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Recommended reading - three short book reviews


Anarchism and the City: Revolution and Counter-revolution in Barcelona, 1898-1937, by Chris Ealham, $30.

This is a very exciting and excitable book - the ideas, themes and stories leap from the pages. It's one of the few books in English that looks at Spanish revolutionary development from the street level, from the people in the proletarian quarters, about the lives of ordinary people in their hovels and their daily fights with all levels of authority. It's not what the organisations did or did not do, so much as what the people did, needed, and fought for that then led to their fighting organisations being established and growing.... and after decades of this to revolution. It's not a glossy account, or a simple one, for it has the arguments, the fights, the splits, the reconciliations, within the revolutionary people. And then the disputes between these and the 'struggle for the streets' between ordinary people & revolutionary organisations and the wealthy classes and their desire for a quiet life to enjoy their riches unworried by the miscreants, the poor, the troublemakers and their unwashed ilk. Mostly its a narrative woven throughout with the metahpor of the 'city', its geography, its structures, the way the city was the continuous battleground of daily life, as much as was a strike in a workplace. For example, there is a continuous discussion about how elements of the middle class fought bitterly to destroy the economy of the street traders, many of whom were women who had few other ways to survive, but it was an economy that was independent of the wealthy who wanted to control or eliminate it - the greed of the greedy. It also explores how the rich used the construction and re-construction of the city as weapons to beat down the poor and their organisations. This is a different view and a highly worthwhile one to explore, especially as it raises heaps of questions - not answers - that directly relate to our lives and projects today.


The Dynamite Club: How a Bombing in Fin-de-siecle Paris Ignited the Age of Modern Terror, by John Merriman, $25.

This is an honest book, and not what I expected to find. Merriman is not an anarchist, but has tried to understand what led to the 1890s series of bombings that occurred in Paris by self-described anarchists. He explores the lives and poverty that drove a series of individualists to protest against the system that was destroying them, and in some cases, their families. It's not an approach that I support, nor did many anarchists of their day, but it was very worthwhile reading about what led them to do what they did. I cannot find any such worth in the terror that Imperialism has wrought on the peoples of the Middle East, and those chickens are still coming home to roost, daily, hourly.

The Anarchist Geographer: An Introduction to the Life of Peter Kropotkin, by Brian Morris, $18.

If you haven't read about the extraordinary life of Kropotkin, then this is an excellent place to start. Although it is a bit of a compilation from Morris' other writings, it does a good job at exploring the man's origins, the development of politics from dissident aristocrat (typical of his times) to an revolutionary anarchist. He was born to have had the world at his feet, luxury, servants, and all of the trimmings of the high life, but at a very early age saw through it all and gave it up and went on to survive prison, exile and prison again. And while all this was going, he wrote a lot, laying the foundations of modern anarchism. It's a slim volume, but Morris does a commendable job of presenting the person, his ideas and writings soundly, with empathy and with intelligence. The book also has a good chronology of Kropotkin's life and a very useful bibliography.