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May 27, 2012



Basil Davidson is your man for pre-colonial Africa - 'Africa in history' if you can find it, but there are several other good ones.


I think the Deng biography was by Ezra Vogel, not Ezra Klein.


Though, at the risk of being unfair, I suspect a hypothetical Ezra Klein Deng bio would more or less fit that description esp. viz 'technocrats just like us'

chris y

Seconding the recommendation for Davidson. "Africa in History" seems to be readily available on Amazon, but I wonder if it's a little dated these days. I understand there have been a lot of advances in African archaeology in the last ten years or so.


I am reminded of Brian Aldiss' question:

The firmly entrenched 'Conducator' of Romania, Nicolae Ceaucescu, proved not to be firmly entrenched at all. The crowd booed him from his balcony. He tried to flee the country. He was captured, tried, and shot on Christmas Day.

Why didn't the crowd boo previously?

["Why Didn't the Crowd Boo?", The Orbit Science Fiction Yearbook Three, 1990]


Duh, of course, Ezra Vogel. Brainfart.

I forgot one essential book "A History of Ireland," by Michael Burleigh


"Americanos: Latin American's Struggle for Independence" by John Chasteen is apparently very good on 19thC South America

Richard J

ISTR the Penguin History of Latin America being a primer, but nothing more - it's easy to find stuff on the Incas, Aztecs and Mayans, but the 19th century stuff is trickier to track down . On a specific aspect, I read Jasper Ridley's book on Maximilian and Juarez in the build up to the Second Gulf War, and the parallels kind of leapt out at me.

(Very good recent reading - Tom Holland's In the Shadow of the Sword.)


Ezra Klein needs got at. If it's for stuff he hasn't done so much the better. He's far too good looking, he has newspaper and TV jobs either one of which plenty would kill for, and the bastard stole my girl. I always thought some days me and Annie Lowrey would settle down and raise some kids. It was something we knew, an unstated truth. Something a guy like Klein could never understand. And something no amount of living on different continents and never actually having met could ever change.


a vast, tangled history of the whole mess of Red Brigades and neo-fascists and conspiracies

There isn't one. On the background, Paul Ginsborg's standard history of post-war Italy and Philip Willan's Puppet Masters complement each other; Ginsborg is very good on Italian politics - and highly critical, in the right kind of part-radical, part-cynical register - but the shutters come down the moment anyone mentions anything conspiratorial or parapolitical. Willan seems to be good on the parapolitics - he's certainly informative, although I don't know how reliably - but it's parapolitics all the way.

Robert Lumley's States of Emergency is good on the 1960s/70s radical scene in which - or next-door to which - the armed groups grew up. So is Steve Wright's Storming Heaven, which has a better grounding in radical theory than Lumley (you may or may not see this as a recommendation).

On the (left) armed groups in particular David Moss's The Politics of Left-wing Violence in Italy is probably the closest to a one-stop recommendation, although he's not much of a one for the conspiracy angle. (Neither am I, as it goes, so I like it a lot.) Donatella della Porta's Social Movements, Political Violence, and the State is split between Italy and Germany, and is based on real (interview) research, which is good; she puts the data through a "resource mobilisation" sieve, though, which I don't think does it any good. (I don't know much about the right-wing groups - can't really help you with that angle.)

Narrowing in again, on the Red Brigades and the Moro assassination specifically you've got to read Sciascia's The Moro Affair. Alison Jamieson's The Heart Attacked is mostly about the Moro operation and has the great merit of taking the armed struggle groups seriously (there's more interview data in there). There's an academic collection called The Red Brigades and left-wing terrorism in Italy, parts of which are very good indeed.

Lastly, my own book, 'More Work! Less Pay!': Rebellion and Repression in Italy, 1972-77 has some stuff in it about the armed groups, but very little about the Red Brigades (and even less about the conspiracist angle, which I just don't find very interesting). I don't cut off completely at the end of 1977 - which was the year before the Moro operation - but I did take the view that the baton had passed pretty conclusively from the mass movements to the armed groups at about that time, which made it a good point to stop.

Ginsborg and Wright are in paperback. Other than them, I'm afraid most of these are going to be out of print, and those which aren't (mine included) are liable to be university press hardbacks.


Oh, and don't read Alessandro Orsini's Anatomy of the Red Brigades. I think it's probably the worst book I've ever read, on any subject.


On S America, you could try Euclides da Cunha's Rebellion in the Backlands, a contemporary account of the Sertao revolt in Brazil. Unfortunately, the first half of it is a horribly dated and tiresome attempt at explaining the context in terms of the local topography and its effect on the population. The second half about the actual rebellion and its suppression is one of the most gripping things I've ever read. The whole thing is a kind of agonised meditation on what is actually involved in building a 'modern' nation in Latin America, hauinted by the final massacre of the rebels and their families, which is only hinted at in the last para.


Bit like Herodotus then, which I found terribly boring until Xerxes turns up and it turns into one of the greatest page-turners I've ever read.

Richard J

Josephus came to mind for me. Very dry until the revolt breaks out, and it gets remarkably straight-faced in describing how righteous and powerful the Romans were in pacifying Judea.

chris williams

Victor Sebestyen's _Revolution 1989_ is reasonable, and has a half-decent chapter on Ceaucescu's last days. "The picture went blank, apart from a caption which said 'live transmission'."


James, ISTR you have a footnote ref to Benjamin Yang's political biography of Deng Xiaoping in The Death of Mao, which I am reading with great interest at the moment (a perfect follow-up to Mao's Last Revolution, the ground-up complement to MacFarquhar and Schoenhaals's top-down approach). I take it you don't have a high opinion of that book either then?

It's only book-ended by footage of the televised trial, but the documentary film The Autobiography of Nicolai Ceausescu - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1646958/ - is well worth tracking down if you can (it seems to have got a US release, hope there's a European dvd soon enough too). Composed entirely of archive footage of Ceausescu, beginning with the funeral of his predecessor and taking you right through to the end, including some amazing eleventh hour quasi press conferences. Thoroughly absorbing and with awesome footage of North Korean state visits and a little snippet of Nicolai standing about with Mao looking a bit overawed.


The Yang book isn't bad for what it is, but it's understandably narrow. I want a big meaty character biography a la William Taubman.


I would like to apologise for the somewhat tasteless if inadvertent use of "ground-up" in my last comment.

Left Outside

Any really good book on pre-20th century South America - So these must exist, obviously, but I have a huge gap in my knowledge here, and the bits I do know are completely fascinating. Suggestions?

I found Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano very good, lots on 1500-1970 period through the lens of someone who's very excited about Allende having just taken power.

masked turcophile

There is also a lengthy French language general history of the Years of Lead, but I haven't read it, so can't vouch for its quality. http://www.autrement.com/ouvrages.php?ouv=2746713833


It looks interesting, but it's an anthology, not a history (the title should be mentally prefixed with "Certain aspects of..."). There's an informative review linked here.


I was satisfied with the "Penguin History of Latin America." The short version is: caudillismo, revolution, repeat.

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