What have you read recently?

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Noah Fence's picture
Noah Fence
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Jun 21 2019 21:30

I would really like to read 1985 by Anthony Burgess with some of you guys. I used to read it very regularly and loved it's individualist attitude before I discovered communism. First time I read it after I started interacting with Libcom I was shocked by how at odds it was with my new views but it is still an excellent read, darkly comic and lubricated by Burgess’ masterly writing style https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1985_(Anthony_Burgess_novel). I think it would raise many criticisms and possibly some anger but I hope that there would still be some enjoyment to be had a Burgess is such a great writer.
It would also be good to read A Clockwork Orange with you guys too. It’s one of my favourite books of all time and it isn’t at all flawed in the way that 1985 is.
Anyways, both these fit the description suggested by you Jeff.

As for Lost Connections, it doesn’t bother me that it’s come in for a lot of criticism, in fact, that provides added interest in a way. I have a lot of experience with mental health issues, I’ve been dealing with the extreme end of them with friends and my immediate family including all three of my kids as well as myself and have lost count of the number of friends and associates that have died or have seriously injured themselves or fucked up their health or lives as a result of MH problems either by suicide or through dangerous behaviour created by them.
For these reasons I’m keen to look at things from a different perspective both as an intellectually stimulating exercise and in case it can offer me something to help with my own depression and anxiety, which though they are now low level, are still sometimes bad enough to make life pretty difficult.

zugzwang
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Jun 22 2019 03:51

My book stack is getting pretty tall, but I wouldn't mind joining in reading something light (the Burgess or Hari books are fine with me).

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Jun 23 2019 22:46
R Totale wrote:

Juan - shit, is MRR gone? Sad times, even if I probably only got a copy once every few years.
Is there any chance of someone who doesn't like the podcast enjoying the Chapo book? Even though I probably fit their target audience quite well, I find them a bit too gratingly "bro-ish" to listen to.

Yeah, MRR ended their print run a few months ago. They're still putting out the weekly radio show and maintaining the website. Seems like the intention is to keep doing some of the stuff featured in the print magazine but put it out on the website. That leaves Razorcake as the last major punk print publication in the U.S.

I can't imagine if you already dislike the Chapo podcast that you would like the book.

shyamk85
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Jun 25 2019 05:04

Reading a book called power of positivity. It is a good book and is changing my views on several aspects.

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Jun 25 2019 06:09
shyamk85 wrote:
Reading a book called power of positivity. It is a good book and is changing my views on several aspects.

I can’t comment specifically on this book but having read quite a bit of this stuff, the following quote sums up my feelings quite nicely...

Quote:

The philosophy of positive thinking means being untruthful; it means being dishonest. It means seeing a certain thing and yet denying what you have seen; it means deceiving yourself and others.” “Positive thinking is the only bullshit philosophy that America has contributed to human thought – nothing else. Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, and the Christian priest, Vincent Peale – all these people have filled the whole American mind with this absolutely absurd idea of a positive philosophy. And it appeals particularly to mediocre minds… Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, has been sold in numbers just next to the Christian Bible. No other book has been able to reach that popularity. The Christian Bible should not be a competitor in fact, because it is more or less given free, forced on people. But Dale Carnegie’s book people have been purchasing; it has not been given to you free. And it has created a certain kind of ideology which has given birth to many books of a similar kind. But to me it is nauseating. … Dale Carnegie started this whole school of positive philosophy, positive thinking: Don’t see the negative part, don’t see the darker side. But by your not seeing it, do you think it disappears? You are just befooling yourself. You cannot change reality. The night will still be there; you can think that it is daytime for twenty-four hours, but by your thinking it, it is not going to be light twenty-four hours a day. The negative is as much part of life as the positive.

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Jun 25 2019 18:45

I think this piece about mindfulness is quite good.

It argues that basically capitalism is selling us its own propaganda. Instead of trying to change our conditions, we are encouraged to pay for 'help' to accept them.

Quote:
Mindfulness is easily co-opted and reduced to merely “pacifying feelings of anxiety and disquiet at the individual level, rather than seeking to challenge the social, political and economic inequalities that cause such distress”,

Quote:
A truly revolutionary mindfulness would challenge the western sense of entitlement to happiness irrespective of ethical conduct.

I'd be happy to read Burgess. I am kind of in a book club already, but have only been once. If this is successful maybe we could move onto a more political text, maybe a historical one.

Shall we open a thread that anyone planning to read it can 'sign up' on and then we pick a date to try and read it by?

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Jun 25 2019 21:52
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Shall we open a thread that anyone planning to read it can 'sign up' on and then we pick a date to try and read it by?

