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Buying for lefties December 13, 2006

Posted by franklittle in Uncategorized.

A number of years ago I opened a Christmas present from a very good friend to discover she had bought me a copy of Anthony Beevor’s outstanding book, Stalingrad. She was overjoyed at my visible delight and blurted out that I was a nightmare to buy for. Now from a clothing point of view, this is undoubtedly true, not because I am picky, but because I will wear pretty much anything.

But for those of us who through a lifetime’s involvement in politics have managed to keep a couple of non-political friends, it can be difficult to realise just how tricky it can be for them to pick presents in areas we are interested in when they assume we have all the books and films anyway. A comrade confessed to me some time ago that his little sister, knowing my friend was interested in the second world war, had walked into Hodges-Figgis and bluntly asked whether the store stocked any books on World War Two. Admittedly, she was 14, but still and all…..

Consequently, I thought I’d suggest a couple of books and DVDs for the politico in your life over Christmas. Either ones I have greatly enjoyed, or ones I suspect most people with an interest in history and politics would find something in.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. You will buy/receive a copy of The Wind That Shakes the Barley at some point over Christmas. Loach’s film is an outstanding work and the always watchable Cillian Murphy, who first impressed me in 28 Days Later turns in a fantastic performance. For a Celtic Tiger generation poorly served by the Irish education system, it is a very valuable work. From an historical perspective, it does overstate the socialist element in the thinking of IRA Volunteers, but I choose to interpret this as compensation for the writing out of the role of the trade union movement and socialists in the War of Independence for the previous eight decades. Very enjoyable, moving and dare I say, inspiring.

My next two DVD choices are a little less likely to have been noticed. I first saw Joyeux Noel in the IFI around this time last year and it is a perfect Christmas present. Shot in French, English and German, it tells the story of the 1914 Christmas truce on the Western Front during World War One. Diane Kruger, previously see in Troy, is the only face that might be instantly recognisable, but a fine multi-national cast provide supporting roles, including a number of British actors whose names escape me at this time. The film is a genuinely moving experience, a tribute to the ability of young men, in extraordinary circumstances, to display simple humanity to each other and to realise that they have more in common with each other, than they do with the men sending them to their deaths. It is also not without it’s own sense of humour and the music, the bringing together of the opposing sides starting, as it did historically, with the singing of carols, is beautiful, even if at times it is a little too clear the actors are not the singers. Highly recommended.

At the risk of seeming like a bit of a luvvie, my next DVD choice is also a foreign film. Sophie Scholl tells the story, almost unknown outside of Germany and I’d be curious about the extent to which it is known within Germany, about a young woman who, along with her brother, set up the anti-Nazi White Rose student resistance group in wartime Germany. Sold out by a janitor in the college, she was arrested with her brother who broke down under torture. The movie gives Julia Jentsch as Sophie the chance to shine and the courtroom scenes where she defends her politics are extremely well done. Sophie, along with her brother and another activist were executed by the Nazis, but her story, and her commitment to the principle of free speech, should serve as a continuing inspiration. As she once said herself, “Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”

One of the surprises for me of the year was Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, both because of the poor opinion I had of Gore, and still do on many issues, and because environmental activism was never a huge interest of mine. It is refreshing to see a politician who clearly has a deep commitment to the work he is trying to do. The film makes a possibly unanswerable case against climate change and presents a challenging number of solutions. While the occasional diversions into Gore’s personal history are a bit disruptive in my opinion, it hangs together very well and for environmental agnostics like me, brings home the importance of what Trevor Sargent of the Greens often refers to as the single most vital issue facing us today, before ending on an optimistic note, pointing out that we are capable of preventing, even reversing, the environmental catastrophes we face, if we have the will to do so.

For those who prefer a book to a film, a couple of outstanding publications this year. For me, first and foremost, Anthony Beevor’s new edition of the Battle for Spain. Even-handed, thorough and insightful, if you read one book about the Spanish Civil War, this is it. Beevor manages to maintain as objective a point of view as possible, outlining the atrocities committed by both sides, and arguing that if the right had won the election in 1936, the left would have risen up. But he reserves his greatest condemnation for the moral cowardice of the British and French governments who sat idly by, abandoning a fellow democractic government, and encouraging Hitler and Mussolini to think they could get away with a lot more. Beevor is a personal favourite of mine and this book, updated from the 1982 edition with the contents of Soviet archives, is one of his best works and was acclaimed in Spain when published earlier this year.

