Monday, January 31, 2011


New from NYU Press: Degradation: What the History of Obscenity Tells Us about Hate Speech by Kevin W. Saunders.

About the book, from the publisher:
Throughout history obscenity has not really been about sex but about degradation. Sexual depictions have been suppressed when they were seen as lowering the status of humans, furthering our distance from the gods or God and moving us toward the animals. In the current era, when we recognize ourselves and both humans and animals, sexual depiction has lost some of its sting. Its degrading role has been replaced by hate speech that distances groups, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, not only from God but from humanity to a subhuman level.

In this original study of the relationship between obscenity and hate speech, First Amendment specialist Kevin W. Saunders traces the legal trajectory of degradation as it moved from sexual depiction to hateful speech. Looking closely at hate speech in several arenas, including racist, homophobic, and sexist speech in the workplace, classroom, and other real-life scenarios, Saunders posits that if hate speech is today’s conceptual equivalent of obscenity, then the body of law that dictated obscenity might shed some much-needed light on what may or may not qualify as punishable hate speech.
The Page 99 Test: Degradation.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Above the Battlefield"

New from Yale University Press: Above the Battlefield: Modernism and the Peace Movement in Britain, 1900-1918 by Grace Brockington.

About the book, from the publisher:
The early twentieth century is usually remembered as an era of rising nationalism and military hostility, culminating in the disaster of the First World War. Yet it was marked also by a vigorous campaign against war, a movement that called into question the authority of the nation-state. This book explores the role of artists and writers in the formation of a modern, secular peace movement in Britain, and the impact of ideas about "positive peace" on their artistic practice. From Grace Brockington's meticulous study emerges a rich and interconnected world of Hellenistic dance, symbolist stage design, marionettes, and book illustration, produced in conscious opposition to the values of an increasingly regimented and militaristic society, and radically different from existing narratives of British wartime culture.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

"The Great Heart of the Republic"

New from Harvard University Press: The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War by Adam Arenson.

About the book, from the publisher:
The Civil War revealed what united as well as what divided Americans in the nineteenth century—not only in its deadly military conflict, but also in the broader battle of ideas, dueling moral systems, and competing national visions that preceded and followed. This cultural civil war was the clash among North, South, and West, as their leaders sought to shape Manifest Destiny and slavery politics.

No site embodied this struggle more completely than St. Louis, the largest city along the border of slavery and freedom. In this sweeping history, Adam Arenson reveals a city at the heart of the cultural civil war. St. Louisans heralded a new future, erasing old patterns as the United States stretched across the continent. They tried to reorient the nation’s political landscape, with westerners in the vanguard and St. Louis as the cultural, commercial, and national capital. John C. Calhoun, Frederick Douglass, Walt Whitman, and John Brown tracked the progress of the cultural contest by monitoring events in St. Louis, observing how the city’s leaders tried yet ultimately failed to control the national destiny.

The interplay of local ambitions and national meanings reveals the wider cultural transformation brought about by westward expansion, political strife, and emancipation in the era of the Civil War and Reconstruction. This vibrant and beautifully written story enriches our understanding of America at a crossroads.
Visit Adam Arenson's website.

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Premarital Sex in America"

New from Oxford University Press: Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker.

About the book, from the publisher:
The period of young adulthood, from ages 18 to 23, is popularly considered the most sexualized in life. But is it true? What do we really know about the sexual lives of young people today?

Premarital Sex in America combines illuminating personal stories and comprehensive research surveys to provide the fullest portrait of heterosexuality among young adults ever produced. Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker draw upon a wealth of survey data as well as scores of in-depth interviews with young adults from around the country, both in and out of college. Digging underneath stereotypes and unexamined assumptions, the authors offer compelling--and often surprising--answers to such questions as: How do the emotional aspects of sexual relations differ between young men and women? What role do political orientations play in their sexual relations? How have online dating and social networking sites affected the relationships of emerging adults? Why are young people today waiting so much longer to marry? How prevalent are nontraditional forms of sex, and what do people think of them? To better understand what drives the sexual behaviors of emerging adults, Regnerus and Uecker pay special attention to two important concepts: sexual scripts, the unwritten and often unconscious rules that guide sexual behavior and attitudes; and sexual economics, a theory which suggests that the relative scarcity of men on college campuses contributes to the "hookup" culture by allowing men to diminish their level of commitment and thereby lower the "price" they have to "pay" for sex.

For anyone wishing to understand how sexual relations between young adults have changed and are changing, Premarital Sex in America will serve as a touchstone for years to come.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Academically Adrift"

New from the University of Chicago Press: Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa.

About the book, from the publisher:
In spite of soaring tuition costs, more and more students go to college every year. A bachelor’s degree is now required for entry into a growing number of professions. And some parents begin planning for the expense of sending their kids to college when they’re born. Almost everyone strives to go, but almost no one asks the fundamental question posed by Academically Adrift: are undergraduates really learning anything once they get there?

