Ecosocialist Bookshelf, June 2023

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From peasant farms to world history to cities in crisis, six important new books for greens and reds

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Ecosocialist Bookshelf is a monthly column, hosted by Ian Angus. Books described here may be reviewed at length in future. Inclusion of a book does not imply endorsement, or that C&C agrees with everything (or even anything!) these books say.

Jim Handy
A History of Peasant Productivity and Repression

Fernwood Publishing
Again and again we are told that feeding the world’s billions requires replacing peasant farming with industrial agriculture. Handy proves that isn’t true, using case studies to show the extraordinary efficiency with which English cottagers, Jamaican ex-slaves, Guatemalan Mayan campesinos, Nigerian hill farmers and Kerala hut dwellers obtained bountiful and diversified harvests from small parcels of land. Important reading for anyone concerned about food sovereignty and the possibility of sustainable societies.

Sureshkumar Muthukumaran
Agricultural Innovation in the Ancient Middle East and the Mediterranean

University of California Press
Thousands of years ago, essential food crops from South Asia migrated to the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The Tropical Turn shows the significant impact that and the rest of South Asia had on the ecologies, dietary habits, and cultural identities of peoples across the ancient world, and offers an original account of human connectivity across Afro-Eurasia from the Bronze Age on.

Radhika Desai
A Geopolitical Economy

Desai investigates the decay of neoliberal capitalism as revealed in the Covid-19 crisis and the conflict over Ukraine and their repercussions across the globe. She argues that only by appreciating the seriousness of the crisis and rectifying our understanding of capitalism can progressive forces thwart a future of chaos and/or authoritarianism and begin the long task of building socialism.

Andy Merrifield
Monthly Review Press
What do successive lockdowns and exoduses, remote work and small-business collapse, redundant office space and unaffordable living space portend for our society in cities and our cities in society? In his soulful and poetic examination of the future of city life, Merrifield blends modern jazz with French Surrealism, Thomas Pynchon’s rocket science with the odyssey of James Joyce, Henri Lefebvre’s Marxism with the street ballets of Jane Jacobs to open an urgent conversation about the future of city life.

Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway
How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market

Bloomsbury Publishing
In the 20th century, business elites, trade associations, wealthy powerbrokers, and media created a new orthodoxy: down with “big government” and up with unfettered markets. Oreskes and Conway document their campaigns to rewrite textbooks, combat unions, and defend child labor. Free market ideology has given us housing crises, the opioid scourge, climate destruction, and millions of preventable Covid-19 deaths. Breaking the myth of market essentialism is a key part of the fight for a better future.

Peter Frankopan
An Untold History

Environmental change has long influenced human history. From the fall of the Moche civilization in South America that came about because of the cyclical pressures of El Niño to volcanic eruptions in Iceland that affected Egypt and helped bring the Ottoman empire to its knees, climate change and its influences have always been with us. Frankopan’s insightful global history is definitely worth reading, but marred by an oversimplified account of capitalism and today’s environmental crises. (Read full review here.)