Scoop Review of Books

Archive for June, 2009

Gangs Under Academic Microscope

Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh
Penguin Books Limited, $23. Reviewed by TERENCE WOOD

gang-leaderAs anyone who’s ever completed a graduate degree can tell you, social science field research is often surprisingly tough. It’s hard not to feel like an intruder or, perhaps more accurately, like part of an extractive industry as you pepper people with questions. It’s easy to feel like a fraud too; the aspiring ‘expert’ who knows less about the topic than your research subjects. Then, depending on where you are, there’s the potential for culture shock, not mention loneliness. From mugging, to malaria, to the chance that your data won’t actually be of any use, the whole enterprise is filled with risks.

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From the Edge of Annihilation

Kiwi Compañeros: New Zealand and the Spanish Civil War, various, edited by Mark Derby
Canterbury University Press, Christchurch, 2009. Reviews by SCOTT HAMILTON and SIMON NATHAN

In Spain, the pamphlet-poem that raised hundreds of pounds for British supporters of the Republican government in 1937, WH Auden saluted the young men and women who made the journey to the ‘arid square’ of Iberia to defend the Republicans against Franco’s fascist insurrection:

They clung like birds to the long expresses that lurch
Through the unjust lands, through the night, through the alpine tunnel;
They floated over the oceans;
They walked the passes. All presented their lives.

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The Partial Exposé of Halliburton

Halliburton’s Army – How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War by Pratap Chatterjee
Nation Books, New York, 2009. Reviewed by JIM MILES


This is a book the Halliburton/KBR can live with. It airs out their dirty laundry: the bribes, kickbacks, the inefficient work, the near slave labour conditions of its subcontracted employees, the deaths from insurgent attacks and electrocution, massive overcharging on its invoices, poor record-keeping, and other serious allegations. Yet for all that, the huge corporate profits taken in by Halliburton/KBR seem to reduce this to the cost of doing business, a business that now extends well into the future with the widening of the war into destabilizing Pakistan and Iran. Read more »

The Spinmeister Behind Roosevelt

The Making of FDR: A Story of Stephen T. Early, America’s First Modern Press Secretary, by Linda Lotridge Levin.
Amherst, New York: Prometheus Press. Reviewed by RICHARD SHAFER


THE MAKING OF FDR argues that the image of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a modern, charismatic, and politically astute leader was ‘made’ in a significant way by his talented but non-intellectual press secretary, Stephen Early. The author, journalist Linda Lotridge Levin, clearly makes the case that Early played a crucial role in the Roosevelt presidency that lasted from 1932 until his death in 1945.

Like President Barak Obama in 2009, Roosevelt assumed leadership during a severe economic crisis and used the media to encourage the American people to regain faith in their ability to rebuild the economy. Roosevelt began his inaugural address with the famous words, ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’. As the book documents, he depended heavily on Early to get his message out in an effective way.
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Lamb to the Slaughter

Small Wars Permitting: Dispatches from foreign lands by Christina Lamb
Harper Press Reviewed by SARAH CHANDLER


Written over a twenty year period, Small Wars Permitting is an assortment of around 40 newspaper articles by the British war correspondent Christina Lamb.

Now in her forties, Christina Lamb has been reporting from the world’s hot spots since she was just 21. Having survived many perilous situations, she says she believes her life must be charmed: “I have spent twenty years living on the edge … I’ve been pinned down by Russian tanks … kidnapped by Pakistani intelligence … survived car crashes and emergency landings in planes held together by tape, and come under sniper fire in Iraq”. She was also a passenger on the then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s bus when it was bombed in Pakistan in 2007.

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