Yeah, good idea.
What one do you fancy, 1985 or A Clockwork Orange?

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Jun 26 2019 19:19
Noah Fence wrote:
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Shall we open a thread that anyone planning to read it can 'sign up' on and then we pick a date to try and read it by?

Yeah, good idea.
What one do you fancy, 1985 or A Clockwork Orange?

I'm happy with 1985, if you and wojtek are.

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Jun 26 2019 22:06

Ok, I’ll order a copy - I gave my last one to Chilli Sauce. I seem to remember he said this...

Quote:
Burgess is a cock

Or words to that effect. I don’t dispute this but as a writer he was eminently readable.

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Jun 29 2019 20:52

Are you ready to do this Jeff? How about Zugzwan and Wojtek?

zugzwang
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Jun 29 2019 22:41

Sure, here's an epub version if anyone wants it.

http://booksdescr.org/foreignfiction/item/index.php?md5=ee8685cd7a8d5d13...

wojtek
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Jul 1 2019 03:32

I'd be down if it was feasable to discuss in person, but I've done a 180 and not so keen on an online one.

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Jul 1 2019 06:17

New discussion thread open.

https://libcom.org/forums/general/burgess-1985-reading-group-01072019

Have started the first page or two. the only thing likely to stop me finishing it this week is not liking it. Which is quite possible. But I will be done by the date.

Everything is open for discussion, I just wanted to get started.

zugzwang
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Jul 1 2019 08:54
Noah Fence wrote:
Quote:
Burgess is a cock

Or words to that effect. I don’t dispute this but as a writer he was eminently readable.

The cock bit seems pretty accurate. Just got past intro and I already hate him (then again there's lots to dislike in Orwell too).

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Jul 1 2019 10:08

Haha, the critique of 1984 is shocking as far as I remember.

cactus9
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Jul 4 2019 08:10

Irresistible: why you are addicted to technology and how to set youself free by Adam Alter.

On the one hand I read this because I like pop science books, this wasn't a great example of the genre like some I've read and my attention did wander a bit, but I also read it because I'm interested in addiction and behavioural addiction and concerned about my own tech use and I found it interesting and helpful on this score.

zugzwang
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Jul 7 2019 06:20
Noah Fence wrote:
Haha, the critique of 1984 is shocking as far as I remember.

I was referring more to this (his biographer didn't even seem to like him that much):

Andrew Biswell wrote:
To a cultural conservative such as Burgess, it seemed as if the apocalypse had arrived and that the British government had ceased to govern. Yet the novel's hatred of strikers, punks, religious reformers and people who watch television is so intemperate that the author struggles to control his material. When he is not railing against the vulgarity of popular culture (he invents television programmes called Sex Boy and Sky Rape), he depicts striking fire-fighters looking on as a hospital burns down. It is interesting to note that, when the real-life fire-fighters went on strike over a 30 per cent pay claim in November 1977 (shortly after Burgess had completed his novella), they broke their strike to put out a fire at St Andrew’s Hospital in East London. The implausibility of Burgess’s plot indicates the extent of his detachment from the reality of British life in the mid-1970s.

Andrew Biswell wrote:
If Orwell’s guilt about his privileged upbringing had made him want to move downwards in society – he spent time living in working-class doss-houses and deliberately modified his accent to disguise his Etonian origins – Burgess had always aimed to make the opposite journey, from the poverty and deprivation of Moss Side to a life of middle-class respectability. (It is no accident that he ended up, after his second marriage in 1968, living a life of comfortable expatriation in Malta and Monaco.)

Andrew Biswell wrote:
In The Wanting Seed, Burgess imagines a futuristic over-populated England where homosexuality has become the stateapproved norm.

Not particularly relevant but Burgess' disliking of punks reminded me how JD lead singer had Burgess' Clockwork book in his bookshelf. He also met the American writer of Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs, who supposedly told him to "get lost/fuck off".

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Jul 7 2019 07:35

Hmmm, that first quote is rather odd. I mean, I agree with it except for the inclusion of ‘punks’. It seems to me that Burgess paints a sympathetic picture of violent youths(I presume that’s who Biswell means?) in 1985 and A Clockwork Orange. In fact, that’s one of the remarkable things about A Clockwork Orange - the reader can’t help but rally for Little Alex despite him being an incredibly self interested murderer and rapist.

Edit: Actually, I think Biswell’s description of Burgess as a cultural conservative based on his distaste for trashy TV and religious reformers is pretty daft as well. I mean, does my rejection of religion and distaste for trashy ‘reality’ TV such as Celebrity Love Island, or unimaginative, lazy, obvious, drivel like Harry Potter make me a cultural conservative?

