Category Archives: Book Review

Hitler’s American Model

Hitler’s American Model –

The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law

By James Q. Whitman

Princeton University Press – £20.00

The Nazis did know, and did care, about American segregation; and it is clear that some of them were intrigued by the possibility of bringing Jim Crow to Germany. As we shall see, important programmatic Nazi texts made a point of invoking the example of Jim Crow segregation, and there were leading Nazi lawyers who made serious proposals that something similar ought to be introduced into Germany.

(‘Introduction’).

America remained the leader, and the Nazis repeatedly turned to the American example when developing their own immigration and citizenship law.

(‘Making Nazi Flags and Citizens’).

As tough and unsettling, resilient and brilliant as this book undoubtedly is, one does have to surmise that if Germany’s vile Nazi Party were still in existence today, they would not only have America’s example to furnish their appalling ideology, but dare I say it, England’s as well. And though this may be a little difficult to read (let alone come to terms with), it is nevertheless, true.

The degree to which the English populace are being so dogmatically duped by the horrendous likes of Nigel Farage, Tommy Robinson and its very own Prime Minister, Boris Johnson (along with his entire cabinet), does indeed substantiate an impeccable example as to what took place in 1930s Germany.

Needless to say, I haven’t even touched on Britain’s all too cavalier media such as The Sun, The Daily Mail and even the BBC. So when James Q. Whitman writes: ‘’America, in the eyes of […] German literature, was a laboratory for experimentation in diminished citizenship rights,’’ he could just as easily be referring to the UK – England in particular.

A nation who’s current citizens rights are being eroded unto an unquestionable plateau of no return. This alone could partially account for Hitler’s American Model – The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law being as lucid, disturbing and powerful a read as it invariably is: ‘’[…] the story of Nazi interest in the American example does not end with the eugenics of the early 1930s; historians have carried it into the nightmare years of the Holocaust in the early 1940s as well […]. It is here that some of the most unsettling evidence has been assembled, as historians have shown that Nazi expansion eastward was accompanied by invocations of the American conquest of the West, with its accompanying wars on Native Americans […]. It is against this background that I ask the reader to ponder the evidence that this book has to present. In the early 1930s, as the Nazis were crafting the program of racial persecution enshrined in the Nuremberg Laws, they took a great interest not only in the way Henry Ford built cars for the masses, not only in the way Hollywood built its own market, not only in FDR’ style of government, not only in American eugenics, and not only in American westward expansion, but also in the lessons to be garnered from the techniques of American racist legislation and jurisprudence.’’

These 161 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Notes, Suggestions for Further Reading and Index) depict countless troublesome parallels with both the US and the UK.

Thankfully, now that the deplorable Donald Trump has been resigned unto the cesspit of a colossal mistake, the parallel with the US is no longer as blatant or as evident.

The same cannot be said for the UK.

David Marx

A Life in the News

A Life in the News –

Winston Churchill

By Richard Toye

Oxford University Press – £25.00

No matter how intimate his relationship with the subject, no matter how free the flow of confidences and reminiscences between them, there is no substitute for diligent, methodical note-taking from the press cuttings dated 1900 onwards. Here will be found the raw, unadorned substance of Churchill’s vacillating career: political campaigns that the world has forgotten, speeches that have been excluded, as if by conspiracy, from every hack panegyric masquerading in the form of biography.

(Introduction).

The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, appears to be in the news constantly at the moment; although for all the horrendous wrong reasons such as cloying corruption, expensive wallpaper, swashbuckling embezzlement, running the country into the ground and generally, if not systematically, destroying the union formerly known as the UK.

Not forgetting the telling of relentless lies of course.

And all within the somewhat fraught and delusional gambit of him coming on like a fifth-rate Churchill.

Were he to read this altogether concise and chronologically illuminating book, he might, for a seething split-second, realise how a true politician and statesman ought to behave in the public eye. With dignity. With decorum. In other words, the sort of behavioural qualities that are clearly and utterly alien to the likes of Johnson – especially within the working parameters of the press and media. Something which Churchill, surely the country’s most popular prime minister ever, understood exceedingly well. And visa versa: ‘’If it was his own efforts that made him a hero, it was the press that made him a celebrity – and it is the media that has been considerably responsible for perpetuating his memory and shaping his reputation in the years since his death.’’

