Strange Rebels is a very interesting book that proposes to show how 1979 marked the philosophical birth of the 21st century, and while I wouldn’t go that far, the year definitely saw the beginning of many trends which have so far defined our new century. The end of consensus politics, Thatcherism, Islamic fundamentalism, the economic rise of China, all of these got a boost in 1979.
The author proves his thesis with case studies, including the effects of the elections of Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, Ayatollah Khomeini, Deng Xiaoping, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Caryl shows the commonalities between events, and how what happened then directly affects our world today. From the Winter of Despair to the Fall of the Shah to the rise of Shenzhen and Chinese manufacturing, it’s all here. If the American election of 1980 had occurred a year earlier, he probably would have used that too, because it has many of these same epochal characteristics.
It’s a very intriguing premise, and the details are fascinating. Not an overly heavy read, although I did finally have to figure out what “inchoate” means (unformed/undeveloped in a bad way). My favorite bit was discovering that “Whaterverism” is a word, describing a political philosophy based on the adherence to the Two Whatevers: “We will resolutely uphold whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao made, and unswervingly follow whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave.” I personally think “Whateverist” could be recycled as a great descriptor for most teenagers.
Highly recommended for anyone who like year books (1421, 1491, 1493, 1816, 1913, etc.), those who like books on political history, those interested in the period and its players, or those who just like good non-fiction. A book that definitely lives up to its cover.