John Pilger is a lefty staple and his latest book, Freedom Next Time, a collection of articles and essays, is well worth passing over the few bob. He describes the book himself as being one ‘about empire’, and his criticisms of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the US invasion of Afghanistan are vintage Pilger, scathing, factual, honest and important. But for me, it was his passage on South Africa, outlining the economic failures of the ANC government that proved the most thought provoking. The ANC has, internationally, been able to bask for too long in its role as the opponent of apartheid, but as Pilger points out, the politics and skin colours might be changing, but the economic policies could have been written by Friedman. For the poor blacks of South Africa, it truly is, ‘freedom, next time’.

For those with a particular interest in Irish politics, the outstanding book for me was How Ireland Cares by A Dale Tussing and Maev-Ann Wren. It should be required reading of every public figure who thinks to comment on the state of the health service in Ireland. As well as a first class analysis of the state of the Irish health service, demolishing the ‘black hole’ myth and tearing apart the pro-privatisation lobby with a bewildering array of statistics, international comparisons and economics, it goes on to propose short and long term proposals for dealing with the crisis in the Irish health service. It is not just a list of the problems in the Irish health service, it’s a list of solutions.

The first one of these that I haven’t yet read or seen myself is Greg Palast’s latest book, Armed Madhouse…. Palast’s previous book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, was a great read, exposing the myths of the free marketeering globalisation gurus, the theft of the 2000 US Presidential election and more investigative reporting into corporate and business power structures than the rest of the establishment media in the US could begin to generate. Armed Madhouse is, I am told, more of the same. Written in a racy style, Palast has the humour and appreciation for lunacy that Michael Moore has, but coupled with a razor sharp mind and a fanatical devotion to the facts. It’s high up on my Christmas list.

My final recommendations is a tribute as much as anything else. A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya  and A Small Corner of Hell were written by award winning Russian journalist and human rights activist Anna Politovskaya, whom I first read in Pilger’s anthology of investigative reporting, Tell Me No Lies, where she was outstanding. Anna made her name reporting human rights abuses by Russian forces in Chechnya and challenging Putin’s increasingly dictatorial regime in Russia. She was, in a world where free speech is increasingly under threat from Muslim fanatics, from western governments who see civil liberties as ‘luxuries’ and from the excesses of political correctness, someone who was prepared to stand up, tell the truth and try to hold the powerful to account.

She was murdered on the 7th of October, 2006. One of 1,100 journalists, cameramen, photographers, editors reporters and other media workers killed over the last twelve months.



1. JC Skinner - December 13, 2006

Fisk’s ‘Great War for Civilisation’. It’s a mammoth tome, but it’s superb reading. A little heavy for most people, but should keep a lot of lefties quiet in the corner over the Crimbo period.


2. Pidge - December 13, 2006

Last year, I got three copies of Tim Pat Coogan’s “The IRA”.

I already had a copy.


3. WorldbyStorm - December 13, 2006

“Last year, I got three copies of Tim Pat Coogan’s “The IRA”.”



4. Wednesday - December 13, 2006

I got the worst book EVER last year… I mean even by the standards of the genre (Troubles fiction). Really, it’s so bad it defies description.


This masterwork of shiteitude includes prose of the likes of “Rory was a lost sole” and features such well-developed characters as hardened IRA members (the female of whom, of course, has flaming red hair and emerald green eyes) who unvaryingly refer to the North West’s largest city as “Londonderry”.

Still have it lying around somewhere if you want a chuckle.


5. Pidge - December 13, 2006

😀 Yet the comments on Amazon are all positive.

It reminds me of the IRA bomber-for-hire in “Sin City”. He referred to his love of blowing up pubs and seeing body parts flying everywhere.

Bizarre stuff.