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Jul 7 2019 07:37

Oh yes, who is ‘JD’?

zugzwang
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Jul 8 2019 00:06
Noah Fence wrote:
Hmmm, that first quote is rather odd. I mean, I agree with it except for the inclusion of ‘punks’. It seems to me that Burgess paints a sympathetic picture of violent youths(I presume that’s who Biswell means?) in 1985 and A Clockwork Orange. In fact, that’s one of the remarkable things about A Clockwork Orange - the reader can’t help but rally for Little Alex despite him being an incredibly self interested murderer and rapist.

Edit: Actually, I think Biswell’s description of Burgess as a cultural conservative based on his distaste for trashy TV and religious reformers is pretty daft as well. I mean, does my rejection of religion and distaste for trashy ‘reality’ TV such as Celebrity Love Island, or unimaginative, lazy, obvious, drivel like Harry Potter make me a cultural conservative?

From my reading it seems Clockwork and Burgess were pretty popular among British punks:

Simon Reynolds wrote:
Although other heavily industrial parts of Britain suffered steadily rising unemployment and factory closures in the seventies, Sheffield remained relatively prosperous. The steel industry didn’t sharply decline until Thatcher took power in 1979. If there was deprivation, it was cultural. Nonconformist Sheffield youth grabbed on to whatever sources of stimulation they could find: pop music, art, glam clothes, science fiction, or, better still, some combination of them all.
That’s why A Clockwork Orange—Anthony Burgess’s 1962 book, Stanley Kubrick’s 1970 film, and Walter Carlos’s electronic movie score—had such an impact in Sheffield. Set in a near future Britain, A Clockwork Orange focuses on a marauding gang of teenagers, vicious dandies who live for gratuitous “ultraviolence.” Roaming a grim cityscape of high-rise apartment blocks, power plants, and dilapidated Filmdromes, these glammed-up thugs mug old people for a lark and spar bloodily with rival gangs. Although Burgess drew specific inspiration from his hometown of Manchester, Clockwork Orange’s backdrop was familiar to anyone living in urban Britain during the 1970s. Tower blocks, skyways, shadowy underpasses: This was the desolate psychogeography of a new England created by town planners and Brutalist architects from the early 1960s onward.

In any case the striker thing and Wanting Seed book look pretty bad. Haven't read anything by Burgess, but the Wanting Seed book, in addition to sounding homophobic, seems to promote Malthusian ideas that there isn't enough means of life (that not everyone can be employed as wage-workers to allow them to purchase the stuff they need) to provide a comfortable existence for everyone, which is bourgeois nonsense that communists, anarchists and others have argued against (see for example Kautsky here in his intro to Capital or Kropotkin's mention of Malthus in CoB).

zugzwang
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Jul 8 2019 03:40

And this interview would seem to confirm that:

http://www.masterbibangers.net/ABC/index.php?option=com_content&view=art...

Quote:
Interviewer: Now, the last book which has appeared in France, La Folle Semence, it has been quite successful and it has been called a fable on the theme of population explosion. Is this a problem which preoccupies you in particular?

A.B.: Well, it’s a problem which did preoccupy me when I first conceived the book because I was living in the far east at the time, I’d seen India, I’d seen Bombay, I’d seen Calcutta.

I’d seen the ghastly results of over-population, and of course, I was living very close to Singapore, which is a little island crammed with humanity of all kinds, and naturally I saw this problem as one that was facing the east, but not yet facing the west.

In my little novel I present this theme of over-population as affecting my own country, England. I imagine a future in which the population is so great that people haven’t enough to eat and the state steps in and forces people to have fewer and fewer children.

But I do, rather boldly I think, suggest a solution: the solution doesn’t lie in contraception, in the states’ imposing a limitation on the family, the solution is a Malthusian one.

Now, Malthus was an English clergyman who lived in the eighteenth century and first propounded the idea that soon there would not be enough food in the world for people, and therefore we had to do something about it.

He said the only thing we could do about it is to delay marriage, is to practise chastity, nowadays, of course, we don’t believe in that, we believe that everybody has a right to copulate if they wish to; and they must guard against the inevitable biological results of copulation.

My view is as presented in this novel, so it’s not perhaps essentially a serious view, I wouldn’t go to the gallows on this view, is that we have to continue to accept certain natural checks.

Malthus said we have checks such as earthquakes, volcanoes, famines, these keep the population down.

