Books for Big Brains: Helen Razer’s ‘Total Propaganda’

Every so often we’re sent new books that are written by women. We’ve decided to take advantage of this by publishing short, succinct reviews that give you the lowdown on the quality content found within each book’s pages. These reviews form part of an ongoing series: Books for Big Brains.

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Liz John reviews

Total Propaganda: Basic Marxist Training for the Angry and the Young

by Helen Razer

☆☆☆½

Image by Bri Lee

Don’t judge a book by its first (or second) chapter is good advice to get you through to the rewarding discussions that Helen Razer brings to light in Total Propaganda. Positioning the publication as “Marxism for millennials” seems to have motivated an awkward introduction that slides between a self-deprecating justification about why this book was written, and clunky inclusions of millennial buzzwords such as “dank meme”, “ASOS catalogue” and “lol wut”.

Although it seems to come from a place of genuine empathy for the pressures on the young in society, it is hard not to feel like you are being talked down to.

However, stick with it and you are brought into the challenging and insightful examination of academic and theoretical Marxism, as Razer explains its intrinsic link to our world today.

She uses the lens of the US election, the collapse of the Detroit job market, and the advancements of Silicon Valley to demonstrate the often complex theories of Marxist ideology, historical materialism, and the means of production.

It took me a while to make sense of her flighty writing style that jumps around from one topic to another; perfect for an attention-getting op-ed or essay, but a bit too disjointed for your average evening of getting lost in a book with cup of tea in hand.

Instead, this book needs to be read a few punchy pages at a time on a busy train, before getting lost in thought about your own political unconscious.

Helen Razer is often scoffed at in literary circles for being an openly angry woman in a society that asks us to smile more. You will probably disagree with her here and there, but this read has reminded me of what an incredibly important voice she brings to modern Australia.

Image by Liz John

Would you have bought this book for yourself?

I definitely would have been interested, but if I chose to read the first page or two while standing around in the bookshop then the introductory language would have turned me off.

What kind of person would you buy this book for?

A good gift for a younger, angst-ridden sibling.

What sort of book would you give a 1 star rating?

A book that is so poorly written that it is mentally taxing to read. Or, I suppose, a text that is dripping in ego and self-importance.

What sort of book would you give a 5 star rating?

There are a few non-fiction books that I’ve been reading lately with a notebook in reach for when I come across a sentence I want to remember. My latest inspired scrawlings have been from Fight Like A Girl by Clementine Ford, Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari, Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit, and the latest Quarterly Essay by Benjamin Law.

How many stars would you give this book?

3 ½ to 4 stars. I find rating systems difficult though, because I would still advise people that they should read this book. Just be mindful of its self-conscious moments, and its detached and fiery streams of thought.


Review by Liz John

Images as individually credited

Featured Image by Bri Lee

Compiled and edited by Emma Kate Lewis

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