Friday, November 30, 2007

"Worst-Case Scenarios"

New from Harvard University Press: Worst-Case Scenarios by Cass R. Sunstein.

About the book, from the publisher:

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations"

New from the University of Chicago Press: The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations by Stephen E. Braude.

About the book, from the publisher:
For over thirty years, Stephen Braude has studied the paranormal in everyday life, from extrasensory perception and psychokinesis to mediumship and materialization. The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations is a highly readable and often amusing account of his most memorable encounters with such phenomena. Here Braude recounts in fascinating detail five particular cases — some that challenge our most fundamental scientific beliefs and others that expose our own credulousness.

Braude begins with a south Florida woman who can make thin gold-colored foil appear spontaneously on her skin. He then travels to New York and California to test psychokinetic superstars — and frauds — like Joe Nuzum, who claim to move objects using only their minds. Along the way, Braude also investigates the startling allegations of K.R., a policeman in Annapolis who believes he can transfer images from photographs onto other objects — including his own body — and Ted Serios, a deceased Chicago elevator operator who could make a variety of different images appear on Polaroid film. Ultimately, Braude considers his wife’s surprisingly fruitful experiments with astrology, which she has used to guide professional soccer teams to the top of their leagues, as well as his own personal experiences with synchronicity — a phenomenon, he argues, that may need to be explained in terms of a refined, extensive, and dramatic form of psychokinesis.

Heady, provocative, and brimming with eye-opening details and suggestions, The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations will intrigue both adherents and detractors of its controversial subject matter alike.
Read an excerpt from the book.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Torture and Democracy"

New from Princeton University Press: Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali.

About the book, from the publisher:

This is the most comprehensive, and most comprehensively chilling, study of modern torture yet written. Darius Rejali, one of the world's leading experts on torture, takes the reader from the late nineteenth century to the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, from slavery and the electric chair to electrotorture in American inner cities, and from French and British colonial prison cells and the Spanish-American War to the fields of Vietnam, the wars of the Middle East, and the new democracies of Latin America and Europe.

As Rejali traces the development and application of one torture technique after another in these settings, he reaches startling conclusions. As the twentieth century progressed, he argues, democracies not only tortured, but set the international pace for torture. Dictatorships may have tortured more, and more indiscriminately, but the United States, Britain, and France pioneered and exported techniques that have become the lingua franca of modern torture: methods that leave no marks. Under the watchful eyes of reporters and human rights activists, low-level authorities in the world's oldest democracies were the first to learn that to scar a victim was to advertise iniquity and invite scandal. Long before the CIA even existed, police and soldiers turned instead to "clean" techniques, such as torture by electricity, ice, water, noise, drugs, and stress positions. As democracy and human rights spread after World War II, so too did these methods.

Rejali makes this troubling case in fluid, arresting prose and on the basis of unprecedented research -- conducted in multiple languages and on several continents -- begun years before most of us had ever heard of Osama bin Laden or Abu Ghraib. The author of a major study of Iranian torture, Rejali also tackles the controversial question of whether torture really works, answering the new apologists for torture point by point. A brave and disturbing book, this is the benchmark against which all future studies of modern torture will be measured.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"The Star Machine"

New from Knopf: The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger.

About the book, from the publisher:
From one of our leading film authorities, a rich, penetrating, amusing plum pudding of a book about the golden age of movies, full of Hollywood lore, anecdotes, and analysis.

Jeanine Basinger gives us an immensely entertaining look into the “star machine,” examining how, at the height of the studio system, from the 1930s to the 1950s, the studios worked to manufacture star actors and actresses. With revelatory insights and delightful asides, she shows us how the machine worked when it worked, how it failed when it didn’t, and how irrelevant it could sometimes be. She gives us the “human factor,” case studies focusing on big stars groomed into the system: the “awesomely beautiful” (and disillusioned) Tyrone Power; the seductive, disobedient Lana Turner; and a dazzling cast of others — Loretta Young, Errol Flynn, Irene Dunne, Deanna Durbin. She anatomizes their careers, showing how their fame happened, and what happened to them as a result. (Both Lana Turner and Errol Flynn, for instance, were involved in notorious court cases.) In her trenchantly observed conclusion, she explains what has become of the star machine and why the studios’ practice of “making” stars is no longer relevant.

Deeply engrossing, full of energy, wit, and wisdom, The Star Machine is destined to become an invaluable part of the film canon.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"The Conquests of Alexander the Great"

New from Cambridge University Press: The Conquests of Alexander the Great by Waldemar Heckel.

