I read this about the time that I got cross reading Zizek on Violence (last year), and came back to it because it is such a contrast to the pile of books I’m currently working through. It still doesn’t compare well. Laughton’s Tainted Source, Losurdo’s Liberalism: A Counter-History, Acemoglu and Robinson, Clark, and others I’m just dipping into are all coherent and weighty narratives making serious arguments about serious subjects. Even when they induce high blood pressure, they do so through evidence, not rhetoric, though none of them is rhetorically sloppy. Jensen is rhetorically punchy, sometimes deviously so, but fundamentally lightweight. With chapter titles like utility, invisibility, contempt, property, power, and philanthropy, Jensen takes on easy targets. It’s easy to be outraged at apartheid’s labour laws, or lynching in the American south, slavery, racism, or economic oppression. The rhetoric is rich, and choir of liberal sophomores or bored suburbanites seeking the outrage of the righteous is easily made uncomfortable - presumably we buy the book to become so. But look carefully at the footnotes and the sequence of argument. This has the hallmarks of a HAT-WAP-LAFFN: have a thought, write a paper, look up a few footnotes. Google makes it too easy. Despite the footnotes, it is not much more substantial than an op-ed, and it becomes tiresome quickly.
David Last, 21 April 2014