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Yannis Theocharis (London, UK)

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World Says No to War: Demonstrations Against the War on Iraq (Social Movements, Protest and Contention)
World Says No to War: Demonstrations Against the War on Iraq (Social Movements, Protest and Contention)
by Stefaan Walgrave
Edition: Paperback
Price: 18.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Authoritative study by a social movement/contentious politics all-star team, 2 Feb 2011
The February 15 demonstrations (2003), taken together, were the largest protest event in human history. The difficult task that the research team responsible for this book undertook was to follow the protest events and conduct a simultanous, mixed-method study on 8 Western countries (US, UK, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium).

The carefully designed and complicated research method (documented in detail in the appendices) involved data collection and fieldwork before, after, but most importantly during the demonstrations. This is a significant achievement given the extraordinary number of people that took to the streets that day and the level of coordination required. Predictably, it led to a multifaceted and extremely rewarding comparative insight.

In a nutshell: the book begins with a review of the events that led up to the Iraq war and the various pro-war and anti-war positions voiced by the respective governments and oppositions of the countries under study. The analysis that follows includes assessments through various classic social movement research perspectives such as political opportunity and framing, as well as historically comparative peace protest mobilisations (protest cycles). Subsequent chapters put emphasis on nation-specific political contexts and the respective movement organisations, explore the demographic and political affiliations of the protesters and their attitudes, and assess the role of political parties. There is significant (quantitative as well as content) analysis on the role of mainstream media, the (often misused by mass media) role of public of opinion and that of the internet.

Although, due to the substantial theoretical framework that the analysis is based on, this work would appeal to an academic or student audience, the book offers an invaluable and comprehensive approach for anyone interested in questions such as who the demonstrators were, why they took the streets, how they were mobilised and what role the national frameworks played.

Overall, this is an authoritative study of contentious politics which brings into light valuable information about the unprecedented reaction of Western publics to an event with serious (and disproportionally grim) political, social, but more than anything else, humanitarian ramifications.

Needless to say that those who seek a discussion on whether the reasons for the Iraq war were legitimate, which course the war took, or what the consequences were, will have to look elsewhere.


Making Sense of Social Movements
Making Sense of Social Movements
by Nick Crossley
Edition: Paperback
Price: 21.32

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to the Theory of Social Movements, 25 Oct 2010
A more appropriate title for this book would perhaps have been `theories and concepts in social movement research', although making some sense of social movements is also one of the book's accomplishments. Nick Crossley brings into focus all the major theoretical and empirical currents in social movement research, evaluates them and offers not only some significant criticism, but also constructive comments and suggestions for the further expansion of key concepts.

In his assessment of each theoretical approach, he usually analyses one or two representative works. In his examination of the Collective Behaviour approach, for example, he looks at the key works of Mead and Blumer, while in that of the Resource Mobilization theory the emphasis is put on the works of Oberschall and McCarthy and Zald. In all chapters the author structures his exploration initially providing some historical-theoretical framework and definitions, moves on into analysing the key concepts and arguments of each theory (most of the times using examples) and concludes with an evaluation and criticism of the given approach. Suggestions for further reading are also included at the end of each chapter.

Throughout the book Crossley takes issue against what is known as the Rational Actor Theory (RAT), as well as against those who condemn the Collective Behaviour approach as being of little value to contemporary social movement research. His account is persuasive (and sometimes very passionate!) and accompanied by examples which are very useful for highlighting his case. The final chapter serves to construct an inclusive approach to Social Movements that basically combines all the useful elements of the approaches explored, with main emphasis on the works of Smelser and Bourdieu.

In Crossley's otherwise excellent introduction to social movements I found Habermas as a less useful choice for the exploration of the concept of New Social Movements. Habermas's approach is rather complicated (although Crossley makes a good job in providing a comprehensible outline of it) and I am not convinced that the choice was made because he thought it would be useful for the book, or because of his personal appreciation for it!

All in all, this is a great introductory book on social movements and I would recommend it both to students who need to engage with the various debates in social movement literature, and to university teachers looking for a textbook that coherently and critically assesses key social movement approaches.


The Terrible Privacy Of Maxwell Sim
The Terrible Privacy Of Maxwell Sim
by Jonathan Coe
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.21

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not among his best, 6 July 2010
I am writing this review as someone who has read all of Coe's books and as someone who followed his evolution in writing since the publishing of 'The accidental woman' with enthusiasm.