Moreover, what accounts for A Life in the News – Winston Churchill being such an interesting and all-round captivating read, is its relative simplicity of language (especially considering some of the subject matter) and fine nuance within the actual telling itself.

This is a quality in evidence, very early on in the book: ‘’The volume of coverage was significant, insofar as it was greater than most of us receive in a lifetime, but its importance should not be exaggerated: it was typical disposable Victorian newspaper content, which was doubtless instantly forgettable to most readers. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the Cuban affair marked the small beginnings of Churchill’s global fame; and the same model of adventure plus controversy would help him feed a hungry press and his own desire for celebrity over the remaining years of the century’’ (‘A Pushing Age’).

Apart from the fact that he breaths air, a loquacious lust for celebrity might be the only thing Johnson will ever have in common with Churchill. That is not to say the latter was without his faults (some might say very far from it), but in this high-octane age of acute and immediate media frenzy, it is both astonishing and rather soul destroying to come to terms with just how very low the current prime minister has stooped.

Again, Johnson needs to read this book.

He might actually learn how to conduct himself.

David Marx

The Basement Tapes

The Basement Tapes:

Bob Dylan’s Summer of 1967

By Jochen Markhorst

Independently Published – £11.11

An additional advantage for the Bard who is so fond of keeping things vague (according to Dylan scholar Joan Baez), is the ambiguity that is almost ingrained in this form; the conversation partner being invisible and unknown, allows by definition the circumstances to be open to multiple explanations. The You can also be an abstraction, for example, or a population group, or a social movement, or the mirror image of the narrator – open hunting season for enthusiastic Dylan exegetes with cryptanalytic ambitions, at any rate.

(‘Tears Of Rage’)

Dylan’s lyrics do not seem very elaborate and developed, but if we take it seriously, the approach is: psychological. An excess of nothing makes a person tense, insensitive, vicious, deceitful, turns him, in short, into a particularly unpleasant fellow. But, as mentioned, not very elaborated. Presumably this is also one of those lyrics that Dylan quickly rattles out of his old typewriter in the living room of the Big Pink, while the guys from The Band downstairs prepare the stuff for the next session.

(‘Too Much of Nothing’)

There is something inherently inspired within the Dylan drenched synthesis and analysis of Jochen Markhorst. Clearly a fan cum Dutch author, who not only knows his subject – inside out and upside down might I add – but writes with the sort of sparkling intellect that simply bestows his readership with a yearning urge to turn yet more pages.

Having already written seven books on the various works of The Bard (Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits having just been translated into English), The Basement Tapes: Bob Dylan’s Summer of 1967 is his sixth; and is a quintessential roller-coaster ride through yet more back pages of the legendary Big Pink sessions.

Indeed, all thirty-two of the most relative and completed Basement songs are herein brought to bear with a fresh and most imaginative perspective.

Within the context of ‘One For The Road’ for instance, Markhorst’s research enables the reader to get under the trajectorial skin of Frank Sinatra’s influence on Dylan. And he does so by deciphering both Sinatra’s classic song of almost the same name ‘One For My Baby (and One More for the Road)’ along with ‘Ebb Tide.’ Both songs of which appeared on the classic 1958 album, Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely. Both songs of which were invariably (and understandably) imprinted within Dylan’s musical psyche: ‘’At Ray’s, where there weren’t many folk records, I used to play the phenomenal ‘Ebb Tide’ by Frank Sinatra a lot and it had never failed to fill me with awe. The lyrics were so mystifying and stupendous. When Frank sang that song, I could hear everything in his voice – death, God and the universe, everything.

It is hard to argue with Dylan’s sentiment.

I would also contend that when Sinatra sings said songs, it always feels as if he is singing directly to me. Hence Dylan hearing ‘’everything in his voice.’’

So for anyone who wants to get deep inside the nigh mythological Basement Tapes, I’d highly recommend this altogether majestic read of a most readable book.

