Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunday Book Review Roundup

Good morning, legal historians. There are quite a few book reviews to check out this Memorial Day weekend.  Appropriately, many are somber but thought-provoking accounts of our capacity for violence and the law's power to control it.

In today's New York Times, Bernard-Henri Lévy reviews Philippe Sands’ “East West Street: On the Origins of ‘Genocide’ and ‘Crimes Against Humanity.’ ” East West Street describes the history of two central concepts in international law, as well as to the two men conceived of them: crime against humanity (Hersch Lauterpacht) and genocide (Raphael Lemkin). “The result,” Lévy says, is an “unprecedented narrative” and “thrilling” tale. Lisa Appignanesi tackles Sands’ book in The Guardian, agreeing that it is a “thrilling,” (and “important and engrossing”) family memoir and intellectual history. David Herman reviews Sands’ book (a “moving history” that “reads like a detective story”) alongside A.T. Williams’ A Passing Fury: Searching for Justice at the End of World War II, which portrays the Nuremberg trials as a rushed and at times inhumane process, forming “an original polemic against our assumptions about these trials.” Sands was also recently interviewed by Vanity Fair.

In the New York Times Alan Taylor reviews “An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873,” by Benjamin Madley, concluding that “the label ‘genocide’ ultimately obscures the decentralized and populist nature of killings that involved thousands of Americans, high and low in society.”

Also in the Times, Imani Perry reviews Elizabeth Hinton’s “exceedingly well researched” study of how “the federal government’s failed efforts to reduce crime, which resulted from bad data collection, bad social science and bad police practices, led to an expansion of the carceral apparatus rather than a serious reappraisal,” adding to a collection of works showing that “the backlash to black radical movements and urban uprisings produced the turn to mass incarceration.”

Legal historians may be interested in this weeks issue of The Guardian, in which columnist Ian Black reviews Salman Abu Sitta’s memoir, Mapping My Return, in which Sitta uses his personal history to make a “forceful re-statement of the Palestinian conviction that Zionism is illegitimate, from the Balfour Declaration of 1917 to the present day.”

In the Washington Post, Deborah Pearlstein assesses “Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State," in which Karen Greenberg analyzes national security law post-9/11. Greenberg’s book is impressive in its evenhanded assessment of moments where the legal system operated “as it should to constrain raw exercises of power,” but is emblematic of the fact that the country has yet to wrestle with its invocation of the laws of war in a variety of oblique situations.

In Dissent’s blog, Timothy Shenk interviews Meg Jacobs about Panic at the Pump: The Energy Crisis and the Transformation of American Politics in the 1970's.  And in Civil War Book Review, H. Robert Baker reviews Christian G. Samito’s Lincoln and the Thirteenth Amendment.

In the New Rambler, Herbert Hovenkamp reviews Jacob S. Hacker's and Paul Pierson's American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget what Made America Prosper.  This "very engaging book" is an “effort to dismantle the idea that the Founding Fathers, James Madison in particular, were radical anti-government activists and that the Constitution reflected that judgment." In this argument, Hovenkamp says, the authors are “precisely correct,” even if they “do not document their historical conclusions particularly well.”

Writing for the same publication, Daniel Hemel reviews Taxing the Rich: A History of Fiscal Fairness in the United States and Europe, by Kenneth Scheve and David Stasavage, which argues that governments tax the rich “during and in the wake of mass mobilization for war” because wartime enables governments to make “compensatory arguments” about the need for sacrifice. Hemel takes issue with the broadness of the term “compensatory arguments” and other limitations of Scheve & Stasavage’s assessments and summarizes the timeliness of the study.

Finally, the New Rambler presents Alison LaCroix’s review of Hamilton. LaCroix notes, not all too controversially, that the show is "brilliant," and then uses lines from the play, particularly Eliza Hamilton and Aaron Burr, to explain its attentiveness to the historian’s craft--to both “what happened [and] the deeper question of how we know what happened.”


Photograph above: Interpreters at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, c. 1946. Credit: Charles Alexander, Office of the United States Chief of Counsel, Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

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