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Best of 2018: Books

by GORDON PARSONS

NEIL FAULKNER’S A Radical History of the World (Pluto Press) is as exhaustive and authoritative as any attempt to record human history could be and it also reads with the ease of a novel.

Most impressive of all, however, is the author’s holistic approach. He recognises that every major turning point or revolution in humanity's journey has depended upon the natural, social, technological and geopolitical conditions of the time.

As Marx stated, people make their own history but they do not make it as they please and, if the final chapters paint the potential of a disastrous future, Faulkner spells out the lessons from the past and what must be done to avoid the end of history.

Although Marx advised philosophers to apply themselves to changing our world rather than interpreting it, there is no doubt that understanding where we are coming from is essential if we are to solve the threats that face us.

The title of Shlomo Sand’s The End of the French Intellectual (Verso) may not readily entice the general reader but this study of the way in which “possessors of cultural capital” have given way to “the advent of the technocrat” is in itself perhaps a main reason why bewilderment prevails in so many quarters.

Sombre reading, perhaps, but relief can be found with Philip Kerr’s series of Bernie Gunter thrillers, the German detective whose tough, sardonic realism has much in common with Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe.

His final offering — the author sadly died earlier this year — is Greeks Bearing Gifts (Quercus) in which Gunter, like Marlowe, is a man whose innate morality conflicts with his determination to survive first the nazi regime and then the tortuous politics of the post-war world.

It is Kerr's 13th book and I would advise newcomers to start with his Berlin Noir trilogy.

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