Sunday, May 29, 2011

Kloppenberg, Reading Obama, and more in the book reviews

Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition by James T. Kloppenberg is reviewed by David Greenberg in The New Republic/The Book.  For Greenberg,the book is "a welcome addition" to works by academics on Obama, "not least because it is the first book to try to tease out a coherent political philosophy from the president."
What Kloppenberg finds in Obama’s writing, however, is emphatically not opportunism, but something more explicitly philosophical. He believes that Barack Obama belongs in the venerable strain of American thought that runs from William James and John Dewey to Richard Rorty and his disciples. This pragmatism deems ideas as valuable for their real-world utility and consequences: true ideas, it holds, are those that work. It rests on a commitment to experiment, a frank acknowledgment of human fallibility, an impatience with the search for a grander truth, a rejection of a priori absolutes.
It is Kloppenberg's "portrait of academic thinking in this period may well be his book’s signal contribution."  But the author's "esteem for Obama leads him to over-value Obama as an intellectual."  Read the rest here.

Also posted, a classic TNR essay, Death Penalty Litigation by Alexander Bickel, originally published August 19, 1967.

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough is reviewed in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the New York Times.

Adam Goodheart, 1861: The Civil War Awakening is reviewed in the Washington Post.