Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday Book Roundup


The Washington Post this week has a review of The Road to War: Presidential Commitments Honored and Betrayed (Brookings Institution Press) by Marvin Kalb. "In his timely book, “The Road to War,” veteran journalist and diplomatic correspondent Marvin Kalb explores the tangled history of the foreign policy commitments that modern presidents have made and the knots these leaders have turned themselves into trying to rationalize or escape their words."

The Post also notes the presence of Harvard Law's Kenneth Mack and others at the National Book Festival's History & Biography Pavilion this week.

Salon has published an excerpt from Karen Dunak's new book As Long as We Both Shall Love: The White Wedding in Postwar America (NYU Press) about "The secret history of gay marriage" and the "same-sex weddings [that] were happening in this country for decades before the Supreme Court permitted it."

"On October 10, 1987, nearly 7,000 people witnessed a wedding on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Men and women cheered and threw rice and confetti as family, friends, and community members took part in the largest mass wedding in American history. After the celebrants exchanged rings and were pronounced newlywed, guests released hundreds of balloons into the air. Brides and grooms, dressed in formal wedding attire, cried and embraced after an “emotional and festive” ceremony. Like so many brides and grooms, participants identified the wedding day as one of the happiest, most meaningful days of their lives. 
But this was no ordinary wedding. And these were not typical brides and grooms. This wedding held special significance for its participants. Beyond the “mass” nature of the celebration, something else was unique. The newlyweds that fall Saturday paired off as brides and brides, grooms and grooms. “The Wedding,” as it came to be known, marked the symbolic beginning of nearly 2,000 same-sex marriages."

This week H-Net has several new reviews in law and history: Keith Altavilla finds a "Printer, Democrat, and Soldier" in Robert Grandchamp' Colonel Edward E. Cross, New Hampshire Fighting Fifth: A Civil War Biography (McFarland & Company, Inc.), and Rachel T. Van reviews Emily Clark's The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World (University of North Carolina Press). 

David Siemers also reviews for H-Net The Forgotten Presidents: Their Untold Constitutional Legacy (Oxford University Press) by Michael J. Gerhardt.
"Quick. What do William Howard Taft, Calvin Coolidge, and Jimmy Carter have in common? The answer, or one answer at least, is that they are the twentieth-century presidents placed alongside many of their nineteenth-century counterparts in Michael J. Gerhardt’s The Forgotten Presidency: Their Untold Constitutional Legacy. In this book, Gerhardt underscores that even the presidents we know least well had a major impact on governance and on the shape of their office. In this he is largely successful, with interesting tales told along the way. Scholars of the presidency will find that the book does not break substantial new ground, but lay readers interested in the presidency and wanting a broad tour of presidential history will profit from the book." 
More reviews after the jump...

Also on H-Net, Kathleen Cairns reviews Dawn Rae Flood's Rape in Chicago: Race, Myth, and the Courts (University of Illinois Press). 
"Flood offers a convincing argument for why she chose to focus on rape trials: they reveal the intersection of race, class, and gender in a way that many other kinds of cases do not. Chicago represents a fruitful venue for examination because it is urban and thus has a large enough population to study, and it has stood at the center of many reform movements throughout American history; some led by women, such as Jane Addams and Ida B. Wells. The rape trial transcripts provide a wealth of information and Flood utilizes them very effectively. She sprinkles details from individual cases throughout her narrative, personalizing the story in a way that statistics and general information cannot. All of the cases Flood studies resulted in convictions and were appealed, thus giving her access to a wide array of information." 
Over at HNN there is a review by J. Stanley Lemons of Erik J. Chaput's The People's Martyr: Thomas Wilson Dorr and His 1842 Rhode Island Rebellion (University Press of Kansas).

Also new this week, on SSRN, Ian Bartrum has posted his review of Marc DeGirolami's The Tragedy of Religious Freedom (Harvard University Press), published in the Journal of Church and State.

And, in the New York Review of Books Cass R. Sunstein reviews Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (Times Books) by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir in a piece titled, "It Captures Your Mind." Sunstein concludes that "Mullainathan and Shafir have made an important, novel, and immensely creative contribution."  
"it should be easy to see why Mullainathan and Shafir think that scarcity tends to produce more of the same. For example, most of us are susceptible to “the planning fallacy,” which means that we are unrealistically optimistic about how long it will take to complete a project. But busy people are especially vulnerable, since they are attending to their past and current projects and so are “more distracted and overwhelmed—a surefire way to misplan.” Poor people are unlikely to take the time required to understand the small print on low-cost mortgage forms, even if they contain information that they need to understand. They are also more likely to resort to payday loans, which have high fees, and which can create a kind of trap, in which people end up taking out payday loans to pay back their payday loans. The underlying problem is that when people “tunnel,” they focus on their immediate problem; “knowing you will be hungry next month does not capture your attention the same way that being hungry today does.” A behavioral consequence of scarcity is “juggling,” which prevents long-term planning. . . . [Accordingly,] Mullainathan and Shafir think that a lot of problems in life stem from something like cockpit design errors. They want institutions and individuals to make the social environment “scarcity-proof.” "

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