Books: A Batch of Mini-Reviews

Posted 23 June, 2017 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

Oops, it’s already mid-year and I realised I never posted the following up. I actually read the following books late last year but never got around to finishing up typing out my reviews until…well, a few weeks ago :3 Luckily I did keep notes around the time that I read the following books so I have some recollection of my thoughts and reactions to reading them đŸ˜› But as you may notice, this is a non-fiction edition of a mini reviews post. Included in this batch are:


The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics
By: John B. Judis
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase

What’s happening in global politics? As if overnight, many Democrats revolted and passionately backed a socialist named Bernie Sanders; the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union; the vituperative billionaire Donald Trump became the presidential nominee of the Republican party; and a slew of rebellious parties continued to win elections in Switzerland, Norway, Italy, Austria, and Greece.

John B. Judis, one of America’s most respected political analysts, tells us why we need to learn about the populist movement that began in the United States in the 1890s, the politics of which have recurred on both sides of the Atlantic ever since. Populism, on both the right and the left, champions the people against an establishment, based on issues–globalization, free trade, immigration–on which there has been a strong elite consensus, but also a strong mass discontent that is now breaking out into the open.

The Populist Explosion is essential reading for our times as we grapple to understand the political forces at work here and in Europe.

I picked up this book exactly because of what was going on late last year and how the word “populism” was being thrown around, both in Europe and North America. It’s pretty informative if you’ve never heard of the term and the history behind the political concept and how it’s evolved over time. It was also informative from an economical-political viewpoint in understanding what’s going on with the rise of these nationalist groups. It was a good refresher, but I was expecting more in-depth analysis on the subject and its ramnifications. Despite the blurb mentioning the European Union, I thought it could’ve been more comprehensive with the European side as the book was discussing the United States more. It also doesn’t touch too much on these groups’ social context and their impact post-elections especially in the case of Trump (though it does touch on immigration in relation to jobs/the economy) but I suppose you’d need to loo elsewhere for a more detailed discussion. Nonetheless the book was a good starting point on the subject matter.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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My Story
By: Julia Gillard
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase

On Wednesday 23 June 2010, with the government in turmoil, Julia Gillard asked then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for a leadership ballot.

The next day, Julia Gillard became Australia’s 27th Prime Minister, and our first female leader. Australia was alive to the historic possibilities. Here was a new approach for a new time.

It was to last three extraordinary years.

This is Julia Gillard’s chronicle of that turbulent time – a strikingly candid self-portrait of a political leader seeking to realise her ideals. It is her story of what it was like – in the face of government in-fighting and often hostile media – to manage a hung parliament, build a diverse and robust economy, create an equitable and world-class education system, ensure a dignified future for Australians with disabilities, all while attending to our international obligations and building strategic alliances for our future. This is a politician driven by a sense of purpose – from campus days with the Australian Union of Students, to a career in the law, to her often gritty, occasionally glittering rise up the ranks of the Australian Labor Party.

Refreshingly honest, peppered with a wry humour and personal insights, Julia Gillard does not shy away from her mistakes, as well as detailing her political successes. Here is an account of what was hidden behind the resilience and dignified courage Gillard showed as prime minister, her view of the vicious hate campaigns directed against her, and a reflection on what it means – and what it takes – to be a woman leader in contemporary politics.

Here, in her own words, Julia Gillard reveals what life was really like as Australia’s first female prime minister.

I have been eyeing this book for ages. I knew she was Australia’s first female prime minister but as my focus was mostly Russian and European during my undergrad and grad studies, she never really came across my reading of news and whatnot unless it had to do with international talks and whatnot. So like many, she really came to my attention when she gave her infamous misogyny speech in Parliament (watch). Now again, I don’t know much about Australia’s domestic and political history, only within its context in international history and political relations, so this book was also a bit of a learning curve for me.

The book is divided into two halves: the first part focuses on her time as prime minister, both rise and fall, and the second half focuses more on the policies hse fought for, the challenges her government faced, and her own review of how she handled carrying out those policies. It’s all very interesting, though admittedly it can be dense if you’re like me and you’re not entirely familiar with the issues that are important to Australians or certain terminology (left and right spectrums vary from country to country, remember) but the candid glimpse and reflection is nonetheless fascinating. So again it’s hard for me to be critical in assessing the book as I’m not familiar with the issues but it’s nonetheless illuminating from my standpoint. I did however get the impression coming out of reading this book that she’s a strong person who deeply cares about the future of Australia and its people and I admired her for what she went through and for that speech. But she is still a politician, and she reads the game like any one else in the field so that’s also something that I was keeping in mind as I was reading this book.

