Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"A Necessary Engagement"

New from Princeton University Press: A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America's Relations with the Muslim World by Emile Nakhleh.

About the book, from the publisher:
In A Necessary Engagement, the CIA's former point man on Islam makes a vigorous case for a renewal of American public diplomacy in the Muslim world. Offering a unique balance between in-depth analysis, personal memoir, and foreign policy remedies, the book injects much-needed wisdom into the public discussion of long-term U.S.-Muslim relations.

Intelligence insider Emile Nakhleh argues that an engagement with the Muslim world benefits the national interest of the United States. Therefore, the next administration should discard the terrorism prism through which the country has viewed political Islam since 9/11 and focus instead on the common interests of America and mainstream Muslims. Nakhleh investigates recent U.S. policy toward Islamic nations and offers the new administration a ten-point plan for rebuilding America's relationship with the Muslim world. The author demonstrates that winning over Arabs and Muslims requires a thorough knowledge of Arab and Muslim cultures and languages within our intelligence community, as well as a long-term American commitment of personnel and resources. While the success of these efforts will be incremental and hard to measure, Nakhleh believes that the current low standing of the United States in most Arab and Muslim countries can be reversed.

Stressing that effective public diplomacy must be a serious, coordinated effort pursued at the highest political levels, A Necessary Engagement charts a new course for future ties between the United States and the Islamic world.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Nothing to Fear"

New from Penguin: Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America by Adam Cohen.

About the book, from the publisher:
A revealing account of the critical first days of FDR’s presidency, during the worst moments of the Great Depression, when he and his inner circle launched the New Deal and presided over the birth of modern America

Nothing to Fear brings to life a fulcrum moment in American history—the tense, feverish first one hundred days of FDR’s presidency, when he and his inner circle swept away the old order and reinvented the role of the federal government. When FDR took his oath of office in March 1933, thousands of banks had gone under following the Crash of 1929, a quarter of American workers were unemployed, farmers were in open rebellion, and hungry people descended on garbage dumps and fought over scraps of food. Before the Hundred Days, the federal government was limited in scope and ambition; by the end, it had assumed an active responsibility for the welfare of all of its citizens.

Adam Cohen offers an illuminating group portrait of the five members of FDR’s inner circle who played the greatest roles in this unprecedented transformation, revealing in turn what their personal dynamics suggest about FDR’s leadership style. These four men and one woman frequently pushed FDR to embrace more activist programs than he would have otherwise. FDR came to the White House with few firm commitments about how to fight the Great Depression—as a politician he was more pragmatic than ideological, and, perhaps surprising, given his New Deal legacy, by nature a fiscal conservative. To develop his policies, he relied heavily on his advisers, and preferred when they had conflicting views, so that he could choose the best option among them.

For this reason, he kept in close confidence both Frances Perkins—a feminist before her time, and the strongest advocate for social welfare programs—and Lewis Douglas—an entrenched budget cutter who frequently clashed with the other members of FDR’s progressive inner circle. A more ideological president would have surrounded himself with advisors who shared a similar vision, but rather than commit to a single solution or philosophy, FDR favored a policy of “bold, persistent experimentation.” As a result, he presided over the most feverish period of government activity in American history, one that gave birth to modern America.

As Adam Cohen reminds us, the political fault lines of this era—over welfare, government regulation, agriculture policy, and much more—remain with us today. Nothing to Fear is both a riveting narrative account of the personal dynamics that shaped the tumultuous early days of FDR’s presidency, and a character study of one of America’s defining leaders in a moment of crisis.

Monday, December 29, 2008

"Fortifying China"

New from Cornell University Press: Fortifying China: The Struggle to Build a Modern Defense Economy by Tai Ming Cheung.

About the book, from the publisher:
Fortifying China explores the titanic struggle to turn China into an aspiring world-class military technological power. The defense economy is leveraging the country's vibrant civilian economy and gaining access to foreign sources of technology and know-how. Drawing on extensive Chinese-language sources, Tai Ming Cheung explains that this transformation has two key dimensions. The defense economy is being reengineered to break down bureaucratic barriers and reduce the role of the state, fostering a more competitive and entrepreneurial culture to facilitate the rapid diffusion and absorption of technology and knowledge. At the same time, the civilian and defense economies are being integrated to form a dual-use technological and industrial base. In Cheung's view, the Chinese authorities believe this strategy will play a key role in supporting long-term defense modernization.

For China's neighbors and the United States, understanding China's technological, industrial, and military capabilities is critical to the formulation of economic and security policies. Fortifying China provides crucial insight into the impact of China's dual-use technology strategy. Cheung's “systems of innovation” framework considers the structure, dynamics, and performance of the defense economy from a systems-level perspective.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Defusing Armageddon"

New from W.W. Norton: Jeffrey T. Richelson's Defusing Armageddon: Inside NEST, America's Secret Nuclear Bomb Squad.