For a large proportion of students, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s answer to that question is a definitive no. Their extensive research draws on survey responses, transcript data, and, for the first time, the state-of-the-art Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test administered to students in their first semester and then again at the end of their second year. According to their analysis of more than 2,300 undergraduates at twenty-four institutions, 45 percent of these students demonstrate no significant improvement in a range of skills—including critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing—during their first two years of college. As troubling as their findings are, Arum and Roksa argue that for many faculty and administrators they will come as no surprise—instead, they are the expected result of a student body distracted by socializing or working and an institutional culture that puts undergraduate learning close to the bottom of the priority list.

Academically Adrift holds sobering lessons for students, faculty, administrators, policy makers, and parents—all of whom are implicated in promoting or at least ignoring contemporary campus culture. Higher education faces crises on a number of fronts, but Arum and Roksa’s report that colleges are failing at their most basic mission will demand the attention of us all.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Decorating the 'Godly' Household"

New from Yale University Press: Decorating the 'Godly' Household: Religious Art in Post-Reformation Britain by Tara Hamling.

About the book, from the publisher:
The Reformation is generally regarded as a calamitous episode in the history of British art, with the rich artistic heritage of the medieval period eradicated and replaced by an austere Protestant culture of the word. This compelling new study presents a wealth of visual evidence to argue that religious subject matter was common in the arts of Protestant Britain. Tara Hamling examines decorative features from historic houses throughout England and Scotland and identifies a significant but overlooked trend in the history of British art. Far from being hostile towards images, a great many Protestant patrons continued to desire and commission traditional religious art to decorate their houses.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"The New Harvest"

New from Oxford University Press: The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa by Calestous Juma.

About the book, from the publisher:
African agriculture is currently at a crossroads, at which persistent food shortages are compounded by threats from climate change. But, as this book argues, Africa faces three major opportunities that can transform its agriculture into a force for economic growth: advances in science and technology; the creation of regional markets; and the emergence of a new crop of entrepreneurial leaders dedicated to the continent's economic improvement.

Filled with case studies from within Africa and success stories from developing nations around the world, The New Harvest outlines the policies and institutional changes necessary to promote agricultural innovation across the African continent. Incorporating research from academia, government, civil society, and private industry, the book suggests multiple ways that individual African countries can work together at the regional level to develop local knowledge and resources, harness technological innovation, encourage entrepreneurship, increase agricultural output, create markets, and improve infrastructure.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Alexander the Great"

New from Simon & Schuster: Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the first authoritative biography of Alexander the Great written for a general audience in a generation, classicist and historian Philip Freeman tells the remarkable life of the great conqueror. The celebrated Macedonian king has been one of the most enduring figures in history. He was a general of such skill and renown that for two thousand years other great leaders studied his strategy and tactics, from Hannibal to Napoleon, with countless more in between. He flashed across the sky of history like a comet, glowing brightly and burning out quickly: crowned at age nineteen, dead by thirty-two. He established the greatest empire of the ancient world; Greek coins and statues are found as far east as Afghanistan. Our interest in him has never faded.

Alexander was born into the royal family of Macedonia, the kingdom that would soon rule over Greece. Tutored as a boy by Aristotle, Alexander had an inquisitive mind that would serve him well when he faced formidable obstacles during his military campaigns. Shortly after taking command of the army, he launched an invasion of the Persian empire, and continued his conquests as far south as the deserts of Egypt and as far east as the mountains of present-day Pakistan and the plains of India. Alexander spent nearly all his adult life away from his homeland, and he and his men helped spread the Greek language throughout western Asia, where it would become the lingua franca of the ancient world. Within a short time after Alexander's death in Baghdad, his empire began to fracture. Best known among his successors are the Ptolemies of Egypt, whose empire lasted until Cleopatra.

In his lively and authoritative biography of Alexander, classical scholar and historian Philip Freeman describes Alexander's astonishing achievements and provides insight into the mercurial character of the great conqueror. Alexander could be petty and magnanimous, cruel and merciful, impulsive and farsighted. Above all, he was ferociously, intensely competitive and could not tolerate losing—which he rarely did. As Freeman explains, without Alexander, the influence of Greece on the ancient world would surely not have been as great as it was, even if his motivation was not to spread Greek culture for beneficial purposes but instead to unify his empire. Only a handful of people have influenced history as Alexander did, which is why he continues to fascinate us.
Visit Philip Freeman's website.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"The Longest War"

New from Free Press: The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda by Peter L. Bergen.

