Thursday, May 25, 2006

Planet of Slums

I am teaching introductory world history in the fall. What is world history? Just a summary of everything that has happened?

Maybe it is more useful to look at world history as an attempt to discern big patterns that affect or have affected all of humanity. Sometimes these patterns are so big that they are hard to see. One of my favorites is the spread of addictive or semi-addictive substances around the world: not just "drugs" like opium, but "drugs" like coffee and refined sugar. Over the centuries, millions have died in slave camps to provide sugar to the world, and life on a coffee plantation is probably not a barrel of laughs either.

The book featured today I've not actually read yet, but it seems to attempt to analyze a big pattern that has developed recently, in which a "large minority" of the planet's population lives in huge slums in the shadow of luxurious "modern" cities inhabited by the favored few. Mike Davis, the author of Planet of Slums, discusses his ideas in a two-part interview (I) (II) with Tom Engelhardt at his thoughful site, TomDispatch.com. Englehardt's site is always good for providing an unusually penetrating view of current events, but you'd better have high tolerance for bad news if you are going to read it regularly.

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