Welcome to our weekly Books Digest where we round-up the new books you should, and shouldn’t, be reading. This week features A Blue New Deal by Chris Armstrong, Female Innovators Who Changed Our World by Emma Shimizu, Hitler’s National Socialism by Rainer Zitelmann and The Founders by Jimmy Soni.

For more books take a look through our Books Digest Archive.

A Blue New Deal: Why We Need a New Politics for the Ocean by Chris Armstrong (Yale), £16.59.

Bill Bowkett

“The ocean is in crisis,” writes Professor Chris Armstrong in A Blue New Deal, an intriguing new book about how earth’s life-support — which the “average citizens probably knows little about” — is under threat.

Using an array of political and oceanographical literature, Armstrong details how humans are on the way to wrecking our marine environment through everything from overfishing to climate change. 

He argues that the current system, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, fails to protect ecosystems and that leaders are acting too slow to problems facing us all, like rising sea levels. What is the solution?

In A Blue New Deal, Armstrong argues we need a new approach, putting “sustainability at the heart of ocean politics”. For too long, governance has been dominated by two contrary ideas: freedom of the high seas (the mindset of those exploiting precious resources) and the theory of enclosure, which allows “wealthy landowners” to evict “commoners”.

Countries and businesses are doing their bit to make a difference, such as promising to cut emissions and plastic pollution, but the book argues they are not moving fast enough. Enforcement is needed in the form of a federalist “World Ocean Authority”. This is where A Blue New Deal‘s argument falters. His “radical” vision, similar to the Antarctic Treaty, would ensure 80 per cent of all waters are protected from interference.

How would this idealist organisation work in practice? It would only legitimise the vested interests of richer nations, who would likely take the leading role in its direction. What’s more, Armstrong fails to address how his “radical” vision would affect our livelihoods. The question of “what impact would this have on seafarers and, subsequently, the global economy?” goes unanswered, making for an unconvincing end to a stimulating read.

Female Innovators Who Changed Our World: How Women Shaped STEM (Trailblazing Women) by Emma Shimizu (Pen & Sword Books Ltd), £11.05.

Lily Pagano

What names come to mind when you see the word science? Einstein, Faraday and Newton are just a few of the famous male figureheads in the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). History, however, is not short of female innovators, as Emma Shimizu illustrates in this new book. 

From the world of code-breaking and chemistry to that of design and technology, we are invited into the lives and work of 46 incredible women in STEM. Each chapter covers a different area of science and is divided into concise summaries of the lives of these female innovators — some names proving familiar, others brand new. 

Whilst the prejudice faced and challenges met by these women are made clear, these scientists are highlighted for their achievements, not their gender. These are not “female” scientists but simply scientists who “stood up to the scrutiny of the international scientific community”, earning their spot in history.

Shimizu’s passion for the world of STEM is infectious. Female Innovators is as much a celebration of science as it is a call to recognise the forgotten female voices of STEM. 

Hitler’s National Socialism by Rainer Zitelmann (Management Books), £27.99.

Gerald Warner

Dr Rainer Zitelmann has produced a comprehensive, deeply researched investigation of National Socialism, revealing fresh insights into Hitler’s personality and thinking along the way, in this authoritative and informative account. His most significant conclusion is that Hitler was more viscerally anti-capitalist than most historians have appreciated.

The standard portrayal of Hitler as hand-in-glove with the deluded business leaders who initially aspired to control him suited post-War leftist narratives, but Dr Zitelmann shows that Hitler became progressively radicalised, to the point eventually of admiring Stalin’s command economy. That refutes the notion that the Night of the Long Knives marked Hitler’s break with his radical past.

Zitelmann argues not only that Hitler arrived at a coherent Weltanschauung, but that he had a more informed understanding of economics than has generally been assumed. He remained a revolutionary, with a fierce hatred of reactionaries; his attitude to the French Revolution, as Zitelmann shows, was strangely ambivalent, though mostly he identified with it.

There is room for further investigation of Jacobinism as the ancestor of National Socialism. One delusion that cannot survive exposure to exhaustive studies such as Dr Zitelmann’s is the canard that Nazism was“right-wing”, when it was unmistakably another variant of the pathogen of totalitarian socialism.

The Founders: Elon Musk, Peter Thiel and the Company that Made the Modern Internet by Jimmy Soni (Atlantic Books), £15.79.

William Atkinson

The Founders is a formulaic take on a well-trodden topic. It focuses on the so-called “PayPal Mafia” — figures such as Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, and Max Levchin who founded and spearheaded the online transfer company through its fraught early years. Jimmy Soni’s book asks how a single company produced such a collection of distinctive innovators and, consequently, treads the same ground as every other Silicon Valley biography. 

Focusing on the 1998-2002 period when PayPal went from being the love child of financial services company Confinity and Elon Musk’s online payments website x.com, through to its 2002 IPO and subsequent purchase by eBay. Soni charts the personality clashes, tangles with competitors, and brave choices of a team working against the grain during the dot.com boom.

The basic story is intriguing, but the constraints of the formula — enterprising weirdos, against-the-grain thinking and big bucks — distract Soni from asking some serious questions. If it was PayPal’s disruptive style that let it flourish, why was it worth 30 times more after a decade as an eBay subsidiary? It’s a question Soni never dares to ask. At least he got to spend three hours interviewing the world’s wealthiest man before he jets off to Mars.