About the book, from the publisher:
TEN YEARS HAVE PASSED since the shocking attacks on the World Trade Center, and after seven years of conflict, the last U.S. combat troops left Iraq—only to move into Afghanistan, where the ten-year-old fight continues: the war on terror rages with no clear end in sight. In The Longest War Peter Bergen offers a comprehensive history of this war and its evolution, from the strategies devised in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to the fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and beyond. Unlike any other book on this subject, here Bergen tells the story of this shifting war's failures and successes from the perspectives of both the United States and al-Qaeda and its allies. He goes into the homes of al-Qaeda members, rooting into the source of their devotion to terrorist causes, and spends time in the offices of the major players shaping the U.S. strategic efforts in the region. At a time when many are frustrated or fatigued with what has become an enduring multigenerational conflict, this book will provide an illuminating narrative that not only traces the arc of the fight but projects its likely future.

Weaving together internal documents from al-Qaeda and the U.S. offices of counterterrorism, first-person interviews with top-level jihadists and senior Washington officials, along with his own experiences on the ground in the Middle East, Bergen balances the accounts of each side, revealing how al-Qaeda has evolved since 9/11 and the specific ways the U.S. government has responded in the ongoing fight.

Bergen also uncovers the strategic errors committed on both sides—the way that al-Qaeda's bold attack on the United States on 9/11 actually undermined its objective and caused the collapse of the Taliban and the destruction of the organization's safe haven in Afghanistan, and how al-Qaeda is actually losing the war of ideas in the Muslim world. The book also shows how the United States undermined its moral position in this war with its actions at GuantÁnamo and coercive interrogations—including the extraordinary rendition of Abu Omar, who was kidnapped by the CIA in Milan in 2003 and was tortured for four years in Egyptian prisons; his case represents the first and only time that CIA officials have been charged and convicted of the crime of kidnapping.

In examining other strategic blunders the United States has committed, Bergen offers a scathing critique of the Clinton and Bush administrations' inability to accurately assess and counter the al-Qaeda threat, Bush's deeply misguided reasons for invading Iraq—including the story of how the invasion was launched based, in part, on the views of an obscure academic who put forth theories about Iraq's involvement with al-Qaeda—and the Obama administration's efforts in Afghanistan.

At a critical moment in world history The Longest War provides the definitive account of the ongoing battle against terror.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"A Place in Public"

New from Harvard University Press: A Place in Public: Women's Rights in Meiji Japan by Marnie S. Anderson.

About the book, from the publisher:
This book addresses how gender became a defining category in the political and social modernization of Japan. During the early decades of the Meiji period (1868–1912), the Japanese encountered an idea with great currency in the West: that the social position of women reflected a country’s level of civilization. Although elites initiated dialogue out of concern for their country’s reputation internationally, the conversation soon moved to a new public sphere where individuals engaged in a wide-ranging debate about women’s roles and rights.

By examining these debates throughout the 1870s and 1880s, Marnie S. Anderson argues that shifts in the gender system led to contradictory consequences for women. On the one hand, as gender displaced status as the primary system of social and legal classification, women gained access to the language of rights and the chance to represent themselves in public and play a limited political role; on the other, the modern Japanese state permitted women’s political participation only as an expression of their “citizenship through the household” and codified their formal exclusion from the political process through a series of laws enacted in 1890. This book shows how “a woman’s place” in late-nineteenth-century Japan was characterized by contradictions and unexpected consequences, by new opportunities and new constraints.

Friday, January 21, 2011

"The Threat on the Horizon"

New from Oxford University Press: The Threat on the Horizon: An Inside Account of America's Search for Security after the Cold War by Loch K. Johnson.

About the book, from the publisher:
The Aspin-Brown Commission of 1995-1996, led by former U.S. Defense Secretaries Les Aspin and Harold Brown, was a landmark inquiry into the activities of America's secret agencies. The purpose of the commission was to help the Central Intelligence Agency and other organizations in the U.S. intelligence community adapt to the quite different world that had emerged after the end of the Cold War in 1991.

In The Threat on the Horizon, eminent national security scholar Loch K. Johnson, who served as Aspin's assistant, offers a comprehensive insider's account of this inquiry. Based on a close sifting of government documents and media reports, interviews with participants, and, above all, his own eyewitness impressions, Johnson's thorough history offers a unique window onto why the terrorist attacks of 2001 caught the United States by surprise and why the intelligence community failed again in 2002 when it predicted that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. It will be the first published account by an insider of a presidential commission on intelligence--a companion volume to Johnson's acclaimed study of the Church Committee investigation into intelligence in 1975 (A Season of Inquiry). This examination of the Aspin-Brown Commission is an invaluable source for anyone interested in the how the intelligence agencies of the world's most powerful nation struggled to confront new global threats that followed the collapse of the Soviet empire, and why Washington, D.C. was unprepared for the calamities that would soon arise.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"Legally Poisoned"

New from Harvard University Press: Legally Poisoned: How the Law Puts Us at Risk from Toxicants by Carl F. Cranor.