But man has a cultural check and this cultural check is war. So, in my book I present wars which are waged, not for any ideological reason, not for territorial reasons, but because it’s a means of keeping the population down.

The interview then goes on to discuss whether cannibalism can be interpreted as an act of love.

wojtek
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Jul 10 2019 07:11

https://www.lrb.co.uk/v41/n13/james-wood/diary

zugzwang
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Jul 30 2019 06:16
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I'm currently reading the Ben Reynolds book, which is supposed to offer a Marxist take on capitalism and automation in the 21st century. I'm just now getting to part II so I don't really have much of an opinion on it.

The marxian-theoretical half was interesting and seems to draw a lot from the Wertkritik school/people, who the author mentions in a footnote, basically arguing that value-producing labour is being replaced with technology/constant capital, which doesn't create any new value itself (just transfers value) and that this will ultimately lead to capitalism's collapse. It's seems pretty much the same as what Robert Kurz is arguing here:

Kurz wrote:
With the development of productivity, capital increases the extent of exploitation, but in doing so it undermines the foundation and the object of exploitation, the production of value as such. For the production of relative surplus value, inseparable as it is from the progressive fusion of modern science with the material process of production, includes the tendency toward the elimination of living, immediate, productive labor, as the only source of total social value creation.The same movement which increases capital’s share of the new value decreases the absolute basis of value production by means of the elimination of direct living productive labor.Capital creates, necessarily and unconsciously, the immediately social labor that emerges from the value relation, the material productivity of which reduces total social labor time — but it does so only to its own end, in order to increase the rate at which it exploits the immediate producers. Capital develops social productivity for asocial ends and interests, and thus becomes entangled in a contradiction that cannot be resolved on its own foundations, the ultimate logic of which Marx sketches in the following terms:

A development in the productive forces that would reduce the absolute number of workers, and actually enable the whole nation to accomplish its entire production in a shorter period of time would produce a revolution, since it would put the majority of the population out of action.Here we have once again the characteristic barrier to capitalist production, and we see how this is in no way an absolute form of the development of the productive forces and the creation of wealth, but rather comes into conflict with this at a certain point in its development.One aspect of this conflict is presented by the periodic crises that arise when one or another section of the working population is made superfluous in its old employment.The barrier to capitalist production is the surplus time of the workers.The absolute spare time that the society gains is immaterial to capitalist production.The development of productivity is only important to it in so far as it increases the surplus-labor time of the working class and does not just reduce the labor-time needed for material production in general; in this way it moves in a contradiction.

The proposal half was disappointing, in its promotion of a stage called socialism, where worker coops will be a feature (as if workers managing capital themselves wouldn't face the same pressures as any other capitalist enterprise to compete and act in anti-social ways or else cease to exist) preceding the final goal of communism. As far as Marx and Engels go socialism and communism were synonymous terms for the same society.

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Sep 5 2019 04:02

Read 'The Arsonist' by Chloe Hooper, which is about the man convicted of starting one of the Black Saturday bushfires, which were the deadliest bushfires Australia has ever seen -- 173 people died. It's a good book and quite well written. It humanises everyone, from the victims to the perpetrator, and digs into the political circumstances a little, as the area he is from was devastated by unemployment that fed into the social disquiet in the area.

I'd be interested to know what non-Australians would think of it. Bushfire is ingrained in the national 'mythos' here and you can read that in between the lines of this book. I wish she'd gone more into the political aspects though, it made me think of that text about Bordiga's writings on natural disasters. An untapped area

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Sep 5 2019 17:41
zugzwang wrote:
The interview then goes on to discuss whether cannibalism can be interpreted as an act of love.

A few years ago I read The People's act of love, which is about cannibalism and the czech legion in Siberia, amongst other things. One of those books that I can't remember if it was good, I think I liked it. It was certainly interesting.

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Sep 6 2019 11:15

I'm halfway through The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's war on the earth by John Bellamy Foster/Brett Clark/Richard York. I think it's excellent so far, it gives a very rich overview of Marxian ecological thinking but is also very concrete about current climate and ecological crisis.

After this will probably read the new translation of Tronti's Workers and Capital that appeared with Verso.

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Sep 8 2019 18:16
spacious wrote:
After this will probably read the new translation of Tronti's Workers and Capital that appeared with Verso.

I'll be interested to hear what you make of it - I impulsively bought it because it was half-price, but I'm finding it pretty difficult to get through, I suppose the Leninism of Tronti's language is one barrier but even beyond that, so far it seems a bit lacking in actual workers' inquiry compared to what I was expecting - far too much "the party must be based in the factory" and not enough "here's what it's actually like in the factory" for my tastes so far. Still, maybe it picks up once you get past the first bit.

