New and noteworthy – 9 March 2017

Africa’s 17th-century warrior queen; the modern equivalent of tinkering in your shed; mergers and acquisitions in the world of HE; and what tax havens really do to the economy

March 9, 2017
Angola countryside
Source: iStock

Njinga of Angola: Africa’s Warrior Queen
Linda M. Heywood
Harvard University Press

Over her decades-long reign in the 17th century in central Africa, Queen Njinga was by far the most successful of African rulers in resisting Portuguese colonialism, argues Heywood. What’s more, as this detailed and engaging study with walk-on parts for Vatican plotters, Dutch traders and Brazilian slavers shows, she rivalled Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great for political nous and military prowess. Tactically pious and unhesitatingly murderous; a “subverter of gender norms”, in the inevitable formulation; a national heroine in today’s Angola; a commanding figure in velvet slippers and elephant hair ripe for big-screen treatment; and surely, as our social media age puts it, one badass woman.

Hackerspaces: Making the Maker Movement
Sarah R. Davies

From Stitch’n’Bitch sessions to 3D printing, and from building robots to subverting IKEA’s flat-pack diktats: hacking, says Davies in an enthusiastic but critically aware study of US “hackerspaces”, is not only “a kind of twenty-first century update of the tinkering your grandparents might have done in their garage” but also “about ‘changing the world’ through invention and creativity, and taking control of the technologies that surround you”. She also pinpoints the less appealing side to “brogramming” culture, where (as one interviewee says) “women go to hackerspaces because they sound amazing…but there’s some creepy guy who won’t stop talking to you about how he wants to teach you things you already know”.

Consolidating Colleges and Merging Universities: New Strategies for Higher Education Leaders
James Martin, James E. Samels & Associates
Johns Hopkins University Press

You can imagine the announcement: “We’ve got some exciting news about the next steps on our university’s journey…” So stop the quailing and wailing: institutional mergers aren’t a tragedy or a betrayal of education’s social mission, but “a disruptive opportunity”, as one chapter in this edited volume has it. The duo behind books on “stressed colleges”, “leadership change” and top tips for provosts give the low-down on “managing” what even they acknowledge is usually “a crisis”, via “strategic alliances”, “presidential vision”, “public-private partnerships” and, in what is oddly the shortest chapter in the book, that moment when (sad face!) it’s time to shut the doors.

Dirty Secrets: How Tax Havens Destroy the Economy
Richard Murphy

The Panama Papers detailed corruption by design, and here the fearless author of The Joy of Tax uses them as a jumping-off point to detail, with insight, forensic precision and pugnacity, the truth behind the lie that tax havens are a reasonable part of global capitalism rather than ruthless tools to undermine the rule of law, prevent democratic governments from delivering policies their electorates expect, and increase the concentration of income and wealth. Read it and weep – but find hope in the final chapter, “The Post-Tax Haven World”, which details ways that the dirty secrets that have “challenged the freedoms of us all” can be beaten. Highly recommended.

Portraits of Violence: An Illustrated History of Radical Thinking
Brad Evans and Sean Michael Wilson
New Internationalist

The jury’s still out on whether graphic-novel-style presentations of big ideas can take said ideas to the kids or simply dot the bookshelves of Gen X lecturers in Sunn O))) T-shirts. In the meantime, this is an attractive, necessarily pretty wordy collection of the spectacle-of-violence musings of Fanon, Sontag, Arendt, Freire, Foucault, Butler, Chomsky et al, stuffed with seminar-ready questions and brought to life by artists from Carl Thompson to Michiru Morikawa. No scholarly labour of love comes without its reward: co-author Brad Evans appears in full-on chiselled and buff mode as he strides through the first chapter telling a lissome journo what’s what.

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