David Marx

Bob Dylan –The Stories Behind The Classic Songs 1962-1969

Bob Dylan –
The Stories Behind The Classic Songs 1962-1969
By Andy Gill
Welbeck – £21.71

[…] whatever the merits (or otherwise) of his subsequent work, and not withstanding in particular the greatness of Blood on the Tracks, it’s upon his sixties songs that Bob Dylan’s reputation ultimately rests: that extraordinary sequence of records which unerringly tracked the tenor of the times as he moved through his various incarnations as raw young folkie, prince of protest, fold-rock innovator, symbolist rocker and country-rock pioneer.

(Andy Gill – Foreword)

Got no religion. Tried a bunch of different religions. The churches are divided. Can’t make up their minds, and neither can I.

(Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’)

The song has to be of a certain quality for me to sing… one aspect it would have to have is that it didn’t repeat itself.

(Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding)

No matter how much one reads on Bob Dylan, be it about the man himself, his extraordinary catalogue of work, or perhaps a fraught, critical assimilation of the two – it remains almost impossible to arrive at a satisfactory (let alone cathartic) conclusion. Reason being, there is always so much more to invariably stumble upon and as such, ultimately discover within the truly idiosyncratic thesis of the Dylan mind.

Indeed, the world according to Bob Dylan is so vast, so colourful, so strewn with mayhem and madness and genius, it is nigh impossible to get a grip.

Perhaps the (illusive) answers are blowing in the wind after all.

Just like William Shakespeare before him, both the man and the myth that is, Dylan too, has a comparable tomb of work that is simply riddled with more contention and speculation than one can ever possibly contend with. But unlike William the Wordsmith, Dylan is still very much alive and kicking and touring and answerable to no one.

This may partially explain why he still chooses to bestow the world with such elongated conjecture. Never confirming or conforming – denying or admitting.

Hence, the sheer number of books written on and about him, of which Andy Gill’s Bob Dylan – The Stories Behind The Classic Songs 1962-1969 is an acutely valid and important one. Not only is it succinct and to the point, more importantly, it never rambles unto a plateau of fog induced, philosophical meandering – unlike so like so many other Dylan books I have read and reviewed.

It is what it is – a book which ‘’examines the stories behind every Dylan song on the following albums: Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’, Another Side of Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde, The Basement Tapes, John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline.’’

In a way, it is a Dylan dictionary of songs in chronological album order, unto which the reader can briefly indulge by way of succinct analysis and clarification. Something, which at the end of the day, is all we sometimes ever want. And need.

Homing in on one of Dylan’s most celebrated periods, the recording of Blonde On Blonde, the author writes: ‘’Given the lyrical malleability […], it’s perhaps best not to try and ascribe too literal an interpretation to ‘Visions Of Joanna,’ which is more of an impressionistic mood anyway. If it doesn’t really matter to the writer whether it’s the peddler or the fiddler who speaks to the countess, why should it matter to us? The song remains one of the high points of Dylan’s canon, particularly favoured among hardcore Dylanophiles, possibly because it so perfectly sustains its position on the cusp of poetic semantics, forever teetering on the brink of lucidity, yet remaining impervious to strict decipherment.’’

To substantiate the aforementioned point about conjecture, even here, Gill aligns himself with the shimmering supposition to that of his subject; for which the latter is renowned and the former (and perhaps by default, us) could be considered none the wiser.

Even though the author pertains to set the record straight by then writing: ‘’For a long time, the song went under the working title of ‘Seems Like A Freeze-Out’ (a term meaning to ‘’stand-off’’), which evokes something of the air of nocturnal suspension in which the verse tableaux are sketched. They’re full of whispering and muttering, low-volume radio, echoes and ghosts, a misty, crepuscular netherworld by the increasingly familiar denizens of Dylan’s imagination, a parade of lowlifes, functionaries, all-night girls and slumming snobs.’’

If nothing else, Bob Dylan – The Stories Behind The Classic Songs 1962-1969 is an altogether enlightening, as well as entertaining read. A quality, which, given the brevity, utter depth and importance of the subject matter, makes it an unquestionably worthwhile addition to anyone’s (Dylan) library.