About the book, from the publisher:
Take a random walk through your life and you’ll find it is awash in industrial, often toxic, chemicals. Sip water from a plastic bottle and ingest bisphenol A. Prepare dinner in a non-stick frying pan or wear a layer of Gore-Tex only to be exposed to perfluorinated compounds. Hang curtains, clip your baby into a car seat, watch television—all are manufactured with brominated flame-retardants.

Cosmetic ingredients, industrial chemicals, pesticides, and other compounds enter our bodies and remain briefly or permanently. Far too many suspected toxic hazards are unleashed every day that affect the development and function of our brain, immune system, reproductive organs, or hormones. But no public health law requires product testing of most chemical compounds before they enter the market. If products are deemed dangerous, toxicants must be forcibly reduced or removed—but only after harm has been done.

In this scientifically rigorous legal analysis, Carl Cranor argues that just as pharmaceuticals and pesticides cannot be sold without pre-market testing, other chemical products should be subject to the same safety measures. Cranor shows, in terrifying detail, what risks we run, and that it is entirely possible to design a less dangerous commercial world.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul's School"

New from Princeton University Press: Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul's School by Shamus Rahman Khan.

About the book, from the publisher:
As one of the most prestigious high schools in the nation, St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, has long been the exclusive domain of America's wealthiest sons. But times have changed. Today, a new elite of boys and girls is being molded at St. Paul's, one that reflects the hope of openness but also the persistence of inequality.

In Privilege, Shamus Khan returns to his alma mater to provide an inside look at an institution that has been the private realm of the elite for the past 150 years. He shows that St. Paul's students continue to learn what they always have--how to embody privilege. Yet, while students once leveraged the trappings of upper-class entitlement, family connections, and high culture, current St. Paul's students learn to succeed in a more diverse environment. To be the future leaders of a more democratic world, they must be at ease with everything from highbrow art to everyday life--from Beowulf to Jaws--and view hierarchies as ladders to scale. Through deft portrayals of the relationships among students, faculty, and staff, Khan shows how members of the new elite face the opening of society while still preserving the advantages that allow them to rule.
Visit Shamus Rahman Khan's website.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Jihad and Just War in the War on Terror"

New from Oxford University Press: Jihad and Just War in the War on Terror by Alia Brahimi.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the war on terror, both 'sides' have taken great pains to justify their actions in moral terms. As force is employed so are sophisticated arguments which directly invoke the just war traditions of the west and Islam. Jihad and Just War in the War on Terror offers an exploration of the ways in which George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden drew upon, and simultaneously re-conceptualized, important moral concepts from within the western and Islamic just war traditions. It examines a range of jus ad bellum and jus in bello issues, including western debates about pre-emptive self-defence, Islamic requirements for right authority to declare war, proportionality in the Battle of Fallujah, and the legitimacy of suicide bombing in Islam. The book also considers how a series of authoritative voices in the west and in the Muslim world appealed to just war and jihad ideas to vigorously contest Bush and bin Laden's cases for war. The author's central argument--that the Bush administration and al-Qaeda departed from important consensuses about justified warfare--contains within it an alternative way of understanding the war on terror. Rather than a clash between civilizations, Brahimi suggests that the conflict can be accounted for by a clash within civilizations: in resorting to war, both sides acted against their own traditions and contravened the requirements of their own civilizations.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Is Breast Best?"

New from the NYU Press: Is Breast Best?: Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood by Joan B. Wolf.

About the book, from the publisher:
Since the invention of dextri-maltose and the subsequent rise of Similac in the early twentieth century, parents with access to clean drinking water have had a safe alternative to breast-milk. Use of formula spiked between the 1950s and 1970s, with some reports showing that nearly 75 percent of the population relied on commercial formula to at least supplement a breastfeeding routine. So how is it that most of those bottle-fed babies grew up to believe that breast, and only breast, is best?

In Is Breast Best? Joan B. Wolf challenges the widespread belief that breastfeeding is medically superior to bottle-feeding. Despite the fact that breastfeeding has become the ultimate expression of maternal dedication, Wolf writes, the conviction that breastfeeding provides babies unique health benefits and that formula feeding is a risky substitute is unsubstantiated by the evidence. In accessible prose, Wolf argues that a public obsession with health and what she calls “total motherhood” has made breastfeeding a cause célèbre, and that public discussions of breastfeeding say more about infatuation with personal responsibility and perfect mothering in America than they do about the concrete benefits of the breast.

Why has breastfeeding re-asserted itself over the last twenty years, and why are the government, the scientific and medical communities, and so many mothers so invested in the idea? Parsing the rhetoric of expert advice, including the recent National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign, and rigorously questioning the scientific evidence, Wolf uncovers a path by which a mother can feel informed and confident about how best to feed her thriving infant—whether flourishing by breast or by bottle.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Framed by Gender"

New from Oxford University Press: Framed by Gender: How Gender Inequality Persists in the Modern World by Cecilia L. Ridgeway.

