Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Books, Books, Books

Okay, boys and girls, here are a few more recs for your reading pleasure. First up: Committed: A Rabble-Rouser's Memoir. It's the autobiography of Dan Mathews, the master propagandist for PETA. Mathews is a likable, fascinating guy, and a first-rate writer. For the record, I am no fan of PETA. In fact, I find much of the animal rights contingent insufferable, but I was completely hooked by Mathews' exuberant voice. His biggest failing is a serious tendency to name-drop, but that's part of his charm. You can read my full review here.

The Story of Cruel and Unusual by Colin Dayan is, as you might guess from the title, absolutely no fun at all. In fact, I'm not actually recommending that you read it; but I did for this brief review, and I must say it was an eye-opener. Dayan is a Vanderbilt professor. Her book is a dense academic examination of the evolving interpretation of the Eighth Amendment, which outlaws cruel and unusual punishment. It's a complex argument she makes--click over to the review for a fuller explanation--but her basic point is that we have always legally tortured prisoners in the country, and the Supreme Court led by William Rehnquist guaranteed that we'll continue to do so. Like the Eric Rudolph controversy, it's another reminder that prisoners' rights ultimately matter to all of us.

I've got no published review to shamelessly promote, but since the Palestinian situation is very much in the news just now, I want to recommend David Pratt's Intifada: The Long Day of Rage. Pratt is a mainstream journalist, currently the foreign editor for the Sunday Herald in Glasgow, Scotland, and he has been covering the Israeli-Palestinian situation since the first Intifada in the late 1980s. This book focuses primarily on the second Intifada beginning in 2000, and ends with Pratt visiting a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon during last summer's war. If you find yourself interested yet tuning out in confusion whenever the talking heads start blathering on this topic, then Pratt's book is for you. It's a good narrative of the recent history of the Palestinians, but it's told as a first person account of a reporter covering the conflict. It's engaging and readable. Pratt doesn't assume the reader knows who the players are. He provides a timeline and a thumbnail guide to the main Palestinian groups. I do wish the publisher, Casemate, had shelled out a few bucks for an index. Any book of this kind needs one. But that's a quibble. It's a terrific little book. You can see a lengthy discussion with Pratt about the book here.

I feel the need to note that Pratt makes no bones about being fundamentally sympathetic to the Palestinians. He is not anti-Israel. As I said, he's a mainstream journalist, and not reflexively partisan. I know this is a touchy issue for a lot of people, and I generally stay away from it in my blogging. I don't think I have anything to say that is sufficiently valuable to risk pissing people off. I don't think my bloviating is going to change anybody's mind. I really think this book provides a glimpse into a side of the story that isn't told much in this country, and is worth checking out for that reason alone.


chayaruchama said...

Your future DH [aka, my current one], is greatly intrigued, as usual, by your choices.
We'll check 'em out.
Monsieur Paranoia is always on the lookout for more fuel for his omnipresent insomnia...
And his information-hunger.
God, I loves that man.
Thanks, chica.

BitterGrace said...

Chaya, your/(my) better half is probably the one person I would encourage actually to read the Colin Dayan book. Did he ever finish the Fisk doorstop? I am embarrassed to say I have not, though I hope to.