David Marx

Mussolini and the Eclipse of Italian Fascism

Mussolini and the Eclipse of Italian Fascism –

From Dictatorship to Populism

By R.J. B. Bosworth

Yale University Press – £25.00

The image conveyed is a familiar one of a dictator who was half killer and half joke: ‘As the 1930s wore on, the new Roman empire, the Fascist empire, was beginning to fray. As a circus master, Mussolini was still without peer, but lacked the resources – and he the strategic prowess – to transform the political map of Europe. Not so Adolf Hitler.

One of the evident attractions of past evil is an alluring apprehension that it might return. In the contemporary world with rightist and nationalist populism ousting alternative political models in very many societies, the words dictatorship, fascism and totalitarianism have regained menace. There is much pondering whether we are ‘going back to the 1930s,’ as pundits phrase it.

(‘Mussolini and the Ghost of Adolf Hitler’)

With current cronyism in the UK’s government seemingly out of control, an ever increasing cleavage between the haves and the have nots, and former US President, Donald Trump, having re-written the rule book with regards rule and divide by way of fake news, of course we are going back to the 1930s.

There is absolutely no question about it whatsoever.

That so many societies are hurtling back to an epoch of monstrous calamity and dishonesty, might be considered one thing. That it is essentially being ignored in England, and positively promoted in the US (lest we forget that 74 million people voted for Trump), is altogether another. Another in as much that one cannot help but wonder where (on earth) society is heading with regards the inexorable, destabilizing onslaught of populism – which to all intents and foreboding purposes, Benito Mussolini fundamentally invented.

This is something that is already mentioned in the Introduction to Mussolini and the Eclipse of Italian Fascism – From Dictatorship to Populism, where the esteemed historian and author R. J. B. Bosworth categorically writes: ‘’Like quite a few other dictatorships, in their latter days, ideas mattered less in Mussolini’s rule, and booty (and hanging onto ‘power’) more. This sad mixture was the hollow solution to government offered by Mussolini’s descent into populism after 1932.This dictator was cheaply ready to evoke the people, while in reality bringing them death and destruction and ensuring that, after 1945, Italy would be granted a place in the world’s hierarchy well below the rung of the least of the Great Powers’’ (my italics).

If nothing else, this most readable and terrific of books, plays testament to history itself; especially within the arena of history (unfortunately) repeating itself. So although anchored in the past, it is quintessentially current in that it perfectly reflects what is happening right now, far better than many of today’s periodicals and media outlets.

As much is wholly substantiated when Professor Mark Gilbert, of Johns Hopkins University writes: ‘’This trenchant, eminently readable book is a convincing analysis of the decline and fall of Fascism. Its conclusion – that Mussolini’s Italy was a ‘’weak regime that went to its collapse broadcasting fake news about itself’’ – ensures that the book also has a contemporary ring.’’

If one wishes to fully understand and come to grips with the ideology behind the political cancer that is populism, then this is most definitely, definitely the book to read.

David Marx

Spiritual Crisis

Spiritual Crisis –

Varieties and Perspectives of a Transpersonal Phenomenon

Fransje de Waard

Imprint-Academic – £17.95

As horrific and frightful as the demonic-divine can appear to the mind, it is just as alluring and enthralling at the same time. And the creature that trembles before the numen, flinching most humbly in a manner to appropriate it. The mysterium is to him not only the wondrous, but the wonderful.

(‘Sanctity’)

When I see someone screaming in the street I think, take some medication mate, then you’ll be one with it. I’m very down-to-earth about it, you see. I’d be able to deal with someone on such a trip, but what on earth can the normal world do with someone like that, barking his head off with a bible on the Leidseplein?

(‘The Transpersonal Perspective’)

From the God Affair to the Beach Boys, the Scientific View to Sanctity, this rather readable book – given the unquestionably flimsy if not dense subject matter – traverses a wide terrain that both enlightens and asks questions.

Indeed, ‘’the mysterium is […] not only the wondrous, but the wonderful.’’

Might it be said that once this is realised and understood, the second part of the title of this semi-existential book, Spiritual Crisis – Varieties and Perspectives of a Transpersonal Phenomenon, is no longer as daunting a fixture as might initially seem.

