Keith Watson

A Narco History by Carmen Boullosa and Mike Wallace

A Narco History by Carmen Boullosa and Mike Wallace

"This," writes historian James Loewen in his classic deprogramming text Lies My Teacher Told Me, referring to the murky use of "chaos" to describe complicated conflicts in foreign lands, "is standard textbook rhetoric: Chaos seems always to be breaking out or about to break out, and Americans intervene only 'reluctantly.'" "Chaos breaking out," as Loewen points out, is typically a means of exonerating the United States of its role in bringing about the very violence it then "reluctantly" decides to alleviate through military intervention.

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The Jihadi's Return by Patrick Cockburn

The Jihadi's Return by Patrick Cockburn

According to his acknowledgments page, Patrick Cockburn originally conceived The Jihadis Return as a kind of clarion call to the West, sounding the alarm about the growing power and influence of ISIS and other al-Qa’ida-style jihadi movements in Syria and Iraq. Given the current state of our media’s coverage of the Middle East, with near daily updates about the newest grisly execution video or the latest teenaged recruit to pack off to Syria to fight the bad fight, all underlined by an incessant B-roll of Kalashnikov-toting ISIS militiamen waving the ominous black flag, it can be difficult to recall that a year ago, few in the West had even heard of ISIS, and the War on Terror was thought by many to be all but won.

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Cold Earth Wanderers by Peter Wortsman

Cold Earth Wanderers by Peter Wortsman

Portraying a world ordered around such charmingly old-fashioned innovations like skyscrapers, elevators, and discs and containing no technology that couldn’t have been dreamed up in 1950, Cold Earth Wanderers often feels like a lost relic of mid-century science fiction, the kind of novel one might have found serialized in the pages of Galaxy. It is fast-moving, thoughtful, and often bitingly satirical, and while its plotting and vision of dystopia are not especially fresh, Wortsman brings a deft touch to the material that keeps the book briskly entertaining.

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No Other by Mark Gluth

No Other by Mark Gluth

I recall reading once—though I can’t remember where—that all novels essentially fall into one of three categories: the novel of plot, the novel of character, and the novel of ideas. This sort of categorical essentialism is perhaps dubious enough on its face, but that classification system has long stuck in the back of my mind. No novel I’ve read has so thoroughly demolished those particular classifications as Mark Gluth’s No Other. For this is a novel of atmosphere, of ambient dread, of raw emotion that suffocates the air. There is a clear plot here, but its incidents, essential as they are to the book’s impact, are subsumed into the overwhelming fog of emotional desolation that covers every page. A mere recitation of the incidents of No Other’s plot would render it a simple melodrama, which it most assuredly is not. Similarly, the book features three fully formed characters at its core, each one, in his or her own way, helplessly grasping at life, but we glimpse them only dimly, fleetingly, through a despondent haze.

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