Lucio Magri, The Tailor of Ulm: Communism in the Twentieth Century
reviewed by John Green
The title of Magri’s book takes its inspiration from Bertolt Brecht’s poem about an 18th century German tailor in the city of Ulm, who thought he could fly, but jumping off the local church spire he ended up like a shot bird, dead on the town square. Brecht’s point was that even if we fail at something once, history can make it possible in the long term. Even though the author develops his perspectives from his experience within the Italian Communist Party (PCI), his analysis is balanced... [read more]
Richard Graham, Government Issue: Comics for the People, 1940s - 2000s
reviewed by Jeffrey Petts
In 1940 George Orwell analysed the comics sold in a typical English newsagent, concluding that they were ‘the best available indication of what the mass of English people really thinks and feels.’ The comics reproduced in Government Issue, in full size and colour, and Richard Graham's thematic introductions to them, are similarly revealing about how American state and federal governments in the 20th century thought the mass of people could be made to think and feel about things as diverse... [read more]
Harper’s Bazaar first hit the shelves in 1867 and has a unique place in history as America’s first fashion magazine. It is published in more than 25 countries and 15 languages and has achieved a level of fashion publishing domination that is perhaps rivalled only by Vogue. Harper’s Bazaar UK arrived in 1929 and in the years since then has consistently sought to deliver a sophisticated perspective on fashion, popular culture and life in general. A coffee table book with a couture... [read more]
Malcolm Turvey, The Filming of Modern Life: European Avant-Garde Film of the 1920s
reviewed by Jeremy Spencer
In the 1920s, the embrace of film as a medium for visual art by members of the European avant-garde led to an outpouring of creativity. Artists such as Hans Richter, Fernand Léger, Francis Picabia, Salvidor Dalí and film-maker Dziga Vertov made the enduring and fascinating films explored in Malcolm Turvey’s The Filming of Modern Life. Turvey explores how these films resisted and embraced, sometimes simultaneously, the specific concrete transformations wrought by modernity.
To explain... [read more]
John Lang and Graham Dodkins, Bad News: The Wapping Dispute
reviewed by Richard Sharpe
Bad News is a timely and insightful account of the 1986-87 dispute between the print and clerical unions and Rupert Murdoch’s empire of newspapers. The general facts are known: Murdoch built a plant in Wapping to consolidate the two wings of his newspaper empire in the UK - the Times part and the Sun / News of the World part; he wanted direct input by journalists and a curb on union action; after a rough and bloody contest, aided by the vacillations of key union leaders, he got his... [read more]
Ilan Pappé, The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel
reviewed by Matt Hill
At the outset of The Time that Remains, a film by Israeli director Elias Suleiman, a man driving home from Tel Aviv airport gets lost in a rare Middle East thunderstorm. 'Why the hell am I here?' he says into the darkness as rain whips the windows. 'And where the hell am I?'
His sense of displacement has an existential edge because the character, like his director, is not just an Israeli but a Palestinian too. This may sound like a riddle, but it is a fact that 1.3 million Arabs live as... [read more]
Peter Ackroyd, The History of England Volume I: Foundation
reviewed by David Renton
Millions of readers know what to expect from a Peter Ackroyd history: an eye for detail, the appalling anecdote, deep use of literary and archaeological sources. The History of England exhibits these familiar virtues. The literary sources begin with the Greek merchant Pytheas, landing in Britain two centuries before Caesar. A Viking triumph is illustrated by a quotation from a 10th century lament. To illustrate the ubiquity of violence in mediaeval England, Ackroyd cites the story of a 12th... [read more]
McKenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International
reviewed by Ian Birchall
Few left currents have been as adept at using capitalist marketing techniques as the Situationists, with their relentless self-promotion. They have succeeded in fooling a younger generation by retrospectively inserting themselves into a history to which they were at best marginal. Thus Jonathan Derbyshire (Guardian, 20 August) assures us that they exerted ‘the most profound influence on the French student movement in May 1968’. I was in Paris in the aftermath of the general strike, meeting... [read more]
‘Sunday May 17 1959. It was late when the phone rang at the Sunday Express. Frank Draper, a junior reporter on the night shift, reached for it. When he was interviewed by the police five weeks later, this was how he described the conversation that followed; “Are you interested in a murder?”’ That’s how Mark Olden’s investigative Odyssey begins. It could be the opening of a classic detective novel, but this is no fiction.
On that early summer day, a young Antiguan carpenter called... [read more]
Tim Wu, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires
reviewed by Richard Sharpe
Tim Wu has an interesting and hopefully erroneous thesis about the Internet and the services it provides in the information economy. It, like the other information technologies before it, may come under the control of monopolist or oligopolistic capitalist interests after its short period of openness.
The telegraph, the telephone, radio, film and TV have all gone this way: they started as a disruptive and open technology only to become a closed system dominated by a few companies. In other... [read more]