Welcome to “12 Summer Gems,” part 3! All of these books and DVDs will wake up your summer—and they’re also great for small-group discussion.
PLEASE, help us make the most of this series! Some of the authors and filmmakers we’re recommending this week depend on people like you—our readers—not only to purchase their work, but also to spread the news to friends. PLEASE, consider picking something this week for yourself—and tell friends via Email and Facebook.
Karl Marx, Cambodia, Lebanon
TERRY EAGLETON’S WHY MARX WAS RIGHT
Terry Eagleton has one of the most brilliant minds on the planet today—and that’s saying something! It also means his mind is so sharp-edged that his books, essays and talks can come across as in-your-face indictments of cherished assumptions. Many people of faith cheered when Eagleton aimed his guns at Richard Dawkins, and defended the spiritual richness of religion. Many of those same people were offended when Eagleton compared football fans to crack-cocaine addicts. By trade, he is a celebrated literary scholar, ensconced in the “academy” in his UK homeland. That brings us to his latest book, Why Marx Was Right. His basic idea is simple: What if our assumptions as Westerners about one of our favorite 20th Century Bad Guys—were wrong?
Stop for a moment to remember that, not too many decades ago, this little book could have landed Eagleton in a world of legal hurt. The Western assumptions about Marx were so firmly etched in granite that Marxists were considered lethal. But a whole lot has changed in our world! In a 2009 OurValues series called “The Crash Plus 1,” Dr. Wayne Baker reported on the historically deep chasm between rich and poor in America. In his new book on Marx, Eagleton takes this moment of economic-political chaos to say: While Marx was wrong about some things, here are 10 instances in which Marx’s critics have been wrong. You’ll have lots of lively conversation in your small group with this little volume—especially if you gather men and women across the generations. Finally, we should note that in Part 2 of our Summer Gems series, we recommended a book on Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of the most influential American book of the 19th century. Eagleton argues persuasively that Marx’s Manifesto was the most infuential book of the 19th century worldwide. Just as many of us now are reconsidering Stowe from the safe and reflective distance of the 21st century, we certainly should take a fresh look at Marx, as well.
JOEL BRINKLEY’S CAMBODIA’S CURSE
Cambodia is back in international headlines this summer with the trials of several Khmer Rouge leaders for mass murder in the 1970s. PBS, on July 12, debuts a prime-time documentary about the lingering trauma from that era when 1-to-2 million Cambodians were murdered by their own government. This impoverished nation continues to be a major Asian focus of international aid, non-profit programs and relief ministries. As the great Cambodian tragedy moves back onto the world stage, there are many fresh questions the international community should consider. For example, some Cambodians are working on a truth-and-reconciliation approach to resolving their long-standing wounds. That may be naive, given rampant corruption in Cambodia, or it may be far too little far too late, given the still-broken-down infrastructure in the country. But, as Joel Brinkley shows us so vividly in Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land, most Americans are clueless—and have been clueless for years—about real life in this Asian nation. If you and your small group enjoy discussing international issues, you’ll find a wealth of fresh Cambodia-related media available in 2011. To sort out what you’re seeing and reading, make sure to pick up this highly readable new book by Brinkley, a Pulitzer-winning journalist and professor at Stanford.
Israeli Director Samuel Maoz’s LEBANON
This week, Americans are floating in a tidal wave of media on Das Boot’s extended-cut release on Bluray. Even NPR ran a story, praising this latest edition (in an endless series of editions of that claustrophobic film about a German U-boat crew in WWII).
But, Das Boot is not our choice for 12 Summer Gems (although it’s a great film and you can click that link above to order it from Amazon). Instead, we’re recommending Lebanon on DVD from Amazon. We’ll admit this might be a bit confusing, because right now there’s also a new-to-DVD film called Lebanon, PA, the story of a big-city advertising executive who returns to his little home town and gets swept up in local dramas. Today, we’re recommending the 2011 release on DVD of the Israeli movie with a one-word title: Lebanon (and a cover showing a tank amid sunflowers) . You won’t find this DVD in most stores that sell DVDs. Click the Amazon title-links or the DVD cover, at right, to order it.
We could describe Lebanon as the Das Boot of tank warfare, but that focus on the military hardware misses the kind of terrific discussions you can have with this film by director Samuel Maoz. Sure, if you’re a “war buff,” this movie is essential for your movie collection. But here’s what makes Lebanon so eye-popping and so sure to fuel spirited conversation: Samuel Maoz was an Israeli army gunner on one of the first tanks that crossed the border in the 1982 Lebanon War. His experiences burned themselves into his psyche so deeply that he worked for years to create this 94-minute drama about a tank crew similar to his own. Watch the extras on this DVD in which Maoz steps from behind his camera and describes the trauma of his own experiences. American viewers’ first impressions of this movie may be that this is an Arab-made film. It’s certainly an anti-war film! Yet, Maoz won 4 Israeli Academy Awards for his production of Lebanon—along with other international honors the movie has racked up. The film’s shocking and deeply compassionate scenes ring with the truth of Maoz’s own experience. No one could make up this script. Then, there’s one final scene of compassion between an Israeli and an Arab soldier that’s unlike any other war movie you’ve ever seen—period. Want to talk about Middle East conflict in a fresh and humane way? Get Lebanon.
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.