30 March 2023


The Commoner The Commoner

Posters calling for the abolition of the lèse-majesté law were removed from the National Book Fair in Bangkok yesterday, on the orders of a plainclothes police officer. Staff at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center removed nine posters from a stall run by The Commoner, before the event opened today. The fair runs until 9th April.

The posters featured a “112” logo, a reference to article 112 of the Thai criminal code. A graffiti artist was arrested on 28th March after he spray-painted “112” onto the outer wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok. The temple is part of the Grand Palace compound, and therefore a highly symbolic and sensitive location for such a slogan.

This is the third time that police have confiscated items from stalls at the book fair. Last year, a banner featuring hashtags such as #รัฐบาลเผด็จการ (‘dictatorial government’) was removed from the Same Sky Books booth, and t-shirts were confiscated from Same Sky’s booth in 2014. (The Commoner previously published สมุดระบายสีเสรีภาพ/‘freedom colouring book’.)

Anatomy of Time / Come Here / Worship

Anatomy of Time / Come Here / Worship, published this week, explores the making of three recent independent Thai films: Jakrawal Nilthamrong’s Anatomy of Time (เวลา), Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Come Here (ใจจำลอง), and Uruphong Raksasad’s Worship (บูชา). The book features screenplays, behind-the-scenes photographs, and production diaries, giving a unique insight into the production of each film. Early copies come with film posters, and all copies include links to watch the three films online.

Anatomy of Time made headlines this week as, despite its critical acclaim, it was excluded from consideration for the Suphannahong National Film Awards. The awards organisers, the National Federation of Motion Pictures and Contents Associations, now require films to sell a minimum of 50,000 cinema tickets in at least five provinces, to be eligible for awards nomination. These commercial stipulations effectively remove independent films such as Anatomy of Time from awards contention.

29 March 2023

End in This Generation

End in This Generation

Karntachat Raungratanaamporn’s photobook End in This Generation was published this week, in a limited edition of 300 copies. Karntachat has photographed the recent wave of anti-military student protesters, and the book documents the protests from 10th August 2020 (when Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul called for reform of the monarchy) until 12th December 2021 (when demonstrators announced that they had collected more than 200,000 signatures on a petition to abolish the lèse-majesté law).

End in This Generation is the latest of a handful of photobooks devoted to the protest movement, the others being There’s Always Spring (เมื่อถึงเวลาดอกไม้จะบาน), EBB, #WhatsHappeningInThailand, and No God No King Only Human. Like No God No King Only Human, it’s a large, glossy book, and—in another similarity between the two publications—its title is one of the protesters’ slogans, aligning the book with the aims of the protest movement.

28 March 2023

Global Ikat:
Roots and Routes of a Textile Technique —
The David Paly Collection

Global Ikat

Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth, currently on show at the Seattle Art Museum in Washington, is a comprehensive global survey of resist-dyed ikat fabrics. The exhibition catalogue, Global Ikat: Roots and Routes of a Textile Technique — The David Paly Collection, includes chapters on the history of ikat in India, Africa, Europe, Japan, Asia, and the Americas.

The fabrics in the Seattle exhibition, and those illustrated in Global Ikat, are largely drawn from the private collection of David Paly (some of which he has donated to the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C.). The catalogue is significant, though, as the first international history of ikat: the publisher accurately describes it as “the first time all the different iterations of this textile have been comprehensively brought together in one volume”.

The catalogue essays include detailed explanations of regional textile terminology (Japanese figurative designs known as e-gasuri, for example), and there is an extensive international bibliography. The first English-language book to examine ikat dyeing was Jack Lenor Larsen’s groundbreaking The Dyer’s Art: Ikat, Batik, Plangi, published in 1976 and now unfortunately out of print. The best general survey of textile history is 5,000 Years of Textiles by Jennifer Harris.

14 March 2023

Sheep Village

Sheep Village

Two men were arrested in Hong Kong yesterday, for the possession of seditious publications. The charges relate to the Sheep Village (羊村) series of children’s picture books published in 2021, and the men face up to a year in prison if found guilty. (The publishers of the Sheep Village books were convicted of sedition last year. The books are now being distributed from the UK, and are also available online in English translations.)