About the book, from the publisher:
In an advanced society like the U.S., where an array of processes work against gender inequality, how does this inequality persist? Integrating research from sociology, social cognition and psychology, and organizational behavior, Framed by Gender identifies the general processes through which gender as a principle of inequality rewrites itself into new forms of social and economic organization. Cecilia Ridgeway argues that people confront uncertain circumstances with gender beliefs that are more traditional than those circumstances. They implicitly draw on the too-convenient cultural frame of gender to help organize new ways of doing things, thereby re-inscribing trailing gender stereotypes into the new activities, procedures, and forms of organization. This dynamic does not make equality unattainable, but suggests a constant struggle with uneven results. Demonstrating how personal interactions translate into larger structures of inequality, Framed by Gender is a powerful and original take on the troubling endurance of gender inequality.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"Becoming Asia"

New from Stanford University Press: Becoming Asia: Change and Continuity in Asian International Relations Since World War II by Alice Lyman Miller and Richard Wich.

About the book, from the publisher:
This work fills a gap by providing a comprehensive, systemic account of Asian affairs, including South and Central Asia along with East Asia. It explains how Asia, hardly more than a geographic expression at the end of World War II, became the vibrant, assertive region that it is today. Major themes are the interplay between nationalism and Cold War bipolarity during the first postwar decades, the rise of largely export-led economies making the region increasingly the global center of gravity, and the search for regional integration.

The book traces the origins and evolution of deep-rooted issues that remain high on the international agenda, such as the Taiwan question, the division of Korea and the threat of nuclear proliferation, the Kashmir issue and the nuclearized Indian-Pakistani conflict, and offers an account of the rise of China and its implications for regional and global security and prosperity.

Friday, January 14, 2011

"Habeas Corpus after 9/11"

New from NYU Press: Habeas Corpus after 9/11: Confronting America’s New Global Detention System by Jonathan Hafetz.

About the book, from the publisher:
The U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay has long been synonymous with torture, secrecy, and the abuse of executive power. It has come to epitomize lawlessness and has sparked protracted legal battles and political debate. For too long, however, Guantánamo has been viewed in isolation and has overshadowed a larger, interconnected global detention system that includes other military prisons such as Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, secret CIA jails, and the transfer of prisoners to other countries for torture. Guantánamo is simply—and alarmingly—the most visible example of a much larger prison system designed to operate outside the law.

Habeas Corpus after 9/11 examines the rise of the U.S.-run global detention system that emerged after 9/11 and the efforts to challenge it through habeas corpus (a petition to appear in court to claim unlawful imprisonment). Habeas expert and litigator Jonathan Hafetz gives us an insider’s view of the detention of “enemy combatants” and an accessible explanation of the complex forces that keep these systems running.

In the age of terrorism, some argue that habeas corpus is impractical and unwise. Hafetz advocates that it remains the single most important check against arbitrary and unlawful detention, torture, and the abuse of executive power.
Read Jonathan Hafetz on fiction and habeas corpus.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"The Myth of American Religious Freedom"

New from Oxford University Press: The Myth of American Religious Freedom by David Sehat.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the battles over religion and politics in America, both liberals and conservatives often appeal to history. Liberals claim that the Founders separated church and state. But for much of American history, David Sehat writes, Protestant Christianity was intimately intertwined with the state. Yet the past was not the Christian utopia that conservatives imagine either. Instead, a Protestant moral establishment prevailed, using government power to punish free thinkers and religious dissidents.

In The Myth of American Religious Freedom, Sehat provides an eye-opening history of religion in public life, overturning our most cherished myths. Originally, the First Amendment applied only to the federal government, which had limited authority. The Protestant moral establishment ruled on the state level. Using moral laws to uphold religious power, religious partisans enforced a moral and religious orthodoxy against Catholics, Jews, Mormons, agnostics, and others. Not until 1940 did the U.S. Supreme Court extend the First Amendment to the states. As the Supreme Court began to dismantle the connections between religion and government, Sehat argues, religious conservatives mobilized to maintain their power and began the culture wars of the last fifty years. To trace the rise and fall of this Protestant establishment, Sehat focuses on a series of dissenters--abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, socialist Eugene V. Debs, and many others.

Shattering myths held by both the left and right, David Sehat forces us to rethink some of our most deeply held beliefs. By showing the bad history used on both sides, he denies partisans a safe refuge with the Founders.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Debtor Nation"

New from Princeton University Press: Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink by Louis Hyman.

About the book, from the publisher:
Before the twentieth century, personal debt resided on the fringes of the American economy, the province of small-time criminals and struggling merchants. By the end of the century, however, the most profitable corporations and banks in the country lent money to millions of American debtors. How did this happen? The first book to follow the history of personal debt in modern America, Debtor Nation traces the evolution of debt over the course of the twentieth century, following its transformation from fringe to mainstream--thanks to federal policy, financial innovation, and retail competition.

