June 30, 2020

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, June 2020

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste, and no qualifications to say anything about any kind of history.

Perry Anderson, Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism and Lineages of the Absolutist State
These are deservedly-classic works, attempting to make sense of the transformations that took western Europe from the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. (There are lots of odd parallelism to Gibbon, which someone better versed in historiography should write about.) The former book focuses on the establishment of feudalism out of elements of the Roman system and the institutions of the barbarian invaders, plus improvisations. The latter looks at the formation of centralized states and their aristocracies / royal servants out of feudalism; Anderson thus tends to pass over the feudal period proper.
Anderson really insists on being a historical materialist; that's deeply important to him. But he also insists that "the modes of production of any pre-capitalist social formation are always specified by the politico-juridical apparatus of class rule which enforces the extra-economic coercion peculiar to it" (Lineages, Appendix on the Asiatic Mode of Production, sec. V). So he's really much more about the mode of domination than a typical historical materialist...
Petty annoyance note: I read both of these as e-books, bought directly from the publisher. (Verso is to be commended for not DRM-ing their e-books, and making them easy to buy directly.) The electronic texts were obviously OCR'd from the printed books of the 1970s, but were equally clearly never proof-read; this was especially clear, and annoying, in Lineages. Thus in that book "Île de France" becomes "He de France" everywhere (including in the index, where it appears between "Ieyasu, Tokugawa" and "Incas"), and "11th century" becomes "nth century". (At least, I can't imagine Anderson ever writing "nth century".) I don't think there were any places where the lack of editing seriously impaired my ability to follow, but it was an annoyance, and how would I know if it had mangled something? §
Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy
This is immensely detailed, immensely readable, and immensely self-assured. It's also so deep into intricate controversies among economic, military and political historians that I feel quite unable to judge it. I will say that I thought I appreciated how much more backwards the European economies were than America in the first half of the 20th century, but even so much of this was eye-opening. §

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Writing for Antiquity; The Dismal Science

Posted at June 30, 2020 23:59 | permanent link

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