One of the books, The Guardians of Sheep Village (羊村守衛者), is an allegory of Hong Kong’s 2019 pro-democracy protests. Another, The Twelve Warriors of Sheep Village (羊村十二勇士), refers to a dozen Hong Kongers who were arrested in 2020 when they attempted to escape into exile by speedboat. The third book in the series, The Cleaners of Sheep Village (羊村清道夫), is a reference to medical workers who went on strike in an attempt to force Hong Kong to close its border with China at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

13 March 2023

Nine Folk Tales

Nine Folk Tales

Are children’s stories traditional or old-fashioned? Do they teach age-old values or foster outdated stereotypes? Could they even have a propagandist function, promoting conformity and obedience? The editors of Nine Folk Tales have commissioned nine new versions of classic folk tales to subvert the narratives that children are usually spoon-fed, and to encourage critical thinking. Rubkwan Thammaboosadee and Palin Ansusinha have produced a box set of revisionist folk tales, drawing on examples from Aesop’s fables, the Brothers Grimm, and several traditional Thai tales. In Eat Your Stories (กินเรื่องราว), their reader’s guide to the collection, they argue that these familiar fables “teach us to stay within the moral framework ruled by social inequality.” In a nutshell, the objective of their updated folk tales is to “dismantle old tales by telling new ones”.

The new folk tales are allegories that promote social and economic equality, justice, and freedom. The nine books are: The Frogs Who Desired (กบเลือกนาย) by Narsid, My Mother’s Memory (ความทรงจำของแม่ปลาบู่) by Thiptawan Uchai, Girl with a Face of a Horse (แก้วหน้าม้า) by Ping Sasinan, In Hunger (ก่องข้าวน้อย) by Namsai Khaobor, The Fisherfolk’s Journey (ตาอินตานา โชคชะตาและปากท้อง) by Laksanapon Tarapan and Wiriya Wiriyapat, Rabbit and Turtle (กระต่ายกับเต่า) by Sanprapha V., A Ghost Story (ผีทักอย่าทักตอบ) by Arty Nicharee, Buffaloes Dream of Being Human (ควายอยากเป็นคน) by Tepwut Buatoom, and Little Red Riding Hood (หนูน้อยหมวกแดง) by Rubkwan Thammaboosadee.

Nine Folk Tales

Some of the tales have political subtexts, the most overt being Buffaloes Dream of Being Human, a fable in which a group of buffaloes seek a better life in the big city. In Thai, kwai (‘buffalo’) is an insult aimed at poor voters, especially those who supported former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. (Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s video Silence addresses this pejorative, and it has been reclaimed by some pro-democracy protesters.) The story includes thinly-veiled references to Thaksin—“Monkey, a friend of the buffalo, was elected as the city’s governor”—and the PAD protests that paved the way for his removal from office: “A mob of the ‘Louder Voices’ expelled Monkey from the city.” (Similarly, Charuphat Petcharavej’s short story Hakom/ห่าก้อม also features a proxy for Thaksin: “A group of villagers had driven him out of the village”.)

Another book in the set, My Mother’s Memory, indirectly confronts the violence suffered by the Octobrist generation in the 1970s. This disturbing tale ends with the young protagonist’s realisation: “the nightmares that I had were the result of me swimming in memories of the past. The memories of people who I might not even know. I have been carrying these heavy memories all this time.” As the editors explain in their reader’s guide, these collective memories of state violence are whitewashed from history: “Our emotions and memories carry alternative histories which are not written or taught in school history books.” (This theme of state whitewashing has been explored by numerous artists and writers, including Vasan Sitthiket, Tawan Wattuya, Sutee Kunavichayanont, Sirisak Saengow, Prabda Yoon, Thongchai Winichakul, and Emma Larkin.)

If Buffaloes Dream of Being Human and My Mother’s Memory reflect the experiences of previous generations of pro-democracy protesters, The Frogs Who Desired is an allegory for the students who are currently protesting for political reform. Based on Aesop’s fable The Frogs Who Desired a King—which is itself a pertinent cautionary tale about absolute power—The Frogs Who Desired ends with the slogan “NO GODS OR ANY RULERS SHALL SAVE US, EXCEPT OURSELVES”, a paraphrase of the student protesters’ motto ‘no god, no king, only human’.

