Capsule reviews of new books on media, culture, and democracy. Send review copies to Reclaim the Media, PO Box 22754, Seattle WA 98122, and support your local independent bookstores! Currently under review:

  • The Death and Life of American Journalism by Robert McChesney and John Nichols
  • Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics through Networked Progressive Media by Jessica Clark and Tracy van Slyke
  • Digital Inclusion: Measuring the Impact of Information and Community Technologyed. by Michael Crandall and Karen E. Fisher
  • The Battle of the Story of the "Battle of Seattle" ed. by David Solnit
  • Ethereal Shadows: Communication and Power in Contemporary Italy by Franco Berardi et al.
  • Freedom of the Press: The First Amendment, its Constitutional History and the Contemporary Debate ed. by Garrett Epps

Bookshelf

Project Rewire and Special Plans

Project Rewire: New Media From the Inside Out ed. by Judy Daubenmier [William, James & Company] and
Special Plans: The Blogs on Douglas Feith and the Faulty Intelligence that Led to War
ed. by Allison Hantschel [William, James & Company]

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Music and the Creative Spirit

Music and the Creative Spirit: Innovators in Jazz, Improvisation, and the Avant Garde
by Lloyd Peterson [Scarecrow]

Seattle-based Jazz critic Lloyd Peterson's first book is wonderfully rich collection of interviews with a range of performers on the contemporary international creative jazz scene, including William Parker, Susie Ibarra, Marilyn Crispell, Jack DeJohnette, Bill Frisell and others. Like the very few other good English-language collections on creative and improvised music (Derek Bailey's Improvisation, John Zorn's Arcana), Music and the Creative Spirit lets musicians' own concerns and connections take center stage. Peterson's creative questions produce rich, drifting conversations on US foreign policy, race and class, and the history of jazz in the US and Europe, but always returning to thoughtful consideration of the essence and significance of creative performance. Peterson also puts some of the same questions to artist after artist – a device which makes it easy to spot commonalities and contrasts among different musicians' approaches to their craft. With artists arranged alphabetically, the book leaves it up to readers to make their own connections among artists. Highly recommended for any students of the relationship between creativity and society. -jl

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Prologue to a Farce

Prologue to a Farce: Communication and Democracy in America
by Mark Lloyd [Illinois]

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Free Market Missionaries

Free Market Missionaries: The Corporate Manipulation of Community Values
by Sharon Beder [Earthscan]

Contemporary political life goes about its business under the spell of a whole collection of myths equating capitalism with democracy: Free markets are natural expressions of democracy, and pillars of freedom ... As more and more people become stock market investors, wealth is distributed more broadly in a 'shareholder democracy' ... Shareholders hold their corporations accountable to democratic values. Sharon Beder's new book goes beyond skewering these myths, and explores the history of public relations innovators and corporate propagandists campaigning to insert business priorities into the hearts and minds of America and the world. Beder argues that these decades-long campaigns, working through educational curricula, advertising and the mass media, have obtained considerable success in replacing democratic values of truth, justice and human rights with corporate values of consumption, competition, conformity and subordination to authority. An understanding of this history, Beder implies, is an important weapon for identifying, amplifying and creating educational and media tools to help break the spell and work for a true democracy. -jl

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Uneasy Listening: Pacifica's Civil War

Uneasy Listening: Pacifica Radio's Civil War
by Matthew Lasar [Black Apollo]

If you're a community media nerd or would like to become one, you'll be enchanted by the second of Matthew Lasar's chronicles of Pacifica Radio. In 1999, when Pacifica's national leadership pulled the network into a protracted crisis, Lasar had just published his first book, covering Pacifica's first decades. Uneasy Listening picks up the story with an insightful look at the dysfunction, devilry and devotion evident among participants in events leading up to the crisis years themselves. Insider looks at the roles played by prominent Pacifica workers (including Amy Goodman, Peter Franck and KPFA's Larry Bensky) are paired with a broadly informed narrative of how thousands of uppity listener activists successfully forced the network to walk its democratic media talk. -jl