To be perfectly honest, as soon as I normally hear such a declaration as transpersonal phenomenon, I normally turn the other way in search of a pint or Prince.

So to stumble upon an altogether down-to-earth book such as this, is encouraging to say the least. Either because I am inadvertently more accepting thereof, or the book itself is written in such a way as to be understood rather than to ward off: ‘’I was about 21 at the time. I had known already about all the drugs and stuff in that world, but the loneliness of it as well, the isolation, really dreadful! It’s all so superficial I think that the fear somehow creates excitement as well, and then I end up in that struggle, as if to say: no one’s going to get the better of me any more, I can stand up for myself […]. Because my father never taught me: come along darling, put your faith in life. No, everyone was a bastard. And as soon as the fear emerges, something happens like: I can’t cope, I’m going over the edge, I’ll end up with a psychosis’’ (‘The Transpersonal Perspective’).

I’m convinced we all know someone like the young woman described above; facing head on the countless demons that needn’t have been there in the first place. But sometimes amid life’s potential problems (and we all have them), we cannot see the light at the other end. In fact, sometimes, there is no other end – just darkness – which is why we sometimes have to make the most stern of choices.

Spiritual Crisissheds light as to how this may be accomplished.

After all, ‘’the American comedienne Lily Tomlin once observed with surprise that we call it ‘praying’ when we talk to God and ‘schizophrenia’ when God talks back to us.’’

David Marx

A Short History of German Philosophy

A Short History of German Philosophy

Vittorio Hösle

Princeton University Press – £18.99

Since there is no proportionality between the finite and the infinite, only learned ignorance of God is possible, in whom the greatest and the smallest coincide, because nothing is opposed to him.

(‘The Birth of God in the Soul’)

Research on nature is in fact infinite, but that does not mean that nature itself is infinite. At the same time Kant attributes a regulative function to the three ideas of reason: the soul, the world, and God.

(‘The German Ethical Revolution’)

In a relatively accessible narrative that deciphers complex ideas, Vittorio Hösle – a German-American philosopher and the Paul Kimball Professor of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame – herein traces the evolution of German philosophy, and anchors its prime influence within the parameters of German culture, science and politics.

All three areas of which are relatively resolute in relation to their non-malleability.

As such, this being a book on (German) philosophy, much of its essence can be placed within the socio-politico arena of what is taking place today. For instance, were the words of the first of the above opening quotes to be aligned with what is currently taking place on the streets of Belfast, one would undeniably need to question the essential reasoning behind the inexorable divide between Protestants and Catholics. Particularly in light of ‘’only learned ignorance of God is possible, in whom the greatest and the smallest coincide.’’

For learned ignorance, can indeed go a long way.

And when God is thrown into the equation, it can go a whole lot further.

So, even though A Short History of German Philosophy is a short history of German philosophy, much of its subject matter transcends; which, to all intents and philosophical purposes, is but one strand of what philosophy is all about, isn’t it?

One of the most interesting and refreshing aspects of these 268 pages (excluding Preface to the English Translation and Index of Names) is the light shed on Immanuel Kant, the chapter from which the second of the above opening quotes is taken (‘The German Ethical Revolution’).

It’s ‘’infinite’’nature is relative to the aforementioned, although the one prime difference is reason takes hold by way of ‘’the soul, the world, and God.’’

All things considered, this is at best, diversionary; at worst, endemic of yet further reasoning: ‘’Kant did not succeed in adducing a common property of all judgements that he considered synthetic a priori. But had he done nothing more than ask this question, he would have been assured a place of honour in the history of thought. Kant, however, sought not simply to list the synthetic a priori judgements he considered valid, but also to ground them, precisely in the so-called transcendental deductions.’’

Moreover, having lived on the United States myself, I found part of the author’s opening gambit in the Preface of particular interest: ‘’I have now lived long enough in the United States to say that such an interpretation of general culture and philosophy is quite alien to this great country. Here, philosophers understand themselves mainly as smart puzzle solvers – which is indeed noble work, but rarely inspires society at large or even other disciplines or the arts.’’

I couldn’t agree more.

Lucid and literary, A Short History of German Philosophy is a more than valuable contribution to that which its title suggests (and then some).

David Marx