Duncan Hallas

My favourite books

(April 1993)

From Socialist Review, No.163, April 1993, p.25.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’CallaghanEinde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Favourite is not necessarily the same thing as important The test for me is re-reading and then re-reading again - for pleasure and not as a matter of duty.

Without doubt on that test Gordon Childe’s Man Makes Himself heads the list. The title is, of course, a paraphrase of Man and Engels (from The German Ideology). The content is the enormous creativity of ancient classless agricultural societies, the discovery and development not only of agriculture and stock breeding but of spinning and weaving, of pottery, of boat craft and brick making, stone masonry and cosmetics and many. many other things - all before the growth of classes and class society.

Even Colin Renfrew, the current guru of British archaeology, concedes that these societies were ‘egalitarian’ and ‘unwarlike’. And these enormous technological advances were made by women as much (or more) than by men.

Most important, the change in ‘human nature’, for good and for bad, was massive – for ‘man’ in the genetic sense, ‘makes himself’ – or herself.

Childe’s subsequent What Happened in History is also a lovely book (although the first chapter is obsolete and should be disregarded).

A second choice is J.M. Robertson’s Short History of Christianity. This ins one of the old ‘Thinkers Library’. They were described by a well known church dignitary (the then Dean of St Paul’s) as ‘shitting volume, of concentrated atheism’. The old reactionary was right. The books were a very mixed lot, but at 5p (a shilling) they were politically explosive.

Robertson’s little book exposes brilliantly the mixture of delusion and fraud, forged documents and vested interests that still today buttress the Anglican, Papist and Orthodox churches and are still spouted on television by people who must know that they are rubbish.

A better book by Archibald Robertson (no relation) The Bible and its Background gives a Marxist analysis of the origins of Judaism and its Christian and Islamic offshoots. Very well worth reading. especially for its demonstration that there never was a ‘Jewish nation’.

To Marx. I have never read all the voluminous works of Marx and Engels. I have read some and what sticks in my mind and makes me reread again and again is the trilogy on 19th century France: above all, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Each time I read it I learn something more about politics, as opposed to the crude reductionism that passes for ‘Marxism’ in some circles.

Which leads me to Trotsky’s The History of the Russian Revolution. Nobody, not even Marx, has ever written such a graphic, analytical and, especially, concrete description of an actual revolutionary process. It Is not a particularly easy book but it is one that every serious revolutionary should read – once at least.

We can learn too, and get pleasure from, some of the works of the best bourgeois writers In the years of their ascendancy. One of my favourite books is Macaulay’s History of England. The title is a misnomer. It deals mainly with the late 17th century and especially with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when James II was overthrown and replaced by a monarchy committed to the untramelled development of capitalism.

Most modern academic historians scorn this splendid book. It represents the ‘Whig interpretation of history’ and revolution – even of the very limited revolution of 1688 and is anathema to the academics. We can learn from it, from its class limitations, from its understanding of the revolutionary process and, above all, from the confidence of the mid 19th century bourgeoisie as compared with the wretched, short sighted incompetence of our rulers today.

This has all been non-literary. It reflects my own (depraved?) tastes. I devour detective stories in vast amounts, most of them rubbish. I therefore finish with Voltaire’s Candide. Published in English translation by Penguin in 1940, it is the best pre-Marxian critique of society I have ever read-and re-read.


Last updated on 18.4.2007