Other recent reading: Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson, which I thought was pretty bad, whole range of flaws but particularly a case of "too many ideas, too little space given to sitting there and working any of them out", plus the characters and dialogue didn't really work for me. On the other hand, New Dark Age by James Bridle about tech/data stuff is excellent, one of those books that covers a whole range of topics so well that you end up being reminded of it by all sorts of things afterwards, or maybe that's just me.

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Sep 9 2019 03:03
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far too much "the party must be based in the factory" and not enough "here's what it's actually like in the factory" for my tastes so far.

Doesn't that have more to do with the time it was written in than it has to do with politics? If you are going to write a political work meant to influence the organizing by workers you would probably write about what the goal is, not just explain the current day-to-day situation that the reader already experiences. I could write long works that are just my own tales of workplace injustices and organizing but as a political work that would probably be very boring for the target audience.

Lenin sort of writes about this in What is to be done?,

Quote:
The “economic struggle of the workers against the employers and the government”, about which you make as much fuss as if you had discovered a new America, is being waged in all parts of Russia, even the most remote, by the workers themselves who have heard about strikes, but who have heard almost nothing about socialism. The “activity” you want to stimulate among us workers, by advancing concrete demands that promise palpable results, we are already displaying and in our everyday, limited trade union work we put forward these concrete demands, very often without any assistance whatever from the intellectuals. [But such activity is not enough for us; we are not children to be fed on the thin gruel of “economic” politics alone; we want to know everything that others know, we want to learn the details of all aspects of political life and to take part actively in every single political event. In order that we may do this, the intellectuals must talk to us less of what we already know.[12] and tell us more about what we do not yet know and what we can never learn from our factory and “economic” experience, namely, political knowledge. You intellectuals can acquire this knowledge, and it is your duty to bring it to us in a hundred- and a thousand-fold greater measure than you have done up to now; and you must bring it to us, not only in the form of discussions, pamphlets, and articles (which very often — pardon our frankness — are rather dull), but precisely in the form of vivid exposures of what our government and our governing classes are doing at this very moment in all spheres of life.

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Sep 9 2019 18:43
LeninistGirl wrote:
Quote:
far too much "the party must be based in the factory" and not enough "here's what it's actually like in the factory" for my tastes so far.

Doesn't that have more to do with the time it was written in than it has to do with politics?

I suppose so, evidently people got all sorts of things out of it in the 1960s and 70s, I'm not getting as much as I'd like out of in 2019 though.

Quote:
If you are going to write a political work meant to influence the organizing by workers you would probably write about what the goal is, not just explain the current day-to-day situation that the reader already experiences. I could write long works that are just my own tales of workplace injustices and organizing but as a political work that would probably be very boring for the target audience.

For what it's worth, I would probably be genuinely interested to read those. Personally what I really like is stuff that connects the day-to-day struggle with larger issues, that's why I think Angry Workers... produce some of the best contemporary UK communist writing, and why I miss Recomposition. But that's just my personal taste, I can accept that Das Kapital is worthwhile even though Marx made the rookie mistake of not including any explosions or exciting punchups.

Quote:
Lenin sort of writes about this in What is to be done?...

We're definitely not going to agree on that one.

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Sep 9 2019 19:25
spacious wrote:
I'm halfway through The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's war on the earth by John Bellamy Foster/Brett Clark/Richard York. I think it's excellent so far, it gives a very rich overview of Marxian ecological thinking but is also very concrete about current climate and ecological crisis.

I read that book a couple of years ago and found it a bit disappointing. While I think readers will come away gaining an understanding of the gist of 'Marxist ecology', the material is a bit too repetitive for my taste. It should be noted that the book is essentially a compilation of essays published by Monthly Review.

Around the time I read that book, I read another book called Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis by Chris Williams. As far as I can remember, it's a solid introduction to an eco-socialist perspective. It adequately described the problem of climate change, it's causes and the solutions offered by eco-socialism.

In post #3 of this thread, I mentioned I was reading David Pepper's Eco-Socialism: From deep ecology to social justice. I've recently finished it and I have to say it's not worth it. It has entire sections on marxism and anarchism and their perspectives on the environment, but neither were very insightful.

I have also finished reading Facing the Enemy: A History of Anarchist Organisation from Proudhon to May 1968 by Alexandre Skirda. It was okay. This definitely has a strong platformist perspective. I must add that I had trouble comprehending many passages in the text that just didn't make any sense whatsoever. Maybe it's a translation issue? I don't think I would recommend this to newbies.