Books of Interest

Romare Bearden, The Piano Lesson

FAFA shares books we think will be of interest to you or that we would want you to know about.

Art

An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden by Mary Schmidt Campbell. Oxford University Press, 443 pp.

A much-needed, long-sought for, major examination of the life and work of one of America’s greatest artists that provides ample evidence as to why Romare Bearden should be considered as such.

The Romare Bearden Reader, edited by Robert G. O’Meally. Duke University Press, 413 pp. (paper). 

Romare Bearden: Assembling America.
New York Review of  Books, 13 February 2020 issue.
Sarah Elizabeth Lewis’s fascinating and must-read review of An American Odyssey: Life and Work of Romare Bearden. 

A Writer of Our Time: The Life and Work of John Berger by Joshua Sperling. Verso, 304 pp.

A highly recommended biography of one of the greatest art thinkers of the 20th century. Berger via his TV presentations and classic Ways of Seeing had a tremendous impact on British art criticism and thought. When the young Berger, as a novelist, won the Booker prize in 1972 he donated half the prize money to the Black Panthers. Sperling teaches at Oberlin College and has written for Brooklyn Rail, Jump Cut, and Guernica.

Inner: the Collected Writings and Selected Interviews of Sean Scully. Hatje Cantz, 335 pp.

Uneven but revealing, a chronological collection of everything published by Sean Scully as he heroically battles against the all-too-frequently proclaimed death of painting. One could argue that painting is always dying, perhaps that is precisely why it is worth doing.

Robert Ryman by Vittorio Colaizzi. Phaidon, 342 pp.

Well-illustrated, first full-length examination of the work of seminal American minimalist Robert Ryman.

Literature

The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson. Norton, 582 pp.

Not your moribund all-too-nineteenth-century English translation they threw at you in school. Watson points out that Homer’s language was accessible, stripped down, even a bit strange, and metered. Willson delivers all this in a robust, enjoyable, read-out-loud-able metered English. This is the song of Homer for our own ears. A brilliant and wonderful achievement by the first woman to translate Homer’s Odyssey into English. This is arguably the birth of Western literature and Watson’s translation does it justice as such. Read it; read it out loud to each other; sing it; feel the strangeness of it; it’s all here.

Cyber Control and World Domination

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff. Public Affairs, 704 pp.

This is a revealing and thoroughly researched–albeit disturbing– analysis of our digital economy and its impact on politics and society. Zuboff shows what Facebook and Google et al. are really doing to us as they create the tools for and form a part of a new and omnivorous system of domination and control. Everyone in the art community interested in media and media culture needs to be aware of the contents of this book.

This Is Not Propoganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality by Peter Pomerantsev. Public Affairs, 256 pp.

An exploration of the dark arts of misinformation cyber-war and the weaponization of information by an investigative reporter who is able to penetrate into the cybernests lurking in places like Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, Philippines and South America where cyber hackers are employed by hostile governments to inflict confusion, chaos, and division on Western democracies.

Permanent Record by Edward Snowden. Henry Holt and Company: Metropolitan Books, 339 pp.

Snowden’s story of how he came to be the one who unmasked the United State’s ability to surveil every electronic communications channel, and thus potentially every human being, on the planet. The first half of the book is a short biography where Snowden makes a somewhat pedestrian and blatantly self-serving, even at times gratuitous, attempt at trying to show us he is a decent American citizen. It takes more than half the book before Snowden gets down to the good stuff, where Snowden makes three big claims: that US intelligence sources have the capacity to spy on everyone, that they have not relinquished this capability and perhaps never will, and that the metadata counts. Snowden claims that the metadata is actually the most important information for global surveillance and control. This is what gives people like Cambridge Analytica the power to influence elections, advertisers to control your buying behaviour, and governments to control their citizens. So when someone tells you, “don’t worry, we are only capturing metadata” according to Snowden that is precisely the time to start worrying.

Darkness by Design: The Hidden Power in Global Capital Markets by Walter Mattli. Princeton University Press, 264 pp.

A clear and full analysis of how a regulatory change in 2005 has led to the complete breakdown of a fair market in global stock markets and the disproportionate and anti-democratic accumulation of wealth and power that has come about directly as a consequence. Mattli shows how financial journalists such as Michael Lewis and many anti-market-capitalist conspiracy theories have fundamentally misunderstood the situation. But fair warning: the truth may be scarier than the misinformation. 

Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth by Rachel Madow. Crown Publishing Group, 432 pp.

TV host Rachel Madow set out to write a book about how we got to our present political situation, especially in terms of the United States and its current relationship to Russia. What she ended up with is a tale of two countries and the pervasive corruption and sins of the petroleum industry and its insidious reach into every corner of our planet. This is an unveiling of the Beast that is hurtling us toward global human ecosystem collapse.

We Need to Talk About Putin: How the West Gets Him Wrong by Mark Galeotti. Ebury Press, 160 pp.

Speaking about the belly of the Beast, it helps to know thine enemy and Galeotti gives us a readable and perhaps the best analysis yet of the opportunistic, power-hungry thug. Funny that it took one of the world’s top experts on Russia’s criminal underworld, not a political scientist or historian, to do this. Galeotti calls Putin’s type of rule not a kleptocracy, but an “adhocracy”– emphasizing the extent of empty, ruthless opportunism involved, unfettered by any coherent philosophy or ideology, let alone morality or human decency.

An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin’s Master Agent by Owen Matthews. Bloomsbury, 448 pp.

Sorge was a German Communist connected to the German ambassador in Tokyo working as a Soviet spy from 1933 to 1941. This book contains a lot of spy-thriller-level history that you will never hear in history class, even at university level. We get fascinating material about interwar periods–1920s Germany, 1930s Moscow, prewar Japan–as Sorge puts together a considerable espionage network in the face of Japanese close surveillance of all foreigners. Another takeaway is the beyond-bounds paranoia of Stalin who, in spite of Sorge’s significantly effective spying, could not drop the suspicion that Sorge was a double, or even triple, agent. Similarly, Sorge lost over a half-dozen superiors in the Soviet military intelligence due to Stalin’s ruthless internal purging. Even Sorge’s most important bit of spying–his discovery of Hitler’s coming invasion of the Soviet Union–led to nothing because it contradicted what Stalin expected. Of course, Sorge was vindicated when the tanks stormed over the steppe in 1941, but of little solace to Sorge who was arrested the same year. One of the things that makes this such an engaging history, besides the sheer cloak and dagger craziness of it all, is that Matthews has used Soviet intelligence archive information never before published by any other historian in the West.