Sunday, February 12, 2012

"Coming Apart," "War Time," "Pink and Blue," and More: This Week in the Book Pages

This week, don't miss the New York Times review of Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (Crown Forum), by Charles Murray. Like Murray's previous books (Losing Ground, the Bell Curve), Coming Apart is sure to provoke a reaction from social scientists and historians. Another source of controversy will be the book's implication: in reviewer Nicholas Confessore's words, "that economic insecurity doesn’t have much to do with eroding civic values, so we shouldn’t bother using government to tackle inequality."

On inequality and its significance, see also the latest issue of the New York Review of Books. Andrew Hacker reviews, here, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger 
(Bloomsbury), by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett; The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good (Princeton University Press), by Robert H. Frank; The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics (Doubleday), by Thomas Byrne Edsall; and Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others 
(Polity), by James Gilligan. 

Also in the NYRB: R.J.W. Evans reviews two books on Bismarck (here, subscribers only); Richard Bernstein reviews A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia (Norton), by Aaron L. Friedberg (here); Richard Lewontin reviews three books on DNA and crime (here, subscribers only); and Michael Tomasky covers two books on Mitt Romney (here).

The New Republic gives us much food for thought this week -- 

Mark Schmitt (Roosevelt Institute) takes up "moderate Republicanism" in his review of Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party (Oxford University Press), by Geoffrey Kabaservice

Eric Posner (University of Chicago) covers War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences (Oxford University Press), by Mary Dudziak (here). In Posner's opinion,
Dudziak’s argument provides a twist on a common view among legal academics about the relationship between wartime and civil liberties. Like these scholars, Dudziak believes that people tolerate infringements of civil liberties because they are bamboozled by leaders and not because security threats require sacrifices. But whereas most scholars emphasize the public’s emotional reaction to a threat (people panic and approve of excessive measures that lead to abuse), Dudziak focuses on cognitive or perhaps imaginative deficiencies (people misunderstand the nature of wartime and approve excessive measures because they think the war will be temporary).
Dudziak's response to the review is here.

Also reviewed in TNR: Borrow: The American Way of Debt (Vintage Books), by Louis Hyman (here).

Subscribers to the Chronicle of Higher Ed may enjoy Kacie Glenn's review of Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America (Indiana University Press), by Jo B. Paoletti. Here's a taste:
Paoletti, an associate professor of American studies at the University of Maryland at College Park, studies apparel design and textiles, as well as the psychology of dress, consumer culture, developmental psychology, and the history of childhood. In her new book, she describes how, over the past 100 years, parents have increasingly gravitated toward children's clothing that telegraphs their offspring's gender to the world.
Read on here.

The Wall Street Journal reviews Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War (Knopf), by Stephen R. Platt. Here's a taste:
Much recent scholarship on the Taiping Uprising . . . has shown the value in approaching the 1860s as a time when China was wracked by a civil war not completely unlike the one taking place on the other side of the Pacific. . . . Mr. Platt presents the first book-length foray in this direction, providing a compelling alternative account of much-studied events that feels both a bit old-fashioned (in its panoramic view of battles and leaders) yet also very much in step with recent scholarship, placing national stories into global frameworks.

Also reviewed in the WSJ: three new books on the Girl Scouts and its founder (here).

In the pages of the Nation, you'll find a review of Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion (Hill and Wang), by Jean H. Baker. Reviewer Michelle Goldberg recognizes the need to place Sanger, now a highly politicized figure, in proper context, but concludes that the book "adds little to our understanding of [Sanger's] dynamic, pathbreaking and often maddening ideas and life."