How did banks begin making personal loans to consumers during the Great Depression? Why did the government invent mortgage-backed securities? Why was all consumer credit, not just mortgages, tax deductible until 1986? Who invented the credit card? Examining the intersection of government and business in everyday life, Louis Hyman takes the reader behind the scenes of the institutions that made modern lending possible: the halls of Congress, the boardrooms of multinationals, and the back rooms of loan sharks. America's newfound indebtedness resulted not from a culture in decline, but from changes in the larger structure of American capitalism that were created, in part, by the choices of the powerful--choices that made lending money to facilitate consumption more profitable than lending to invest in expanded production.

From the origins of car financing to the creation of subprime lending, Debtor Nation presents a nuanced history of consumer credit practices in the United States and shows how little loans became big business.
Visit Louis Hyman's website.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"A Nation of Outsiders"

New from Oxford University Press: A Nation of Outsiders: How the White Middle Class Fell in Love with Rebellion in Postwar America by Grace Elizabeth Hale.

About the book, from the publisher:
At mid-century, Americans increasingly fell in love with characters like Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye and Marlon Brando's Johnny in The Wild One, musicians like Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan, and activists like the members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. These emotions enabled some middle-class whites to cut free of their own histories and identify with those who, while lacking economic, political, or social privilege, seemed to possess instead vital cultural resources and a depth of feeling not found in "grey flannel" America.

In this wide-ranging and vividly written cultural history, Grace Elizabeth Hale sheds light on why so many white middle-class Americans chose to re-imagine themselves as outsiders in the second half of the twentieth century and explains how this unprecedented shift changed American culture and society. Love for outsiders launched the politics of both the New Left and the New Right. From the mid-sixties through the eighties, it flourished in the hippie counterculture, the back-to-the-land movement, the Jesus People movement, and among fundamentalist and Pentecostal Christians working to position their traditional isolation and separatism as strengths. It changed the very meaning of "authenticity" and "community."

Ultimately, the romance of the outsider provided a creative resolution to an intractable mid-century cultural and political conflict-the struggle between the desire for self-determination and autonomy and the desire for a morally meaningful and authentic life.

Monday, January 10, 2011

"Capitalizing on Crisis"

New from Harvard University Press: Capitalizing on Crisis: The Political Origins of the Rise of Finance by Greta R. Krippner.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the context of the recent financial crisis, the extent to which the U.S. economy has become dependent on financial activities has been made abundantly clear. In Capitalizing on Crisis, Greta Krippner traces the longer-term historical evolution that made the rise of finance possible, arguing that this development rested on a broader transformation of the U.S. economy than is suggested by the current preoccupation with financial speculation.

Krippner argues that state policies that created conditions conducive to financialization allowed the state to avoid a series of economic, social, and political dilemmas that confronted policymakers as postwar prosperity stalled beginning in the late 1960s and 1970s. In this regard, the financialization of the economy was not a deliberate outcome sought by policymakers, but rather an inadvertent result of the state’s attempts to solve other problems. The book focuses on deregulation of financial markets during the 1970s and 1980s, encouragement of foreign capital into the U.S. economy in the context of large fiscal imbalances in the early 1980s, and changes in monetary policy following the shift to high interest rates in 1979.

Exhaustively researched, the book brings extensive new empirical evidence to bear on debates regarding recent developments in financial markets and the broader turn to the market that has characterized U.S. society over the last several decades.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"Perplexities of Consciousness"

New from The MIT Press: Perplexities of Consciousness by Eric Schwitzgebel.

About the book, from the publisher:
Do you dream in color? If you answer Yes, how can you be sure? Before you recount your vivid memory of a dream featuring all the colors of the rainbow, consider that in the 1950s, researchers found that most people reported dreaming in black and white. In the 1960s—when most movies were in color and more people had color television sets—;the vast majority of reported dreams contained color. The most likely explanation for this, according to philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel, is not that exposure to black-and-white media made people misremember their dreams. It is that we simply don’t know whether or not we dream in color. In Perplexities of Consciousness, Schwitzgebel examines various aspects of inner life—dreams, mental imagery, emotions, and other subjective phenomena—;and argues that we know very little about our stream of conscious experience. In fact, he contends, we are prone to gross error about our ongoing emotional, visual, and cognitive experiences.

Western philosophical tradition is nearly unanimous on the accuracy of our knowledge or current conscious experience. Schwitzgebel is skeptical. Drawing broadly from historical and recent philosophy and psychology to examine such topics as visual perspective, human echolocation (about which he is doubtful), and the unreliability of introspection even about emotional states (do we really enjoy Christmas? a family dinner?), he finds us singularly inept in our judgments about conscious experience.
Visit Eric Schwitzgebel's website.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Courage to Dissent"

New from Oxford University Press: Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement by Tomiko Brown-Nagin.

