Sunday, April 27, 2008

Reviewed: Books on Ida B. Wells, The Library at Night, and Labor

Peter Conrad has a decidedly 1.0 review (or 0.0, if there is such a thing) of Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night (Yale University Press) in The Guardian. Conrad imagines Manguel sitting in his library,

preferably at night, with the 'shapeless universe' outside expunged by darkness. Warmed by the pools of light that spill from his lamps, he does not even need to read: the smell of the wooden shelves and 'the musky perfume of the leather bindings' is enough to pacify him and prepare him for sleep....Within his global, multilingual book collection, he can effortlessly travel in both time and space.
This world is fading, however, for "libraries like his are now imperilled by their virtual equivalents on the internet. A book read on a screen has dematerialised; we can neither own nor love it, and if we can't hold it in our hands how can we absorb it into our minds?"

Eric Arnesan has a fine review of Ida: A Sword Among Lions, by Paula J. Giddings (Amistad/HarperCollins), on pathbreaking African American journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells, for the Chicago Tribune. He writes:

What emerges clearly from Giddings' account is a portrait of a courageous activist who desperately longed for recognition and credit but found herself instead perpetually frustrated when passed over for office or denied the praise she believed she deserved. One of the many strengths of Giddings's biography is her reluctance to either romanticize or minimize Wells' contributions. She is also appropriately attentive to the broader canvas of black politics, continually situating Wells in a spectrum of black perspectives that can no longer be reduced to Booker T. Washington's accommodationism and W.E.B. DuBois' militancy. If excessively detailed at times, "Ida: A Sword Among Lions" is nevertheless a skillfully constructed and often moving account of a life and a time whose complexity is always central to its story.
Two books on labor history, THE BIG SQUEEZE: Tough Times for the American Worker, by Steven Greenhouse (Knopf), and AMERICAN-MADE: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work, by Nick Taylor (Bantam) are reviewed by H.W. Brands for the Washington Post. For Brands, Greenhouse offers "enlightened counterpoints to the dark force of Wal-Mart," even though it is "hard to imagine how government will summon the will to effect the changes" Greenhouse believes are necessary for American workers. Taylor's book is "bigger than its title suggests; he provides a succinct survey of the Great Depression and particularly its consequences for workers." Even though "a warm glow of history enshrouds the WPA," Brand writes, "no one should want to see the WPA experiment repeated, for the reason that it would require reliving the economic circumstances that made it necessary. All the same, the WPA experience demonstrates that democracy can act decisively in a national emergency."