ideology must be held to account for the crimes of communism. But she says remarkably little about the illusions by which neo-liberal ideologues were themselves blinded.
PanNew StatesmanThere is a certain banality in this analysis, which recurs throughout the book ... The book’s 14 chapters consist of potted intellectual history interspersed with thumbnail sketches of recent political events ... Though there is nothing novel in this story it contains some useful insights. Fukuyama is perceptive on the rise of national identities ... Where Fukuyama falls down is in having no credible account of the rise of identity politics ... At this point an inconvenient question suggests itself. What if plural identities survive and thrive best not in modern nation states but in some of the antique institutions that preceded them? How curious if a cosmopolitan civilization...should turn out to be in the past.
MixedNew StatesmanBut Lowe’s book isn’t another dry scholarly study of these vast events. Using the lives and testimonies of those who lived through the conflict, it is an exploration of the impact of the war on the inner lives of individual human beings ... Lowe’s book is a compelling work of historical scholarship – but, more than that, it is an intimate portrayal of how human beings carry on when their world has changed for ever ...uncovers the deeper responses produced by the war and its aftermath ...an ambitious book, covering a wide range of events and arguing for large conclusions ... the idea that the chief obstacle to progress or civilisation is outbreaks of mass irrationality overlooks some awkward facts ...Lowe believes that progress can be made more secure by deconstructing myths.
PanThe GuardianIf The Evolution of Everything has any value, it’s as a demonstration that, outside of science, there isn’t much progress – even of the vaguer sort – in the history of thought. Bad ideas aren’t defeated by falsification, and they don’t fade away. As Ridley’s book shows, they simply recur, quite often in increasingly primitive and incoherent forms.