About the book, from the publisher:
The Civil Rights movement that emerged in the United States after World War II was a reaction against centuries of racial discrimination. In this sweeping history of the Civil Rights movement in Atlanta--the South's largest and most economically important city--from the 1940s through 1980, Tomiko Brown-Nagin shows that the movement featured a vast array of activists and many sophisticated approaches to activism. Long before "black power" emerged and gave black dissent from the mainstream civil rights agenda a new name, African Americans in Atlanta debated the meaning of equality and the steps necessary to obtain social and economic justice.

This groundbreaking book uncovers the activism of visionaries-both well-known legal figures and unsung citizens-from across the ideological spectrum who sought something different from, or more complicated than, "integration." Local activists often played leading roles in carrying out the integrationist agenda of the NAACP, but some also pursued goals that differed markedly from those of the venerable civil rights organization. Brown-Nagin discusses debates over politics, housing, public accommodations, and schools. She documents how the bruising battle over school desegregation in the 1970s, which featured opposing camps of African Americans, had its roots in the years before Brown v. Board of Education.

Exploring the complex interplay between the local and national, between lawyers and communities, between elites and grassroots, and between middle-class and working-class African Americans, Courage to Dissent tells gripping stories about the long struggle for equality that speak to the nation's current urban crisis. This remarkable book will transform our understanding of the Civil Rights era.

Friday, January 7, 2011

"Russia's Cold War"

New from Yale University Press: Russia's Cold War: From the October Revolution to the Fall of the Wall by Jonathan Haslam.

About the book, from the publisher:
The phrase “Cold War” was coined by George Orwell in 1945 to describe the impact of the atomic bomb on world politics: “We may be heading not for a general breakdown but for an epoch as horribly stable as the slave empires of antiquity.” The Soviet Union, he wrote, was “at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of ‘cold war’ with its neighbors.” But as a leading historian of Soviet foreign policy, Jonathan Haslam, makes clear in this groundbreaking book, the epoch was anything but stable, with constant wars, near-wars, and political upheavals on both sides.

Whereas the Western perspective on the Cold War has been well documented by journalists and historians, the Soviet side has remained for the most part shrouded in secrecy—until now. Drawing on a vast range of recently released archives in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and Eastern Europe, Russia’s Cold War offers a thorough and fascinating analysis of East-West relations from 1917 to 1989.

Far more than merely a straightforward history of the Cold War, this book presents the first account of politics and decision making at the highest levels of Soviet power: how Soviet leaders saw political and military events, what they were trying to accomplish, their miscalculations, and the ways they took advantage of Western ignorance. Russia’s Cold War fills a significant gap in our understanding of the most important geopolitical rivalry of the twentieth century.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"American Uprising"

New from Harper: American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt by Daniel Rasmussen.

About the book, from the publisher:
A gripping and deeply revealing history of an infamous slave rebellion that nearly toppled New Orleans and changed the course of American history

In January 1811, five hundred slaves, dressed in military uniforms and armed with guns, cane knives, and axes, rose up from the plantations around New Orleans and set out to conquer the city. Ethnically diverse, politically astute, and highly organized, this self-made army challenged not only the economic system of plantation agriculture but also American expansion. Their march represented the largest act of armed resistance against slavery in the history of the United States.

American Uprising is the riveting and long-neglected story of this elaborate plot, the rebel army's dramatic march on the city, and its shocking conclusion. No North American slave uprising—not Gabriel Prosser's, not Denmark Vesey's, not Nat Turner's—has rivaled the scale of this rebellion either in terms of the number of the slaves involved or the number who were killed. More than one hundred slaves were slaughtered by federal troops and French planters, who then sought to write the event out of history and prevent the spread of the slaves' revolutionary philosophy. With the Haitian revolution a recent memory and the War of 1812 looming on the horizon, the revolt had epic consequences for America.

Through groundbreaking original research, Daniel Rasmussen offers a window into the young, expansionist country, illuminating the early history of New Orleans and providing new insight into the path to the Civil War and the slave revolutionaries who fought and died for justice and the hope of freedom.
Visit Daniel Rasmussen's website and blog.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"William Clark's World"

New from Yale University Press: William Clark's World: Describing America in an Age of Unknowns by Peter J. Kastor.

About the book, from the publisher:
William Clark, co-captain of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition, devoted his adult life to describing the American West. But this task raised a daunting challenge: how best to bring an unknown continent to life for the young republic? Through Clark's life and career, this book explores how the West entered the American imagination. While he never called himself a writer or an artist, Clark nonetheless drew maps, produced books, drafted reports, surveyed landscapes, and wrote journals that made sense of the West for a new nation fascinated by the region’s potential but also fearful of its dangers. William Clark’s World presents a new take on the manifest destiny narrative and on the way the West took shape in the national imagination in the early nineteenth century.
Read reviews for William Clark's World.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"Homelessness, Housing, and Mental Illness"

New from Harvard University Press: Homelessness, Housing, and Mental Illness by Russell K. Schutt with Stephen M. Goldfinger.

