Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search


Book Review: An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire

Stateside with Rosalea Book Review

An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire, Arundhati Roy

South End Press, 2004
$US12 paperback; $US40 hardback:

Imagine a bookshelf with a pair of bookends, both of which represent women novelists who have grown up in the British Commonwealth and written bestselling books. At one end would be the Australian, Colleen McCullough -- author of 1977's third most popular book, The Thorn Birds -- who contributed a policy paper to an influential 1990s forum on "US Foreign Policy in the 21st Century" that urged the US to model itself on the Roman Empire.

At the other end would be Indian writer Arundhati Roy -- author of Booker Prize-winning novel, The God of Small Things -- who, at the World Social Forum in 2003, said: "The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling - their ideas, their version of history, their war, their weapons, their notion of inevitability. Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."

"We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them." That, above all, is the argument that The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire seeks to clarify. The book consists of six speeches given by Arundhati Roy between March 7, 2003 and April 6, 2004, plus the article of the same name that was published in the Guardian on April 2, 2003, just after the US invasion of Iraq. (Mysteriously, the title essay is missing from the paperback edition's table of contents.)

South End Press is a non-profit, collectively run book publisher with an impressive author list. Its goal is "to publish books that encourage critical thinking and constructive action on the key political, cultural, social, economic, and ecological issues shaping lie in the United States and in the world." Roy could choose to be published by big-name companies but her fit with South End is obvious once you start reading her work. She doesn't preach or exhort or alarm; she startles you into action.

I, for one, would not have been on the 2003 Great March Against the Invasion of Iraq if I hadn't that morning heard a re-broadcast of her speech to the World Social Forum. Another world is possible? What a startling idea in these depressed and oppressive times. Let me at it! (Her 2003 WSF speech is not in this book, but her 2004 one is.)

To read Roy is also to be chastened. She writes in Do Turkeys Enjoy Thanksgiving?: "It was wonderful that on February 15, 2003, in a spectacular display of public morality, ten million people in five continents marched against the war on Iraq. It was wonderful, but it was not enough. February 15 was a weekend. Nobody had to so much as miss a day of work."

In Peace is War she writes: "It is utterly urgent for resistance movements and those of us who support them to reclaim the space for civil disobedience. To do this we will have to liberate ourselves from being manipulated, perverted, and headed off in the wrong direction by the desire to feed the media's endless appetite for theater. Because that saps energy and imagination."

Although much of her writing relates to events and social movements in India, her explanation and analysis of them elucidates -- as is inevitable in a world that is so interconnected and dominated by global finance -- the forces that work against ordinary people everywhere. But she also illustrates the great strength those ordinary people can muster if they collaborate in opposing, for example, the building of a dam that will wipe out the homes and livelihoods of thousands of people.

Between the covers of this book is a light you can have shine on the darkest day.


© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>



Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>


Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>


Get More From Scoop

Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news