How the Irish Became White

Noel Ignatiev

A social history of how the Irish strategically assimilated themselves as “whites” in America. Through examining the connections between concepts of race, acts of oppression and social position, Ignatiev traces the violent history of Irish-American and African-American relations in the 19th century and the ways in which the Irish used labor unions, the Catholic Church and the Democratic Party to help gain themselves a secure place in the “White Republic.” Further, he examines and challenges both the Irish tradition of labor protest and the Irish role in the wave of anti-Negro violence that swept the country in the 1830s and 1840s. The study concludes with a compelling recounting of the roles of northeastern urban politicians in the Irish triumph over nativism, a victory which allowed them entry into the “white race.” A highly readable and scholarly polemic against traditional conceptions of race as well as a compelling meditation on the sources of racial antipathy, How the Irish Became White is necessary reading for anyone interested in the American history of race and class. MDG

Publisher: Routledge
Hardback: 256 pages

The Nigger Bible

R.H. deCoy

More exploding bombshell than polemic—”Written by an acknowledged Nigger about the experience of Niggers, addressed and directed exclusively to my Nigger people for whom it was purposely conceived”—The Nigger Bible (1967) is an incendiary call for racial independence written in a tone that clocks in somewhere between Farrakhan and Jehovah. Unashamedly racist (“SEPARATION IS ‘THE NIGGER SALVATION’”), rabidly anti-Judeo-Chrisitian, deCoy contends, with dizzying repetition (via sermons, proverbs and parables), that the reclamation of spiritual and political black truths can only occur outside the manipulating sphere of the Caucasian oppressor where the “Negro” (“prostitutes of Black Spirit”) can construct his own world, define his own terms and think for himself—in short, discover his true “Niggerness.” Continually veering between acumen and bombast, insight and screed, it’s difficult to know if deCoy is at any point being ironic. Either way, he’ll leave the reader (even, or especially, white readers) reeling and spent. MDG

Publisher: Holloway House
Paperback: 304 pages

Bad: The Autobiography of James Carr

James Carr

The brutally straightforward, first-person account of the life of James Carr, from his days as a child criminal on the streets of L.A. through his transformation to a notorious rebel convict alongside George Jackson in Folsom prison. Arrested in his teens for armed robbery and bookmaking, Carr (along with Jackson) formed the Wolf Pack, a brotherhood of African-Americans who banded together in order to survive the ongoing prison race wars. While guaranteeing their members a certain margin of material security, Carr eventually realized that the warring bands were pawns of the prison authorities bent on having the feuding factions kill each other off. Inspired by a seemingly diverse group of influences (the Panthers, the Situationists, Lautréamont and Nietzsche), he set about stopping the gang wars altogether in order to target the system itself—a maneuver that provoked the authorities to both increase their savagery and separate Carr and Jackson.
In the mid-’60s Carr was incarcerated in the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, where he again transformed himself from “uppity” inmate to calculating thinker bent on manipulating the authorities, and eventually engineered his own release. Just after the book’s completion, early one April morning in 1972, Carr was murdered “gangland style.” While his two killers were arrested and given life sentences, no motive was uncovered. “I’ve been struggling all my life to get beyond the choice of living on my knees or dying on my feet,” writes Carr; this struggle had a price he knew well and paid in full. MDG

Publisher: AK
Paperback: 222 pages

Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panthers

Bobby Seale

Published over 25 years ago, tape recorded and written during its author’s incarceration in the San Francisco County Jail in 1969 and 1970 (on charges of which he was eventually acquitted ), Seize the Time is co-founder Bobby Seale’s personal history with the Black Panther Party. Dedicated to fellow co-founder Huey P. Newton (“the baddest motherfucker ever to set foot in history”), the book chronicles the oppressive political climate provoking the Panthers’ inception and the internal and external struggles it endured as a party, ending with a moving, visionary toast to the future. Vernacular in style and righteously strident in tone, the book reads as a modern history of the oppression of African-Americans. Especially resonant are the events pertaining to repeated governmental attempts (local and federal) to destroy the party and exterminate members. “Paranoia is having all the facts,” William Burroughs once noted, and reading this now, 30 years down the line, it is easy to see what he meant. Also includes an excellent, if brief, new introduction by Seale (1991) in which he states what he now sees as the Panthers’ major accomplishment: “Most importantly, the Black Panther Party exposed institutionalized racism and further defined the phenomenon of white America’s self-righteous and fascist absolutism.” MDG

Publisher: Black Classic
Paperback: 429 pages

Miles: The Autobiography

Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe

The autobiography of one of the most important and influential musicians in the world. With an uncensored candor and a stellar wit, Miles recounts the major events of his life: his upbringing in East St. Louis where, still a teenager, he first saw Dizzy and Bird and made up his mind to become a musician; his journey to New York ostensibly to study at Juilliard but in fact to apprentice himself to Charlie Parker (a musical education at once intense, tragic and uproarious—Miles’ recounting of a cab ride they once took together is hilarious); his pioneering of “cool jazz”; his later forays into electric funk. Looking back over a lifetime of musical experimentation, Miles recalls his work with numerous jazz giants, most notably Bird, Dizzy, Monk, Trane and especially (despite an impatience toward white people bordering on bigotry) Gil Evans. Maddening, mercurial, irreverent and extremely funny, the book is punctuated with uncomfortable details—rampant promiscuity, failed marriages, recurring drug addictions—anyone else would have understandably played down or excluded altogether. It’s a credit to Quincy Troupe that he was able to capture and sustain Miles’ uniquely vernacular tone throughout—the reader has the sense of listening to a man spin out the story of his extraordinary life in unsparing detail. Read the book, heed the music. MDG

