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on 10 December 2002
Essential reading for residents of the UK. Using real life examples of exploitation and deception, Monbiot unsparingly illustrates how the government is by-and-large more interested in serving its own needs and those of the corporations that support it than those of the British people and environment. The stories he uncovers are truly shocking and disturbing, and detail very worrying levels of corruption, apathy and corporate control in politics today.
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on 8 March 2006
The Dome, the lottery, the Scottish Parliament, the Manchester tram scam, the destruction of the railways and London Underground: these are all scandals we know about and which make us think the lunatics are running the asylum. We feel bewildered disempowered, ripped off and plain scared for the future of our country and the world.
None of these episodes is covered in this book. Yet through its coverage of the Skye Bridge, the Coventry hospitals, the “regeneration” of Southampton, genetic engineering in agriculture and medicine, the takeover of our universities - and much, much more it explains everything about the decline in quality of life, accelerating gap between rich and poor, and the total destruction of anything remotely resembling “democracy” which is going on all around us while we sit there swigging Special Brew and watching reality tv.
If Monbiot never wrote another thing he would have entirely justified his existence with this book which is quite simply THE most important book on politics in Britain this century. In reading it you realise that you are not mad after all and neither are “they”!
Quick! We have only a few months to save the world. The single most useful thing each of us can do is to buy TWO COPIES of this book right now. Send one to your local MP with a note saying you are waiting for her/his response before casting another vote.
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on 15 July 2004
"Captive State" is an eye-opener for anyone who still believes New Labour has anything to do with socialism. Monbiot presents a rigorously-researched, rational and hugely convincing portrait of the extent to which corporations are changing the way society functions and exploiting weak government for monetary gain. The approach is refreshingly non-subjective - he showcases the human side of private-finance blunders such as the Skye Bridge fiasco without becoming overly sentimental, and acknowledges that universal trade treaties like the controversial Multilateral Agreement on Investment could be beneficial if properly policed. However he makes no secret that the failures of governments to stop the virtual blackmail of food suppliers by large superstores, and the behaviour of pharmaceutical companies in the use of harmful chemicals and genetic modification, are truly unforgiveable.
In whole it is a reminder that corporations are merely a tool to be used by the human race, and must not be allowed to affect our civil liberties. While the tone is journalistic and generally non-biased, the content is enough to stir the blood and inspire action at a personal level - this reader for one is already making efforts to avoid shopping at supermarkets. And reading it 3 years after its publication is still worthwhile - particularly as it now seems the power of corporate lobbying has reached the point where it can even co-erce governments into going to war.
The only thing that may put some readers off is that Monbiot is a researcher first, populist agitator second, and the academic-style prose with long lists of facts make certain sections a bit of a grind to read. For this reason a film by Monbiot would probably be a lot less successful than one by Michael Moore. But it would be a lot harder to pick holes in his arguments.
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on 23 July 2003
This is an interesting book for anyone who believes that UK democracy is running smoothly. It should be (but I am sure won't be) of particular interest to the eurosceptics who are so vehemently opposed to any 'loss of sovereignty'. This book demonstrates that an enormous of amount of sovereignty has already been ceded to corporate interests (both US and European).
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on 20 April 2003
I knew that there were dodgy dealings going on behind closed doors but didn't realise the extent of it until reading this book. It's shocking to think that corporations can wave the pound notes at governments and local authorities and get their way, when what they want is not to benefit the people but their pockets.
I found the table in the middle of the book particularly amusing when it lists the fat cats and their "job descriptions" before the '97 general election and then their jobs afterwards. Total contradiction! A must read for anyone who wants to know what really goes on between the corporations and government!
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on 1 August 2002
This book covers current policy (particulary the Private Finance Initiative) very well. Whilst there is little/no other work on these kinds of current policies, this book gives us a peek at the real-world effects of both PFI, and also urban regeneration initiatives.
Well worth a read.
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on 21 February 2001
George Monbiot is to be congratulated on this book as he has shows the reader of what is happining in Britain today by the back door. I most liked the part dealing with the NHS and how it is being sold off of with out the consent of the mass of the people, my only critism is that I belive that while it good to have a understanding of what is occuring there should be more on how people can fight the system. If you want to get his book I would also suggest No Logo by Naomi Klein as that book will put the argument about what is happening into a world view.
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on 7 February 2003
Welcome to the 51st state you have been successfully taken over!
This could quite easily have been the title of the book. The corporate takeover of our schools , police and hospitals.Just like America where corporations rule our so called political representatives have sold us out tho the big corporations!
This book is a must read for every voter, taxpayer or anyone interested in how our country is run. You have to read this - what is going on in our name - local democracy crushed in favour of central control even Stalin never managed that completely unlike successive British Governments obsessed with complete rule from Whitehall.
The most damming thing that Monbiot produces are the real life effects of the corporate takeover - the people of the Isle of Skye being charged extortionate ammounts to cross the Skye Bridge, market traders pushed out of town centres in favour of large monolitihic giants.
Monbiot explains that when Government is questioned about the PFI ( The expensive Private Finance Initative - i.e. where schools and hospitals are built by private companies and then leased back to the state for obscence ammounts of money!). And local authoritites and Government are locked in by law to paying these ammounts while the private companies themselves renegoiate loan deals with the banks. Making even more money!
The establishment when questioned by Monbiot hide behind the old addage of commerical confidentiality in other words embarrsement at being stiched up by the city boys , naviety or collusion.
While it may seem Monbiot may paint a bleak picture of the Corporate Takeover of this country he does point out what has and can be done to stop it and gives examples.
So come everyone this it not some leftie with an axe to grind this is something which has been taking place under our noses for years without the national media either not interested or turning a blind eye.
Monbiot deserves respect and the plaudits he has recieved for his perservsnce, research in the face of so much obstruction and having to piece together scraps of information.
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on 9 February 2011
The first thing to note is that this book is out of date now, and is best looked at with historical perspective in mind. Written as a critique of the Labour government, it was written after only 3 years after they were elected in 1997. This instantly throws open one question mark, which is somewhat answered by the text. That question is this: are the criticisms really due to a young Labour government or are they due to hangovers from 18 years of Conservative rule? There is then a motif that runs through the book of "this was initiated by the Tories, but because Labour didn't stop it immediately, they're the villains of the piece." With this is mind it is no wonder that one of the recommendations on the back cover is from Michael Gove, who is currently (in Feb 2011) the Education Secretary and is in the process of forcing the education system down a cul-de-sac that will inevitably lead to a part privatisation of schools, colleges and universities.

