What We Are Reading Today: Emergency Chronicles: Indira Gandhi and Democracy’s Turning Point

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Updated 09 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Emergency Chronicles: Indira Gandhi and Democracy’s Turning Point

Author: Gyan Prakash

On the night of June 25, 1975, Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency in India, suspending constitutional rights and rounding up her political opponents in midnight raids across the country. In the 21 harrowing months that followed, her regime unleashed a brutal campaign of coercion and intimidation, arresting and torturing people by the tens of thousands, razing slums, and imposing compulsory sterilization on the poor. Emergency Chronicles provides the first comprehensive account of this understudied episode in India’s modern history.
Gyan Prakash strips away the comfortable myth that the Emergency was an isolated event brought on solely by Gandhi’s desire to cling to power, arguing that it was as much the product of Indian democracy’s troubled relationship with popular politics.
Drawing on archival records, private papers and letters, published sources, film and literary materials, and interviews with victims and perpetrators, Prakash traces the Emergency’s origins to the moment of India’s independence in 1947, revealing how the unfulfilled promise of democratic transformation upset the fine balance between state power and civil rights. He vividly depicts the unfolding of a political crisis that culminated in widespread popular unrest, which Gandhi sought to crush by paradoxically using the law to suspend lawful rights. Her failure to preserve the existing political order had lasting and unforeseen repercussions, opening the door for caste politics and Hindu nationalism.
Placing the Emergency within the broader global history of democracy, this gripping book offers invaluable lessons for us today as the world once again confronts the dangers of rising authoritarianism and populist nationalism.


What We Are Reading Today: Inside the Critics’ Circle by Philippa K. Chong

Updated 16 September 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Inside the Critics’ Circle by Philippa K. Chong

Taking readers behind the scenes in the world of fiction reviewing, Inside the Critics’ Circle explores the ways critics evaluate books despite the inherent subjectivity involved and the uncertainties of reviewing when seemingly anyone can be a reviewer. Drawing on interviews with critics from such venues as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post, Phillipa Chong delves into the complexities of the review-writing process, including the considerations, values, and cultural and personal anxieties that shape what critics do.

Chong explores how critics are paired with review assignments, why they accept these time-consuming projects, how they view their own qualifications for reviewing certain books, and the criteria they employ when making literary judgments. She discovers that while their readers are of concern to reviewers, they are especially worried about authors on the receiving end of reviews. As these are most likely peers who will be returning similar favors in the future, critics’ fears and frustrations factor into their willingness or reluctance to write negative reviews.

At a time when traditional review opportunities are dwindling, book reviewing  is being brought into question.


What We Are Reading Today: Becoming George Orwell: Life and Letters, Legend and Legacy

Updated 16 September 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Becoming George Orwell: Life and Letters, Legend and Legacy

Author: John Rodden

Is George Orwell the most influential writer who ever lived? Yes, according to John Rodden’s provocative book about the transformation of a man into a myth. Rodden does not argue that Orwell was the most distinguished man of letters of the last century, nor even the leading novelist of his generation, let alone the greatest imaginative writer of English prose fiction. Yet his influence since his death at midcentury is incomparable. No other writer has aroused so much controversy or contributed so many incessantly quoted words and phrases to our cultural lexicon, from “Big Brother” and “doublethink” to “thoughtcrime” and “Newspeak.” Becoming George Orwell is a pathbreaking tour de force that charts the astonishing passage of a litterateur into a legend.
Rodden presents the author of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four in a new light, exploring how the man and writer Orwell, born Eric Arthur Blair, came to be overshadowed by the spectral figure associated with nightmare visions of our possible futures.
Rodden opens with a discussion of the life and letters, chronicling Orwell’s eccentricities and emotional struggles, followed by an assessment of his chief literary achievements. The second half of the book examines the legend and legacy of Orwell, whom Rodden calls “England’s Prose Laureate,” looking at everything from cyberwarfare to “fake news.” The closing chapters address both Orwell’s enduring relevance to burning contemporary issues and the multiple ironies of his popular reputation, showing how he and his work have become confused with the very dreads and diseases that he fought against throughout his life.


What We Are Reading Today: A Republic of Equals: A Manifesto for a Just Society

Updated 14 September 2021

What We Are Reading Today: A Republic of Equals: A Manifesto for a Just Society

Author: Jonathan Rothwell

Political equality is the most basic tenet of democracy. Yet in America and other democratic nations, those with political power have special access to markets and public services. A Republic of Equals traces the massive income inequality observed in the US and other rich democracies to politicized markets and avoidable gaps in opportunity—and explains why they are the root cause of what ails democracy today.
In this provocative book, economist Jonathan Rothwell draws on the latest empirical evidence from across the social sciences to demonstrate how rich democracies have allowed racial politics and the interests of those at the top to subordinate justice. He looks at the rise of nationalism in Europe and the US, revealing how this trend overlaps with racial prejudice and is related to mounting frustration with a political status quo that thrives on income inequality and inefficient markets. But economic differences are by no means inevitable. Differences in group status by race and ethnicity are dynamic.
and have reversed themselves across continents and within countries. Inequalities persist between races in the US because Black Americans are denied equal access to markets and public services. 


What We Are Reading Today: New Lefts: The Making of a Radical Tradition

Updated 14 September 2021

What We Are Reading Today: New Lefts: The Making of a Radical Tradition

Author: Terence Renaud

In the 1960s, the radical youth of Western Europe’s New Left rebelled against the democratic welfare state and their parents’ antiquated politics of reform. It was not the first time an upstart leftist movement was built on the ruins of the old. This book traces the history of neoleftism from its antifascist roots in the first half of the twentieth century, to its postwar reconstruction in the 1950s, to its explosive reinvention by the 1960s counterculture.
Terence Renaud demonstrates why the left in Europe underwent a series of internal revolts against the organizational forms of established parties and unions. He describes how small groups of militant youth such as New Beginning in Germany tried to sustain grassroots movements without reproducing the bureaucratic, hierarchical, and supposedly obsolete structures of Social Democracy and Communism. Neoleftist militants experimented with alternative modes of organization such as councils, assemblies, and action committees. However, Renaud reveals that these same militants, decades later, often came to defend the very institutions they had opposed in their youth.

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What We Are Reading Today: Ice Rivers: A Story of Glaciers, Wilderness, and Humanity

Updated 09 September 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Ice Rivers: A Story of Glaciers, Wilderness, and Humanity

Author: Jemma Wadham

The ice sheets and glaciers that cover 1/10th of Earth’s land surface are in grave peril. High in the Alps, Andes, and Himalaya, once-indomitable glaciers are retreating, even dying. Meanwhile, in Antarctica, thinning glaciers may be unlocking vast quantities of methane stored for millions of years beneath the ice. In Ice Rivers, renowned glaciologist Jemma Wadham offers a searing personal account of glaciers and the rapidly unfolding crisis that they—and we—face.
Taking readers on a personal journey from Europe and Asia to Antarctica and South America, Wadham introduces majestic glaciers around the globe as individuals—even friends—each with their own unique character and place in their community. She challenges their first appearance as silent, passive, and lifeless, and reveals that glaciers are, in fact, as alive as a forest or soil, teeming with microbial life and deeply connected to almost everything we know. They influence crucial systems on which people depend, from lucrative fisheries to fertile croplands.
, and represent some of the most sensitive and dynamic parts of our world. Their fate is inescapably entwined with our own, and unless we act to abate the greenhouse warming of our planet the potential consequences are almost unfathomable.