Publisher: Touchstone
Paperback: 446 pages

Cranked Up Really High: Genre Theory and Punk Rock

Stewart Home

An insider’s survey of punk rock from its beginnings to the recent Riot Grrrl movement—from the Pistols to the Dead Boys to those jughead Oi! bands and beyond. True to the unsparing spirit of his subject, the author has something to say about every band that could possibly be construed as “punk” (from the infamous to the forgotten) with an assurance about as subtle as a wrecking ball. Petulant yet focused, condescending and generous, the most lingering appeal of Home’s observations is not so much their accuracy—aesthetic being opinion, after all—as the hubris that informs them. Though at times indulging in the intellectual obscurantism he claims to loathe (“Some readers may feel I come across as suspiciously anti-Bergsonian…” What??), Cranked Up Really High, with cogency and passion, exhaustingly delivers on its basic claim: LOUDER! FASTER! SHORTER! MDG

Publisher: Codex
Paperback: 128 pages

Punk: The Original

John Holmstrom

A collection of the best material (1976-1981) from the seminal NYC-based zine Punk, including interviews, cartoons, collages and plenty of photos (some in color) of all your favorite punk rockers: Blondie, The Ramones, the Voidoids, Edith Massey(!), the Bay City Rollers(?), Patti Smith, The Clash, AC/DC(??), the Iggster and, of course (what self-respecting zine of the genre would be complete without?), the beloved Pistols. Contains a pictorial interview with Rotten (still sportin’ zits) in which the budding entertainer, with characteristic understatement, reflects on the importance of audience approval (“If they don’t like it they can fuck off”), as well as a poignant phone interview with a vulnerable Sid Vicious on the heels of the band’s collapse. What’s most striking about the collection is the utter absence of genuine mean-spiritedness and that its caustic edge is never without an equal dose of knuckleheaded, naughty good cheer (compliments of, among others, Lester Bangs and Legs McNeil). With a table of contents that includes a short commentary by Holmstrom for each entry, Punk: The Original is a joyful, comical and, yes, informative celebration of a musical movement at its short-lived first wave peak. A must-read for anyone interested in the glorious ragtag origins of punk. MDG

Publisher: Trans-High
Paperback: 136 pages

Apollinaire on Art: Essays and Reviews, 1902-1918

Edited by Leroy C. Breunig

The most influential poet of his generation and inventor of the word surrealism, Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) was the champion of modern art and the impresario of the avant-garde. Matisse, Picasso and Braque—today all recognized as modern masters—are just three of the painters for whom this “poet-critic” was the most ardent (and for a time, almost single-handed) defender. In reading the essays, it’s remarkable to note that his knowledge of painting and sculpture was almost entirely self-taught. Passionate, lyrical and fiercely subjective (and at points, to his detriment, breezy and vague—anathema to rigorous intellectual analysis and dry academic critique)—Apollinaire possessed the most important trait that marks the true critic: prescience, the ability to recognize genius. Of Picasso, whom he considered without question the greatest artist of his generation, he wrote: “His naturalism, with its fondness for precision, is accompanied by that mysticism that in Spain inhabits the least religious of souls.” MDG

Publisher: Da Capo
Paperback: 546 pages

David Wojnarowicz: Tongues of Flame

David Wojnarowicz

The catalog from an exhibition of Wojnarowicz’s visual work held at the State University, Normal, Illinois in 1990. The volume contains interviews and essays by and about the artist, numerous photographs of his work in various media (photography, performance, painting and collage) and excerpts of his prose. If there is one unifying theme to the book it’s Wojnarowicz’s unrelenting conviction, set down in both his words and his work, that the political and the personal are inextricably linked and can only be defined in relation to each other. The fascinating portrait that emerges is of an artist who was capable of directing his central concerns (the status of the outsider, the pariah, the socially stigmatized) with equla force into any medium he chose. An excellent comprehensive overview—both of the artist and the social context from which he emerged. MDG

Publisher: DAP
Paperback: 127 pages

Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph

Diane Arbus

First published in 1972, a year after the artist’s death by suicide, this volume is a collection of 80 photographs she took between 1962 and 1971. Referring to herself as “an anthropologist of sorts,” Arbus chose archetypes as subjects, everything from the conventional to the marginal: teenagers, suburbanites, infants, dwarfs, drag queens, nudists. Possessed of an unflinching ability to see the unexpected in the familiar and the familiar in the freakish, Arbus created portraists—raw, unsettling, gentle and sympathetic—that became collaborative, silent dialogues between herself and her subjects. For all their documentary-like clarity and starkness (she frequently shot with a strobe), the photos consistently confirm that their thrust is internal, not external, private rather than social; to quote the artist, “a little bit like walking into an hallucination without being quite sure whose it is.” The introduction, edited from tape recordings of classes she gave in 1971 as well as from interviews and her writings, provides an excellent insight into Arbus’ thoughts on the art of photography and her intentions within that form. MDG

Publisher: Aperture
Paperback: 136 pages