About the book, from the publisher:
In this book, Waldemar Heckel provides a revisionist overview of the conquests of Alexander the Great. Emphasizing the aims and impact of his military expeditions, the political consequences of military action, and the use of propaganda, both for motivation and justification, his underlying premise is that the basic goals of conquest and the keys to military superiority have not changed dramatically over the millennia. Indeed, as Heckel makes clear, many aristocratic and conquest societies are remarkably similar to that of Alexander in their basic aims and organization.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

"Divided by Faith"

New from Harvard University Press: Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe by Benjamin J. Kaplan.

About the book, from the publisher:

Saturday, November 24, 2007

"Hotel: An American History"

New from Yale University Press: Hotel: An American History by A. K. Sandoval-Strausz.

About the book, from the publisher:
When George Washington embarked on his presidential tours of 1789–91, the rudimentary inns and taverns of the day suddenly seemed dismally inadequate. But within a decade, Americans had built the first hotels — large and elegant structures that boasted private bedchambers and grand public ballrooms. This book recounts the enthralling history of the hotel in America — a saga in which politicians and prostitutes, tourists and tramps, conventioneers and confidence men, celebrities and salesmen all rub elbows. Hotel explores why the hotel was invented, how its architecture developed, and the many ways it influenced the course of United States history. The volume also presents a beautiful collection of more than 120 illustrations, many in full color, of hotel life in every era.

Hotel explores these topics and more:

· What it was like to sleep, eat, and socialize at a hotel in the mid-1800s

· How hotelkeepers dealt with the illicit activities of adulterers, thieves, and violent guests

· The stories behind America’s greatest hotels, including the Waldorf-Astoria, the Plaza, the Willard, the Blackstone, and the Fairmont

· Why Confederate spies plotted to burn down thirteen hotels in New York City during the Civil War

· How the development of steamboats and locomotives helped create a nationwide network of hotels

· How hotels became architectural models for apartment buildings

· The pivotal role of hotels in the civil rights movement
Check out a slide-show essay about the history of the hotel at Slate.

Friday, November 23, 2007

"Iron Curtain"

New from Oxford University Press: Iron Curtain: From Stage to Cold War by Patrick Wright.

About the book, from the publisher:
"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent." With these words, in a now legendary speech given in Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946, Winston Churchill famously warned the world of the threat of the Soviet Union.

Launched as an evocative metaphor, the "Iron Curtain" quickly became a brutal reality in the Cold War between Capitalist West and Communist East. Not surprisingly, for many years, people on both sides of the division have assumed that the story of the Iron Curtain began with Churchill's 1946 speech. In this fascinating investigation, Patrick Wright shows that this was decidedly not the case. Starting with its original use to describe an anti-fire device fitted into theatres, Iron Curtain tells the story of how the term evolved into such a powerful metaphor and the myriad ways in which it shaped the world for decades before the onset of the Cold War. Along the way, Wright offers fascinating perspectives on a rich array of historical characters and developments, from the lofty aspirations and disappointed fate of early twentieth century internationalists, through the topsy-turvy experiences of the first travelers to Soviet Russia, to the theatricalization of modern politics and international relations. And, as Wright poignantly suggests, the term captures a particular way of thinking about the world that long pre-dates the Cold War.

In reality the iron curtain was never just a frontier -- it was a psychological state, and it did not simply disappear with the Berlin Wall. In this brilliant culture history, Patrick Wright illuminates the life and legacy of this powerful metaphor.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

"Trying Leviathan"

New from Princeton University Press: Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature by D. Graham Burnett.

About the book, from the publisher:

In Moby-Dick, Ishmael declares, "Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old fashioned ground that a whale is a fish, and call upon holy Jonah to back me." Few readers today know just how much argument Ishmael is waiving aside. In fact, Melville's antihero here takes sides in one of the great controversies of the early nineteenth century -- one that ultimately had to be resolved in the courts of New York City. In Trying Leviathan, D. Graham Burnett recovers the strange story of Maurice v. Judd, an 1818 trial that pitted the new sciences of taxonomy against the then-popular -- and biblically sanctioned -- view that the whale was a fish. The immediate dispute was mundane: whether whale oil was fish oil and therefore subject to state inspection. But the trial fueled a sensational public debate in which nothing less than the order of nature -- and how we know it -- was at stake. Burnett vividly re-creates the trial, during which a parade of experts -- pea-coated whalemen, pompous philosophers, Jacobin lawyers -- took the witness stand, brandishing books, drawings, and anatomical reports, and telling tall tales from whaling voyages. Falling in the middle of the century between Linnaeus and Darwin, the trial dramatized a revolutionary period that saw radical transformations in the understanding of the natural world. Out went comfortable biblical categories, and in came new sorting methods based on the minutiae of interior anatomy -- and louche details about the sexual behaviors of God's creatures.

