Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I just finished Raj Patel's The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy. What a great read!  I'll say straight up that while I am an academic historian, I know precious little about economics.  Luckily, Patel assumes his readers know, well, nothing--and yet he treat us as intelligent and thoughtful people at the same time.

He also has a sense of humor.  I loved the lightbulb jokes that showed his point.  I loved his pithy snippets of wisdom that pepper the book and had me reading lines outloud to my partner.  Best of all, he has FABULOUS footnotes--ones that simply support his textual comments but also literate inciteful ones that add depth to the comments he makes in the body. (Footnoting TS Eliot in an economic analysis? You get points from me.)

Before I read the book, I had heard that it was commie pinko drivel.  Well, with all honesty, that just does not condemn a book for me.  In fact, as a driveling commie pinko myself, that always makes me hope to find a soulmate.

But of course Raj Patel, while remaining a soulmate in many ways, is certainly not spouting radical leftist stuff.  He's talking in a more intellectual way (and perhaps a more thoughtful way) about more or less what Michael Moore was talking about in Capitalism: A Love Story: how unfettered capitalism can absolutely destroy true democracy.

I especially love chapter six. Here Patel talks about everything from the demise of the commons and the rise of accusations of witchcraft--to the creation of colonialism and the idea of the "savage"--to territorial use rights of fisheries. At other places in the book he talks about the politics of breastfeeding (a subject near and dear to my heart which also exemplifies many of his points). The whole book is a feast of ideas, combined with a critical thesis. Go, now, to your local independent bookstore or to your library and get thee a'readin'!


Chandelle said...

I heard Raj Patel on Democracy Now! this morning and immediately requested the book from the library. This is a topic I study with some frequency, as a fellow pinko commie. Thanks for the rundown.

Adrienne said...

Just requested it through interlibrary loan! Thanks for the recommendation.


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