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Books this Season: Political Books

Autumn 2005

The German newspapers have long and (for us) tedious names, so we use abbreviations. Here a key to them

Fiction / Nonfiction / Political Books

Political Books

Jung Chang and Jon Halliday researched their biography "Mao" for eleven years until nothing remained of the idealised image of the Great Chairman.The Spiegel put the book on its cover and the SZ agrees that if the author's take is accurate, China's history will have to be retold "on several important points." The NZZ sees the biography as a "detailed collection of shameless acts," the FAZ praises its liveliness and density, while the FR considers it more of a criminal charge than a nuanced biography.

German-Israeli historian and Middle East expert Dan Diner explores in "Versiegelte Zeit" (sealed time) the controversial question of why the Arab world remains so undeniably backward. He takes the Arab Human Development Report, which has been published annually by the United Nations since 2002, and discovers several interesting and shocking facts: for instance, that in the entire Arab world, there are four book translations for every million people, compared with 519 in Hungary or 920 in Spain. Diner explains this with the omnipresence of the sacral, particularly in Arabic speech and text, which makes change virtually impossible. The SZ does not support all his arguments but finds the book "stimulating and intelligent."

Andre Glucksmann's investigation of hate as a phenomena that is spreading in the world, has sparked much discussion. The NZZ finds Gluckmann's endeavor to locate evil right in the midst of our modern civilisation "absolutely correct"; at the same time, it would rather not have to look so closely. The FR considers the author's greatest accomplishment his analysis of the psychological levels of hate based on the Medea myth, while suspecting that his argument is slightly one-sided. Die Zeit is delighted that Glucksmann has confronted hate so actively, while the SZ begs for a little more equanimity. (Features by Andre Glucksmann in English here)

Wolfgang Kraushaar's revelations about "Die Bombe im Jüdischen Gemeindehaus" (The bomb in the Jewish community centre) has provoked heated debate. The main controversy is not over Albert Fichter's involvement but rather Kraushaar's insistence that a pervasive anti-Semitism was at work among the 68ers. The FR hopes the book will precipitate self-reflection by the Left, and the Berliner Zeitung is most interested in the role of the state as an agent provocateur. Götz Aly states in Die Welt, "The German 68ers were wretchedly similar to their parents." (See an interview with Albert Fichter's brother here)

Both the taz and the FR are extremely impressed by "Despoten vor Europas Haustür" (despots on Europe's doorstep) in which Tunisian human rights experts Sihem Bensedrine and Omar Mestiri demonstrate how the EU's immigration and security policies serve to stabilise the authoritarian regimes in North Africa, at the expense of the opposition and human rights. Tunisia in particular has been only too happy to introduce anti-terrorism measures that render any kind of opposition illegal. Bensedrine and Mestiri (director of the online magazine Kalima) describe the hatred, desperation and hopelessness that EU policy is causing in North Africa and show how the region is becoming a hotbed of precisely the kind of extremist violence against which Europe is trying to protect itself.

High praise from both ends of Germany's political spectrum for the German translation of "The Rebel Sell"). The FAZ and the taz agree that Andrew Potter and Joseph Heath's thorough-going critique of the so-called anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist counter culture is worth a read. The Canadian authors argue that the proponents of anti-globalisation - the punks, hippies, no globals and Naomi Kleins - are all essential fuel in the capitalistic machine. In the taz, Robert Misik takes the thought a step further: the socialist Left has always wanted to guarantee simple folk a good life, while at the same time denouncing their pursuit of "wretched materialism". Misik concludes that "the fight against all the rules should not be confused with the fight against tyranny."

On a similar note, Georg Franck's "Mentaler Kapitalismus" has been met with both enthusiasm and scepticism. Following up on his previous book "The Economy of Attention" (more), Franck investigates further the political and aesthetic impact of the pervasiveness of advertising. Franck sees the much avowed "reification of culture" transforming into a "culturisation of all things": the rich of today are those who get lots of media attention. While the taz enjoys many of Franck's observations – such as the fact that "people who would previously have landed in the nut house are the television stars of today" – the FAZ feels that Franck is out of his theoretical depth with Derrida and Wittgenstein, trying to turn his theory into a "model of explanation for the entire world".

Fiction / Nonfiction / Political Books

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