Our Bookworm staff usually read fiction and biography, so to get an insight into recommended non-fiction books we polled three of our customers who always choose fascinating titles. They collaborated with us to mini-review their favourite reads for 2016.

 

An Unregulated Experiment on Humanity

 

A father with three young children recommended THE CYBER EFFECT: A pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behaviour Changes Online by Mary Aitken, who is an expert in a new psychological discipline that combines psychology, criminology and technology. She looks into how digital technology changes the way we operate and communicate.

 

One of the author’s most arresting assertions for our father was about technology’s potential effect on babies and children. She studies how parental attachment to devices that prevent making eye contact with children can seriously affect a child’s emotional development.

 

She warns about very young children being exposed to so-called ‘educational’ games that increase the child’s need to be constantly stimulated. She points to a multi-million dollar industry making computer games for infants aged 12 to 18 months.

 

She suggests that in a world of selfies and social media, teenagers frequently can’t establish a sense of identity. She investigates how hard-core internet game users may develop antisocial and deviant behaviours, and she researches the effects that trolls and cyberbullies manifest.

 

It’s an easy-to-read book that tries to open public debate in an online world that puts us into an unnavigable maze that is abuzz with irresistible enticements.

 

It’s a book that will make work for the spin doctors of tech industries and may cause some readers to occasionally switch off their devices and intelligently talk to each other about how the unregulated experiment may be affecting their social and psychological lives.

 

Crimes Against Humanity

 

A recent release involves characters who had a close relationship to a street in what is now Lviv in the Ukraine (formerly Lwow, Poland) when two of them formulated their philosophies about genocide and crimes against humanity and where the author’s maternal grandparents lived. It was a street in a city that witnessed mass killings — including scores of relatives of all three.

 

EAST WEST STREET: on the origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity by Phillippe Sands, a human rights lawyer, tells of how two academics, unknown to each other, escaped Nazi persecution by fleeing abroad, and after the war tried to influence the Nuremberg war crimes trials to accept their individual premises as law. One was successful and many war criminals were prosecuted for crimes against humanity while the other had to wait until the United Nations accepted genocide as a punishable crime.

 

The book threads its way through the mass murders of many minorities in Poland by way of specific characters like Nazi governor Hans Frank, The Butcher of Poland, and his son Niklas who reviled his father and recently made a documentary about the crimes of his father, titled What Our Fathers Did.

 

Thanks to Rafael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht, crimes against humanity and genocide are prosecuted at the International Criminal Court in The Hague but, as the author pointed out in an interview, the court is rapidly losing its teeth as the major world powers refuse to recognize the court’s jurisdiction over mass crimes committed by their citizens.

 

Populism and Democracy

 

Lemkin realised that the Minorities Treaty imposed by the League of Nations after the First World War was flawed, and would probably ignite nationalist resentment against minority groups. And he was proved right.

 

Jan-Werner Muller also discusses this phenomenon within today’s democracies in What is Populism? in which he attempts to analyse the rise of populism in democracies this century.

 

The author asserts that populists have not changed much through the history of democracies. They are usually anti-elite (anyone with more money, power or education than themselves) and are anti-pluralist, often discriminating against refugees, newly arrived migrants, minority groups and non-mainstream religions.

 

However, populists are easily manipulated by politicians who insert themselves into the dialogue of the dominant culture and inflame fears and resentments to offset and further their own agendas.

 

“Populists do not just thrive on conflict and encourage polarization; they also treat their political opponents as enemies of the people and seek to exclude them altogether.”

 

The author suggests solutions to the contemporary rise of populism and in conclusion suggests that it is necessary to talk with populists — not about them. He argues that somehow, demagoguery that is fuelled by the uncertainties that manufacture populists and who often allow political deviants to take control, can be calmed.

 

Truong Hoang is behind the much-loved book shop, Bookworm. For more info click on bookwormhanoi.com or visit their shop at 44 Chau Long, Ba Dinh, Hanoi

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