6. WorldbyStorm - December 13, 2006

I don’t get it Wednesday, what’s not to like? 🙂

Still, while we’re on the topic politically the absolute worst book in the ‘Troubles’ genre must for my money be Rogue Element by workaday right-wing writer Terence Strong:


This sets up a miscarriage of justice situation against, IIRC a British soldier or agent within the loyalist paramilitaries, where the UK government, Republicans and so on are pitched against this honest guy. It has a sort of inverse of Gareth Peirce whose fondest wish it to help loyalists. It has an Ulster Resistance unit north of the Border who use computer technology and some sort of stealth helicopter to spread dismay amongst Ulsters enemies south of it i.e. the population of the RoI. Scene impressed in my head? Where doughty UR members look south at the nearest ‘Republican’ town and sense the threat emanating from it.

Worst of all I found it actually quite readable…


7. smiffy - December 13, 2006

“Worst of all I found it actually quite readable …”

Some of us still remember the Linaweaver unpleasantness! 😡

On franklittle’s post, some good choices (particularly Sophie Scholl), but I was a bit surprised at the inclusion of Joyeux Noel. Certainly these things are subjective, but I wasn’t pushed about it at all, Rather than moving, I thought it came across as an attempt to be moving, but descended into a somewhat manipulative sentimentalism (but not manipulative enough). That said, though, it’s not a bad film and is worth a look. Different strokes and all that …

Oh, and one other point. Diane Kruger isn’t the only recognisable face. The less cultured among us may well recognise one of the main characters from Eastenders, that being Evil Trevor from Eastenders (the erstwhile scourge of Little Mo).

I’ll get my coat … 😦


8. Tom - December 14, 2006

May I recommend Innocent Voices which is about a boy in the civil war in El Salvador in the 80s. Best film I’ve seen this year by far


9. Sean O'Donovan - December 14, 2006

A positive alternative to Amazon is


Support independent booksellers !!

Of for really meaningful gifts watch this 30 second film ;


or go to



http://www.cowsnthings.org.uk from Help The Aged


10. WorldbyStorm - December 14, 2006

Linaweaver is an author of rare insight and… okay, okay, he’s a hack and the book is dire. But it’s chutzpah was something else.

Returning to franklittles post, haven’t yet seen the Wind that Shakes the Barley. My fathers mothers family is from that neck of the woods and her brothers were heavily involved during that period, although IIRC they split evenly on the Treaty, so it has a certain resonance… although clearly not enough 😦 since work etc stopped me from seeing it. It’s top of the list for DVDs to watch over the next week or two…

Haven’t seen Innocent Voices either, or indeed heard about word-power before but those are great suggestions…


11. Ryano - December 14, 2006

Matewan is a great leftie film. Buy it for any impressionable young folk who might otherwise pick up Atlas Shrugged.

I haven’t seen it since I was an impressionable young person myself, but I certainly found it powerful at the time.


12. Yes, that’s right, yet another of those end of year lists… « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - December 24, 2006

[…] Following on from franklittles exhaustive and worryingly appropriate buying for lefties post here’s a few of the books, films and music which made my year. […]


13. Pidge - December 26, 2006

Oh, this year I got two paperback copies of “The Great War for Civilisation”.

I got the hardback one last year. 🙂


14. WorldbyStorm - December 27, 2006

Filing under “I don’t believe it” someone got me Banksy’s “Wall and Piece”. Argggghhhhh…..

Is the Great War for Civ any good? If so I’ll borrow it from you.


15. Pidge - December 27, 2006

I haven’t even started it yet. One of the paperbacks is already loaned out, so take your pick between a hardback and a paperback. I really don’t mind.


16. WorldbyStorm - December 27, 2006

Paperback! Paperback!


17. Wednesday - December 28, 2006

I got the Great War for Civilisation last year. It is very good, though the inevitable factual error does slip through just to irritate me.

This year I got: Jimmy Carter’s Palestine book (had a feeling someone would give me that one), Women & Politics in Latin America by Nikki Craske (QUB), and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (or something like that) by Mark Haddon, I think. Hopefully that’ll turn out better than the fiction book I got last year (see reply #4 above).


18. Pidge - December 28, 2006

“Curious Incident…” is very good. I also got “Life of Pi” last year, which is well worth it.


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