The Dope: the Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade

by Benjamin T. Smith

I decided to visit Mexico City this year, so I thought I should try to learn more about Mexico. (This isn’t the only book on my reading list; it’s just the first one the library had available for me.)

This book attempts to tell a truer story of the Mexican-American drug trade. Here is how it starts:

[T]he driving force of the drug trade is and always has been economic. America has an enduring and enormous appetite for narcotics.

p. 6

And America’s insatiable appetite for narcotics means there is enough drug money to buy protection, torture, rape, and murder, from corrupt officials on both sides of the border.

Here is how the book ends:

As long as narcotics remain illegal, incentives to produce and smuggle them will outweigh any economic alternatives.

p. 407

Perhaps that could also read “as long as America refuses to address its drug problem at home ….”

If you want to learn more about the drug trade and get angry about it, too, I’d definitely recommend this book. It’s an easy read, even if it left me wanting more.

We Go Where They Go: The Story of Anti-Racist Action

by Kristin Schwartz, Lady, Michael Staudenmaier & Shannon Clay

In the late 1980s a Minneapolis skinhead crew, the Baldies, decided to kick neo-nazi skinheads—boneheads—out of the Uptown punk scene.

Soon after, the Baldies started Anti-Racist Action, which grew into a loose organization of hundreds of chapters and thousands of nationwide activists who fought nazis, the KKK, anti-abortion extremists, and racist cops—in the streets or wherever they went.

We Go Where They Go is an insider history of ARA, from the Baldies through September 11th, after which the ARA all but faded from existence. Plus lessons to be learned by today’s anti-fascist activists, should it get organized into a movement.

It’s also a compelling read. I plowed through it in just a few sittings.

(Pro tip: get your copy directly from PM Press and you’ll also get a handful of cool stickers, pins, and magnets.)

While you are waiting for your copy of We Go Where They Go, this is a great documentary about the Baldies, from the Twin Cities PBS station, TPT:

Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, 1921–1933

by Anne Applebaum

A history of the Holodomor–the famine deliberately caused by Stalin’s Soviet government that killed almost 4 million Ukrainians.

The famine of 1932–33 was needed by the Soviet government to break the backbone of the Ukrainian opposition to complete Russian domination. Thus it was a political move and not the result of natural causes.

S. Sosnovyi, on p. 386 of Red Famine

How was it deliberately caused? Simple. Soviet agents took all the food—from the crops in the fields to the food on Ukrainian peasants’ tables.

Just being alive attracted suspicion: if a family was alive, that meant it had food. But if they had food, then they should have given it up—and if they had failed to give it up, then they were kulaks, Petliurites, Polish agents, enemies.

p. 272

Famine is an abstract concept to most readers, but I won’t soon forget Applebaum’s haunting descriptions of people driven mad by hunger, dropping dead from one moment to the next, and even turning cannibal to survive. And the world accepted Stalin’s lies and all but refused to take notice of the Holodomor for more than 50 years. It only became generally known and acknowledged in the late 80s. Ukraine declared its independence in 1991.

Red Famine is not easy reading, but it is worthwhile reading.

A History of the Barricade

by Eric Hazan

A chronology of the barricade as a tool of civil insurrection, from its birth in the streets of Paris, then spreading briefly to the rest of Europe before being rendered ineffective by artillery. I had hoped to read more about the barricade as a tactic—what made them effective or not. Instead they are nearly a footnote in this book about (mostly) Parisian uprisings. It’s not until the epilogue that the author says anything about the significance of barricades themselves. Disappointing.

Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands

by Dan Jones

If you love stories about ancient secret societies as much as I do, you should know the history of the Crusades. That’s where many of those stories were born. Crusaders is not a typical history book; it is a collection of stories about people. Storytelling, not academic recitation of facts. It’s a good first encounter for those new to the Crusades, and adds context for anyone who has already read some Crusader history.

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity

by David Graeber & David Wengrow

The idea that modern societies are the result of a natural, inevitable evolution from “egalitarian” hunter-gatherer tribes to hierarchical communities based on agriculture is at best over-simplified. The reality is far more complexed and nuanced—just like humans. And maybe it’s more strange that we’ve gotten stuck with such a narrow range of societal structures. This book is pretty dry and academic, but it’s also an eye-opening analysis of how we really got here.