Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday Book Roundup


More reviews are out this week for John Paul Stevens's Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution (Little, Brown and Co.). There is one in the Los Angeles Review of Books that finds the book "supremely frustrating," and Cass Sunstein writes about the book in The New York Review of Books,
"It is noteworthy, though perhaps not surprising, that in every case, Stevens wants an amendment that will overturn what he sees as a wrongheaded decision by the Supreme Court. In each of these cases, Stevens was a dissenter. It is also noteworthy that Stevens’s broadest theme is the importance of democratic rule. His general goal is to promote self-government, which, as he sees it, has been badly compromised by recent Supreme Court rulings."
No End Save Victory by David Kaiser (Basic Books) and Japan 1941 by Eri Hotta (Knopf) are reviewed in tandem in The New York Times

The New Statesman reviews Darcus Howe: a Political Biography by Robin Bunce and Paul Field (Bloomsbury).
"This biography of Darcus Howe is undoubtedly a labour of love. Robin Bunce and Paul Field have made a creditable attempt to chart postwar black activism through one man’s life. And there can be no other person more appropriate to build the story around – because Darcus Howe is one of the standout activists and public intellectuals of his generation."
The Los Angeles Review of Books has a review of The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act by Clay Risen (Bloomsbury).
"Risen argues persuasively that those most responsible for the bill’s passage are given short shrift. ... The unsung heroes on which Risen focuses instead are Hubert Humphrey, the liberal Democratic Senator from Minnesota, who worked tirelessly to ensure the bill’s passage; the Republican Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, who helped secure crucial Republican votes for the bill in the Senate (the Democrats knew that opposition to the bill would be the strongest from the Southern wing of their own party, making passage impossible without significant Republican support); conservative pro-civil-rights House Republicans, such as Ohio’s William McCulloch, and liberal Northeastern Republicans such as New York’s John Lindsay; and mainstream, establishment civil rights activists such as Roy Wilkins and Clarence Mitchell of the NAACP and J. Irwin Miller of the National Council of Churches, who prodded, pressured, and persuaded members of Congress and the administration to support the bill."
Still more on the Civil Rights Act and Risen's book is a review of Risen's Bill of the Century alongside An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by Todd Purdum (Holt & Co.) in The New York Times.

The Nation looks at recent work on democracy in a multi-book review, "What Was Democracy?" Books under review include Alasdair Roberts's The Logic of Discipline: Global Capitalism and the Architecture of Government (Oxford University Press), Tony Judt's Ill Fares the Land (Penguin), Pierre Rosanvallon's The Society of Equals (translated by Arthur Goldhammer; Harvard University Press), Jurgen Habermas's The Crisis of the European Union: A Response (translated by Ciaran Cronin; Polity Press), and David Runciman's The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present (Princeton University Press).
"One of the ironies of the history of democracy is that its label has spread even as its meaning has become uncertain. As recently as the nineteenth century, countries we now call bourgeois democracies—the United States and the United Kingdom—had serious debates about whether democracy was desirable or feasible. Today, if asked to name the best type of government, an overwhelming majority of Americans would say, unsurprisingly, “democracy.” But so would the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Everyone now carries a torch for the democratic myth."
David Cole reviews Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment by Robert A. Ferguson (Harvard University Press) in the NYT. Of the book, Cole writes,
"“Inferno” ranges widely to offer a fascinating “anatomy of American punishment,” drawing on such diverse sources as Kant, Ursula K. Le Guin and Jack Henry Abbott, among many others. (In one of Le Guin’s stories, Ferguson writes, a utopian society “depends for its happiness on one innocent desperate child imprisoned in horribly cramped, filthy conditions at the center of its city.”) Ferguson surmises that people have a drive to punish, that we are generally unable to understand the pain and suffering of others, and that America’s traditions support an especially virulent “logic of severity.”"
Lastly, The Washington Post reviews Randall Balmer's biography of Jimmy Carter, Redeemer (Basic Books).

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