The editors point out that The Frogs Who Desired has a “purposefully shortened title”, which was presumably an ideological decision rather than a legal concern. Another book in the series, In Hunger, features a poor farmer who recalls that “a stranger with a cruel smile preached us to stay humble”. Like Buffaloes Dream of Being Human, In Hunger challenges this notion that the poor must gratefully accept their lot in life, which the editors describe as a “mechanism that keeps everyone ‘in their place’.” (Precisely the same argument is made in relation to the ‘sufficiency economy’ philosophy in Saying the Unsayable.)

Nine Folk Tales is the latest of several children’s picture books with political themes. Last year, Suwicha’s สมุดระบายสีเสรีภาพ (‘freedom colouring book’) featured a symbolic blue elephant. There have also been two sets of picture books published by Family Club and the Mirror Foundation that feature similar political allegories. This recent trend began in Hong Kong, with the Sheep Village (羊村) series, the publishers of which were jailed last year.

27 February 2023


Fear Primitive

Manit Sriwanichpoom’s photography exhibition Fear (กลัว), held in Bangkok and Singapore in 2016, documented the volatile political atmosphere in Thailand prior to the 2014 coup, and the initial period following the junta’s takeover. The excellent accompanying catalogue remains a valuable record of a timely yet politically sensitive exhibition.

Discussing the title, Fear, in a short interview published in the catalogue, Manit explains that “today’s great fear is over something we can’t discuss aloud.” This has echoes of Taiki Sakpisit’s short film The Age of Anxiety (รอ ๑๐), which addressed the fear of the death of King Rama IX in the twilight of his reign. The link is reinforced by the catalogue’s cover image: a photograph of an 1868 solar eclipse predicted by King Rama IV shortly before his death.

Manit bravely included large-scale portraits of NCPO and NLA members (the coup leaders and the legislators they appointed), pixellated to obscure their identities. Though their individuality is denied, their uniforms are still visible, presenting them en masse as a faceless—and therefore inhuman—authoritarian entity. Similarly, screengrabs of technical glitches during coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha’s first televised Return Happiness to the People (คืนความสุข ให้คนในชาติ) speech highlight the vulnerability behind the propaganda façade.

Although Manit satirised the junta’s populist propaganda, he was also critical of the government overthrown by the coup, and he endorsed the PDRC protesters who laid the groundwork for the military takeover. The catalogue describes the legacy of former PM Yingluck Shinawatra, subject of another photo series, as something “we now long to forget.” Introducing photographs of police vehicles vandalised beyond repair by the PDRC, the catalogue even claims: “these cars were not destroyed; merely overturned and coloured... They could still be saved to run upright again.”

The most powerful work in the Fear exhibition was the short video Primitive (ป่าเถื่อน), a montage of sixty-five photographs of bloodstains on the base of Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, accompanied by plaintive cello music. These dark red smears—one of which appears on the back cover of the catalogue—are grisly reminders of an attack on PDRC protesters on 15th May 2014, when three people were killed by unknown assailants heavily armed with M79 grenade launchers and M16 automatic rifles.

10 February 2023

“A seditious book about a series of riots...”

Six people arrested in Hong Kong on 17th January are facing sedition charges for selling a book documenting the city’s 2019–2020 pro-democracy protest movement. The 400-page book went on sale on Christmas Day last year at a Lunar New Year fair at Ginza Plaza. It was distributed by the Shame on You Grocery Store (影衰mi杂货店), and forty-three copies were seized by police, who described it as “a seditious book about a series of riots”.

In 2021, the publishers of the Sheep Village (羊村) series of children’s books about the pro-democracy demonstrations were also arrested on sedition charges. (They were sentenced to nineteen months in prison last year.) The protest leaders—including Joshua Wong, a veteran of the 2014 ‘umbrella movement’—went on trial this week, charged under the Safeguarding National Security law imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese government.

