The Secret World of Oil (2014) Ken Silverstein

The Secret World of OilSilverstein is a top notch investigative journalist. Alexander Cockburn was his mentor, and the two co-edited Counterpunch a cutting edge lefty muckraking sheet during the 1990s. Silverstein is not anywhere near the kind of literary stylist of longform journalism that Cockburn was… but as a deep digging source developing fact-finder he is unmatched. His short book contains six powerfully packed chapter bios of a series of shady oil trade fixers, finders, flacks, financiers and a Bush to boot. Worthy of a place on the shelf next to Steve Coll’s masterful Private Empire: ExxonMobile and American Power (2013). Silverstein’s reliance on the two 800 page whopper books by Daniel Yergin , The Prize (1992) and more recently The Quest (2012) suggest that I need to keep some room on that shelf for these two. Upton Sinclair’s.. Oil (1927) is on the shelf too.. in the earliest best Muckraking tradition!


Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail (2012) Oscar Martinez Jr

Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant TrailGripping series of reports from a very brave Salvdoran journalist who travels with Central American migrants across Mexico to the US Border several times. The dangers, the hardship, uncertainty, and complete lack of ability to rely on any law or security in their home villages, across Mexico, across the border, across the desert, to hopeful reunion with family and hard work for wages to send back. One thing he learns is that all of these many tens of thousands of people on the move at any time are very aware they are in a life/death situation. Two or three of the chapters describe his experience with migrants traveling by “Beast.” These are trains from southern mexico that migrants ride on top of very many hours over many days getting north. Falling off is common. Falling prey to kidnap by drug gang outlaws is even more common. Rape equally common. Frighteningly grim tales are related. Cell phones had better not be found on a traveler by the outlaw (many of whom are Los Zetas) since this will key the assailants right in to a list of people to call for ransom. Recent film with Gael Garcia Bernal ___Who is Dayani Cristal?__ produced as a hybrid docudrama vividly portrays much of this. The writing is not great.. but it will stand as enduring testimony from a courageous source.


A Tolerable Anarchy: Rebels, Reactionaries, and the Making of American Freedom (2009) Jedediah Purdy

A Tolerable Anarchy: Rebels, Reactionaries, and the Making of American FreedomPurdy essays in Atlantic, Dissent, maybe a few other places like this have been of interest to me over the years. He burst on the political/cultural criticism scene a decade or more ago as a genius homeschooled kid from Carolina hill country (or close by.) He took aim at the prevalence of a mainstream form of “irony” that suffused the culture he found when he made his way out of the woods with his handmade banjo into Duke/Yale legal studies. I didn’t understand then or remember now what the argument about irony was about.. and in this book I don’t have a real grip on the “tolerable anarchy” of his title. His early discussion of Edmund Burke and Samuel Johnson on the American Revolution was fantastic. Likewise his treatment of Adam Smith is very strong at drawing the connection between the Smith popularized by Wealth of Nations and the less known Smith of the Scottish Enlightenment and his Theory of Moral Sentiments. This first third of the book is well worth the price of admission.


The Enigma of Capital

harveyDavid Harvey’s Enigma of Capital a book-length example of Marxian crisis theory addressed to the current situation. Few writers could be better qualified than Harvey to test the continuing validity of a Marxian approach to crisis, a situation he helpfully defines – dictionaries of economics tend to lack any entry for the word – as ‘surplus capital and surplus labour existing side by side with seemingly no way to put them back together’. This is at once reminiscent of Keynes’s ‘underemployment equilibrium’ and of the news in the daily papers: in the US, corporations are sitting on almost two trillion dollars in cash while unemployment hovers just below 10 per cent.

Benjamin Kunkel, London Review of Books, Feb. 2011