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  • Friday, July 01, 2005


    Start Making Sense

    I recently started reading Start Making Sense: Turning the Lessons of Election 2004 into Winning Progressive Politics, edited by Don Hazen and Lakshmi Chaudhry (White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2005) and thought I'd share my perceptions of the book. [Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy by AlterNet. (Woo-hoo! It's the big time for me!) Sadly, that's not anywhere near enough gelt to influence this review or my opinion. However, the flip side is I probably wouldn't be writing a review of it if I didn't have a free copy. Can you trust me? Well, can you, punk?]

    There are about 35 people represented in the short pieces making up Start Making Sense (SMS). It's virtually a who's who of progressive opinion. Some are represented by interviews, others through their writing. Here is an incomplete but representative sample: Howard Dean, Arianna Huffington, Evan Derkacz, Robert Greenwald, Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein, Thomas Frank, and Jim Wallis. You get the idea.

    SMS is divided into three main sections: Looking Back, Looking Forward, and Getting Active. The most difficult for me is Looking Back, the first section, which dissects the election failures of progressives. I still get depressed thinking about the election and its results. But I find the tone of the critiques easy to deal with. These pieces are generally more concerned with analysis and learning from the mistakes of the campaign rather than assigning blame. I was particularly heartened by specific attention paid to progressives who were/are not particularly aligned with the Democratic Party. That certainly describes me.

    The Looking Forward section suggests and addresses several issues that progressives need to engage now: The Iraq War, The Culture War, and Economic Populism.

    The last section, Getting Active, is a fair primer for ways to engage in, what else, activism. There's information on developing and using press and media contacts. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there is info on blogging.

    This is a surprisingly good book. I found myself reading it linearly and skipping around as well. I know this is going to sound like a bid for a dust cover quote but it's true: It has depth and yet is quite accessible. I didn't find it overly complicated or difficult to read. Reading it was very pleasant to me since I tend to read books that are usually footnoted and extensively sourced. Yet I did not find it simplistic or reductionist. It's very clearly written and obviously owes much to the editors who shaped it. Yes, the writers are good but a skilled editor can make an enormous difference in the final product. Since a good portion of the pieces are from interviews with the editors, I think the skill of these editors' hands is evident.

    The cover price is $12 which I think is a bargain. If I didn't have this review copy, I'd actually buy it. (Geez, did I really say that? Do I mean it?) Yeah, I think I do mean it: I'd actually buy the book. That's perhaps higher praise than I originally intended to give but I think it's true. While a major part of my discretionary funds goes to buying books, I am neither rich nor a spendthrift. I have to think I'll really read a book to buy it. You'll have to make up your own mind but I suggest checking it out.

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