The introduction is a very one-sided polemic which cherry-picks its data and draws rapid conclusions that are not based on sufficient evidence. The general theme is "big corporations are bad and seek to overrule the electorate" This takes no regard of the fact that big corporations are a source of employment which is vital to the economy and that their employees and their bosses ARE part of the electorate.

The structure of the book then looks at 11 main case studies at how the involvement of the private sector into public life has profited companies whilst ripping off the public. The trouble with this is that it lacks longevity. The book was only published 10 years ago (at the time of writing this review, which will be similarly out of date soon!) and already some of the cases are no longer relevant. It might have been good to have a review of the cases in a revised edition, though to the best of my knowledge, Monbiot is not presently working on such a project.

This is not to detract from the validity of some of the cases he makes. Some of them deserve the level of criticism they receive, my point is merely that they lack balance and this reads more as a piece polemic and less like a meticulous study, worthy of serious consideration. Probably the best chapter of the book, which is its most unusual, is a directory of individuals showing how their private roles have conflicted with their public duties. I think it would be quite right to keep this updated as often as possible, in order to be discern who can be trusted and who is compromised.

Where the book really gets unstuck is where it treads my speciality: science. The chapter on genetically modified foods is little more than unevidenced scaremongering. While it is intertwined with some very valid points regarding Monsanto, the core of the chapter doesn't stand up to scrutiny and reads like it was written by a 16 year old who only found out 4 days ago what the term 'genetically modified' actually meant. From here, Monbiot looks at science funding in universities. His key "scare" is that big, scary, evil corporations will dictate the syllabus of university teaching and that by investing in research that is relevant for them, that this is somehow inherently corrupt.

Overall, the book is crying out for an update now that the era of New Labour is over and that of the Con-Dem coalition has begun. There are some really good arguments in here and issues raised that we should be right to get angry over, with PFI probably the biggest problem that is likely to curse this country for the next few decades. However, the lack of balance means that that which is best about this book is hidden amongst pages of rhetoric, polemicism and scaremongering.
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on 8 August 2003
I read this book in one sitting, completely transfixed - not so much at the greed of the businesses and corporations concerned (which one takes as a given) as the complicity of government officials in nuturing it. Having read it as I did a day after going through Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" I found myself slowly losing the will to live...
"Captive State," throroughly researched, well-written, and engaging, leads me to conclude that we are not far off the sort of lifestyle grimly portrayed by the likes of Orwell - only it won't be the State whose control we're under, but rather the multinationals. Everything needs to make a profit - our taxes, it seems, are not intended to enhance our quality of life but to assist in "driving commerce forward", "expanding into new markets" and other supercilious corporate-speak. For shame!
I held back one star because I was expecting a bit more from Monbiot as to how we, the Great Unwashed, can turn this horrible juggernaut around. There seems little point in voting for a change in government (he points out that New Labour has actually lowered the corporate tax rate - Maggie Thatcher would no doubt approve), and changing our habits as consumers means in most cases merely shifting our credit card bills from one set of greedy ogres to another.
Corporations certainly have an important role to play in a modern society, and are a necessary evil of any free enterprise system; it would seem governments have taken advantage of voter apathy and couch-potato behaviour to let them ride roughshod over the world.
I hope Mr. Monbiot will continue to enlighten us with further relevations in future books.
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