There’s nothing wrong with getting new books at your local bookstore but if you’re an avid bookworm, then your budget probably can’t handle it if you get all your books there.
Luckily there are plenty of legal ways to get books for free or cheaply and here are some of the best ways to do that.
Thanks to NetGalley and to the publisher, Penguin Books UK-Allen Lane, for providing me with an ARC e-copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
I have a long list of books to read and I am trying to organise it somehow, mostly in order of acquisition, but this book arrived just as I had finished reading another book and it stuck in my mind. It is a very current and momentous book, so it was for the best that I read it promptly.
I am familiar with the name of Naomi Klein and I have seen many of her books and read about her and her ideas, but this is the first book I have read by her (I have read some short articles but although I kept seeing books by her that sounded interesting, it was usually when I was doing research on an unrelated topic or at a time when I could not read them and this time I grabbed the opportunity).
The book builds on much of her previous work, particularly on the issue of brands and how they have come to dominate our lives (the subject of No Logo) and also how politics and politicians exploit any disasters and shocks to impose ever harsher neo-liberal economic policies (that she discusses in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism) and applies it to the current situation, particularly to Trump’s election and his policies since.
I started highlighting text through the book, to the point that sometimes I would be doing something and listening to the text to speech version and would have to stop to highlight something. This happened very often and I realised Klein was saying many of the things I had been thinking and some that I had not thought of but I recognised and agreed with as I read them. Her reflections about Trump as a brand and his presidency as the latest feather to add to this brand made sense (I learned new things about him and was reminded of others that had long forgotten but helped to build up a clear picture). It was curious that she referred to his time in the Apprentice and his appearances in WWE (televised professional wrestling) as (in a certain way) training for what was to come. She noted that some of his behaviours during the campaign were very similar to those of the fighters in WWE. And lo and behold, a few hours after I had read that part of the book, Trump tweeted the doctored video of one of his appearances in the WWE putting the CNN logo instead of the head of Vince McMahon, whom he was pretending to punch. And if I had already thought that was a very convincing comparison when I read it, even more so now.
The book is well-written, easy to read (well, or not, depending on what your point of view and your political leanings are), and develops the thesis that although many are shocked by Trump’s rise to power (and Brexit), it was not a total surprise, and there are people, organisations, and even whole countries who have resisted the move towards materialism and brands where only things, money, and profits matter, and where fingers are pointed at sectors of the population (immigrants, asylum seekers, ethnic minorities, women, environmentalists…) who become the scapegoats for a situation they are the victims of. Klein looks at many of these groups and populations and how they have resisted the situation and taken a stand but she also notes that something else is required. Resisting and saying no is important, and it does not matter how big or small we are, we can all do it, but we need to find something to aim for, something that can unite us and something we can fight together for.
She discusses in detail the importance of trying to find common ground, rather than working for small goals, and states that the way the political centre has tried to introduce minor changes will not suffice. As an example of what could be done she focuses on the meeting that took place in Canada, bringing many groups together (unions, environmentalists, indigenous people, women’s groups, groups working towards racial equality…) and that produced the Leap Manifesto, because they think a leap is required to truly change things. We must leap towards hope and dare to embrace a revolutionary way of changing the world.
She notices the rise of dystopian fiction (and films) and the ever growing popularity of some classics (Orwell’s 1984) that she observes are a warning (not necessarily a prediction) and says we need more utopias; we need to be able to think of a better future. And she writes (and as she quotes a big favourite of mine, Oscar Wilde, I could not resist sharing it):
Because, as Oscar Wilde wrote in 1891, “a map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail.”
I read some of the comments on the book, and they are separated along ideological lines. I agree that perhaps she uses examples that might not be as simply black or white as she makes them sound, and I also agree (and thought the same as I read it), that perhaps the Leap Manifesto falls short of going as far as it should (as it offers and statement of good intentions but not much in the way of implementation) although it is an attempt at reaching an agreement and a compromise between very different groups, so it is not surprising that it is not all that radical. I must clarify that I read an ARC copy and therefore did not have access to what I have read are very extensive notes at the end of the final version of the book. Without the notes, it is not a very long book.
The book made me think of an essay we had to write, when I was studying American Literature at the University of Sussex, discussing what could have been done, or rather, what could be done in the present, to somehow repair the gap between whites and African Americans in the US that comes from the time of slavery and was discussed after the Civil War and the freeing of all slaves, a gap that has never been fully resolved (as we all know). At the time of the Reconstruction, the suggestion had been that each freed slave be given 40 acres of land (therefore redistributing the slave owners’ property) and a mule (if you’ve ever wondered why Spike Lee’s production company is called that and never checked, now you know) so they could build up a life for themselves. Of course, that did not happen (or only in few cases) but I remember that after talking to the professor I did write a somewhat utopic essay that he could not fault for its reach, although he could not see how any government would go down that route. (I’ve been looking for it but I think it must have been in one of the floppy disks that disintegrated, although I might have a paper copy. I’ll investigate). It also made me think about how much emphasis on brands is made, even in the world of writing, and how a lot of the advice to sell anything (a physical product or anything else) is to create a brand and market yourself (rather than the product). As she notes, if you are swimming in the world of media, in whatever capacity, it is very difficult not to be swamped by the allure of branding and its fraught logic. This is something that I have been thinking more and more about recently, and something that I care for less and less. Yes, perhaps this book arrives at the right moment, at least for me, but hopefully for many others too.
As I said, I highlighted a lot of content, and of course, I cannot share it all. But I could not resist and had to share a few bits.