02 February 2023

“Exploitation of audio of President Trump…”

The Trump Tapes The Trump Tapes

Donald Trump is suing journalist Bob Woodward and the publisher Simon and Schuster for $50 million, alleging that Woodward’s audiobook The Trump Tapes was released without prior authorisation. Woodward interviewed Trump nineteen times as research for his book Rage, and the audiobook features complete recordings of those interviews. Trump’s lawsuit, filed on 30th January, accuses Woodward of “systematic usurpation, manipulation, and exploitation of audio of President Trump”, and claims that the publication of the tapes violated Trump’s copyright.

In many of the interviews, Woodward tells Trump: “I’m turning on my tape recorder”, a reminder that these are on-the-record conversations being recorded with consent. While he didn’t discuss the prospect of an audiobook with Trump, Woodward is legally entitled to release the tapes, because he—not Trump—recorded them. Just as the person who presses the camera shutter automatically assumes copyright of the resulting photograph (unless they waive that right), the person who presses ‘record’ owns the copyright of a sound recording (if the recording is made with permission).

31 January 2023

The Fall of Boris Johnson:
The Full Story

The Fall of Boris Johnson

In The Fall of Boris Johnson: The Full Story, Sebastian Payne gives a comprehensive insider’s account of the final months of Boris Johnson’s premiership, which he describes as “the most remarkable political defenestration in modern British political history.” Until recently, Payne was the Whitehall editor of the Financial Times and the host of the Payne’s Politics podcast; he interviewed Johnson for his first book, Broken Heartlands.

Payne concludes that there were “three Ps that brought down the prime minister — Paterson, partygate and Pincher”. He sees Johnson’s downfall as an inevitable result of the former PM’s belief that the rules don’t apply to him: “it was always going to come to a premature and sticky end... Johnson resists the idea that he has to bother with the consequences for his actions that normal people have to contend with.” (The ‘three Ps’ theory was first mentioned last August, on the BBC podcast Boris.)

After Conservative MP Owen Paterson was accused of lobbying, Johnson authorised a scheme to rewrite the disciplinary process, a blatant “Tory ruse to save one of their own” that united both government and opposition MPs against it. The ‘partygate’ and Chris Pincher scandals were more personally damaging to Johnson, as in both cases he was, in Alan Clark’s famous phrase, “economical with the actualité.” He falsely claimed in parliament that no parties had taken place at Downing Street during the coronavirus lockdown, and he falsely denied any prior knowledge of MP Chris Pincher’s reputation for sexual harassment.

The heart of the book is an epic forty-page account of Johnson’s last two days in office. This detailed coverage of ‘the bunker’ expands on a similar report by Tim Shipman in The Sunday Times (from 10th July 2021). Payne and Shipman both quote Johnson’s arch response after Michael Gove asked if he would resign: “No, Mikey, mate, I’m afraid you are.” Payne also recounts Johnson telling Gove: “they’re going to have to prise me out of here.” Gove and Johnson’s relationship was one of the most fascinating in modern British politics, and Johnson is, as Payne puts it, “the most compelling political campaigner of his generation”.

13 January 2023

Jacinda Ardern:
I Know This to Be True
— On Kindness, Empathy and Strength

Jacinda Ardern: I Know This to Be True

Geoff Blackwell interviewed New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on 8th November 2019 as part of his I Know This to Be True project for the Nelson Mandela Foundation, a series of interviews published in 2020 and intended to “inspire a new generation of leaders.” Video extracts from those interviews were then repurposed for Live to Lead, a Netflix series directed by Blackwell, which was released on New Year’s Eve 2022.

In his (short) Ardern interview book, Blackwell asks about her personal values, and she explains that she is “really driven by empathy... that’s probably the quality we need the most.” Similarly, in another 2019 interview, she told author Supriya Vani: “the world needs empathetic leadership now, perhaps more than ever.” (Vani’s Ardern biography is subtitled Leading with Empathy, and Blackwell’s subtitle has a similar theme: On Kindness, Empathy and Strength.)

Blackwell’s and Vani’s interviews are both rather soft and apolitical, focussing on Ardern as an inspirational leader. But Ardern does make a surprisingly candid admission in answer to Blackwell’s question about trusting her instincts: “All I could be was myself. And that’s all I’ve ever tried to be. And if that means I’m successful on behalf of New Zealand, that’s great, and if it means that I’m not, then I’ll still sleep at night.”