About the book, from the publisher:
Humans are social animals and, in general, don’t thrive in isolated environments. Homeless people, many of whom suffer from serious mental illnesses, often live socially isolated on the streets or in shelters. Homelessness, Housing, and Mental Illness describes a carefully designed large-scale study to assess how well these people do when attempts are made to reduce their social isolation and integrate them into the community.

Should homeless mentally ill people be provided with the type of housing they want or with what clinicians think they need? Is residential staff necessary? Are roommates advantageous? How is community integration affected by substance abuse, psychiatric diagnoses, and cognitive functioning? Homelessness, Housing, and Mental Illness answers these questions and reexamines the assumptions behind housing policies that support the preference of most homeless mentally ill people to live alone in independent apartments. The analysis shows that living alone reduces housing retention as well as cognitive functioning, while group homes improve these critical outcomes. Throughout the book, Russell Schutt explores the meaning and value of community for our most fragile citizens.

Monday, January 3, 2011

"Thug Life"

New from the University of Chicago Press: Thug Life: Race, Gender, and the Meaning of Hip-Hop by Michael P. Jeffries.

About the book, from the publisher:
Hip-hop has come a long way from its origins in the Bronx in the 1970s, when rapping and DJing were just part of a lively, decidedly local scene that also venerated break-dancing and graffiti. Now hip-hop is a global phenomenon and, in the United States, a massively successful corporate enterprise predominantly controlled and consumed by whites while the most prominent performers are black. How does this shift in racial dynamics affect our understanding of contemporary hip-hop, especially when the music perpetuates stereotypes of black men? Do black listeners interpret hip-hop differently from white fans?

These questions have dogged hip-hop for decades, but unlike most pundits, Michael P. Jeffries finds answers by interviewing everyday people. Instead of turning to performers or media critics, Thug Life focuses on the music’s fans—young men, both black and white—and the resulting account avoids romanticism, offering an unbiased examination of how hip-hop works in people’s daily lives. As Jeffries weaves the fans’ voices together with his own sophisticated analysis, we are able to understand hip-hop as a tool listeners use to make sense of themselves and society as well as a rich, self-contained world containing politics and pleasure, virtue and vice.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

"Islanders: The Pacific in the Age of Empire"

New from Yale University Press: Islanders: The Pacific in the Age of Empire by Nicholas Thomas.

About the book, from the publisher:
This compelling book explores the lived experience of empire in the Pacific, the last region to be contacted and colonized by Europeans following the great voyages of Captain Cook. Unlike conventional accounts that emphasize confrontation and the destruction of indigenous cultures, Islanders reveals there was gain as well as loss, survival as well as suffering, and invention as well as exploitation.

Empowered by imaginative research in obscure archives and collections, Thomas rediscovers a rich and surprising history of encounters, not only between Islanders and Europeans, but among Islanders, brought together in new ways by explorers, missionaries, and colonists. He tells the story of the making of empire, not through an impersonal survey, but through vivid stories of the lives of men and women—some visionary, some vicious, and some just eccentric—and through sensuous evocation of seascapes and landscapes of the Pacific. A fascinating re-creation of an Oceanic world, Islanders offers a new paradigm, not only for histories of the Pacific, but for understandings of cultural contact everywhere.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

"Harmony and War"

New from Columbia University Press: Harmony and War: Confucian Culture and Chinese Power Politics by Yuan-kang Wang.

About the book, from the publisher:
Confucianism has shaped a certain perception of Chinese security strategy, symbolized by the defensive, nonaggressive Great Wall. Many believe China is antimilitary and reluctant to use force against its enemies. It practices pacifism and refrains from expanding its boundaries, even when nationally strong.

In a path-breaking study traversing six centuries of Chinese history, Yuan-kang Wang resoundingly discredits this notion, recasting China as a practitioner of realpolitik and a ruthless purveyor of expansive grand strategies. Leaders of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) prized military force and shrewdly assessed the capabilities of China's adversaries. They adopted defensive strategies when their country was weak and pursued expansive goals, such as territorial acquisition, enemy destruction, and total military victory, when their country was strong. Despite the dominance of an antimilitarist Confucian culture, warfare was not uncommon in the bulk of Chinese history. Grounding his research in primary Chinese sources, Wang outlines a politics of power that are crucial to understanding China's strategies today, especially its policy of "peaceful development," which, he argues, the nation has adopted mainly because of its military, economic, and technological weakness in relation to the United States.