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Review

The Levittown Legacy

Rosalyn Baxandall and Elizabeth Ewen, Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 352 pp., $27.50, cloth. (Due out in paperback in January 2001.)

Judging by the number of column inches now devoted to the subject in the national press, suburban sprawl has at last come of age. The sudden popularity of the topic may reflect the fact that suburbanites now constitute a majority of Americans. The impact of 132 million Americans on the landscape is hard to ignore. If, as environmentalists claim, more than four thousand acres of farmland are being devoured by suburban sprawl every day, then the prospect of a countryside bereft of open space can no longer be dismissed as alarmist. Sprawl is so pervasive and its predations so disturbing that its dynamics appear as almost a force of nature, inevitable and uncontrollable. So it is good to be reminded, as we are in the pages of Picture Windows, that the origins of large-scale suburbs were, in fact, anything but accidental and that the prime mover behind their massive postwar expansion was the federal government itself  | more…

Ecological Roots

Which Go Deepest?

Foster, John Bellamy, Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), 300pp., $18, paperback

“Oh no, not another great, thick, fat book on Marx!” thought Richard Lewontin when he saw this new book by John Bellamy Foster. I have to confess (despite the fact that I, too, have written a big book on Marxism) to a similar reaction. However, as he goes on to say in the book’s blurb, “as soon as I started to read, I found it hard to put down.” With this, too, I concur  | more…

Setting the Record Straight on the Korean War

Deane, Hugh, The Korean War, 1945-1953 (San Francisco: China Books and Periodicals, Inc., 1999), 246 pp., $14.95, paperback.

Hugh Deane has written a concise, political, and engaging history of the Korean war. One reason this book is special is that Deane was in southern Korea during the late 1940s as a reporter, and his experiences there enable him to provide a more immediate and personal perspective on events than one normally finds in histories of the Korean war  | more…

Marx’s Ecological Value Analysis

Paul Burkett, Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999), 312 pp., $45, hardcover.

If there is a single charge that has served to unify all criticism of Marx in recent decades, it is the charge of “Prometheanism.” Although Marx’s admiration for Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound and his attraction to Prometheus as a revolutionary figure of Greek mythology has long been known, the accusation that Marx’s work contained at its heart a “Promethean motif,” and that this constituted the principal weakness of his entire analysis, seems to have derived its contemporary influence mainly from Leszek Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism. The first volume of this work was drafted in Polish in 1968 and appeared in English in 1978. | more…

Seeing the Forest and the Trees: The Politics of Rachel Carson

Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson, edited and with an introduction by Linda Lear (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999), 288 pp., $16, paperback.

Lost Woods brings Rachel Carson back into the public realm. This collection of her writings, selected by her biographer, Linda Lear, reminds us yet again of the extraordinary range of her talents and the equally extraordinary use to which she put them. The book offers, in one modest volume, a taste of all the pleasures to be found in Carson’s longer works. Through a careful choice of speeches, articles, field notes, and letters, presented in chronological order, Lear allows us to witness, in Carson’s own words, her transformation from a natural scientist to a political advocate for the environment  | more…

The Road Not Taken

Paul Buhle, Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1999), $18, 315 pp.; Mike Parker & Martha Gruelle, Democracy is Power: Rebuilding Unions from the Bottom Up (Detroit: Labor Notes, 1999), $17, 255 pp.

In a very well-known passage, Marx said, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.” Elsewhere, he said, “The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” These words of wisdom provide us with a good entry point into a review of these two exceptional books  | more…

Prison Sentences

Doing Time: 25 Years of Prison Writing (New York: Arcade, 1999), 349 pp., $27.95, cloth.

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s old adage, about measuring a civilization by reviewing its prisons, if followed in the U.S. context, is a condemnation of this nation’s own version of the gulag archipelago. A cross-section of prisoner’s writings submitted to the PEN writing contest for the past quarter-century reveals the cold, dark underside of the American dream. Men and women, denizens of both state and federal prisons, write brilliantly about trying to stay human in the midst of places of marked inhumanity, and indeed, places that only succeed if they dehumanize  | more…

Is Overcompetition the Problem?

Robert Brenner, The Economics of Global Turbulence: A Special Report on the World Economy, 1950-98 (Special issue of New Left Review, no. 229, May/June 1998), 262 pp.

It is tempting perhaps to attribute all the problems of capitalism to excessive competition. After all, capitalism is generally presented within contemporary ideology as a system which is nothing more than a set of competitive relations governed by the market. Is it not possible then that the economic contradictions of capitalism, and indeed the present world crisis, can be explained in terms of the globalization of competition which now knows no bounds, and is undermining all fixed positions, resulting in a kind of free fall? This seems to be the view of the distinguished Marxist historian and social theorist Robert Brenner in his ambitious attempt to account for the present global economic turbulence  | more…

Science in a Skeptical Age

John Gillot and Manjit Kumar, Science and the Retreat from Reason (Monthly Review Press, 1997), 288 pp., $18.

We live in a skeptical age. All of the basic concepts of the Enlightenment, including progress, science and reason are now under attack. At the center of this skepticism lie persistent doubts about science itself, emanating both from within and from without the scientific community. Recent titles by scientists give an idea of the extent of the crisis in confidence within science: Science: The End of the Frontier? (1991) by Nobel prize winner Leon Lederman; The End of Certainty (1996) by Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine; and The End of Science (1996) by Scientific American writer John Horgan. | more…

Honest, Able, and Fearless

Victor Rabinowitz, Unrepentant Leftist: A Lawyer’s Memoir (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996), 352 pp., $29.95, cloth.

Among the questions that divide my friends is whether it is possible that widespread revolutionary organization may someday occur even in the United States, the Belly of the Beast as goes a phrase all my fellow 68ers will recall. If you think the question deserves to be asked, then the history of the repression of the U.S. Left after the Second World War (and of what survived the storm) is worth your attention. After all, if this history is forgotten then the question is indeed not worth asking. How the ruling class of the United States manages its domestic repression is, in any event, of general relevance in many other places as well. Victor Rabinowitz at age eighty five offers a sharp, fascinating, and superbly written report on this question from inside that structured but flexible Great Intestine of the United States, its legal system. | more…