Madeleine Albright. Fascism: A Warning. Book Review

Madeleine Albright was the first Secretary of State I saw in action after I immigrated to the US. From the first time I heard her speaking, I had the deepest admiration of her as a political leader and a person. Somehow I didn’t come across her books earlier, but now I’ve downloaded several, and I am going to listen to all of them.

On the topic of the book “Fascism,” I think Albright has a unique perspective as a person who experienced the fascist’s regimes as a child and later had to interact (or oppose) them as a political leader. Her attitude is personal, and it could not be any other way.

I read a number of good reviews of this book (as always, only after I finished reading), and I am not going to repeat them, just a couple of additional notes. First, I found it very important that Albright speaks of many countries, which demonstrate the signs of fascism in their domestic policies. We often think that the potential threats are the same old North Korea/China/Russia, we might think of Venezuela; we remember the Rwanda genocide, and that’s pretty much it. Albright gives her audience a broader perspective, taking about Chile, Ethiopia, Hungary, and even Poland.

Second, in her definition, “fascism is not an ideology, it’s a method.” And from that perspective, she talks about the governments, which can potentially become fascists, but do not employ any of the fascist’s methods, maybe just yet. This is where I might disagree with her, I think that this approach might open counterproductive arguments.

Overall – I learned a lot of new facts from that book, and it definitely prompted me to think more deeply on the topic.

“Heartland”: a Book Review

I wanted to share my impressions of the book “Heartland,”  which I recently finished reading. 

From the very first page, the book captured my attention: the first page said that although we never admit that classes in America exist, they do. Moreover, whichever class you’ve born in shapes your life in a very significant way. Indeed, it is challenging, if not impossible, to break out of your class-instilled barriers.  

That we could live on a patch of Kansas dirt with a tub of Crisco lard and a $1 rebate coupon in an envelope on the kitchen counter and call ourselves middle class was at once a triumph of contentedness and a sad comment on our country’s lack of awareness about its own economic structure. Class didn’t exist in a democracy like ours, as far as most Americans were concerned, at least not as a destiny or an excuse. You got what you worked for, we believed. There was some truth to that. But it was not the whole truth.

Smarsh

The power of the book is that, on the one hand, it’s the author’s true story. Through the book, though it is not clear until the very end, the author explains her very personal decision not to have children by telling the life stories of the previous generations of her family. On the side of the storylines, she provides a very in-depth analysis of social and economic trends which led to the current situation and keep people from getting out of poverty. For me, the biggest revelation of the book was a discussion about why people who need help so badly might reject this help, and as a consequence, why poor people might favor republican policies. 

Society’s contempt for the poor becomes the poor person’s contempt for herself. 

Smarxh

People perceive receiving assistance as seeing themselves lesser beings, and it translates into “nobody believes I can make it on my own.”. So, controversially, if the fact that you are poor is “your fault” gives you the hope to get out of poverty. It may be just me thinking slow, but it took me some time to understand how this thought process works. And that’s my biggest takeaway. 

“The Guarded Gate” by Daniel Okrent

That’s one more book which I want to rate “six” instead of five, from one of my favorite authors, Daniel Okrent. It describes the darkest pages of American history, I could not imagine, such views were common, acceptable, and even praised. 

We all know quite a bit about slavery; we know something about the prosecution of Americans of Japanese descent. Perhaps, we heard about antisemitism at some stages of American history. 

As for the rest, I do not know about you, but I was clueless about the triumph of eugenics in the US in the good first half of the 20th century. I did not realize that there was an official policy to grade immigrants based on which European country they were coming from. That not only Jews and Eastern Europeans were undesirable, but also Greeks, Italians, and other Southern Europeans. That officials were trying to prove that these people are more inclined to be involved in crimes and other unlawful activities. That’s all is pretty horrible. 

I liked this book review from NY Times, and I hope it will persuade you to read this book if you didn’t do it yet. It starts with the numbers:

Immigrants arriving between 2000 and 2010 constituted approximately 3 percent of the United States population, while those arriving between 1900 and 1910 constituted 8.9 percent of the population

As usual, we should know our history to avoid repeating it. Especially in times like this. 

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin – a Book Review

One more from my summer reading: Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder.

I could give this book six stars if this rating were available. Extremely informative, great explanations of all “whats” and “whys.” I know the history of this period better than many, but still, there was something new to me.

Also, there were two historical facts, which I only knew from my grandaunt tellings, but never saw them in writing. Being from a family of the “enemies of the nation,” I learned about large portions of the country’s history from the stories my grandaunt told me. At that time, I was sure that they would never become parts of the official account. But after 1985, and especially after 1991, a significant portion of this history became public. There were several facts, however, which I never heard mentioned officially, so I was not even sure whether I remembered them correctly.

To mu surprise, I found the mentioning of these events in the “Bloodlands.” The first is the mentioning of the nationality-based “cases” in the 1930s. My grandaunt told me than my grandfather was prosecuted”as a part of the Polish Case,” but since it was never mentioned otherwise, I thought I might have imagined it. That was the first time I saw it in print.

The second fact was the description of Polish Jews sent back from the Soviet Union to Poland after the war. My grandaunt was a professor at the Leningrad State University at that time, and she was telling me about one of her students who were afraid to do back.

My grandaunt told her: why? It’s now free Poland without Hitler. There will be o antisemitism or anything alike. She remembered how this student shook her head and said hesitantly: I am not so sure… My grandaunt said, she could never forgive herself that she sent her away. Once again, that’s the first time in my life, I saw these facts in writing.

I gave this book to Igor for his 34th birthday:)

The Age Of Surveillance Capitalism – a Book Review

Since I switched to this blog from my previous one, I almost stopped publishing my book reviews. Meanwhile I’ve read several incredible books in the past months., and now I am going to publish several blog posts about my “summer reading.” For those who are new to this blog and to my life in general – for 99% of the time I listen to the audiobooks rather than read books in any format. This is due to bot my multiple vision issues and my packed lifestyle. When I am listening to the audiobook, it is easier to squeeze minutes here and there.

Now – the the actual book review.

This is the first book I am going to write about is The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff

I liked this book a lot, and in contrast to the “Uninhabitable Earth,” there are lots of supporting facts. Probably, part of my liking this book is that “I was there,” and I am aware of most of the facts. The difference is that I am not particularly alarmed with the perspective.

I was always thinking, as long as I can remember thinking about it, that in the hypothetical future, it will be an established fact that anybody can locate anybody in the world, and I do not consider it wrong. Yes, any technology can be used for good and for evil, but this applies to ANY technology.

Same with influencing people’s decisions. Hitler didn’t have the Internet. He didn’t even have television. Yet, he was able to influence millions, and they honestly believed it was their own decision, their personal choice. It has been happening through the course of history all the time. That’s what debates were for. That’s what political speeches were for. You are trying to influence people, and if you are skilled enough, you can.

… After I read this book, I wanted to buy a Google Home device for the first time in my life 🙂