One thing did strike me reading the second half of the book: healthcare did not have a very large chapter–I guess her government wasn’t big on that particular field? I know she was especially focused on issues of education…

Nonetheless it was a fascinating read and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies
By: Kate Andersen Brower
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the groundbreaking backstairs look at the White House, The Residence, comes an intimate, news-making look at the true modern power brokers at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: the First Ladies, from Jackie Kennedy to Michelle Obama.

One of the most underestimated—and challenging—positions in the world, the First Lady of the United States must be many things: an inspiring leader with a forward-thinking agenda of her own; a savvy politician, skilled at navigating the treacherous rapids of Washington; a wife and mother operating under constant scrutiny; and an able CEO responsible for the smooth operation of countless services and special events at the White House. Now, as she did in her smash #1 bestseller The Residence, former White House correspondent Kate Andersen Brower draws on a wide array of untapped, candid sources—from residence staff and social secretaries to friends and political advisers—to tell the stories of the ten remarkable women who have defined that role since 1960.

Brower offers new insights into this privileged group of remarkable women, including Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Patricia Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama. The stories she shares range from the heartwarming to the shocking and tragic, exploring everything from the first ladies’ political crusades to their rivalries with Washington figures; from their friendships with other first ladies to their public and private relationships with their husbands. She also offers a detailed and insightful new portrait of one of the most-watched first ladies of all time, Hillary Clinton, asking what her tumultuous years in the White House may tell us about her own historic presidential run . . . and what life could be like with the nation’s first First Husband.

Candid and illuminating, this first group biography of the modern first ladies provides a revealing look at life upstairs and downstairs at the world’s most powerful address.

I thought the premise of this book was pretty cool. First Ladies tend to have a very vague role and every First Lady is different, so it was interesting to read a book that sort of drew them together on some compare and contrast level. It was interesting to learn the various roles they play, their relationships with their husbands and to the public; I learned a lot more about them than I otherwise realised from their individual biographies, not to mention how they interacted with each other, who stayed in contact with who, the various persona styles they had.

My only criticism about this book lies in its presentation: the book was pretty repetitive in parts, restating who was who, certain stories mentioned earlier repeated again. But otherwise the book was an interesting read.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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Unhappy Union: How the Euro Crisis and Europe Can Be Fixed
By: John Peet & Anton La Guardia
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase

The euro was supposed to create an unbreakable bond between the nations and people of Europe. But when the debt crisis struck, the flaws of the half-built currency has brought the EU close to breaking point after decades of post-war integration.

Deep fault-lines have opened up between European institutions and the nation-states, and often between the rulers and the ruled, raising profound questions about Europe’s democratic deficit. Belief in European institutions and national governments alike is waning, while radicals of both the left and the right are gaining power and influence.

Europe’s leaders have so far proved the doomsayers wrong and prevented the currency from breaking up. “If the euro fails, Europe fails,” says Angela Merkel. Yet the euro, and the European project as a whole, is far from safe. If it is to survive and thrive, leaders will finally have to confront difficult decisions. How much national sovereignty are they willing to give up to create a more lasting and credible currency? How much of the debt burden and banking risk will they share? Is Britain prepared to walk away from the EU? And will other countries follow? In their astute analysis of the crisis, the authors describe America’s behind-the-scenes lobbying to salvage the euro, economists’ bitter debates over austerity, the unseen manoeuvres of the European Central Bank and the tortuous negotiations over banking union. In the final chapter, they set out the stark choices confronting Europe’s leaders and citizens.

I wish I had read this a few years ago as this book was just illuminating all around in explaining the Euro crisis and what it meant for the EU from various standpoints, especially with regards to the European project as a whole. It touches on all of the issues that I’ve heard and studied about when I was in grad school in terms of how far the sovereign nations were willing to go within the union and how connected their economies were. Definitely the most political science of the books listed here in this mini reviews post as it can go a bit deep into discussing economics and banking matters–also a bit outside of my own understanding–but it does highlight the issues and what possible alternatives the EU can go. I’d definitely revisit this book again, though perhaps I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it unless you already hold an interest on the topic.

Rating: ★★★★★

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And those are the mini book reviews! Have you read any of these titles? Would you read any of them at some point in the future?

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