April 16th, 2005

belzoni

You Learn Something New Every Seven Years Or So

Apparently, in 1998 there was a controversy about one of my (and fengshui's) favorite Commies, author Mike Davis, and I missed it. I used his exceptionally bleak City of Quartz as a primary source for my Call of Cthulhu game set in 1999 L.A., and for my writeup of Los Angeles as an exurb of Hell in Fall of the Malakim for In Nomine.

It's one of the most riveting books of urban history I've ever read, and I've occasionally recommended it to other folks looking to run horror, or noir, or some other similar genre of game set in Los Angeles. A good general rule: if you want to know why something (in the Established First World, at least) is chock-full of Satan, read a book by a Marxist on the topic. I've read (but I don't think I own) his study of L.A. catastrophism Ecology of Fear, which was apparently the straw that broke the camel's back; it apparently contained many errors and distortions of fact -- the controversy centers primarily on their significance. (A summary of the brouhaha is here, and I think one can trust the parlor pinks at Salon to play fair on this one.) City of Quartz gets off light in this particular version, but of course there's no reason to assume that Davis' sloppiness was a one-time thing.

I haven't seen (though I admittedly haven't spent much effort to track down) a similar debunking of Davis' Late Victorian Holocausts, a really interesting examination of the interplay of El Niño, British imperial capitalism, and millennarianism in a pair of horrific famines, but now I suppose it has to go on the "dicey" pile with Hobsbawm, which is a shame. (FWIW, I'd always assumed it was "fallacious but not falsified," in the grand tradition of Marxist histories everywhere, but I'd hate to think that it's actually untrustworthy, if you follow me.)

At least I discovered before shelling out the bucks that John Mosier's new book on WWII doesn't stand up to a strong breeze, much less historical scrutiny -- no book on blitzkrieg that ignores Barbarossa is worth reading, end of story. (That said, I still think there's probably rather a lot of value in his contrarian history of WWI, The Myth of the Great War. My Commonwealth readers will no doubt chalk that opinion up to my pawky colonial ways.)

Which is all nothing to the apparent controversy over whether the Ranters even existed, but that's a topic for another day.