When leviathan breached in New York in 1818, this strange beast churned both the natural and social orders -- and not everyone would survive.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"Winners Without Losers"

New from Cornell University Press: Winners Without Losers: Why Americans Should Care More about Global Economic Policy by Edward J. Lincoln.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the two decades since the United States became the world's only superpower, policymakers in Washington have seemingly abandoned many tools of statecraft and instead now rely on U.S. military strength as the key — and sometimes the sole — element of its global strategy. Yet economists see a world in which the salience of military power has been shrinking as greater affluence and deepening interdependence transform the global economy.

In Winners without Losers, Edward J. Lincoln, a highly regarded economist, contends that the best chance the United States has of ensuring peace and prosperity — for itself and for the rest of the world — will be found at conference tables rather than on the battlefield. Shining a spotlight on foreign trade policy as an agent for political change, this cogent and well-argued book urges policymakers, the business community, and citizens to find a path to increased stability by forging stronger international economic ties.

Interdependence is founded on cooperation with other nations, and in particular on multilateral institutions. Over the past five years, in particular, American policy has moved strongly away from cooperation and, in a single-minded pursuit of the “war against global terror,” has largely ignored economic issues. Extending the scope of his previous work, which started with the economic transformations of postwar Japan and more recently considered the evolution of economic linkages and cooperation in East Asia, Lincoln applies regional lessons to the world stage. More than a critique of current policies, Winners without Losers argues for a transformation of American foreign policy that recognizes the new realities of the globalized world-realities that America's leaders ignore at the nation's peril.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"On Nuclear Terrorism"

New from Harvard University Press: On Nuclear Terrorism by Michael Levi.

About the book, from the publisher:

Nuclear terrorism is such a disturbing prospect that we shy away from its details. Yet as a consequence, we fail to understand how best to defeat it. Michael Levi takes us inside nuclear terrorism and behind the decisions a terrorist leader would be faced with in pursuing a nuclear plot. Along the way, Levi identifies the many obstacles, large and small, that such a terrorist scheme might encounter, allowing him to discover a host of ways that any plan might be foiled.

Surveying the broad universe of plots and defenses, this accessible account shows how a wide-ranging defense that integrates the tools of weapon and materials security, law enforcement, intelligence, border controls, diplomacy, and the military can multiply, intensify, and compound the possibility that nuclear terrorists will fail. Levi draws from our long experience with terrorism and cautions us not to focus solely on the most harrowing yet most improbable threats. Nuclear terrorism shares much in common with other terrorist threats -- and as a result, he argues, defeating it is impossible unless we put our entire counterterrorism and homeland security house in order.

As long as we live in a nuclear age, no defense can completely eliminate nuclear terrorism. But this book reminds us that the right strategy can minimize the risks and shows us how to do it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Originalism, Federalism, and the American Constitutional Enterprise"

New from Yale University Press: Originalism, Federalism, and the American Constitutional Enterprise: A Historical Inquiry by Edward A. Purcell, Jr.

About the book, from the publisher:

In this lively historical examination of American federalism, a leading scholar in the field refutes the widely accepted notion that the founding fathers carefully crafted a constitutional balance of power between the states and the federal government. Edward A. Purcell Jr. bases his argument on close analysis of the Constitution’s original structure and the ways that structure both induced and accommodated changes over the centuries.


There was no clear agreement among the founding fathers regarding the “true” nature of American federalism, Purcell contends, nor was there a consensus on “correct” lines dividing state and national authority. Furthermore, even had there been some true “original” understanding, the elastic and dynamic nature of the constitutional structure would have made it impossible for subsequent generations to maintain any “original” or permanent balance. The author traces the evolution of federalism through the centuries, focusing particularly on shifting interpretations founded on political interests. He concludes with insights into current issues of federal power and a discussion of the grounds on which legitimate decisions about federal and state power should rest.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

"The Europeanization of the World"

New from Princeton University Press: The Europeanization of the World: On the Origins of Human Rights and Democracy by John M. Headley.