Coe has shown that he has a very good grasp of the latest socio-political developments, crises and trends that are many times faced with hysteria, and he knows how to masterfully incorporate them as part of his characters' lives with sarcasm, humour, cynicism and scepticism. The book contains all of Coe's classic stylistic characteristics and it is, as per usual, very cleverly written, mixing social satire with a sceptical reflection on the 'wonders of modern technology' and generally the way everyday life is being shaped by recent (or maybe not so recent?) economic, social and political reality.

I think that this is where the problem lies in the case of 'The terrible privacy of Maxwell Sim'. Reading it, I felt that, trying to be up to date with regards to everyday life/social criticism, the book is trying to do too much. It touches on -or rather flicks through- so many issues (such as the arrival of social networking sites, the increasing domination of the fast-food and starbucks culture, consumerism, globalisation, environmental awareness, homosexuality, individualism/isolation) that it looks as if the author was rushed into writing about these things before the end of the 'Facebook era'.

One of the previous reviewers said that he/she was 'astonished' that the editors didn't insist on a substantial re-write. I think that this is actually a good point. There are many parts of the book that feel redundant and don't add anything significant, neither to the character's development nor to the storyline. An example that clearly illustrates that is Maxwell Sim's 'conversations-monologues' with Emma, the voice of the SatNav installed in his car. At the beginning I thought that building parts of the book on these monologues was a very smart idea that added a lot to the atmosphere of the book. However, as the monologues keep going (the 'chat' between them starts halfway through and continues to the end of the book -with some intervals of course), the narration becomes monotonous, distracting and, eventually, dare I say it, end up disrupting the flow. At some point I felt that the narration became so fragmented and choppy and I found myself doing something I've never done before in Coe's books: scanning quickly through the content and turning the pages..

Overall I think that the book sees everyday life from a sceptical angle and somewhere in Mr. Sim's concerns you will surely find a part of your own concerns and perhaps some encouragement to contemplate more on how they truly affect your life. It may be that I've been waiting for a long time for a new book by Coe and my expectations were very high that I found myself rather disappointed by Maxwell Sim, an interesting character which will, however, not stay with me for as long as Michael Owen (What a Carve Up!).


Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-semitism and the Abuse of History
Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-semitism and the Abuse of History
by Norman G. Finkelstein
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.69

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A spectacular example of academic activist scholarship, 8 Mar 2010
I recently asked a friend who specialises in Middle East politics to suggest to me an introductory book about the Israel-Palestine conflict, one of the global issues I felt I knew little about. Among others, he suggested to me Finkelstein's `Beyond Chutzpah' as a book that `sets the record straight'.

Beyond Chutzpah is not a book for those looking for an introduction about the Israel - Palestine conflict at all. On the contrary, the book is clearly a polemic against Alan Dersowitz's book `The case for Israel' and an exhaustive account of Israel's consistent violations of human rights and international law. Nevertheless, I never regretted buying this book.

Beyond Chutzpah is a stunning piece of research and a spectacular example of academic activist scholarship. By widely exposing a significant number of Dersowitz's arguments, the book reveals at the same time fundamental historical facts about the Israel - Palestine conflict as established by serious scholars and human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The book is extremely well-written and comprehensible and, regardless of its intimidating look mainly due to the large number of footnotes and endless tables, if read until the end (including the Appendices), offers a complete and rigorous overview of the conflict, plus a striking amount of detail about Israel's human rights record and treatment of the Palestinians.

After finishing the book I tried to think when was the last time I read something as passionately written and at the same time well-argued as Beyond Chutzpah. I couldn't recall of any. Regardless of its aggressive tone against `The case for Israel', apart from remarkably informing the reader about the enormous injustice suffered by the Palestinians, the book itself is Finkelstein's personal statement against falsehood, misleading and narrow-minded academic scholarship.


Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Philip K. Dick
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where Philip K. Dick meets David Lynch, 5 Jun 2009
This book is like a Lynch movie; think it of it as a sci-fi Mulholland drive but with much better plot. For once more, with his usual exquisite writing style, Dick swirls the conception of his character's reality mixing identities, time and space.

Wonderfully satirical and scathing of the arrogant and shallow Hollywood lifestyle this novel contains all the features that made Dick a distinctive figure in science fiction literature. Drugs, hallucinations, identity fusion, corrupted authority, rotten bureaucracies and competing irreal universes create a noir narration which, if had to be adapted to a film, only the complicated, mad genius of David Lynch could ever satisfyingly handle!