11 January 2023

Jacinda Ardern:
Leading with Empathy

Jacinda Ardern: Leading with Empathy

Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand’s Prime Minister in 2017 on a wave of ‘Jacindamania’, and her relentless positivity boosted her reputation on the world stage. (She has been a guest on The Late Show, and Spitting Image caricatured her quite convincingly as Mary Poppins.) She passed gun-control laws with incredible speed, and was equally successful in minimising the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. In recent months, rising inflation and a looming recession have sharply dented her domestic popularity, though this has not affected her international image.

She has consistently refused to cooperate with her biographers, though Jacinda Ardern: Leading with Empathy was promoted in 2021 as “[t]he first biography to be based on interviews with Ardern”. At a press conference on 21st July 2021, Ardern made clear that she was misled by the authors, who had not told her they were writing a biography: “certainly the claim that it was an exclusive interview for the purpose of writing a book of that nature is not true”. Co-author Supriya Vani interviewed Ardern in 2019, on the understanding that the book was about female leaders in general. Co-author Carl A. Harte claimed that coronavirus restrictions precluded interviews with other leaders, though Ardern was interviewed via Skype, which the pandemic would not have prevented.

More plausibly, the pandemic prevented the authors from visiting New Zealand while researching the book, though surprisingly this did not affect the amount of ‘colour’ and atmospheric detail they included. Ardern’s childhood home, Murupara, for example, is described as “a place that feels as if it is drifting, somehow behind in time... The town’s beauty is itself beguiling, but the land here has its dark secrets.” These lengthy descriptions, and others, are all examples of armchair tourism, and further padding is provided by extraneous career summaries of several former New Zealand politicians.

Vani wrote an online article for Writer’s Digest on 9th June 2021 titled How to Write a Biography of a World Leader. Her first tip was: “make sure you can resonate with the qualities of the leader to ensure you’re writing a positive biography.” Unfortunately, she followed her own advice, and her Ardern book borders on the hagiographic. (It often refers to Ardern by her first name, emphasises her “kindness” and “well-rounded humanity”, and even compares her to Churchill.) But on its own terms, as an inspirational account of empathetic leadership, the book is well written and researched. Perhaps Ardern’s relentless positivity rubbed off on Vani; if so, it was more appropriate to her first book, Battling Injustice.

10 January 2023

Out of the Blue:
The Inside Story of the Unexpected Rise and Rapid Fall of Liz Truss

Out of the Blue

“A book is being written about the Prime Minister’s time in office. Apparently, it’s going to be out by Christmas. Is that the release date or the title?”

Opposition leader Keir Starmer’s quip during Prime Minister’s Questions on 19th October last year was even more prescient than he imagined. Although Liz Truss assured him that she was “a fighter, not a quitter”, she resigned as PM the very next day. Truss channelled the defiant words of former politician Peter Mandelson, and Starmer copied his joke from Private Eye magazine (no. 1,584), which described the Truss book as “out on 8 December. (The book, that is, not its subject)”.

Like the PM, the book, Out of the Blue, was out sooner than expected, released last November. (The subtitle was also changed—from The Inside Story of Liz Truss and Her Astonishing Rise to Power to The Inside Story of the Unexpected Rise and Rapid Fall of Liz Truss—to reflect her sudden downfall.) Truss served just forty-four days in office, and the book was written almost as rapidly. Authors Harry Cole and James Healey make no bones about this: “We decided to write this book quickly, so those of you expecting Robert Caro will be disappointed.” But there’s nothing remotely rushed about this extremely well-sourced biography.

The most toxic element of the ‘mini budget’ that ultimately led to Truss’s resignation—the removal of the maximum 45p tax rate—was swiftly abandoned, and the book quotes Truss telling her Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng: “we need to rip off the plaster.” Similarly, in a Sunday Times article published online on Christmas Eve 2022, Tim Shipman quoted Truss as saying: “we’ve got to tear the plaster off.” These two accounts validate each other, though on 10th December last year the Financial Times implied that the decision was made by Chancellor himself: a FT Weekend Magazine article on Truss’s premiership by George Parker, Sebastian Payne, and Laura Hughes referred to “Kwarteng’s U-turn on the top rate of tax”.

