New and noteworthy – 3 November 2016

The state’s war on welfare, the tracks of our years, what the emperor’s historian daughter saw, Ronnie forever, and tales of an American city

November 3, 2016
Orange wrecking ball demolishing building wall
Source: iStock

Cash Not Care: The Planned Demolition of the UK Welfare State
Mo Stewart
New Generation Publishing

Commended by Danny Dorling and Sir Bert Massie, this study represents six years of self-funded research by Stewart, an independent scholar, disabled veteran and former healthcare worker. “Objective”? No. Full of heartbreaking truths? Surely. Courageous? Without a doubt. Bristling with references, footnotes, boxes, cartoons and determinedly emphatic use of boldface, this study crosses a minefield of acronyms, austerity, elected quislings and outsourced bad-deed-doers, coroners’ reports and incapacity benefit reassessments. Research done as though it were a matter of life or death – and it is.


Englishness, Pop and Post-War Britain
Kari Kallioniemi
Intellect

A Finnish cultural historian raised on Pink Floyd and David Bowie vows to “criss-cross through ephemeral debate concerning the various manifestations of pop music in its relation to Englishness”; the result is much better than most books in this field. Theory interludes rarely stifle insights that, if they lack (say) Owen Hatherley’s dazzling mots justes, are often acute, and born of close, loving listening. A bumper mixtape of relevant artists fast-forwards through the “sturdy purity” of Vera Lynn, Rick Wakeman’s “middle England conservative laddishness”, Spandau Ballet’s “sexless funk”, the “pop Orwellianism” of the Beautiful South, PJ Harvey’s hauntology and Danny Boyle’s 2012 Olympics ceremony – and asks the inevitable question: “Is Birmingham the most uncool of all British rock cities?”


Anna Komnene: The Life and Work of a Medieval Historian
Leonora Neville
Oxford University Press

Neville would be commended for a much duller, less sharp and less well-written book on Anna Komnene (1083-1153), daughter of Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos, given the paucity of studies of this fascinating figure – the last was published in 1929. Anna’s epic history of her father’s reign, The Alexiad, is the prime source material for this study, and Neville is especially perceptive on her posthumous reputation (“arrogant and ambitious”) in the eyes of mostly male scholars. A beautifully argued conclusion makes a case for her importance – and for Neville’s admiration for a long-ago fellow historian.


Reagan: American Icon
Iwan Morgan
I.B. Tauris

“The prime minister handbagged other leaders who treated Reagan with disrespect at the Ottawa summit. ‘Pierre, you’re being obnoxious,’ she snapped at Trudeau. ‘Stop behaving like a naughty schoolboy.’” The author is an eminent scholar; his book is a trade title through and through. Seamless prose, swear-you-were-there mise en scènes, folksy asides (“Needing to count the pennies when first married…”) and voice-of-experience musings tailored to this year’s Trump-candidacy market (“Whether the 40th president would have thought that American politics has changed for the better since his day is unlikely, however”) will please a mass readership. On-the-other-handisms whip it to a brisk close.


What a City Is For: Remaking the Politics of Displacement
Matt Hern
MIT Press

Food trucks and craft beer: who wouldn’t love Portland, Oregon? But, as Hern observes, “bam! – in the time it takes to order a locally brewed, kombucha-and-bacon-flavored donut, the African American community has been scattered”. He says “I’m frankly not all that interested in Portland” – but he is. His study of the cleansing of its black-majority Albina neighbourhood makes for a thoughtful, first-person book that unpicks both “warm and fuzzy” sloganeering and “the hostile cynicism thing” as Hern asks “who deserves access to land and why…those questions strike me as right at the heart of what a city should be for”.

karen.shook@tesglobal.com

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