Sunday, March 11, 2012

Saying No: This Week in the Book Pages

Image Credit: Jewish Women's Archive
"'If I had taken a doctoral degree, it would have stifled my writing capacity,' Barbara Tuchman once said. She took the right path." This comes from the opening paragraph of a Wall Street Journal article, by Bruce Cole, commemorating the new editions of two important Tuchman works: The Guns of August (1962) and The Proud Tower (1966).  (The Library of America combined them into one volume, here.)

Read on for more on Tuchman's biography and her approach to the craft of historical writing. The article also discusses the apparently growing "gulf . . . between those who write history for general readers . . . and the scholars who write for a shrinking audience of specialists." 

Also reviewed in the WSJ:
  • Thomas Hart Benton: A Life (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), by Justin Wolff (here). The book "tells the story of the painter's rise and fall as a hero of American art." 
In the book pages of the New York Times, you'll find a review of Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), by Eyal Press. Here's a taste:
Press is a journalist, and he is interested in how moral problems play out in particular lives. To that end, he relates the experiences of [Paul] Grüninger [a Swiss police commander who, in defiance of Swiss law, helped Jewish refugees flee Austria in 1938] and three others: a Serb who saved the lives of Croats by lying about their ethnic identity; an Israeli soldier from an elite unit who refused to serve in the occupied territories; and a financial industry whistle-blower. Press is not simply storytelling, however. He splices his case studies with brief accounts of other dissenters, along with insights drawn from sociology, political theory, history, neuroscience, psychology, fiction and philosophy.
In honor of Women's History Month, the Times also covers four children's books, "each portraying a spunky and clever, yet overlooked, heroine" (Josephine Baker is one). The review predicts that "the words and pictures chosen in each of these books will help an extraordinary woman find her way into history, and into a young reader’s ­memory."

Also in the NYT: A review, here, of Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure, by Julia Flynn Siler (mentioned in our Feb. 5 round-up, here) and an article on the powerful response to law professor Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow (we linked to an earlier review, here, and a critique, here).

A new issue of the New York Review of Books is out. Diane Ravitch covers two books on "How, and How Not, to Improve the Schools" (open access, here). Nicholas Lemann reviews Howard Cosell: The Man, The Myth, and the Transformation of American Sports (W. W. Norton & Co.), by Mark Ribowsky (subscribers only, here). Ezra Klein reviews two books on "Our Corrupt Politics" (open access, here)

Also, from the late Tony Judt, an  essay "On Intellectuals and Democracy" (subscribers only, here). And from Tony Judt's wife, Jennifer Homans, some thoughts, here, on Judt's Thinking the Twentieth Century. For much more, including essays on Samuel Beckett, global warming, and royalty, follow the link.

The New Republic: The Book spotlights The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America’s Schools (New York University Press), by sociology and criminal justice professor Jessie Klein. According to the review, the book is "well-intentioned but flawed." 

Writing for the Nation this week, Holly Case (Cornell University) reviews Uprooted: How Breslau Became Wroclaw during the Century of Expulsions (Princeton University Press), by Gregor Thum (here, subscribers only).

Last but not least, the Chronicle of Higher Ed has published a review of Fear of Food: A History of Why We Worry About What We Eat (University of Chicago Press), by Harvey Levenstein. Writes reviewer Alexander C. Kafka:
Levenstein traces American food fears to the industrialization of production in the late 19th century coupled with Louis Pasteur's linkage of disease to bacteria. Since then, we've been terrorized by microbes in milk or beef, or those simply resting in our colons; by additives that might be poisoning us; by vitamin-drained processed foods that might be depriving us; by lipids; by carbs; by sugars; by salt.
Subscribers may read on here.