Cole and Healey interviewed Truss twice for their book, the second session taking place shortly after the mini budget. In a Spectator article published on 29th October last year, Healey wrote that his abiding memory of that interview was “the unnerving calm of the Prime Minister even as the markets were in full panic mode.” They also spoke to Kwarteng and former PM Boris Johnson, amongst others. Although Truss cooperated with the writers to some extent, Out of the Blue is an objective portrait rather than an authorised biography. It’s the absolute ideal model for a biography of a living person: exclusive access (via multiple interviews with the subject), without sacrificing any editorial independence.

In fact, although both authors are right-of-centre journalists and Cole (political editor of The Sun) reportedly received regular off-the-record briefings from Truss, they are largely critical of her time in office. They describe the mini-budget, for example, as “one of the worst errors of the past 100 years in British policy making.” They even question her integrity, accusing her of a “fatal error—and one that involves a question of honesty”, namely the deliberate downplaying of her planned fiscal reforms.

06 January 2023

Thai Cinema Uncensored

International Examiner

Thai Cinema Uncensored has been reviewed in the International Examiner, a fortnightly newspaper published in Seattle, Washington. A headline in the 21st September 2022 issue (vol. 49, no. 18) describes the book as “an illuminating work of resistance to censorship” (p. 6).

In her review, Elinor Serumgard says: “Matthew Hunt writes with a sense of urgency to legitimize these films and work towards a future where Thai filmmakers make the films they want without having to worry if people will be able to watch them. Readers will come away with a deeper understanding of Thai films and the history that has shaped them.”

The book has also been reviewed by the Bangkok Post newspaper, the academic journal Sojourn, and the magazines Art Review and The Big Chilli. An online review was published by the 101 World website.

04 January 2023

Bad Words and What They Say about Us

Bad Words and What They Say about Us

In Bad Words and What They Say about Us (published in 2019), Philip Gooden examines how tabooed language has shifted from religion to sex and bodily functions, and more recently to political correctness and identity politics. The book is bang up-to-date, exploring the linguistic legacies of Brexit and Donald Trump: Michael Gove’s cavalier dismissal of expert opinion during the Brexit referendum campaign (“the people of this country have had enough of experts”) prompts a wide-ranging discussion of ‘culture war’ issues, and Gooden draws a parallel—first noted in a blog post by Sonja Drimmer and Damian Fleming—between the Miller in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (“he caughte hire by the queynte”) and Trump’s Access Hollywood tape (“Grab ’em by the pussy”).

Bad Words includes quite thorough histories of the major four-letter words, each of which has its own chapter, though these sections are most notable for their debunking of the myths surrounding the words’ origins. These misconceptions are surprisingly persistent—upon learning that I wrote a thesis on the c-word, some people still tell me that the f-word is an acronym for ‘Fornicate Under Command of the King’—and Gooden provides a useful service in his mission “to unpick this folk etymology.”

The book’s scope also extends to racist and homophobic pejoratives, though there is little discussion of sexist terms, and Gooden tends to favour more recent citations over historical examples. For instance, he quotes a British backbench MP using the n-word in 2017, though he doesn’t mention that John Major used it when he was Prime Minister in 1993. Similarly, Gooden cites comedian Chris Rock’s positive uses of the n-word, though Richard Pryor’s earlier and more groundbreaking reappropriation of the word isn’t covered.

Peter Silverton’s Filthy English and Ruth Wajnryb’s Language Most Foul both cover similar ground to Bad Words, as does another book with the same title, edited by David Sosa. Geoffrey Hughes wrote An Encyclopedia of Swearing (expanded from his earlier book Swearing), and Hugh Rawson’s Dictionary of Invective is equally comprehensive. Forbidden Words, by Keith Allan and Kate Burridge, is the most authoritative guide to linguistic taboos, and Allen also recently edited The Oxford Handbook of Taboo Words and Language.

