Best Progressive Books of 2007

2007 was a banner year for progressive books, but two stand out as true groundbreakers: Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine and Jeremy Scahill's Blackwater, published by Nation Books. They are co-winners in AlterNet's 10 Best Books of 2007 contest.

Both Klein and Scahill's books are breathtaking in their scope and impressive in their depth, and strikingly stake out new ground in helping us understand the interlocking forces of privatization, militarism and global dominance represented by the Bush post-9/11 period.

What is particularly interesting is how Klein and Scahill's books fit hand in glove. Klein's groundbreaking reporting and analysis brings us "disaster capitalism," a phenomenon with its dark roots in Milton Friedman's fundamentalist free-market economics theory, where people across the globe -- all suffering from fresh catastrophes -- are clobbered with economic shock treatment of various sorts. As a result, these people lose their land, their homes -- ultimately, their rights -- to mobilized corporate and military forces, whether abroad in Iraq or at home in New Orleans. Then Scahill applies theory to practice in Blackwater as he documents the evolution and the application of the private storm troopers necessary to enforce shock treatment across the globe. It is mind-boggling to discover Blackwater personnel stalking the water-logged streets of New Orleans.

AlterNet book coverage
AlterNet's primarily independent book coverage is wide and deep, and very popular with readers, frequently providing excerpts or a review along with interviews with the author. When 2007 ended, we had covered over 60 books. It seemed appropriate to look back and see which books had made their mark -- with AlterNet's audience, our staff and a gaggle of progressive book experts who we polled for their opinions. Some of these trustworthy people nominated books, while most of them weighed in on their favorites. *(See list of participants at the end of the article.) Many of the authors in AlterNet's Top 10 will be familiar to our readers, including the man who wrote the third book on the list, independent journalist Dahr Jamail, who risked so much to bring us a remarkable, unadorned account of life in occupied Iraq.

Grass-roots politics and activism
The promise of grass-roots politics in America and the failure of the Democratic Party to take advantage of its potential is the theme of Laura Flanders' Blue Grit, ranked No. 4 and just out in paperback. At No. 5 is the personal saga of Camilo Mejía, who challenged the entire military system as a conscientious objector.

Like Scahill and Klein, another writer with huge scope and vision is Chalmers Johnson. The third of his so-called "Blowback" trilogy, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, was a big hit with AlterNet readers and came in at No. 6. Much of Johnson's writing has been brought to us via Tom Engelhardt's TomDispatch. Nemesis was published as part of Metropolitan Book's (an imprint of Henry Holt) influential series on American empire, as was Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine.

The book that got the most attention from AlterNet readers -- more than 150,000 read my interview with the author -- was Naomi Wolf's The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, published by Chelsea Green. Wolf's research into historical patterns of fascism gives us a blueprint for how it all can come to the U.S. of A. and what warning signs we should be looking for.

Perhaps most disturbing in a collection of unnerving books was the No. 8 book, The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman, which is about what would happen if the human species were suddenly extinguished. It's a "sort of pop-science ghost story, in which the whole earth is the haunted house."

At No. 9 is Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA, the prodigiously researched, all on-the-record, tragically disturbing account of the U.S. spy agency. And at No. 10 was another AlterNet reader favorite: Army of None: Strategies to Counter Military Recruitment, End War, and Build a Better World, by Aimee Allison and David Solnit, which blew away many of the illusions of how the military was going to take care of the innocent young men and women it recruited to risk their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Below are short summaries of the top 10 books and a list of "honorable mention" titles, with links to all. Happy reading.

Books nominated and votes for the best progressive books for 2007 came from AlterNet staff and a distinguished group of book experts. They include: Anthony Arnove, Haymarket Books; Michelle Garcia, writer; Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch; Robert Greenwald, Brave New Films; Anne Sullivan, The New Press; Ina Howard, Represent; Colin Greer, New World Foundation; Hamilton Fish, The Nation Institute; Margo Baldwin, Chelsea Green; Rachel Neuman, Parallax Press. (Those participating were not allowed to vote for books with which they were directly affiliated.) The ranking of books was influenced by their popularity with AlterNet readers.

1. Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army
by Jeremy Scahill

Meet Blackwater USA, the world's most secretive and powerful mercenary firm. Based in the wilderness of North Carolina, it is the fastest-growing private army on the planet with forces capable of carrying out regime change throughout the world. This extraordinary exposé by one of America's most exciting young radical journalists is the unauthorized story of the epic rise of one of the most powerful and secretive forces to emerge from the U.S. military-industrial complex, hailed by the Bush administration as a revolution in military affairs but considered by others as a dire threat to American democracy. (Amazon and Nation Books websites)

1. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
by Naomi Klein

In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein explodes the myth that the global free market triumphed democratically. Exposing the thinking, the money trail and the puppet strings behind the world-changing crises and wars of the last four decades, The Shock Doctrine is the gripping story of how America's "free market" policies have come to dominate the world -- through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries. (book website)

3. Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq
by Dahr Jamail

One of the few unaffiliated journalists in Iraq, journalist Jamail went to see the conditions for himself, and the compelling, heartbreaking stories he sent back over his eight-month stay were carried in publications worldwide: from family houses destroyed with their inhabitants to mosques full of people held under siege to the ill-equipped medical facilities and security forces meant to deal with them. (Publishers Weekly)

4. Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics From the Politicians
by Laura Flanders

Fiery polemic, assured narrative and acute political commentary, Blue Grit will be crucial reading for everyone interested in the future of the Democrats and this country. Based on Flanders' bottom-up style of journalism, it tells a story of good news: Progressives are coming after the conservative establishment with new talent, new ideas, new media and new cash, and they have their sights set on building a new progressive movement, whether the Democratic Party is ready or not. (Penguin Group)

5. Road from Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia
by Camilo Mejia

Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejía became the new face of the anti-war movement in early 2004, when he applied for a discharge from the Army as a conscientious objector. After serving in the Army for nearly nine years, he was the first known Iraq veteran to refuse to fight, citing moral concerns about the war and occupation. His principled stand helped to rally the growing opposition and embolden his fellow soldiers. Now released after serving almost nine months, the celebrated soldier-turned-pacifist tells his own story. (New Press website)

6. Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic
by Chalmers Johnson

A staggering tale of American hubris, Nemesis details the world of secrecy surrounding Capitol Hill from government-sanctioned domestic spying, to unacknowledged CIA prisons, to the dubious budgeting to back it all up. Johnson documents the crippling militarism that has left what was once the greatest industrial power in the world producing mainly weaponry, and the corruption of a toothless Congress that is undermining checks and balances so crucial to American democracy. (book website)

7. The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot
by Naomi Wolf

The End of America is an impassioned call to return to the aspirations and beliefs of the Founding Fathers. In a stunning indictment of the Bush administration and Congress, Wolf shows how events of the last six years parallel steps taken in the early years of the 20th century's worst dictatorships. In The End of America, Wolf gives voice to the cause of every American patriot: the preservation of the Constitution and the liberties it embodies and protects. (Chelsea Green Publishing)

8. The World Without Us
by Alan Weisman

Teasing out the consequences of a simple thought experiment -- what would happen if the human species were suddenly extinguished -- Weisman has written a sort of pop-science ghost story in which the whole earth is the haunted house ... After thousands of years, the Chunnel, rubber tires and more than a billion tons of plastic might remain, but eventually a polymer-eating microbe could evolve, and with the spectacular return of fish and bird populations, the earth might revert to Eden. (New Yorker)

9. Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA
by Tim Weiner

Now Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tim Weiner offers the first definitive history of the CIA -- and everything is on the record. Legacy of Ashes is based on more than 50,000 documents, primarily from the archives of the CIA itself, and hundreds of interviews with CIA veterans, including ten directors of Central Intelligence. It takes the CIA from its creation after World War II, through its battles in the cold war and the war on terror, to its near-collapse after 9/ll.

10. Army of None: Strategies to Counter Military Recruitment, End War, and Build a Better World
by Aimee Allison and David Solnit

Army of None is a comprehensive guide to counter-recruitment campaigns -- from personal counseling to legislative change to direct action. The book is an unprecedented and practical resource for activists containing compelling photos and artwork, spoken word, sample fact sheets, how-to guides, lobbying directions, resource lists and ideas for direct action.

Honorable mentions:

The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World
by Vijay Prashad

The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America
by Susan Faludi

Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
by Bill McKibben

Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America's Class War
by Joe Bageant

Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters
by Jessica Valenti

Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning
by George Monbiot and Matthew Prescott

Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance
by John Berger

by Noam Chomsky

Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy
by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt

Maxed Out: Hard Times in the Age of Easy Credit
by James Scurlock

Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry
by Stacy Malkan

The Conscience of a Liberal
by Paul Krugman

Touch & Go: A Memoir
by Studs Terkel

Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement
by Scott Ritter

Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports
by Dave Zirin and Chuck D

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity
by Julia Serano


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