About the book, from the publisher:
The first in-depth examination of NEST: America's super-secret government agency operating to prevent nuclear terrorist attacks.

Jeffrey T. Richelson reveals the history of the Nuclear Emergency Support Team, from the events leading to its creation in 1974 to today. Defusing Armageddon provides a behind-the-scenes look at NEST's personnel, operations, and detection and disablement equipment—employed in response to attempts at nuclear extortion, lost and stolen nuclear material, crashed nuclear-powered Soviet satellites, and al Qaeda's quest for nuclear weapons. Richelson traces the Cosmos satellite that crashed into the Canadian wilderness; nuclear threats to Los Angeles, New York, and other cities; and the surveillance of Muslim sites in the United States after 9/11. Relying on recently declassified documents and interviews with former NEST personnel, Richelson's extensive research reveals how NEST operated during the Cold War, how the agency has evolved, and its current efforts to reduce the chance of a nuclear device decimating an American city.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

"Why the Garden Club Couldn't Save Youngstown"

New from Harvard University Press: Why the Garden Club Couldn't Save Youngstown: The Transformation of the Rust Belt by Sean Safford.

About the book, from the publisher:
In this book, Sean Safford compares the recent history of Allentown, Pennsylvania, with that of Youngstown, Ohio. Allentown has seen a noticeable rebound over the course of the past twenty years. Facing a collapse of its steel-making firms, its economy has reinvented itself by transforming existing companies, building an entrepreneurial sector, and attracting inward investment. Youngstown was similar to Allentown in its industrial history, the composition of its labor force, and other important variables, and yet instead of adapting in the face of acute economic crisis, it fell into a mean race to the bottom.

Challenging various theoretical perspectives on regional socioeconomic change, Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown argues that the structure of social networks among the cities’ economic, political, and civic leaders account for the divergent trajectories of post-industrial regions. It offers a probing historical explanation for the decline, fall, and unlikely rejuvenation of the Rust Belt. Emphasizing the power of social networks to shape action, determine access to and control over information and resources, define the contexts in which problems are viewed, and enable collective action in the face of externally generated crises, this book points toward present-day policy prescriptions for the ongoing plight of mature industrial regions in the U.S. and abroad.

Friday, December 26, 2008

"Three Victories and a Defeat"

New from Basic Books: Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire by Brendan Simms.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the eighteenth century, Britain became a world superpower through a series of sensational military strikes. Traditionally, the Royal Navy has been seen as Britain's key weapon, but in Three Victories and a Defeat Brendan Simms argues that Britain's true strength lay with the German aristocrats who ruled it at the time. The House of Hanover superbly managed a complex series of European alliances that enabled Britain to keep the continental balance of power in check while dramatically expanding her own empire. These alliances sustained the nation through the War of the Spanish Succession, the War of the Austrian Succession, and the Seven Years' War. But in 1776, Britain lost the American continent by alienating her European allies. Brendan Simms' engaging narrative presents an extraordinary reinterpretation of British and American history.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

"The Limits of Voluntarism"

New from Cambridge University Press: The Limits of Voluntarism: Charity and Welfare from the New Deal through the Great Society by Andrew J. F. Morris.

About the book, from the publisher:
The Depression and the New Deal forced charities into a new relationship with public welfare. After opposing public “relief” for a generation, charities embraced it in the 1930s as a means to save a crippled voluntary sector from collapse. Welfare was to be delivered by public institutions, which allowed charities to offer and promote specialized therapeutic services such as marriage counseling – a popular commodity in postwar America. But as Andrew Morris shows, these new alignments were never entirely stable. In the 1950s, charities’ ambiguous relationship with welfare drove them to aid in efforts to promote welfare reform by modeling new techniques for dealing with “multiproblem families.” The War on Poverty, changes in federal social service policy, and the slow growth of voluntary fundraising in the late 1960s undermined the New Deal division of labor and offered charities the chance to deliver public services – the paradigm at the heart of current debates on public funding of religious non-profits.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"The Law-Governed Universe"

New from Oxford University Press: The Law-Governed Universe by John T. Roberts.