26 December 2022

The Trump Tapes:
Bob Woodward’s Twenty Interviews with President Donald Trump

Bob Woodward interviewed President Donald Trump an unprecedented nineteen times for his book Rage, published in 2020. Woodward has now released his recordings of eighteen of those interviews as an audiobook, The Trump Tapes: Bob Woodward's Twenty Interviews with President Donald Trump. (One of the Rage interviews was not recorded, though Woodward summarises it based on his contemporaneous notes. A 2016 interview with Trump before the presidential election is also included.)

Trump cooperated extensively with Rage in an attempt to avoid a repeat of Woodward’s previous book, Fear, which was written without his cooperation. (A recording of a phone call, in which Trump blamed his advisor Kellyanne Conway for not passing on Woodward’s initial interview request, was released by The Washington Post in 2018.) In his spoken epilogue, Woodward says: “It is still somewhat of a puzzle to me why he talked to me, and at such length. I think he honestly believed he could talk me into telling the story of his presidency as he would like it to be seen and remembered in history.”

As was the case with Woodward’s Fear, Trump likewise didn’t cooperate with Woodward’s Washington Post colleagues Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig for their book A Very Stable Genius. (He describes them to Woodward as “two sleazebags”, adding for good measure: “Rucker, he’s a sleazebucket. I know him well. He never writes good.”) Yet he did speak to Rucker and Leonnig for their next book, I Alone Can Fix It, just as he spoke to Woodward for Rage. Interestingly, Woodward repeatedly asks Trump, in vain, for a transcript of his February 2020 phone call with Chinese President Xi, though Rucker and Leonnig were seemingly able to obtain it.

Trump’s astonishing indiscretion is immediately apparent from the recordings. As Woodward says at the beginning of his spoken introduction, Trump is “staggeringly incautious,” and this is evident throughout the eleven hours of audio. The interviews were mostly conducted over the phone, often in the evenings when Trump was in his private quarters at the White House, which presumably contributed to the informal nature of the conversations. (There are echoes of the “unsolicited phone calls without presumption of confidentiality” that Trump made to Michael Wolff during the writing of Fire and Fury, though in Woodward’s case he always reminds Trump that he’s recording the calls.)

In his commentary, Woodward also decribes Trump as “at times staggeringly repetitive, as if saying something often and loud enough will make something true.” Maggie Haberman also mentions this tendency—which is a deliberate rhetorical device—in her recent Trump biography, Confidence Man: “He started to explain why he doesn’t like when audiotapes of his interviews are released. Being on camera was “much different,” he said. “Whereas,” he said, in a “written interview, I’ll repeat it twenty times, because I want to drum it into your beautiful brain. Do you understand that?” He repeated himself again.”

Rage was originally intended as a study of Trump’s foreign policy. (Woodward had previously written a similar book on Obama.) But after the coronavirus epidemic began in early 2020, Woodward shifted the focus to Trump’s covid response. Throughout February and March 2020, Trump had publicly insisted that the virus would spontaneously disappear, though on 20th March 2020 he confirmed to Woodward: “This thing is vicious, the most contagious virus anyone’s ever seen.” Even allowing for Trump’s usual exaggerations, that’s a dangerous discrepancy between his public and private statements, and he didn’t publicly admit the severity of the situation until eleven days later.

In Rage, Woodward concluded that President Trump was “the wrong man for the job.” In his epilogue to The Trump Tapes, he acknowledges that that was an understatement: “I realise that I didn’t go far enough. Trump is an unparalleled danger.” The Trump Tapes was released on ten CDs last month, and a book of transcripts, The Trump Tapes: The Historical Record, will be published early next year.

02 December 2022

No God No King Only Human

No God No King Only Human, edited and published by Korn Karava, was launched at the 2022 Bangkok Art Book Fair last week. Limited to 500 numbered copies (mine being no. 340), it features photographs of anti-government, pro-reform protests taken over the past two years.

Visually speaking, the protests are inherently photogenic, with swirling tear gas deployed by riot police and fireworks used as projectiles by demonstrators. (Nontawat Numbenchapol’s Thalugaz documentary Rarely Make History includes equally spectacular imagery.) But, as the book reminds us, this is the aesthetics of violence, and other photographs document the impact of rubber bullets fired by the police.