About the book, from the publisher:

The Europeanization of the World puts forward a defense of Western civilization and the unique gifts it has bequeathed to the world-in particular, human rights and constitutional democracy-at a time when many around the globe equate the West with hubris and thinly veiled imperialism. John Headley argues that the Renaissance and the Reformation provided the effective currents for the development of two distinctive political ideas. The first is the idea of a common humanity, derived from antiquity, developed through natural law, and worked out in the new emerging global context to provide the basis for today's concept of universal human rights. The second is the idea of political dissent, first posited in the course of the Protestant Reformation and later maturing in the politics of the British monarchy.

Headley traces the development and implications of this first idea from antiquity to the present. He examines the English revolution of 1688 and party government in Britain and America into the early nineteenth century. And he challenges the now -- common stance in historical studies of moral posturing against the West. Headley contends that these unique ideas are Western civilization's most precious export, however presently distorted. Certainly European culture has its dark side -- Auschwitz is but one example. Yet as Headley shows, no other civilization in history has bequeathed so sustained a tradition of universalizing aspirations as the West. The Europeanization of the World makes an argument that is controversial but long overdue. Written by one of our preeminent scholars of the Renaissance and Reformation, this elegantly reasoned book is certain to spark a much-needed reappraisal of the Western tradition.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

"Privacy at Risk"

New from the University of Chicago Press: Privacy at Risk: The New Government Surveillance and the Fourth Amendment by Christopher Slobogin.

About the book, from the publisher:
Without our consent and often without our knowledge, the government can constantly monitor many of our daily activities, using closed circuit TV, global positioning systems, and a wide array of other sophisticated technologies. With just a few keystrokes, records containing our financial information, phone and e-mail logs, and sometimes even our medical histories can be readily accessed by law enforcement officials. As Christopher Slobogin explains in Privacy at Risk, these intrusive acts of surveillance are subject to very little regulation.

Applying the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures, Slobogin argues that courts should prod legislatures into enacting more meaningful protection against government overreaching. In setting forth a comprehensive framework meant to preserve rights guaranteed by the Constitution without compromising the government’s ability to investigate criminal acts, Slobogin offers a balanced regulatory regime that should intrigue everyone concerned about privacy rights in the digital age.

Friday, November 16, 2007

"Privacy in Peril"

New from Oxford University Press: Privacy in Peril: How We are Sacrificing a Fundamental Right in Exchange for Security and Convenience by James B. Rule.

About the book, from the publisher:
We are all accustomed to privacy horror stories, like identity theft, where stored personal data gets misdirected for criminal purposes. But we should worry less about the illegal uses of personal data, James B. Rule argues, and worry a lot more about the perfectly legal uses of our data by the government and private industry, uses which are far more widespread and far more dangerous to our interests than we'd ever suspect.

This provocative book takes readers on a probing, far-reaching tour of the erosion of privacy in American society, showing that we are often unwitting accomplices, providing personal data in exchange for security or convenience. The author reveals that in today's "information society," the personal data that we make available to virtually any organization for virtually any purpose is apt to surface elsewhere, applied to utterly different purposes. The mass collection and processing of personal information produces such tremendous efficiencies that both the public and private sector feel justified in pushing as far as they can into our private lives. And there is no easy cure. Indeed, there are many cases where privacy invasion is both hurtful to the individual and indispensable to an organization's quest for efficiency.

Unrestricted snooping into citizens' personal finances really does boost the profitability of the consumer credit industry. Insurance companies really can and do make more money by using intimate private data to decide whom to insure, and what to charge. And as long as we willingly accept the pursuit of profit, or the reduction of crime, or cutting government costs as sufficient reason for intensified scrutiny over private citizens' lives, then privacy values will remain endangered.

Rule offers no simple answers to this modern conundrum. Rather, he provides a sophisticated and often troubling account that promises to fundamentally alter the privacy debate.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"The Betrayal of Faith"

New from Harvard University Press: The Betrayal of Faith: The Tragic Journey of a Colonial Native Convert by Emma Anderson.

About the book, from the publisher:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"The Political Origins of Religious Liberty"

New from Cambridge University Press: The Political Origins of Religious Liberty by Anthony Gill.

About the book, from the publisher:
Throughout history, governments have attempted to control religious organizations and limit religious freedom. However, over the past two hundred years the world has witnessed an expansion of religious liberty. What explains this rise in religious freedom? Anthony Gill argues that political leaders are more likely to allow religious freedom when such laws affect their ability to stay in power, and/or when religious freedoms are seen to enhance the economic well-being of their country.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"Differential Diagnoses"

New from Cornell University Press: Differential Diagnoses: A Comparative History of Health Care Problems and Solutions in the United States and France by Paul V. Dutton.

About the book, from the publisher:
Although the United States spends 16 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, more than 46 million people have no insurance coverage, while one in four Americans report difficulty paying for medical care. Indeed, the U.S. health care system, despite being the most expensive health care system in the world, ranked thirty-seventh in a comprehensive World Health Organization report. With health care spending only expected to increase, Americans are again debating new ideas for expanding coverage and cutting costs. According to the historian Paul V. Dutton, Americans should look to France, whose health care system captured the World Health Organization's number-one spot.

In Differential Diagnoses, Dutton debunks a common misconception among Americans that European health care systems are essentially similar to each other and vastly different from U.S. health care. In fact, the Americans and the French both distrust “socialized medicine.” Both peoples cherish patient choice, independent physicians, medical practice freedoms, and private insurers in a qualitatively different way than the Canadians, the British, and many others.

The United States and France have struggled with the same ideals of liberty and equality, but one country followed a path that led to universal health insurance; the other embraced private insurers and has only guaranteed coverage for the elderly and the very poor. How has France reconciled the competing ideals of individual liberty and social equality to assure universal coverage while protecting patient and practitioner freedoms? What can Americans learn from the French experience, and what can the French learn from the U.S. example? Differential Diagnoses answers these questions by comparing how employers, labor unions, insurers, political groups, the state, and medical professionals have shaped their nations' health care systems from the early years of the twentieth century to the present day.

Monday, November 12, 2007

"After War"

New from Stanford University Press: After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy by Christopher Coyne.

About the book, from the publisher:
Why does liberal democracy take hold in some countries but not in others? Why do we observe such different outcomes in military interventions, from Germany and Japan to Afghanistan and Iraq? Do efforts to export democracy help as much as they hurt? These are some of the most enduring questions of our time.

Historically, the United States has attempted to generate change in foreign countries by exporting liberal democratic institutions through military occupation and reconstruction. Despite these efforts, the record of U.S.-led reconstructions has been mixed, at best. For every West Germany or Japan, there is a Cuba, Haiti, Somalia, or Vietnam.

After War seeks to answer these critical foreign policy questions by bringing an economic mindset to a topic that has been traditionally tackled by historians, policymakers, and political scientists. Economics focuses on how incentives influence human action. Therefore, within an economic context, a successful reconstruction entails finding and establishing a set of incentives that makes citizens prefer a liberal democratic order. Coyne examines the mechanisms and institutions that contribute to the success of reconstruction programs by creating incentives for sustained cooperation.

Coyne emphasizes that the main threat to Western nations in the post-Cold War period will not come from a superpower, but rather from weak, failed, and conflict-torn states — and rogue groups within them. It is also critical to recognize that the dynamics at work — cultural, historical, and social — in these modern states are fundamentally different from those that the United States faced in the reconstructions of West Germany and Japan. As such, these historical cases of successful reconstruction are poor models for todays challenges. In Coynes view, policymakers and occupiers face an array of internal and external constraints in dealing with rogue states. These constraints are often greatest in the countries most in need of the political, economic, and social change. The irony is that these projects are least likely to succeed precisely where they are most needed.

Coyne offers two bold alternatives to reconstruction programs that could serve as catalysts for social change: principled non-intervention and unilateral free trade. Coyne points to major differences in these preferred approaches; whereas reconstruction projects involve a period of coerced military occupation, free trade-led reforms are voluntary. The book goes on to highlight the economic and cultural benefits of free trade.

While Coyne contends that a commitment to non-intervention and free trade may not lead to Western-style liberal democracies in conflict-torn countries, such a strategy could lay the groundwork for global peace.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

"Democratic Authority"

New from Princeton University Press: Democratic Authority: A Philosophical Framework by David M. Estlund.

About the book, from the publisher:

Democracy is not naturally plausible. Why turn such important matters over to masses of people who have no expertise? Theories of democracy often try to answer this objection by appealing to the intrinsic value of democratic procedure itself, disregarding whether or not it tends toward good decisions. In Democratic Authority, David Estlund shows why this procedural justification of democratic procedure doesn't work, and he offers a groundbreaking alternative based on the idea that democratic authority and legitimacy must depend partly on democracy's tendency to make good decisions.