About the book, from the publisher:
John T. Roberts presents and defends a radically new theory of laws of nature, the Measurability Account. Though consistent with a Humean ontology, Roberts's theory differs sharply from the most influential Humean theory of laws, David Lewis's Best-System Analysis. Unlike other Humean theories, the Measurability Account affirms that there is an important sense in which the laws govern the universe, rather than simply describing it economically. Yet unlike non-Humean theories, it requires only minimal metaphysical commitments. In this way, it combines the advantages of Humean and non-Humean approaches to laws, while avoiding the pitfalls of each. At the heart of the Measurability Account are two new ideas: that lawhood is not a property of facts but rather a role that a proposition can play within a scientific theory, and that what is essential to laws is that they guarantee the reliability of methods of measuring natural quantities. On the basis of these ideas, Roberts argues that we can offer an informative and compelling explanation of why laws have the peculiar counterfactual resilience that sets them apart from accidental uniformities.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Foul Bodies: Cleanliness in Early America"

New from Yale University Press: Foul Bodies: Cleanliness in Early America by Kathleen M. Brown.

About the book, from the publisher:
A nation’s standards of private cleanliness reveal much about its ideals of civilization, fears of disease, and expectations for public life, says Kathleen Brown in this unusual cultural history. Starting with the shake-up of European practices that coincided with Atlantic expansion, she traces attitudes toward “dirt” through the mid-nineteenth century, demonstrating that cleanliness—and the lack of it—had moral, religious, and often sexual implications. Brown contends that care of the body is not simply a private matter but an expression of cultural ideals that reflect the fundamental values of a society.

The book explores early America’s evolving perceptions of cleanliness, along the way analyzing the connections between changing public expectations for appearance and manners, and the backstage work of grooming, laundering, and housecleaning performed by women. Brown provides an intimate view of cleanliness practices and how such forces as urbanization, immigration, market conditions, and concerns about social mobility influenced them. Broad in historical scope and imaginative in its insights, this book expands the topic of cleanliness to encompass much larger issues, including religion, health, gender, class, and race relations.

Monday, December 22, 2008


New from the University of California Press: Guantánamo: A Working-Class History between Empire and Revolution by Jana K. Lipman.

About the book, from the publisher:
Guantánamo has become a symbol of what has gone wrong in the War on Terror. Yet Guantánamo is more than a U.S. naval base and prison in Cuba, it is a town, and our military occupation there has required more than soldiers and sailors—it has required workers. This revealing history of the women and men who worked on the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay tells the story of U.S.-Cuban relations from a new perspective, and at the same time, shows how neocolonialism, empire, and revolution transformed the lives of everyday people. Drawing from rich oral histories and little-explored Cuban archives, Jana K. Lipman analyzes how the Cold War and the Cuban revolution made the naval base a place devoid of law and accountability. The result is a narrative filled with danger, intrigue, and exploitation throughout the twentieth century. Opening a new window onto the history of U.S. imperialism in the Caribbean and labor history in the region, her book tells how events in Guantánamo and the base created an ominous precedent likely to inform the functioning of U.S. military bases around the world.
Interview: Jana K. Lipman.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Perception and Basic Beliefs"

New from Oxford University Press: Perception and Basic Beliefs: Zombies, Modules and the Problem of the External World by Jack C. Lyons.

About the book, from the publisher:
Perception is our main source of epistemic access to the outside world. Perception and Basic Beliefs addresses two central questions in epistemology: which beliefs are epistemologically basic (i.e., noninferentially justified) and where does perception end and inferential cognition begin. Jack Lyons offers a highly externalist theory, arguing that what makes a belief a basic belief or a perceptual belief is determined by the nature of the cognitive system, or module, that produced the beliefs. On this view, the sensory experiences that typically accompany perceptual beliefs play no indispensable role in the justification of these beliefs, and one can have perceptual beliefs--justified perceptual beliefs--even in the absence of any sensory experiences whatsoever. Lyons develops a general theory of basic beliefs and argues that perceptual beliefs are a species of basic beliefs. This results from the fact that perceptual modules are a special type of basic belief-producing modules. Importantly, some beliefs are not the outputs of this class of cognitive module; these beliefs are therefore non-basic, thus requiring inferential support from other beliefs for their justification. This last point is used to defend a reliabilist epistemology against an important class of traditional objections (where the agent uses a reliable process that she doesn't know to be reliable).

Perception and Basic Beliefs brings together an important treatment of these major epistemological topics and provides a positive solution to the traditional problem of the external world.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Deliverance and Submission"

New from Harvard University Press: Deliverance and Submission: Evangelical Women and the Negotiation of Patriarchy in South Korea by Kelly H. Chong.

About the book, from the publisher:
South Korea is home to one of the most vibrant evangelical Protestant communities in the world. This book investigates the meanings of—and the reasons behind—an intriguing aspect of contemporary South Korean evangelicalism: the intense involvement of middle-class women. Drawing upon extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Seoul that explores the relevance of gender and women’s experiences to Korean evangelicalism, Kelly H. Chong not only helps provide a clearer picture of the evangelical movement’s success in South Korea, but interrogates the global question of contemporary women’s attraction to religious traditionalisms.

