What we liked in 2017 - books, movies, TV, content - WikiTribune

The WikiTribune Briefing under Current Affairs carries daily recommendations from our team on what we’re reading or thinking about. We’re moving that into a year-in-review here. It’s a “story under construction” so please feel feel to add your own ideas in EDIT or TALK about the recommendations. Thanks.

What we’ve read – books

  • Belonging: The Story of the Jews 1492-1900, Simon Schama, Penguin. British popular historian Schama addresses his personal history and the Jewish people in the second volume of his epic work. Richly descriptive of long-dead characters such as thinkers Moses Mendelssohn and Baruch Spinoza, Belonging is almost novelistic in its approach. The smells and tastes of the street, dining table and the synagogue are here. – Peter Bale, Launch Editor, WikiTribune.
  • Red Fortress: The Secret Heart of Russia’s History, Catherine Merridale, Penguin. An intimate and sometimes blood-soaked portrait of the sacred and politically charged center of Russia: The Kremlin. – Peter Bale, Launch Editor, WikiTribune.
  • Kill All Normies by Angela Nagle is about how the alt-right grew in reaction to the liberal left’s dominance of the online space. From Tumblr to the underbelly of 4Chan, Nagle draws on academic theories to explore the clashes of culture wars on the web and how they entered the mainstream. – Linh Nguyen, Staff Journalist, WikiTribune.
  • Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State by former FBI agent Ali Soufan is gripping. The question at the center of the book is: what makes people become extremists? In the case of bin Laden and al-Zarqawi – who founded ISIS – religion and hatred aren’t the only answers. The book also ends on a solemn note: bin Laden may be dead but his ideas live on. – Linh Nguyen, Staff Journalist, WikiTribune.
  • Lovers and Strangers: An Immigrant History of Post-War Britain by Clair Wills (Allen Lane): a rich and detailed history of the arrival of Jews, Eastern Europeans, citizens of the West Indies and Asians in the years after the two Great Wars was rendered alive with humour by Wills. Much of her book was filled with a deep knowledge of how early communities adapted to their new lives. She also made a more profound point about how immigration has benefited political movements in the United Kingdom. – Burhan Wazir, Consulting Editor, WikiTribune.
  • The Power by Naomi Alderman (Little, Brown) was one of the more enjoyable novels to cross my Kindle in 2017. Set in the future – or is it the past? – Alderman’s narrative considers what life would be like with girls on top. Women are the dominant gender, and the reason why soon becomes clear in this sci-fi feminist tract. The New York Times reviewer was “riveted by every page”. – Angela Long, Consulting Editor, WikiTribune.

    Cover of The Power, by Naomi Alderman. Image: geekdad.com
  • The United States of Absurdity – Untold Stories from American History by Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds, Ten Speed Press. A fantastic (and funny) collection of stories from American history from the creators of The Dollop– Fiona Apps, Community Manager, WikiTribune.
  • Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis, Penguin.  If you want to understand how Europe is run, this book provides a unique insight from someone who was inside and near the top. It is a fascinating exposure of what Varoufakis calls the deep establishment. – Chris Bonfiglioli.

What we’ve read – articles

  • The House of Trump and the House of Saud by Edward Luce, The Financial Times (may be behind a paywall). Bringing together the ascension to power and influence of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad (CORRECTED: from Mohammed) bin Salman and its connections to the wider Trump family (apparently Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is now close to the Crown Prince). “With their taste in gold elevators, the Trump family and the House of Saud were destined to alight at the same penthouse. But the affinity between Donald Trump, US president, and Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto monarch, goes beyond a shared aesthetic for “dictator chic”. It is chiefly transactional. The US-Saudi relationship is the quintessence of Trumpian diplomacy. Its flowering symbolises the decay in the US-led global order,” Luce writes in his first paragraph. – Peter Bale, Launch Editor, WikiTribune.
  • What happens when women start being listened to and powerful men lose their jobs because of it? Written in November for New York Magazine’s The Cut, author Rebecca Traister offered a deeper evaluation of what’s been at stake in the Harvey Weinstein reckoning. The piece analyzed the array of “Me Toos” since Weinstein, Spacey et al, and how equality might be the only solution to the harassment era, in what I’d say was the best account of the debacle at the time. Traister worked at The New Republic, where Leon Wieseltier, who was fired from a different magazine after accusations of decades of harassment also worked. Traister’s later story on how the sexual harassment fall-out is actually about work, not sex, is an equally key read for anyone trying to understand what the avalanche of accusations against men in the workplace means. – Lydia Morrish, Staff Journalist, WikiTribune.

  • China’s president Xi Jinping may come across as reserved and unassuming but this image seems to be far from reality. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founder and former prime minister, once described him as someone with “iron in his soul” and that the world should watch out (New York Times). Indeed, 2017 is the year the world took note with various profiles of the president as he begins to lead China to the international stage. Xi came third in Time magazine’s Person of the Year 2017. Before that, the BBC explored his defining moments in the run-up to the 19th Party Congress where he consolidated power. Graham Allison, a renowned political scientist, wrote in the left-leaning New Statesman that Xi Jinping would change history. China is no longer the giant that bides its time. What it wants, but more so what Xi wants, is to now take “center stage” in the world. – Linh Nguyen, Staff Journalist, WikiTribune.

    Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • As the world looked to Washington at the start of 2017 in anticipation of what kind of relationship President Donald J. Trump would have with America’s traditional allies, Geoffrey Wheatcroft wondered, “Will Trump’s presidency finally kill the myth of the special relationship?” A line of British leaders from Churchill to Blair have long agonized over its importance, yet the alliance has held increasingly little currency in Washington for decades. Wheatcroft’s analysis of Britain’s waning influence on the United States may have finally laid to rest the absurd notion the relationship ever existed. – Burhan Wazir, Consulting Editor, WikiTribune. 
  • Drone warfare has become the de facto means by which Western militaries engage in the War on Terror. Any debate over civilian casualties, regarding potential breaches of humanitarian law or whether they are counterproductive to efforts to win hearts and minds, takes place between policymakers. In this New York Times piece, Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal tell the painstakingly researched and deeply personal story of one family who got caught up in a war they wanted nothing to do with. – Jack Barton, Staff Journalist, WikiTribune.

What we’ve watched

  • The Death of Stalin, Armando Iannucci. The writer and creator of HBO’s Veep brings a cynical eye to his film about the extraordinary life and even more extraordinary death of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Set in the “Great Terror” this dark comedy is scarily close to the reality of the paranoia, fear and chaos that set in. – Peter Bale, Launch Editor, WikiTribune.
  • The Vietnam War, Geoffrey C. Ward /Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The disastrous South-East Asian war of the 1960s and ’70s has spawned some wonderful books (Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes) and cinema (Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick). But this year a documentary series re-created the ghastly unfolding of a global mistake and outrage, perpetrated by successive U.S. administrations. You might have thought you were inured to the My Lai massacre or the shootings at Kent State university. This brilliant production makes it all fresh again – stunning. – Angela Long, Consulting Editor, WikiTribune.

    A wounded marine is tended in Hue City, Vietnam, in 1968. Photo: goodfreephotos.com
  • The Red TurtleStudio Ghibli’s stunning film, released last year in France at Cannes Film Festival and this year in the U.S. and UK, tells the story of a shipwrecked man on an unmanned island who comes across a red turtle. A minimal, poignant and silent film – bar a “hey” and a groan or two – it’s a wordless masterpiece directed by UK-based Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit and produced by the legendary animation studio. Even for those skeptical either about Studio Ghibli productions or silent movies, I promise that you’ll be delighted at this sweet tale. – Lydia Morrish, Staff Journalist, WikiTribune.
  • The Other Side of Hope by Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki is a comedy-drama about a Syrian refugee who arrived in Finland seeking asylum only to be shunned. He decides to run away before the authorities send him back, and then befriends a lonely restaurant owner who gives him a job. Meanwhile, he is looking for his sister. The film gives a somewhat refreshing light touch to the refugee crisis, but it’s still a reminder that the crisis remains. – Linh Nguyen, Staff Journalist, WikiTribune.
  • Blue Planet II is a nature documentary series focusing on the World’s Oceans, presented by naturalist David Attenborough. Four years and more than 6,000 hours of film are distilled down to one hour episodes, featuring moments such as an octopus disguising itself using shells, and spider crabs coming together once a year, shedding their shells, and leaving behind hundreds of thousands of bodies on the seafloor. UK viewers can watch here. – Harry Ridgewell, Staff Journalist, WikiTribune. 
  • The remarkable Dawson City: Frozen Time opens with the discovery of a large cache of nitrate film stills, taken during the region’s Klondike Gold Rush during the late 1800s. When the city’s population exploded to around 40,000 with the arrival of prospectors like Jack London and Syd Grauman, planners built banks, hospitals and recreational facilities. As prospectors were forced out by consolidation, which destroyed the local landscape, the town’s population dwindled to around 900 in the 1960s. This is a story of opportunity, avarice and eventual decline. – Burhan Wazir, Consulting Editor, WikiTribune. 

What we’ve listened to – podcasts and radio

  • The widely acclaimed podcast series The Butterfly Effect was inevitably going to be my favorite listen of the year. Released as a series on Audible, journalist and filmmaker Jon Ronson’s seven-episode long series looks to discover the consequences of online porn-streaming giant Pornhub. The non-judgemental, moving and surprising podcast uncovers the direct results of Pornhub’s unlikely success, including the tales of struggling adult actors, porn addicts, and niche porn directors, all while answering those questions about the making of porn that you’ve always wanted answers to but never asked. – Lydia Morrish, Staff Journalist, WikiTribune.
  • As part of BBC Radio 4’s Only Artists series, British punk musician and author Viv Albertine and Irish novelist Eimear McBride met and discussed non-fiction, fiction, sex, being a woman, ageing, loneliness and other things. It’s a great listen for anybody interested in either lady of course, but also for those interested in the process of writing. You can listen to the episode online but it might only be available to people currently in the UK. – Lydia Morrish, Staff Journalist, WikiTribune.
  • Indispensable listening for the politi-nerd: Talking Politics, hosted by Cambridge University professor David Runciman. This grew out of Runciman’s journalism for the London Review of Books. With a panel of academics and occasional guests, the U.S. and U.K. political news of the week is dissected and discussed. Surprisingly addictive. – Angela Long, Consulting Editor, WikiTribune.

The WikiTribune Briefing under Current Affairs carries daily recommendations from our team on what we’re reading or thinking about. We’re moving that into a year-in-review here. It’s a “story under construction” so please feel feel to add your own ideas in EDIT or TALK about the recommendations. Thanks.

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