There have been other books with photographs of the protests, such as There’s Always Spring (เมื่อถึงเวลาดอกไม้จะบาน), EBB, and #WhatsHappeningInThailand, all of which are small, slim paperbacks. No God No King Only Human, on the other hand, is a lavish coffee-table book. (It’s the first in a potential series of volumes on the protest movement.)

The title is a slogan adapted from the video game BioShock. (Appropriating popular culture is a notable aspect of the demonstrations, from the three-finger salute taken from The Hunger Games to the Bottom Blues song 12345 I Love You.) The title of Elevenfinger’s CD No God No King Only Humans is based on the same slogan.

29 November 2022

Mob Type —
บันทึกการต่อสู้ของประชาชน ผ่านศิลปะตัวอักษร

Mob Type 33712

The design collective PrachathipaType—a pun on prachathipatai, the Thai word for ‘democracy’—specialises in pro-democracy typefaces. Working with some of the organsiations leading the recent anti-government protests, they have effectively created the visual identity of the reform movement. The new book Mob Type – บันทึกการต่อสู้ของประชาชน ผ่านศิลปะตัวอักษร (‘recording the people’s struggle through the art of lettering’) is a collection of these type specimens and logos, and it was launched at the 2022 Bangkok Art Book Fair (which ran from 25th–27th November at Bangkok CityCity Gallery).

PrachathipaType designed a new font, PrachathipaTape (ประชาธิปะเทป), for Rap Against Dictatorship’s music video Homeland (บ้านเกิดเมืองนอน). They also collaborated with the band on แบบเรียนพยัญชนะไทย (‘Thai consonant textbook’). Their 33712 typeface (named after the 33.712 billion baht allocated for the monarchy in the national budget) was used to recreate a notice from a leaked photograph published by the German newspaper Bild (‘picture’) in 2019. The 33712 typeface also appears in Rap Against Dictatorship’s music video Budget (งบประมาณ).

28 November 2022

There’s Always Spring

There’s Always Spring (เมื่อถึงเวลาดอกไม้จะบาน), published last month by Mob Data Thailand, provides a record of the current anti-government protest movement. Mob Data Thailand collates details of all rallies held throughout the country, and the book highlights the major demonstrations that have taken place over the last two years.

There’s Always Spring is particularly valuable as a record of the origins of the protest movement, which was triggered by the dissolution of the Future Forward Party in February 2020. This is in contrast to other books on the protests, namely EBB and #WhatsHappeningInThailand, which focus only on the period from mid-2020 onwards.

What all three books have in common are their optimistic titles. There’s Always Spring suggests that the winter of repression is coming to an end. (Its epilogue, Winter Never Lasts Forever/ไม่มีอะไรคงอยู่ตลอดไป, states this more directly.) Similarly, EBB refers to ‘ebb and flow’ (the sense that receding waves, like persecuted protesters, will eventually return), and #WhatsHappeningInThailand’s subtitle is และแล้วความหวังก็ปรากฏ (‘and then hope appeared’).

24 November 2022

A Message from Ukraine:
Speeches, 2019–2022

A Message from Ukraine

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24th February, Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky has recorded daily video addresses to his people and delivered more than 100 speeches to international forums. A Message from Ukraine: Speeches, 2019–2022, an authorised anthology sold to raise money for the war effort, reprints sixteen of his speeches in translation, beginning with his inaugural parliamentary address after his landslide election victory in 2019.

Whichever country he addresses as he pleads for military support, Zelensky—or rather, his chief speechwriter, Dmytro Lytvyn—tailors his message to suit his audience. So, he quoted Winston Churchill to the British parliament and Martin Luther King to the US Congress. His historical analogies are also tailor-made. Speaking to the German Bundestag, he compared Russia’s gas pipline to the Berlin Wall; addressing the Israeli Knesset, he cited Russian propaganda that evoked the Holocaust.

In his introduction to the book, Zelensky describes his message as “abrupt, intense, jarring.” The contrast with his former career, as a comedy actor, couldn’t be more stark. (Life imitated art, after he played an unlikely president in his sitcom Servant of the People/Слуга народу.) Of course, he writes with optimistic fervour about victory over Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling A Message from Ukraine “a book about how we can build the future.”