In highlighting the growing disjunction between the forces of social transformation that are rapidly liberalizing modern Korean society, and a social system that continues to uphold key patriarchal structures on both societal and familial levels, Chong relates women’s religious involvement to the contradictions of South Korea’s recent socio-cultural changes and complex engagement with modernity. By focusing on the ways in which women’s religious participation constitutes—both spiritually and institutionally—an important part of their effort to negotiate the problems and dilemmas of contemporary family and gender relations, this book explores the contradictory significance of evangelical beliefs and practices for women, which simultaneously opens up possibilities for gender negotiation/resistance, and for women’s redomestication.

Friday, December 19, 2008

"Identity Before Identity Politics"

New from Cambridge University Press: Identity Before Identity Politics by Linda Nicholson.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the late 1960s identity politics emerged on the political landscape and challenged prevailing ideas about social justice. These politics brought forth a new attention to social identity, an attention that continues to divide people today. While previous studies have focused on the political movements of this period, they have neglected the conceptual prehistory of this political turn. Linda Nicholson's engaging book situates this critical moment in its historical framework, analyzing the concepts and traditions of racial and gender identity that can be traced back to late eighteenth-century Europe and America. She examines how changing ideas about social identity over the last several centuries both helped and hindered successive social movements, and explores the consequences of this historical legacy for the women's and black movements of the 1960s. This insightful study will be of particular interest to students and scholars of political history, identity politics and US history.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"The Pursuit of Unhappiness"

New from Oxford University Press: The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being by Daniel M. Haybron.

About the book, from the publisher:
The pursuit of happiness is a defining theme of the modern era. But what if people aren't very good at it? This and related questions are explored in this book, the first comprehensive philosophical treatment of happiness in the contemporary psychological sense. In these pages, Dan Haybron argues that people are probably less effective at judging, and promoting, their own welfare than common belief has it. For the psychological dimensions of well-being, particularly our emotional lives, are far richer and more complex than we tend to realize. Knowing one's own interests is no trivial matter. As well, we tend to make a variety of systematic errors in the pursuit of happiness. We may need, then, to rethink traditional assumptions about human nature, the good life, and the good society.

Thoroughly engaged with both philosophical and scientific work on happiness and well-being, this book will be a definitive resource for philosophers, social scientists, policymakers, and other students of human well-being.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"God Interrupted"

New from Princeton University Press: God Interrupted: Heresy and the European Imagination between the World Wars by Benjamin Lazier.

About the book, from the publisher:
Could the best thing about religion be the heresies it spawns? Leading intellectuals in interwar Europe thought so. They believed that they lived in a world made derelict by God's absence and the interruption of his call. In response, they helped resurrect gnosticism and pantheism, the two most potent challenges to the monotheistic tradition. In God Interrupted, Benjamin Lazier tracks the ensuing debates about the divine across confessions and disciplines. He also traces the surprising afterlives of these debates in postwar arguments about the environment, neoconservative politics, and heretical forms of Jewish identity. In lively, elegant prose, the book reorients the intellectual history of the era.

God Interrupted also provides novel accounts of three German-Jewish thinkers whose ideas, seminal to fields typically regarded as wildly unrelated, had common origins in debates about heresy between the wars. Hans Jonas developed a philosophy of biology that inspired European Greens and bioethicists the world over. Leo Strauss became one of the most important and controversial political theorists of the twentieth century. Gershom Scholem, the eminent scholar of religion, radically recast what it means to be a Jew. Together they help us see how talk about God was adapted for talk about nature, politics, technology, and art. They alert us to the abiding salience of the divine to Europeans between the wars and beyond--even among those for whom God was long missing or dead.
Read an excerpt from God Interrupted.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"The Eagle and the Crown"

New from Yale University Press: The Eagle and the Crown: Americans and the British Monarchy by Frank Prochaska.

About the book, from the publisher:
This book tells the intriguing and paradoxical story of a nation that overthrew British rule only to become fascinated by the glamor of its royal family. Examining American attitudes toward British royalty from the Revolutionary period to the death of Princess Diana, The Eagle and the Crown penetrates the royal legacy in American politics, culture, and national self-image.