Just as with verdicts in jury trials, Estlund argues, the authority and legitimacy of a political decision does not depend on the particular decision being good or correct. But the "epistemic value" of the procedure -- the degree to which it can generally be accepted as tending toward a good decision -- is nevertheless crucial. Yet if this were all that mattered, one might wonder why those who know best shouldn't simply rule. Estlund's theory -- which he calls "epistemic proceduralism" -- avoids epistocracy, or the rule of those who know. He argues that while some few people probably do know best, this can be used in political justification only if their expertise is acceptable from all reasonable points of view. If we seek the best epistemic arrangement in this respect, it will be recognizably democratic -- with laws and policies actually authorized by the people subject to them.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"Sticks and Stones"

New from Oxford University Press: Sticks and Stones: The Philosophy of Insults by Jerome Neu.

About the book, from the publisher:
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." This schoolyard rhyme projects an invulnerability to verbal insults that sounds good but rings false. Indeed, the need for such a verse belies its own claims. For most of us, feeling insulted is a distressing-and distressingly common-experience.

In Sticks and Stones, philosopher Jerome Neu probes the nature, purpose, and effects of insults, exploring how and why they humiliate, embarrass, infuriate, and wound us so deeply. What kind of injury is an insult? Is it determined by the insulter or the insulted? What does it reveal about the character of both parties as well as the character of society and its conventions? What role does insult play in social and legal life? When is telling the truth an insult? Neu draws upon a wealth of examples and anecdotes-as well as a range of views from Aristotle and Oliver Wendell Holmes to Oscar Wilde, John Wayne, Katherine Hepburn, and many others-to provide surprising answers to these questions. He shows that what we find insulting can reveal much about our ideas of character, honor, gender, the nature of speech acts, and social and legal conventions. He considers how insults, both intentional and unintentional, make themselves felt-in play, Freudian slips, insult humor, rituals, blasphemy, libel, slander, and hate speech. And he investigates the insult's extraordinary power, why it can so quickly destabilize our sense of self and threaten our moral identity, the very center of our self-respect and self-esteem.

Entertaining, humorous, and deeply insightful, Sticks and Stones unpacks the fascinating dynamics of a phenomenon more often painfully experienced than clearly understood.

Friday, November 9, 2007

"Flag Wars and Stone Saints"

New from Harvard University Press: Flag Wars and Stone Saints: How the Bohemian Lands Became Czech by Nancy M. Wingfield.

About the book, from the publisher:
In a new perspective on the formation of national identity in Central Europe, Nancy Wingfield analyzes what many historians have treated separately -- the construction of the Czech and German nations -- as a larger single phenomenon.

Czech and German nationalism worked off each other in dynamic ways. As external conditions changed, Czech and German nationalists found new uses for their pasts and new ways to stage them in public spaces for their ongoing national projects. These grassroots confrontations transformed public culture by reinforcing the centrality of nationality to everyday life and by tying nationalism to the exercise of power. The battles in the public sphere produced a cultural geography of national conflict associated with the unveiling of Joseph II statues that began in 1881, the Badeni Language Ordinances of 1897, the 1905 debate over a Czech-language university in Moravia, and the celebration of the emperor's sixtieth jubilee in 1908. The pattern of impassioned national conflict would be repeated for the duration of the monarchy and persist with even more violence into the First Czechoslovak Republic.

Numerous illustrations show how people absorbed, on many levels, visual clues that shaped how they identified themselves and their groups. This nuanced analysis is a valuable contribution to our understanding of Central European history, nationalism, and the uses of collective memory.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

"It's So French!"

New from the University of Chicago Press: It's So French!: Hollywood, Paris, and the Making of Cosmopolitan Film Culture by Vanessa R. Schwartz.

About the book, from the publisher:
The recent history of cultural exchange between France and the United States would appear to be defined by “freedom fries” and boycotts against Beaujolais — or, on the other side of the Atlantic, by enraged farmers toppling statues of Ronald McDonald. But this dismal state of affairs is a long way from the mutual admiration that followed World War II, epitomized in a 1958 cover of Look magazine that declared “Brigitte Bardot conquers America.” It’s So French! explores the close affinity between the French and American film industries that flourished in the postwar years, breaking down myths of American imperialism and French cultural protectionism while illuminating the vital role that cinema has played in the globalization of culture.

