Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Andy Beckett reviews The New Old World for The Guardian.

This is a hugely ambitious and panoramic political book, of a sort rarely attempted in our era of quick leader ­biographies and reheated histories of the second world war. Perry Anderson’s stated subject is the past, present and future of the European Union; but his restless chapters keep roaming beyond this already vast territory to trace out a broader history of Europe, taking in everything from architecture under Mussolini to the decline of the Ottoman empire…

…Anderson’s unusual combination of mandarin foreign affairs knowledge and leftist sympathies gives the book a fierceness and a revelatory quality comparable to the best political works of Noam Chomsky.

Read the full article here.


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Verso 9781844672172 Hitler's Beneficiaries smallJohn Connelly reviews Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State by Götz Aly for the latest issue of London Review of Books:

What was the point of Nazism? Götz Aly, Germany’s most influential popular historian, has a new answer: it was for the good of the German people. In his view, the National Socialists were as much socialist as they were national, and they genuinely sought to better the lives of ordinary Germans.

Aly makes compelling arguments to back up this unlikely thesis. Drawing on documents from East German archives, he shows in rich detail that the Nazi state did a lot for working men and women, passing hundreds of laws strengthening social security provision. Under Hitler, German workers saw their holiday entitlement double, while landlords had a tougher time raising rents or ejecting tenants. The onset of war in 1939 further intensified the desire to keep workers happy. In October 1940, the state stopped taxing overtime pay, and the following year it enrolled all retirees in a national health insurance scheme, freeing them from reliance on the churches or public welfare


A more insidious form of looting took place behind the scenes. Aly is the first historian to study systematically what happened to Jewish possessions in Occupied Europe. Using recently opened archival collections he describes in exhaustive detail the arrangements made by officials in the German finance ministry to transfer stolen Jewish wealth into the state budget – from where it could support largesse expended on the Volk. The Cambridge historian Adam Tooze has contested Aly’s claim that 75 per cent of the state budget was covered by this form of looting: he says the actual figure was more like a quarter, but that is still substantial.

Aly asks at the outset: ‘What drove ordinary Germans to tolerate and commit historically unprecedented crimes against humanity, in particular the murder of millions of European Jews?’ His answer is that ordinary Germans co-operated in genocide because they benefited from it in material terms. According to Aly, the Nazi dictatorship was built not on terror but on a mutual calculation of ‘interest’ between leaders and people. This claim entails a further shift in our understanding of the regime: not only did it serve the welfare of the common people, but if there was fear, it was the fear the regime felt of the people, not the other way around. Top Nazi leaders worried that their regime would be toppled by popular unrest if the people’s mood soured: their ‘satisfaction’ had to be ‘purchased’ every day.”

Read the full review here.

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In this year of Darwinian celebrations, Verso publishes The Pure Society, André Pichot’s polemical history of the dark side of evolutionary theory.

In this book, Pichot, a prominent French historian of science, exposes the connection between Darwinian biology and social oppression, as a supposedly objective scientifically-themed ideology was used to justify and extend projects of eugenics and racism.  The success of Darwinism in science is in fact due to the usefulness of Social Darwinism to those in power.

The New Humanist has just carried a positive review of this extensively-researched book:

Layout 1“Eugenics, argues Pichot, was not the work of a few cranks and Nazi ideologists, it was the mainstream and its opponents were the intellectual “eccentrics”…Pichot’s work is a salutary warning.  As he notes, the malignant ideologies of eugenics have not disappeared, but are now privatised with the pressure of the market, the media and medicine encouraging us to breed our own “perfect” offspring.  The key question The Pure Society poses is how we can defend human beings against being reduced to mere raw material, or animals fit for breeding, without relying on the usual religious models of the sacred inviolability of human life.”

Support local independent bookshops by buying The Pure Society from them.

This book is also available from Verso, Amazon and The Book Depository.

Praise for the French Edition:

“This book is terrifying and sends shivers down one’s spine…With a methodical, surgical but also indignant pen, André Pichot painstakingly tracks these ordinary crimes [of eugenics]…One of the great merits of his work is that it calls on us for a spirit of critical vigilance”  Télérama

“André Pichot is an excellent historian…Pichot analyses [this complex history of eugenics] with finesse.  He destroys the false ideas, the “fables” which were completely invented to justify a priori ideas.  A very rich book, which is based on abundant documentation.”  Études

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