Frank Prochaska argues that the United States is not only beguiled by the British monarchy but has itself considered the idea of a presidency assuming many of the characteristics of a monarchy. He shows that America’s Founding Fathers created what Teddy Roosevelt later called an “elective king” in the office of the president, conferring quasi-regal status on the occupant of the Oval Office. Prochaska also contends that members of the British royal family who visit the United States have been key players in the emergence of America’s obsession with celebrity. America’s complex relationship with the British monarchy has for more than two hundred years been part of the nation’s conversation about itself, a conversation that Prochaska explores with wit and panache.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Forgotten Patriots"

New from Basic Books: Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War by Edwin Burrows.

About the book, from the publisher:
Between 1775 and 1783, some 200,000 Americans took up arms against the British Crown. Just over 6,800 of those men died in battle. About 25,000 became prisoners of war, most of them confined in New York City under conditions so atrocious that they perished by the thousands. Evidence suggests that at least 17,500 Americans may have died in these prisons-more than twice the number to die on the battlefield. It was in New York, not Boston or Philadelphia, where most Americans gave their lives for the cause of independence. New York City became the jailhouse of the American Revolution because it was the principal base of the Crown’s military operations. Beginning with the bumper crop of American captives taken during the 1776 invasion of New York, captured Americans were stuffed into a hastily assembled collection of public buildings, sugar houses, and prison ships. The prisoners were shockingly overcrowded and chronically underfed-those who escaped alive told of comrades so hungry they ate their own clothes and shoes. Despite the extraordinary number of lives lost, Forgotten Patriots is the first-ever account of what took place in these hell-holes. The result is a unique perspective on the Revolutionary War as well as a sobering commentary on how Americans have remembered our struggle for independence-and how much we have forgotten.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"Messy Morality"

New from Oxford University Press: Messy Morality: The Challenge of Politics by C. A. J. Coady.

About the book, from the publisher:
Tony Coady explores the challenges that morality poses to politics. He confronts the complex intellectual tradition known as realism, which seems to deny any relevance of morality to politics, especially international politics. He argues that, although realism has many serious faults, it has lessons to teach us: in particular, it cautions us against the dangers of moralism in thinking about politics and particularly foreign affairs. Morality must not be confused with moralism: Coady characterizes various forms of moralism and sketches their distorting influence on a realistic political morality. He seeks to restore the concept of ideals to an important place in philosophical discussion, and to give it a particular pertinence in the discussion of politics. He deals with the fashionable idea of "dirty hands," according to which good politics will necessarily involve some degree of moral taint or corruption. Finally, he examines the controversial issue of the role of lying and deception in politics.

Along the way Coady offers illuminating discussion of historical and current political controversies. This lucid book will provoke and stimulate anyone interested in the interface of morality and politics.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Nightshift NYC"

New from the University of California Press: Nightshift NYC by Russell Leigh Sharman and Cheryl Harris Sharman.

About the book, from the publisher:
New York is the city that never sleeps. This luminous book peels back the cover of darkness over the city as it hums along in the night, revealing a hidden world populated by the thousands of women and men who work and live the nightshift. Written with beauty and grace, Nightshift NYC weaves together cultural critique, vivid reportage, and arresting photographs to trace the inverted logic of the city at night. Russell Leigh Sharman and Cheryl Harris Sharman spent a year interviewing and shadowing fry cooks and coffee jockeys, train conductors, cab hacks, and dozens of others who keep the city running when the sun goes down. Investigating familiar places such diners and delis, they explore some less familiar ones as well—taking us on a walking tour of homelessness in Manhattan, onto a fishing boat out of Brooklyn, and into other little-known corners of the night. Traveling past the threshold of voyeurism into the lives of real people, they depict a social space entirely apart—one that is highly structured and inherently subversive. Together, these stories open a compelling view on contemporary urban life and, along the way, reveal the soul of the city itself.
Visit the Nightshift NYC website.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Minimum Wages"

New from The MIT Press: Minimum Wages by David Neumark and William L. Wascher.

About the book, from the publisher:
Minimum wages exist in more than one hundred countries, both industrialized and developing. The United States passed a federal minimum wage law in 1938 and has increased the minimum wage and its coverage at irregular intervals ever since; in addition, as of the beginning of 2008, thirty-two states and the District of Columbia had established a minimum wage higher than the federal level, and numerous other local jurisdictions had in place "living wage" laws. Over the years, the minimum wage has been popular with the public, controversial in the political arena, and the subject of vigorous debate among economists over its costs and benefits.

In this book, David Neumark and William Wascher offer a comprehensive overview of the evidence on the economic effects of minimum wages. Synthesizing nearly two decades of their own research and reviewing other research that touches on the same questions, Neumark and Wascher discuss the effects of minimum wages on employment and hours, the acquisition of skills, the wage and income distributions, longer-term labor market outcomes, prices, and the aggregate economy. Arguing that the usual focus on employment effects is too limiting, they present a broader, empirically based inquiry that will better inform policymakers about the costs and benefits of the minimum wage.

