Sunday, November 27, 2011

Making a List: This Week in the Book Pages

The New York Times has selected "100 Notable Books of 2011." The non-fiction list includes numerous biographies (e.g., John Farrell's biography of Clarence Darrow, Manning Marable's Malcolm X), and much on the history of war and wartime experiences (e.g., Amanda Foreman's A World on Fire, Adam Hochschild's To End All Wars).  Also The Origins of Political Order, by Francis Fukuyama, Why the West Rules -- For Now, by Ian Morris, and The Memory Chalet, by the late Tony Judt.

But don't skip the NYT reviews section this week.  Kevin Boyle covers two new histories of the KKK:  One Hundred Percent American: The Rebirth and Decline of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s (Ivan R. Dee), by Thomas R. Pegram, and Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 (University Press of Kansas), by Kelly J. Baker. These books remind us, Boyle writes, of the "dark strain of bigotry and exclusion running through the national experience."

  • A new history of the Pacific War, Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 (W. W. Norton and Co.), by Ian W. Toll (also reviewed this week in the Wall Street Journal, here). 
From the Nation, readers may be interested in the review of a new collection of Dwight Macdonald essays, Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain ( NYRB Classics), edited by John Summers. The book caught my eye because I sometimes teach Macdonald's influential review of Michael Harrington's The Other America. Reviewer Jennifer Szalai convinced me that Macdonald constructed an entire "critical system," which itself is an artifact of a particular time and place.

Subscribers to the Chronicle of Higher Education may want to check out the review of Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes (University of Texas Press), by Adilifu Nama. Here's a taste:
The author, an associate professor of African-American studies at Loyola Marymount University, writes that black superheroes began to appear during the ferment of the 1960s and 70s when "pop culture, the movement for racial equality, and comic books all intersected, resulting in superheroes becoming signifiers of real racial anxieties, desires, and wish fulfillments." The comic books they populated commented on the tensions among black self-determination, racial authenticity, political fantasy, and economic independence.

The latest issue of the London Review of Books covers Strangers on the Western Front: Chinese Workers in the Great War (Harvard), by Xu Guoqi (subscribers only, here), Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics: JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reagan (Putnam), by Jeff Greenfield (open access, here), and Foner's The Fiery Trial (subscribers only, here).

This week in the New Republic: The Book, Richard Kahlenberg reviews Still a House Divided: Race and Politics in Obama’s America (Princeton University Press), by Desmond S. King and Rogers M. Smith.  According to the review, the book is part survey: King and Smith summarize "the history and the evolution of American thinking on race, from color-conscious white supremacist policies . . .  to color-blind policies . . . back to race-conscious affirmative action policies . . . ."  It is also part critique, of a President who "leans 'rhetorically toward the color-blind camp.'”  In light of existing racial inequalities, the authors argue, "[f]ailing to do anything to address our nation’s profound legacy of discrimination will leave the country racially divided."

"In the spirit of Thanksgiving," TNR also re-ran two earlier reviews, about the Puritans
and the founding fathers, respectively.

The Los Angeles Times is thankful for legendary mystery writer Agatha Christie. It spotlights her  autobiography, recently re-released with a new foreword by her grandson.