Hollywood was once enamored with everything French and this infatuation blossomed in a wildly popular series of films including An American in Paris, Gigi, and Funny Face. Schwartz here examines the visual appeal of such films, and then broadens her analysis to explore their production and distribution, probing the profitable influences that Hollywood and Paris exerted on each other. This exchange moved beyond individual films with the sensational spectacle of the Cannes Film Festival and the meteoric career of Brigitte Bardot. And in turn, their success led to a new kind of film that celebrated internationalism and cultural hybridity. Ultimately, Schwartz uncovers an intriguing paradox: that the road to globalization was paved with nationalist clich├ęs, and thus, films beloved for being so French were in fact the first signs of a nascent cosmopolitan culture.

Packed with an array of colorful film stills, publicity photographs, paparazzi shots, ads, and never before seen archival images, It’s So French! is an incisive account of the fertile collaboration between France and the United States that expanded the geographic horizons of both filmmaking and filmgoing, forever changing what the world saw and dreamed of when they went to the movies.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

"Unnatural History"

New from Cambridge University Press: Unnatural History: Breast Cancer and American Society by Robert A. Aronowitz.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the early nineteenth century in the United States, cancer in the breast was a rare disease. Now it seems that breast cancer is everywhere. Written by a medical historian who is also a doctor, Unnatural History tells how and why this happened. Rather than there simply being more disease, breast cancer has entered the bodies of so many American women and the concerns of nearly all the rest, mostly as a result of how we have detected, labeled, and responded to the disease. The book traces changing definitions and understandings of breast cancer, the experience of breast cancer sufferers, clinical and public health practices, and individual and societal fears.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

"One Economics, Many Recipes"

New from Princeton University Press: One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions & Economic Growth by Dani Rodrik.

About the book, from the publisher:

In One Economics, Many Recipes, leading economist Dani Rodrik argues that neither globalizers nor antiglobalizers have got it right. While economic globalization can be a boon for countries that are trying to dig out of poverty, success usually requires following policies that are tailored to local economic and political realities rather than obeying the dictates of the international globalization establishment. A definitive statement of Rodrik's original and influential perspective on economic growth and globalization, One Economics, Many Recipes shows how successful countries craft their own unique strategies -- and what other countries can learn from them.

To most proglobalizers, globalization is a source of economic salvation for developing nations, and to fully benefit from it nations must follow a universal set of rules designed by organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization and enforced by international investors and capital markets. But to most antiglobalizers, such global rules spell nothing but trouble, and the more poor nations shield themselves from them, the better off they are. Rodrik rejects the simplifications of both sides, showing that poor countries get rich not by copying what Washington technocrats preach or what others have done, but by overcoming their own highly specific constraints. And, far from conflicting with economic science, this is exactly what good economics teaches.

Monday, November 5, 2007

"Rome and Jerusalem"

New from Knopf: Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations by Martin Goodman.

About the book, from the publisher:
A magisterial history of the titanic struggle between the Roman and Jewish worlds that led to the destruction of Jerusalem.

In 70 C.E., after a four-year war, three Roman legions besieged and eventually devastated Jerusalem, destroying Herod’s magnificent Temple. Sixty years later, after further violent rebellions and the city’s final destruction, Hadrian built the new city of Aelia Capitolina where Jerusalem had once stood. Jews were barred from entering its territory. They were taxed simply for being Jewish. They were forbidden to worship their god. They were wholly reviled.

What brought about this conflict between the Romans and the subjects they had previously treated with tolerance? Martin Goodman — equally renowned in Jewish and in Roman studies — examines this conflict, its causes, and its consequences with unprecedented authority and thoroughness. He delineates the incompatibility between the cultural, political, and religious beliefs and practices of the two peoples. He explains how Rome’s interests were served by a policy of brutality against the Jews. He makes clear how the original Christians first distanced themselves from their origins, and then became increasingly hostile toward Jews as Christian influence spread within the empire. The book thus also offers an exceptional account of the origins of anti-Semitism, the history of which reverberates still.

An indispensable book.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

"Babies by Design"

New from Yale University Press: Babies by Design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice by Ronald M. Green.

About the book, from the publisher:
We stand on the brink of unprecedented growth in our ability to understand and change the human genome. New reproductive technologies now enable parents to select some genetic traits for their children, and soon it will be possible to begin to shape ourselves as a species. Despite the loud cries of alarm that such a prospect inspires, Ronald Green argues that we will — and we should — undertake the direction of our own evolution.