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Digital Destiny

Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy
by Jeff Chester [New Press]

When Bill Moyers calls Jeff Chester "the Paul Revere of the media revolution," he's celebrating the author's prescient knack for warning to the rest of us about the terrible things coming just over the horizon. Chester's first book warns public interest advocates of the multiple perils facing them down in the ongoing broadband communications revolution. Deeply researched and lucidly written, Digital Destiny analyzes the media democracy movement's principal obstacles and opponents over the next several years: corporate consolidation, out-of-control commercialization (including Internet spyware), deceptive corporate lobbying, and of course "captured" government regulators. Chester's final chapters sketch the strengths and weaknesses of today's media democracy movement, and offer a (perhaps too condensed) list of issues and tactics for the near future. Digital Destiny may make you more cynical, but it will also make you smarter - and a citizen activist better equipped to take on the corporate Goliaths.-jl

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One Country

One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse
by Ali Abunimah [Henry Holt]

Media activist and Electronic Initifada editor Ali Abunimah is among the most articulate critics of media bias in US-based middle east coverage. In his first book, Abunimah makes a deeply human, persuasive argument in favor of a single Israeli-Palestinian state. What continually seems impossible, he argues, is what Palestinians, Israelis and Americans must make inevitable if there is to be lasting peace in the Middle East. A powerfully reasoned read alongside President Carter’s recently published take on the same conflict (backing a two-state solution). -jl

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Three titles by Henry Jenkins

Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide
The Wow Climax: Tracing the Emotional Impact of Popular Culture
Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Media Consumers in a Digital Age
by Henry Jenkins [NYU Press]

Three new books are set to further popularize the social-media insights of MIT professor Henry Jenkins. In the essays which constitute Convergence Culture and Fans, Bloggers and Gamers, Jenkins takes stock of the intersection of two simultaneous and seemingly contradictory trends: the increasing consolidation and centralization of the entertainment industry, and the social media explosion of individual consumer empowerment. In addition to the well-understood realm of “fan fiction,” Jenkins also notes more complex interactions in which fan networks become compelling expansions or alternatives to “original” works. Meanwhile, corporate media managers are playing catch-up in attempts to explore and exploit new multivalent relationships between creators and audiences. What does it all mean for our culture? Jenkins, obviously a pop culture fan as well as an observer and critic, has many thought-provoking insights. In a third new book, The Wow Climax, the prolific Jenkins appreciatively explores the emotional appeal of the spectacle (horrific, sex appeal, sentimental, etc.) in mass entertainment. -jl

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Friendly Fire

Friendly Fire: The Remarkable Story of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq, Rescued by an Italian Secret Service Agent, and Shot by US Forces
by Giuliana Sgrena [Haymarket]

Sgrena's confident, disturbing Iraq memoir narrates the intrepid wartime journalist's abduction and detention by Sunni militants, and the disastrous "accident" during her release, in which US soldiers fired upon her car, killing an Italian security officer and seriously wounding Sgrena herself. Much more than that, however, Friendly Fire is a discomfiting closeup on the realities and real consequences of the military occupation of Iraq. Without identifying with or excusing her captors, Sgrena draws upon her experience to deepen her reflections on frustrations of ordinary Iraqis dealing with daily threats of violence, power and water outages, and the Islamization of their formerly secular society. Throughout Sgrena reveals herself as an intrepid journalist deeply committed to telling the human stories often obscured by explosions, gunfire or propaganda. Her own story here is bookended by an introduction and news accounts by Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman and Jeremy Scahill. -jl

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Ruthless: A Memoir

Ruthless: A Memoir
by Jerry Heller, with Gil Reavill [Simon and Schuster]

The Hollywood record mogul who founded Ruthless Records with NWA's Eazy E looks back on the fat and lean days of the label, including his many colorful encounters with up-and-coming musicians, industry players and thugs. Inspired by Jeff Chang's (much broader) history of hip-hop, Can't Stop Won't Stop, Heller's book is an engaging read for those interested in the business and social scenes behind the emergence of west coast gangsta rap in the late 80s and early 90s. -jl

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey