What I’ve Been Reading

Hello all. Apologies in advance for not posting more often since graduation. I’ve been reading a lot of books lately, rather than stuff on the internet, so I haven’t had much to link to lately.

Here is a list of a few books I have been working on:

  • 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by the science journalist Charles C Mann. I know I’ve blogged about this book before, but I’ve finally got a little bit of free time to hunker down and read the whole thing. I’m about halfway through and it’s really good.
  • Mastering Space: Hegemony, Territory and International Political Economy by the Marxist political geographers John Agnew and Stuart Corbridge. This is a pretty crummy book, but it was recommended because of some good critiques of the IMF and the World Bank that it supposedly has. I’ll keep ploughing through and hope for the best.
  • The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age by the historian Simon Schama. This is a very well-written book about Dutch culture (not Culture) in the seventeenth century and so far I have not been disappointed. Schama eschews the political and economic aspects of the Dutch republic in favor of examining the everyday lives of its citizens.
  • Democracy in Botswana which is edited by John D Holm and Patrick Molutsi. I picked this up for a research project I was doing last quarter and have not been able to let it go yet. It brings together a compendium of talks given at a conference held in Gaborone in 1989 to assess Botswana’s current status in the world, in sub-Saharan Africa and according to the citizens of Botswana.

Of the four books, I’d recommend 1493 to the intelligent layman, but the other three are definitely tough slogging.

Department of Oops!

One of the most influential anthropologists to my own way of analyzing global society and how it interacts with each other is Edwin Wilmsen, whose book Land Filled with Flies: A Political Economy of the Kalahari has deeply influenced my thoughts about intercultural (“foreign”) relations (the other two most influential books on me so far have been Peace Pact… and 1491…). I am currently doing a research project and came across the following sentence, which deserves to be deeply pondered by anthropologist and layman alike:

[…] those who have been responsible for formulating and implementing policy towards [the San] have relied on a functionalist equilibrium model derived from ethnography grafted onto a residual colonial construction of a static San social condition […] A key element in this ideology [governing Botswana policy towards the San] is the mystification of [San] uniqueness, a condition that [has] been imposed on them by other, hegemonically dominant ethnic groups.  Among these hegemonically dominant groups – I urge that we not forget this point – are ethnographers, whose work serves as scientific sanction for this mystification.

Wilmsen is a Marxist, and Land Filled with Flies… was written before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, but I nevertheless find his work extremely satisfying. Can anybody see why this is such a powerful critique of collectivism? Admittedly, I have depraved this post of its rich context, but I think readers here at Notes On Liberty are smart and thoughtful enough to find some gems among this deceptive-looking rock pile.

An online profile of Edwin Wilmsen.