Archive for January, 2018

Review: Stalin’s Nemesis – The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky, by Bertrand M. Patenaude

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

I bought this book when it first came out and when I began reading it, for some reason it didn’t grab me and I put it aside. Having just read it now, years later, I cannot imagine what the problem was.

This is a brilliantly-written and thoroughly-researched study of the very last years of Trotsky’s life, the years of his exile in Mexico leading up to his murder by a Soviet agent in 1940. Patenaude tells the story well, with few signs of bias. Only once does he judge Trotsky negatively, referring to him as “the man who helped create the first totalitarian state, which even now he championed as the world’s most advanced country”.

Much of the story is quite familiar territory, and yet it was still deeply sad to read of the fates of all those involved in this story — the assassin Ramon Mercader feted in Moscow as a hero, the attempted assassin (the painter David Siqueiros, who led an earlier, botched raid on Trotsky’s compound) going on to a glorious career as an artist, and the betrayal by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, once Trotsky’s closest friends in the country and his protectors, who went on to become Stalinists, members of the Mexican Communist Party.

The Trotsky Patenaude discovers is a difficult man and a terrible politician, but a loving husband and father as well. Highly recommended.

Review: Fire and Fury – Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff

Sunday, January 14th, 2018

This book has been so hyped, so much written about it, that there are probably few surprises in it for the reader. However, there’s quite a difference between spending five minutes reading the highlights and sitting down for five or six hours, immersing oneself in the horror show that is the Trump administration.

In a word, Michael Wolff’s book is brilliant. It’s a political thriller with an absurd premise: that the President of the United States is a complete idiot who is also possibly insane, and that everyone around him knows this to be true.

The first victim of the success of this book of this is its central character other than Trump, Steve Bannon who had the ambition to replace Trump as the next president. If Michael Wolff has done nothing else, he’s put an end to the career of this arrogant fascist and for that deserves our full thanks.

After reading this book, and the noting the reaction to its publication, I’d say the question is no longer if Trump is removed from office, but how. I’m betting on a resignation. But impeachment would do just as well.

If this book makes that happen even one day sooner, that’s more than most authors could ever dream of achieving. Well done, Michael Wolff, and thank you.

Review: The Power, by Naomi Alderman

Monday, January 8th, 2018

Imagine a world in which one gender has all the power, controlling the economy, society, politics, and so on. A world in which members of one gender can exploit and abuse members of the other with impunity. Doesn’t take much to imagine that, does it?

Except that Naomi Alderman’s dystopian novel imagines a world in which women, not men, have “the power”.

In her world, given all the power over men that men previously held over women, women behave as badly as men have done. In scenes of increasing brutality and violence, dominant women rape and kill men, and in one harrowing scene, compel a male servant to lick up broken glass from the floor.

The story builds up well, focusing on a handful of memorable characters for whom we develop a certain sympathy. But by the end, the story seems to go nowhere and the unsatisfying ending — while deliberate — remains unsatisfying.