The Silk Roads by Peter Frangopan is a study of history from a perspective that is new for most Westerners: It sees Central Asia as the place where "civilization" developed. I thought China and India had the only important Asian ancient history east of the Tigris and Euphrates. I never thought of the cultural heritage of the ancient cities of Uzbekistan. I didn't know that Samarkand had been important. This is a detailed and interesting history from a nonwestern, and also non-Chinese, perspective.
Say Nothing by Patrick Keefe is a remarkable history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, when the Protestant majority violently suppressed the Catholics and the IRA waged war on them. Both sides killed innocent bystanders. The book focuses on a few characters, among them Dolours Price and Gerry Adams. Don't know about Dolours Price? She and her sister Marian grew up in a family of Northern Irish Catholic resisters. Their father and grandfather went to prison for attacks on English people and their property. Dolours and Marian were involved in the killing and disposing of the body of a Catholic widow and mother of ten who the IRA believed was an informer. The book also includes a great deal of information about Gerry Adams, often seen as a hero of the Good Friday peace accord, but who the books says ordered foot soldiers like the Prices to carry out bombings and killings.
An Autobiography of Ireland, edited by John Bowman, is a fascinating set of writings by 20th Century Irish people, many nonfamous and some famous. The subjects range widely from the account of a priest who was asked to go behind the barricades and minister to Irish rebels during the 1916 Easter Uprising, to the feminists who publicly brought contraceptives from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland, where they were banned. It tells how bitterly Catholic fought Catholic after a peace treaty with England that some opposed, and how the Church opposed state-provided help for women and children.
Our Ice Is Vanishing by Shelly Wright is about much more than the effects of climate change in the arctic. It tells the story of Canada's mistreatment of First Nations people in the arctic and subarctic. One aspect that particularly struck me is that in the 1950s, the Canadian government became anxious about its claim to the Far North. To maintain its claim, it sent groups of Inuits to land farther north than their traditional home land: That is, it sent people who had never experienced 24-hour-a-day darkness to a land where they would have to spend months in it. Wright is not a First Nations person, but she has been a teacher in the arctic and quotes many First Nations people.
Being Caribou by Karsten Heuer is the amazing autobiographical story of a newly married young man and woman who followed the migration of the Porcupine caribou herd all the way from its winter home in Canada to its breeding grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the United States. The couple made this long journey on foot. Keeping up with the caribou was difficult, because they ran for long distance but the humans couldn't. The couple encountered hunger, cold, and bears, many of which were indifferent to them but some that were aggressive. The most difficult part was losing the caribou for days at a time and worrying about finding them again.
Liao Yiwu, who was imprisoned after the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre, spent years interviewing nonstudents who supported the students and were arrested as a consequence. Liao says there hasn't been enough publicity about what happened to nonstudents and passersby. The result is Bullets and Opium. Everyone he interviewed (all men, because that's who would talk to him) spent a long time in prison, was tortured, and faced a dreadful life after being released. They have been unable to get work, and friends and even family have shunned them for fear of guilt by association. The stories are painful but important.
The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman and Displaced People, edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen and collections of autobiographical stories by immigrants about their mostly difficult experiences, mostly in the United States, although some were about immigrants in other countries.
How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram Kendi is a thoughtful book by a scholar who draws on his own experience in his discussion of racism. Kendi says the most important aspect of being an anti-racist is supporting anti-racist policies.
If you are working in or have worked in a social movement, Berenice Fisher's Unhappy Silences is a fine meditation on silencing oneself or feeling silenced in political groups. Fisher gives many examples and tries to come up with solutions.
I've read many other fine books. I have to depart from the theme of this blog to mention a novel that I've read since I posted a blog on my favorite fiction of the year. The Overstory by Richard Powers is an amazing saga about people's lives intertwined with trees. He follows a number of characters from childhood to adulthood and discusses their relationship with trees. Some become tree defenders who try to save ancient redwoods. The book is lyrical and full of insights. The characters are very diverse, except that there are no African American characters, which is a pity since the book is saga of these times.