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book review

Detail from the cover of “Sincerity,” by R. Jay Magill Jr.

Building From the Local for Global Justice
Edited by Aziz Choudry, Jill Hanley and Eric Shragge, PM Press/Between the Lines, 313 pages, $27.95

What with greedy corporations, cash-strapped social services and callous governments, it's not a bad idea for people to learn how better to organize themselves and their neighbours to protect their communities. The editors have drawn on a wide range of activists, academics, lawyers, artists and researchers to present a compelling mix of actions – community-based labour-organizing strategies for immigrant workers, mobilizing psychiatric survivors, support for indigenous people – to bring about change in a time of unprecedented economic, social and ecological crises. The essays in this work examine the tensions, problems, limits and gains in a range of organizing practices, and place the processes in historical perspective.

Winner Take All
China's Race for Resources and What It Means for the Rest of the World
By Dambisa Moyo, HarperCollins, 257 pages, $24.99

Moyo, a youthful emerging superstar among global-economy mavens, is the bestselling author of Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a better Way for Africa. So you can tell she's not afraid of controversy, as in her new book, a portrait of a world of shrinking resources and potential clashes over them: water, arable land, energy supplies. And, according to Moyo, the only country acting assertively is China, which is buying up commodities both hard (minerals, metals) and soft (water, food) to fuel its growing dynamism and enormous population. Moyo is particularly hard on the United States, which, instead of taking the lead in trying to avert calamity and manage the world's resources, is paralyzed by internecine squabbling.

How a Moral Ideal Born Five Hundred Years Ago Inspired Religious Wars/Modern Art/Hipster Chic/and the Curious Notion That We ALL have Something to Say (No Matter How Dull)
By R. Jay Magill Jr., Norton, 272 pages, $27.50

In our age of irony, the idea of sincerity – what R. Jay Magill calls the art and artlessness of being true to both one's self and to others, and the anxieties that press in upon that resolve – is often considered risible. And indeed, given its rise along with that of Protestantism, it might be dismissed as a byproduct of theology, latterly replaced as a virtue by authenticity. Magill's nimble telling takes the story from religious impulse and the ideal of self-awareness to the present and what he calls Hip Affected Earnestness, with stops at Machiavelli, Romanticism and modern art included. The very funny six-page Hipster Semiotic Appendix is itself worth the price of admission.

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