Based on their comprehensive reading of the evidence, Neumark and Wascher argue that minimum wages do not achieve the main goals set forth by their supporters. They reduce employment opportunities for less-skilled workers and tend to reduce their earnings; they are not an effective means of reducing poverty; and they appear to have adverse longer-term effects on wages and earnings, in part by reducing the acquisition of human capital. The authors argue that policymakers should instead look for other tools to raise the wages of low-skill workers and to provide poor families with an acceptable standard of living.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Moral Machines"

New from Oxford University Press: Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong by Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen.

About the book, from the publisher:
Computers are already approving financial transactions, controlling electrical supplies, and driving trains. Soon, service robots will be taking care of the elderly in their homes, and military robots will have their own targeting and firing protocols. Colin Allen and Wendell Wallach argue that as robots take on more and more responsibility, they must be programmed with moral decision-making abilities, for our own safety. Taking a fast paced tour through the latest thinking about philosophical ethics and artificial intelligence, the authors argue that even if full moral agency for machines is a long way off, it is already necessary to start building a kind of functional morality, in which artificial moral agents have some basic ethical sensitivity. But the standard ethical theories don't seem adequate, and more socially engaged and engaging robots will be needed. As the authors show, the quest to build machines that are capable of telling right from wrong has begun. Moral Machines is the first book to examine the challenge of building artificial moral agents, probing deeply into the nature of human decision making and ethics.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Islam and the West"

New from the University of Chicago Press: Islam and the West: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida by Mustapha Chérif, translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan with a Foreword by Giovanna Borradori.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the spring of 2003, Jacques Derrida sat down for a public debate in Paris with Algerian intellectual Mustapha Chérif. The eminent philosopher arrived at the event directly from the hospital where he had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the illness that would take his life just over a year later. That he still participated in the exchange testifies to the magnitude of the subject at hand: the increasingly distressed relationship between Islam and the West, and the questions of freedom, justice, and democracy that surround it.

As Chérif relates in this account of their dialogue, the topic of Islam held special resonance for Derrida—perhaps it is to be expected that near the end of his life his thoughts would return to Algeria, the country where he was born in 1930. Indeed, these roots served as the impetus for their conversation, which first centers on the ways in which Derrida’s Algerian-Jewish identity has shaped his thinking. From there, the two men move to broader questions of secularism and democracy; to politics and religion and how the former manipulates the latter; and to the parallels between xenophobia in the West and fanaticism among Islamists.

Ultimately, the discussion is an attempt to tear down the notion that Islam and the West are two civilizations locked in a bitter struggle for supremacy and to reconsider them as the two shores of the Mediterranean—two halves of the same geographical, religious, and cultural sphere. Islam and the West is a crucial opportunity to further our understanding of Derrida’s views on the key political and religious divisions of our time and an often moving testament to the power of friendship and solidarity to surmount them.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"The Making of a Catholic President"

New from Oxford University Press: The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960 by Shaun Casey.

About the book, from the publisher:
The 1960 presidential election, won ultimately by John F. Kennedy, was one of the closest and most contentious in American history. The country had never elected a Roman Catholic president, and the last time a Catholic had been nominated--New York Governor Al Smith in 1928--he was routed in the general election. From the outset, Kennedy saw the religion issue as the single most important obstacle on his road to the White House. He was acutely aware of, and deeply frustrated by, the possibility that his personal religious beliefs could keep him out of the White House.

In The Making of a Catholic President, Shaun Casey tells the fascinating story of how the Kennedy campaign transformed the "religion question" from a liability into an asset, making him the first (and still only) Catholic president. Drawing on extensive archival research, including many never-before-seen documents, Casey takes us inside the campaign to show Kennedy's chief advisors--Ted Sorensen, John Kenneth Galbraith, Archibald Cox--grappling with the staunch opposition to the candidate's Catholicism. Casey also reveals, for the first time, many of the Nixon campaign's efforts to tap in to anti-Catholic sentiment, with the aid of Billy Graham and the National Association of Evangelicals, among others. The alliance between conservative Protestants and the Nixon campaign, he shows, laid the groundwork for the rise of the Religious Right. This book will shed light on one of the most talked-about elections in American history, as well as on the vexed relationship between religion and politics more generally.

With clear relevance to our own political situation--where politicians' religious beliefs seem more important and more volatile than ever--The Making of a Catholic President offers rare insights into one of the most extraordinary presidential campaigns in American history.

Monday, December 8, 2008

"Mortgaging the Ancestors"

New from Yale University Press: Mortgaging the Ancestors: Ideologies of Attachment in Africa by Parker Shipton.