A leader in the bioethics community, Green offers a scientifically and ethically informed view of human genetic self-modification and the possibilities it opens up for a better future. Fears of a terrible Brave New World or a new eugenics movement are overblown, he maintains, and in the more likely future, genetic modifications may improve parents’ ability to enhance children’s lives and may even promote social justice.

The author outlines the new capabilities of genomic science, addresses urgent questions of safety that genetic interventions pose, and explores questions of parenting and justice. He also examines the religious implications of gene modification. Babies by design are assuredly in the future, Green concludes, and by making responsible choices as we enter that future, we can incorporate gene technology in a new age of human adventure.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

"The Conservative Ascendancy"

New from Harvard University Press: The Conservative Ascendancy: How the GOP Right Made Political History by Donald T. Critchlow.

About the book, from the publisher:

Despite significant losses in the 2006 midterm elections, the Republican Right remains a powerful and defining force in American politics. Donald Critchlow, a leading historian of American conservatism, shows that time and again the GOP Right appeared defeated, only to rebound with explosive force. The ascendancy of the GOP Right was not preordained, nor was its political triumph inevitable. Rather, the history of the postwar Right was one of fierce political warfare as moderate Republicans battled right-wing Republicans for control of their party, and conservatives battled liberals for control of government. In the struggle against the dominant New Deal state, conservatives gained control of the Republican party, but their advance against liberalism and the Democratic party proved less steady. At each point the accident of historical circumstance precluded a predictable outcome.

In this provocative history of the Right in modern America, Critchlow finds a deep dilemma inherent in how conservative Republicans expressed their anti-statist ideology in an age of mass democracy and Cold War hostilities. As the Right moved forward with its political program, partisanship intensified and ideological division widened -- both between the parties and across the electorate. This intensified partisanship reflects the vibrancy of a mature democracy, Critchlow argues, and a new level of political engagement despite its disquieting effect on American political debate.

The Conservative Ascendancy boldly captures the twists and turns of the GOP Right over the last sixty years, offering a story of how deeply held beliefs about the nature of the individual and the good society are translated into political power.

Friday, November 2, 2007

"What Hath God Wrought"

New from Oxford University Press: What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 by Daniel Walker Howe.

About the book, from the publisher:
The Oxford History of the United States is by far the most respected multi-volume history of our nation. The series includes two Pulitzer Prize winners, two New York Times bestsellers, and winners of the Bancroft and Parkman Prizes. Now, in What Hath God Wrought , historian Daniel Walker Howe illuminates the period from the battle of New Orleans to the end of the Mexican-American War, an era when the United States expanded to the Pacific and won control over the richest part of the North American continent.

Howe's panoramic narrative portrays revolutionary improvements in transportation and communications that accelerated the extension of the American empire. Railroads, canals, newspapers, and the telegraph dramatically lowered travel times and spurred the spread of information. These innovations prompted the emergence of mass political parties and stimulated America's economic development from an overwhelmingly rural country to a diversified economy in which commerce and industry took their place alongside agriculture. In his story, the author weaves together political and military events with social, economic, and cultural history. He examines the rise of Andrew Jackson and his Democratic party, but contends that John Quincy Adams and other Whigs -- advocates of public education and economic integration, defenders of the rights of Indians, women, and African-Americans -- were the true prophets of America's future. He reveals the power of religion to shape many aspects of American life during this period, including slavery and antislavery, women's rights and other reform movements, politics, education, and literature. Howe's story of American expansion culminates in the bitterly controversial but brilliantly executed war waged against Mexico to gain California and Texas for the United States.

By 1848 America had been transformed. What Hath God Wrought provides a monumental narrative of this formative period in United States history.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

"The Great Awakening"

New from Yale University Press: The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the mid-eighteenth century, Americans experienced an outbreak of religious revivals that shook colonial society. This book provides a definitive view of these revivals, now known as the First Great Awakening, and their dramatic effects on American culture. Historian Thomas S. Kidd tells the absorbing story of early American evangelical Christianity through the lives of seminal figures like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield as well as many previously unknown preachers, prophets, and penitents.

The Great Awakening helped create the evangelical movement, which heavily emphasized the individual’s experience of salvation and the Holy Spirit’s work in revivals. By giving many evangelicals radical notions of the spiritual equality of all people, the revivals helped breed the democratic style that would come to characterize the American republic. Kidd carefully separates the positions of moderate supporters of the revivals from those of radical supporters, and he delineates the objections of those who completely deplored the revivals and their wildly egalitarian consequences. The battles among these three camps, the author shows, transformed colonial America and ultimately defined the nature of the evangelical movement.