First, one that shows her wit (and that made me write: olé! as a comment)
The truth, which doesn’t sound nearly as glamorous, is that the Trump brand stands for wealth itself or, to put it more crassly, money. That’s why its aesthetics are Dynasty-meets-Louis XIV. It’s why Trump’s relationship to gold is the inverse of Superman’s relationship to kryptonite: Trump crumples when he is more than three feet away from something big and shiny.
This one I think will give you an idea of what the book is about, in her own words:
We have to question not only Trump but the stories that ineluctably produced him. It’s not enough to superficially challenge him as an individual, foul and alarmingly ignorant though he may be. We have to confront the deep-seated trends that rewarded him and exalted him until he became the most powerful person in the world. The values that have been sold to us through reality TV, get-rich-quick books, billionaire saviors, philanthrocapitalists. The same values that have been playing out in destroyed safety nets, exploding prison numbers, normalized rape culture, democracy-destroying trade deals, rising seas and privatized disaster response, and in a world of Green Zones and Red Zones.
And I love the way she ends the book (do not worry, it is not a spoiler):
My deepest thanks are for patient little Toma, who missed his mom over these last months, but feels strongly that, “Donald Trump is too rude to be president.
This book is not for everybody and if you really like Trump and what he stands for, or do not care about climate change and other issues such as the rights of women, equality, diversity, the rights of indigenous people… I’d advise you not to read it. If you don’t, I’d recommend you check a sample of the writing and see if it speaks to you. I now know why she is so well-known and respected. A compelling writer, whatever one’s political views.
Sometimes I wonder whether the more authors a book has the worse it becomes. Actually, come to think of it, I struggle to actually think of any work of literature that has more than one author – it seems as if for a book to enter into the annals of greatness the book has to be written by a single author. To me this isn't actually all that surprising because artists tend to work alone. In fact, when one considers music the same seems to apply, considering Bohemian Rhapsody was allegedly written by a single person (though I was always under the assumption that Queen, a four piece band, actually wrote the song, but then again people seem to think that Freddy Mercury actually wrote the song, Queen just performed it).
Anyway, as you can probably tell, this book was written by three people, which makes me wonder how a book is actually written by three people – do they write a chapter a piece, or do they just write specific characters? In either case how is it that they actually put the book together – do they sit down and work it out around some really bad cups of coffee, or do they argue about it around some really bad glasses of wine, and then go away, write their own sections and let the editors work it out. Or is it that they simply draft the outline of the book and then let poor Larry Niven sit down and put it all together. Well, however they do it the final product really didn't turn out all that well.
So, the story is set on a planet orbiting Tau Ceti. The characters had just come out of a hundred year long sleep and are now setting up for a new world on what appears to be a paradise. Unfortunately there was a problem with the hibernation pods and apparently everybody has emerged from deep sleep somewhat stupider. Mind you, if we are talking about the best and the brightest, maybe it is simply the fact that the one thing that they lack is common sense – this seems to always be the case when you put a bunch of academics together, the one thing that they all seem to lack is common sense. Anyway, they land on this world and in their mind it is a paradise, and after a number of surveys they believe that there isn't actually anything hostile on this world, that is until a nasty monster comes along and starts ripping everything apart. However, they don't actually believe that it was a monster, but some guy who is sulking over the fact that nobody believes that there is anything hostile on the island – that doesn't sound as if the hibernation pods had busted, that just sounds like your typical bunch of human beings who want to live with their heads in the sand – climate change anybody?
Anyway, they eventually realise that these creatures exist after one of them almost completely destroys the camp, so they decide to go out and hunt the rest of them down and kill them. Well, that turns out to be a particularly smart idea because it also turns out that these creatures have a natural way of keeping their population down – they eat their young. In fact, it turns out that they are like frogs – as babies they start off as fish, but when they mature they turn into these monsters – so, the mature creatures basically eat the babies, which keeps the population down. However, now that they have basically gone out and killed all the mature ones there is nothing keeping the population down, so they pretty quickly discover that the whole island is swarming with monsters. Mind you, the other catch was that they only eat their young if there is nothing else to eat, so when the colonists arrive with all their live stock, all of a sudden they have something else to eat.
As I mentioned, this book was rather dull and boring, and in fact is the first part of a trilogy. Sure, it did do well to explore how humans have this nasty habit of completely ruining an eco-system with their introduced species. For instance, the landed gentry introduced foxes into Australia simply so they might have something to hunt, and not surprisingly they have gone and run havoc across the environment. Mind you, the farmers then get criticised by the likes of PETA when they try to cull the foxes due to them causing issues with their live stock. Then again, I do see where they're coming from because technically humans are an introduced species, and a pest, but we don't go around culling ourselves.
Mind you, the other interesting thing is that we all know that the colony is going to survive, but then again this novel does play out like a movie, and unless the creators are really clever, we never actually have the protagonists lose. Okay, they have to adjust the way the colony works, namely that every man gets to have two wives (namely because half of the male population was wiped out when they went to war against the monsters – they called them Grendels after the monster from Beowulf), however the colony does manage to survive. The other interesting thing is that the planet is ten light years from Earth, and they took a hundred years to get there from Earth, and they are talking about advertising for new colonists. Well, they didn't think that through all that much because first of all it is a twenty year round trip for any communication, and even if another colony ship was sent out, it would take a hundred years for them to arrive, and that doesn't take into account humans developing new technology. Mind you, as yet I don't know of any book where the colonists arrive at a planet after travelling for a hundred years only to discover that while they were asleep humanity has invented the FTL drive and the planet has already been colonised.