About the book, from the publisher:
This fascinating interdisciplinary book is about land, belonging, and the mortgage—and how people of different cultural backgrounds understand them in Africa. Drawing on years of ethnographic observation, Parker Shipton discusses how people in Africa’s interior feel about their attachment to family, to clan land, and to ancestral graves on the land. He goes on to explain why systems of property, finance, and mortgaging imposed by outsiders threaten Africa’s rural people.

The book looks briefly at European and North American theories on private property and the mortgage, then shows how these theories have played out as attempted economic reforms in Africa. They affect not just personal ownership and possession, he suggests, but also the complex relationships that add up to civil order and episodic disorder over a longer history. Focusing particular attention on the Luo people of Kenya, Shipton challenges assumptions about rural economic development and calls for a broader understanding of local realities in Africa and beyond.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

"Democracy Denied, 1905-1915"

New from Harvard University Press: Democracy Denied, 1905-1915: Intellectuals and the Fate of Democracy by Charles Kurzman.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the decade before World War I, a wave of democratic revolutions swept the globe, consuming more than a quarter of the world’s population. Revolution transformed Russia, Iran, the Ottoman Empire, Portugal, Mexico, and China. In each case, a pro-­democracy movement unseated a long-standing autocracy with startling speed. The nascent democratic regime held elections, convened parliament, and allowed freedom of the press and freedom of association. But the new governments failed in many instances to uphold the rights and freedoms that they proclaimed. Coups d’état soon undermined the democratic experiments.

How do we account for these unexpected democracies, and for their rapid extinction? In Democracy Denied, Charles Kurzman proposes that the collective agent most directly responsible for democratization was the emerging class of modern intellectuals, a group that had gained a global identity and a near-messianic sense of mission following the Dreyfus Affair of 1898.

Each chapter of Democracy Denied focuses on a single angle of this story, covering all six cases by examining newspaper accounts, memoirs, and government reports. This thoroughly interdisciplinary treatment of the early-twentieth-century upheavals promises to reshape debates about the social origins of democracy, the causes of democratic collapse, the political roles of intellectuals, and the international flow of ideas.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

"Humanitarianism and Suffering"

New from Cambridge University Press: Humanitarianism and Suffering: The Mobilization of Empathy, edited by Richard A. Wilson and Richard D. Brown.

About the book, from the publisher:
Humanitarian sentiments have motivated a variety of manifestations of pity, from nineteenth-century movements to end slavery to the creation of modern international humanitarian law. While humanitarianism is clearly political, Humanitarianism and Suffering addresses the ways in which it is also an ethos embedded in civil society, one that drives secular and religious social and cultural movements, not just legal and political institutions. As an ethos, humanitarianism has a strong narrative and representational dimension that can generate humanitarian constituencies for particular causes. The emotional nature of compassion is closely linked to visual and literary images of suffering and innocence. Essays in the volume analyze the character, form, and voice of private or public narratives themselves and explain how and why some narratives of suffering energize political movements of solidarity, whereas others do not. Humanitarianism and Suffering explores when, how, and why humanitarian movements become widespread popular movements. It shows how popular sentiments move political and social elites to action and, conversely, how national elites appropriate humanitarian ideals for more instrumental ends.

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Battle Cries"

New from NYU Press: Battle Cries: Black Women and Intimate Partner Abuse by Hillary Potter.

About the book, from the publisher:
Contrary to the stereotype of the “strong Black woman,” African American women are more plagued by domestic violence than any other racial group in the United States. In fact, African American women experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35% higher than white women and about two and a half times more than women of other races and ethnicities. This common portrayal can hinder black women seeking help and support simply because those on the outside don't think help is needed. Yet, as Hillary Potter argues in Battle Cries: Black Women and Intimate Partner Abuse, this stereotype often helps these African American women to resist and to verbally and physically retaliate against their abusers. Thanks to this generalization, Potter observes, black women are less inclined to label themselves as victims and more inclined to fight back.

Battle Cries is an eye-opening examination of African American women's experiences with intimate partner abuse, the methods used to contend with abusive mates, and the immediate and enduring consequences resulting from the maltreatment. Based on intensive interviews with 40 African American women abused by their male partners, Potter's analysis takes into account variations in their experiences based on socioeconomic class, education level, and age, and discusses the common abuses and perceptions they share. Combining her remarkable findings with black feminist thought and critical race theory, Potter offers a unique and significant window through which we can better understand this understudied though rampant social problem.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

"Christians in the American Empire"

New from Oxford University Press: Christians in the American Empire: Faith and Citizenship in the New World Order by Vincent D. Rougeau.

