in Book Reviews, Uncategorized

April Books

I apologize that book reviews are starting to monopolize my (infrequent) posts.  I’m hoping to have another interview posted in the near future, and I have a few other ideas I would like to write down, but for now I’m focused on finished the chapter that I’m currently writing.  Here are the books:
1. Living My Life (2 volumes) by Emma Goldman.
I think my wife now hates Emma Goldman because I developed a serious “dead girl crush” on her while reading her memoirs.  Seriously, this woman, along with many of those with whom she was involved — anarchists, socialists, labour activists — are incredible because of their thoughtfulness, their work ethic (they would work soul- and body-crushing jobs for pennies during the day and then organize in the evenings), their fearlessness (people were killed for protesting in those days), and their unwavering commitment to bettering the world for all (not just for some).  It is because of these people — people who were villianized and treated as terrorists and criminals by the authorities — that we have many of the “rights” that we have today–rights to free speech, to organize, to birth control, to an eight hour work day, a living wage, benefits, etc. (of course, many of those “rights” are being systematically attacked and destroyed today, but that’s a topic for another post).
Goldman, for those who don’t know, was a Russian Jewish anarchist who lived in New York, spoke and organized broadly throughout the states, spent some time in prison, was deported to Russia, fell out with Lenin and his cronies, and eventually ended up in Canada.  Her memoirs cover her life up until a little while after she and Alexander Berkman left Russia.
One of the things I appreciate about Goldman’s memoirs is her honest reflection upon her own actions and the collective actions being taken by the various manifestations of resistance to power and the struggle for life and liberation.  She often expresses doubt or frustration, feelings of impotence, questions about efficacy, all things that soothe my own soul a bit.  I have often felt something like sorrow about the moment of history I have inherited, and looked back on the late 19th and early 20th centuries as one of the more exciting moments in recent history–a time when people actually seemed to have the opportunity to live as proper agents within history.  However, reading Goldman reminded me that everybody probably feels, in their time, pretty close to the way I feel in mine.  I don’t know if that’s encouraging (because maybe change may be created now) or discouraging (because maybe not all that much change was actually created then) but it was still a part of the book that I enjoyed.
This is strongly recommended reading.  The more that one actually gets to know the “anarchists” the harder it is for any to vilify “anarchism.”  Of course, the powers-that-be are aware of that, which is why anarchism is regularly misrepresented and cast-aside-without-being-considered in our political discourse and the corporate media.
2. The Annals by Tacitus.
I continue to work my way through Graeco-Roman literature and am enjoying it more and more all the time.  Across the board, with some differences and nuancing, a pretty common moral vision seems to be communicated by the Roman historians — one that respects family values, tradition, nationalism, respect for the properly ordained authorities — so its fascinating to not only read the individual works but to read them in conjunction with each other.
The Annals by Tacitus cover the time period from the final years of the reign of Augustus to the middle years of the reign of Nero (which is just about perfect for a New Testament guy like myself — thanks, Tactitus!).  A good chunk of material has been lost (the reign of Caligula and part of that of Claudius, as well as the end of Nero’s rule) but the reading is fascinating and rewarding.
3. The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability by Nancy L. Eiesland.
This is another of those books that impressed me when I first read it, and so I thought I would read it again (I mentioned earlier that I’m trying to reread some books this year).  It was still a good read, and I still really resonate with Eiesland’s personal epiphany of the disabled god, who appeared in a sip-puff chair.  However, when I first read The Disabled God, it was my first timing reading any sort of liberation theology relation to our perceptions of disabilities.  Because of that, my first reading of the book was really exciting.  However, I think I have since internalized a lot of what Eiesland was on about, so the second reading was less exciting.  Even then, this book continues to be recommended reading.

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  1. Dan, is the book ‘My Two Years …’ taken from the whole autobio by Goldmann. I am keen to read both if they are different. One thing that reaction and liberals try to do is erase the revolutionary memory by attributing it to once-off disturbances, anomalies and so on. Anarchists often suffer a double dose, from the right and left.

    • Hey Roland,
      Just glancing at an online version of that text (which Goldman mentions in her memoirs) and without having my copy of the book at hand, it looks as though Goldman reproduced the material. That said, she goes into more detail on some things in the memoirs. I should probably double-check this…
      And it’s true that the anarchists tend to take it from both sides. Goldman and Berkman were actually major cheerleaders for Lenin and the Bolsheviki for quite some time — even after Kropotkin and other notable voices had warned them about the realities of the post-revolution — but they eventually switched. Them damn anarchists just have this commitment to life/justice/liberty/you-get-the-idea that leads them to conflict with all those who want to sacrifice those things for other causes (left or right).