Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Book round-up

A quick book round-up from the Reno airport, of all places:

Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-first Century by Philip Bobbitt is taken up in the December 4 issue of the New York Review of Books by David Cole (subscription required for access). Cole writes:
Bobbitt maintains that the defining struggle of the twenty-first century will pit "market states of consent," such as the United States and the European Union, against global terrorist organizations. He insists that we have no choice but to fight the "Wars against Terror," because the terrorists are already at war with us—over nothing less than the constitution of the future.
Terror and Consent is nothing if not ambitious. Bobbitt opens his 672-page book by boldly asserting that "almost every widely held idea we currently entertain about twenty-first century terrorism and its relationship to the Wars against Terror is wrong and must be thoroughly rethought." But many of Bobbitt's proposals are surprisingly conventional. He advocates stronger efforts to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; improvements in our ability to recover from catastrophes, whether natural or man-made; more extensive use of computer data and other forms of surveillance to identify and track terrorists; reform of international law to reflect the asymmetrical nature of modern warfare, in which insurgent groups often use illegal tactics; and respect for human rights and the rule of law. Many of those suggestions are sensible; but they are hardly unconventional, and one is left wondering what his grand vision of history adds to the conventional wisdom he claims to reject but often appears to echo. Where he is at his most unconventional—in defending coercive interrogation and "preventive war," and in reimagining world history to salvage his conception of the "Wars against Terror"—he is least persuasive.

Continue reading here.

In an essay "The Historian Who Saw Through America," also in the NYRB, James M. McPherson discusses the late George Fredrickson, focusing on his most recent works Diverse Nations: Explorations in the History of Racial and Ethnic Pluralism (Paradigm, to be published in January 2009), and Big Enough to Be Inconsistent: Abraham Lincoln Confronts Slavery and Race. McPherson writes:

For more than thirty years George Fredrickson was a leading historian of race relations and racial ideologies in the United States and other multiracial societies. By a cruel trick of fate, his unexpected death on February 25, 2008, occurred three days before the official publication date of his book on Abraham Lincoln's racial attitudes, Big Enough to Be Inconsistent, and five months before publication of Diverse Nations, a collection of fifteen previously published articles and review essays. Fredrickson's thorough research, original insights, common-sense interpretations, and lucid prose made him a historian's historian as well as a writer who reached a broad audience with several of his books. He will be sorely missed by friends, colleagues, and readers—especially readers of this journal, for which he reviewed dozens of books over the past quarter-century.

The rest is here.
And finally, for all you football fans at the end of a big weekend, WAR AS THEY KNEW IT: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and America in a Time of Unrest by Michael Rosenberg is reviewed in the New York Times. Right sport, even if the teams are wrong. Go Bears.