It doesn’t seem right to name three books to my year-end Favorite Nonfiction list without writing a word about them. Therefore, I’m going to spend just a little time telling you about a trio of history books I read in the final quarter of 2020. Luckily for me I was able to borrow all three through my public library’s Overdrive portal. Deeply researched, detailed and wide in scope they’re definitely a treat.
- The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World by Vincent Bevins – After seeing this thing get included on just about every best book of 2020 list I knew I had to read it. Few people know at one time Indonesia had the third largest Communist party in the world after China and the USSR, and Indonesia, not North Vietnam was America’s chief policy concern in South East Asia. But after a US-backed military coup overthrew that nation’s president, leading to an extermination of perhaps a million Communists and suspected allies militantly anticommunist regimes would seize power over the next 10 years throughout the world, especially in Latin America. The aftershocks of this global authoritarian sweep can be felt decades later from Indonesia to Chile to Brazil.
- Maoism: A Global History by Julia Lovell – I have the good people at CBC’s Ideas for bringing this one to my attention. Lovell did a fine job detailing not just Mao’s rise to power and establishment of the People’s Republic of China but also how his ideas on leadership and armed struggle influenced movements around the world. From the jungles of Peru to the Black ghettos of America revolutionaries looked to Maoism for inspiration.
- The Islamic Enlightenment: The Struggle Between Faith and Reason, 1798 to Modern Times by Christopher de Bellaigue – I’m no stranger to de Bellaigue having read his books on Iran and Turkey. I was set to read this one after it was released in the spring of 2017 but did so only after my international affairs discussion group opted to read Hillel Ofek’s New Atlantis essay “Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science.” Focusing on traditional Islamic power centers of Istanbul, Cairo, and Tehran de Bellaigue looks at the history of how Muslims in these areas responded to the challenges of Western imperialism. In order to check, and hopefully rollback European military and commercial exploitation of their lands armies would need to be modernized, industries created and scientific advances promoted. But to do so would require bold and uncompromising makeovers of Islamic societies across the region and with it overthrowing age old established traditions and beliefs.
I’m glad I was able to read these three books back to back since they compliment each other well. As one might suspect there’s significant overlap between The Jakarta Method and Maoism with considerable attention paid to political movements in the developing world. Since one cannot look at life in the developing world without including the Greater Middle East The Islamic Enlightenment nicely completes our fine trio.