Small Acts of Resistance by Steve Crawshaw and John Jackson Union Square Press, HK$120 Normally, coffee table books are large hardcover volumes printed on glossy paper. But the basic principle - broad topical survey, discontinuous vignettes - works well enough small and without photos. A quick read, Small Acts of Resistance: How Courage, Tenacity, and Ingenuity can Change the World doesn't demand you follow any idea more complex than its title from beginning to end. You could easily flip through and get the point while your host is in the kitchen getting more cream and biscuits. In one uplifting anecdote after another, we learn about how ordinary people from Beijing to Bogota, from Tehran to Talinn, from Warsaw to Washington, from Lisbon to Liberia - you get the idea - stood up for themselves and made the world a better place. Many of those profiled faced harrowing risks in their quest for dignity, often jail time or worse. Each historical episode is in itself interesting. One major takeaway is the importance of creativity in problem solving - from the prison soccer team that grew into Nelson Mandela's government to the Colombian women whose sexual strike stopped violence. Another is that, in the right time and place and with access to the right audience or information, individuals can be surprisingly powerful, or at least teleologically seem to be so. But these small acts of resistance are never synthesised into 'Asymmetric Nonviolent Struggle With Courage and a Sense of Humour'. Instead, they have the feel of a self-help book or compendium of uplifting quotations. There is little acknowledgement of the challenges and trade-offs faced by those who oppose bad governance, cynicism, or oppression. How much of a hero are you really if your actions put your children's lives at risk? Can you always do more good by resigning from a post, or is staying in power a better way to influence outcomes? The heroes of these stories are complex people. We do their struggles more justice in acknowledging the difficulty of reconciling a long-term political vision with the short- and medium-term survival needed to attain it. The dramatic cover design, eye-catching foreword (by Vaclav Havel), and abovementioned content all suggest a book intended more as a public relations and fund-raising exercise than a serious rumination on the tensions and trade-offs of challenging authority. Fair enough; everyone speaks to different audiences differently. But it's still disappointing that the seasoned human rights campaigners who authored the volume leave the reader's intelligence feeling just a little insulted. It doesn't have to be this way: American activist Saul Alinsky was an adept balancer of anecdote and lesson, and a lot funnier too. His Rules for Radicals, especially, captured the spirit of cheerful improvisation that the seemingly powerless can use to undermine their oppressors. But, Small Acts of Resistance might be the ideal gift for a bright child with a budding social conscience and potential to become a human rights lawyer or muck-raking journalist. Perhaps the child's parents could even take a coffee break to flip through it. The book holds few coherent answers, but could inspire one worthwhile question: 'How might I change the world?'