Although not as celebrated as his other novels, definitely one of Dick's best.


Why We Hate Politics
Why We Hate Politics
by Colin Hay
Edition: Paperback
Price: 14.71

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fresh look at political disengagement, 16 May 2009
This review is from: Why We Hate Politics (Paperback)
This book is a well-structured and fresh approach to what is frequently referred to as "political disengagement".

Collin Hay looks extensively at various forms of "depoliticization" and offers local and global "explanations" about the decline of (mainly) institutionalised politics. The most original and crucial part of the book is, in my opinion, the very constructive critique against the decline of social capital, rise of critical citizens and decline electoral turnout arguments, as theories heavily adopting a demand side perspective (basically "putting the blame" on the citizens), overlooking the important role of the supply side (the political elites and political parties).

I found the critique against the critical citizens less persuading than the rest of the arguments, but the book overall is interesting, and most importantly offers an original approach to the, saturated with the same arguments over and over again, debate on political disengagement.


An Introduction to Political Philosophy
An Introduction to Political Philosophy
by Jonathan Wolff
Edition: Paperback
Price: 22.49

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short and very comprehensible introduction, 14 May 2009
This is the perfect introductory book for those who can't be bothered to study in depth the massive, and (often) dull political philosophy classics by Penguin editions (you know, the ones with the terrible paper quality and undersized letters that you need a magnifying lens to read).

Professor Wolff has done that for you, and decided to offer one of the simplest (and shortest) introductions to political philosophy. Designed (I believe) principally for Philosophy undergraduates, this book positions ideas such as anarchy, the state, democracy, liberty, property and freedom into political philosophy scrutiny, and analyses their descendance, logic and evolution with lots of clever examples, arguments and counter-arguments.

This book is a thoroughly enjoyable experience and a very comprehensible introduction into the main concepts of political philosophy.

Strongly suggested to those interested in familiarising themselves with political philosophy and to those who... want to make their arguments, in politics chat, slightly deeper and worthy of discussion!


Neuromancer
Neuromancer
by William Gibson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Prophetic and dark, but..., 6 May 2009
This review is from: Neuromancer (Paperback)
My main problem with the Neuromancer was that I couldn't decide whether to give 5 stars for the vision and ideas, or 1 for the non-engaging writing style. This is the first book by Gibson I've ever read and I have to admit that as a non-native English speaker, with a decent knowledge of the language, I had to constantly check the dictionary.

I found Gibson's ideas about the evolution of massive corporations, and his cyberpunk vision, extraordinary, especially thinking that he wrote the book back in 1984. I was enthusiastic with the rather pessimistic presentation of techno-human creatures who have accepted a no limits technological innovation as an inseparable life depended software of their decadent lifestyle in the dark and filthy futuristic urban spaces.

The problem was that I couldn't find a character worth identifying with or at least worth sharing his fears, aims and passions. As a result I couldn't really "get into the book", although I really wanted to.

I respect (and admire) Gibson's vision. When sci-fi, for others, only meant space travel, alien, and colonies in Mars, Gibson's narration (as well as Philip K. Dick's )described a much darker and less optimist hi-tech reality. However, as other reviewers pointed out too, this particular writing style simply didn't work for me.


Rendezvous With Rama (S.F. Masterworks S.)
Rendezvous With Rama (S.F. Masterworks S.)
by Arthur C. Clarke
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Sci-fi at its best!, 5 May 2009
This book could be the definition of science fiction. I mean,when one hears about science fiction,one thinks about spaceships, astronauts with hi-tech gear,intelligent extraterrestrial life, space colonies and exploration. All these elements wrapped up in a breathtaking plot and projected on a dark, atmospheric, low gravity foreign world,build up one of themost spectacular sci-fi novels ever written!!!


Zentone
Zentone
Price: 18.75

5.0 out of 5 stars Dark and inspirational, 26 April 2009
This review is from: Zentone (Audio CD)
I first listened to this CD when I was in a jazzofunk - alternative bar in the Greek island Skyros. I asked the DJ about it and eventually heard the words "Zentone" and "Hightone". It didn't take much to locate the source of this dub diamond online..

Incredibly inspirational, dark, and atmospheric music, a fabulous combination of many different elements and influences. Words really can't describe.. If you like dub and electro vibes buy it without second thought! Those of you who don't, perhaps listen to tracks 1,2,3 and 9 and you will seriously consider getting it, it's a diamond!!!!


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