About the book, from the publisher:
What does it mean to be a Christian citizen of the United States today? This book challenges the argument that the United States is a Christian nation, and that the American founding and the American Constitution can be linked to a Christian understanding of the state and society. Vincent Rougeau argues that the United States has become an economic empire of consumer citizens, led by elites who seek to secure American political and economic dominance around the world. Freedom and democracy for the oppressed are the public themes put forward to justify this dominance, but the driving force behind American hegemony is the need to sustain economic growth and maintain social peace in the United States.

This state of affairs raises important questions for Christians. In recent times, religious voices in American politics have taken on a moralistic stridency. Individual issues like abortion and same-sex marriage have been used to "guilt" many Christians into voting Republican or to discourage them from voting at all. Using Catholic social teaching as a point of departure, Rougeau argues that conservative American politics is driven by views of the individual and the state that are inconsistent with mainstream Catholic social thought. Without thinking more broadly about their religious traditions and how those traditions should inform their engagement with the modern world, it is unwise for Christians to think that pressing single issues is an appropriate way to actualize their faith commitments in the public realm.

Rougeau offers concerned Christians new tools for a critical assessment of legal, political and social questions. He proceeds from the fundamental Christian premise of the God-given dignity of the human person, a dignity that can only be realized fully in community with others. This means that the Christian cannot simply focus on individual empowerment as 'freedom' but must also seek to nurture community participation and solidarity for all citizens. Rougeau demonstrates what happens when these ideas are applied to a variety of specific contemporary issues involving the family, economics, and race. He concludes by offering a new model of public engagement for Christians in the American Empire.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"Global Shanghai, 1850–2010"

New from Routledge: Global Shanghai, 1850–2010: A History in Fragments by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom.

About the book, from the publisher:
This book explores the play of international forces and international ideas about Shanghai, looking backward as far as its transformation into a subdivided treaty port in the 1840s, and looking forward to its upcoming hosting of China’s first World’s Fair, the 2010 Expo. As such, Global Shanghai is a lively and informative read for students and scholars of Chinese studies and urban studies and anyone interested in the history of Shanghai.
Read Jeff Wasserstrom's short article on Shanghai's preparations to host the 2010 World Expo.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"History's Greatest Heist"

New from Yale University Press: History's Greatest Heist: The Looting of Russia by the Bolsheviks by Sean McMeekin.

About the book, from the publisher:
Historians have never resolved a central mystery of the Russian Revolution: How did the Bolsheviks, despite facing a world of enemies and leaving nothing but economic ruin in their path, manage to stay in power through five long years of civil war? In this penetrating book, Sean McMeekin draws on previously undiscovered materials from the Soviet Ministry of Finance and other European and American archives to expose some of the darkest secrets of Russia’s early days of communism. Building on one archival revelation after another, the author reveals how the Bolsheviks financed their aggression through astonishingly extensive thievery. Their looting included everything from the cash savings of private citizens to gold, silver, diamonds, jewelry, icons, antiques, and artwork.

By tracking illicit Soviet financial transactions across Europe, McMeekin shows how Lenin’s regime accomplished history’s greatest heist between 1917 and 1922 and turned centuries of accumulated wealth into the sinews of class war. McMeekin also names names, introducing for the first time the compliant bankers, lawyers, and middlemen who, for a price, helped the Bolsheviks launder their loot, impoverish Russia, and impose their brutal will on millions.

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Creating a Nation of Joiners"

New from Harvard University Press: Creating a Nation of Joiners: Democracy and Civil Society in Early National Massachusetts by Johann N. Neem.

About the book, from the publisher:
The United States is a nation of joiners. Ever since Alexis de Tocqueville published his observations in Democracy in America, Americans have recognized the distinctiveness of their voluntary tradition. In a work of political, legal, social, and intellectual history, focusing on the grassroots actions of ordinary people, Neem traces the origins of this venerable tradition to the vexed beginnings of American democracy in Massachusetts.

Neem explores the multiple conflicts that produced a vibrant pluralistic civil society following the American Revolution. The result was an astounding release of civic energy as ordinary people, long denied a voice in public debates, organized to advocate temperance, to protect the Sabbath, and to abolish slavery; elite Americans formed private institutions to promote education and their stewardship of culture and knowledge. But skeptics remained. Followers of Jefferson and Jackson worried that the new civil society would allow the organized few to trump the will of the unorganized majority. When Tocqueville returned to France, the relationship between American democracy and its new civil society was far from settled.

The story Neem tells is more pertinent than ever—for Americans concerned about their own civil society, and for those seeking to build civil societies in emerging democracies around the world.