Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Book Roundup

There's no shortage of book reviews to read this weekend! To start with, The New Rambler reviews Naomi Murakawa's The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America (Oxford University Press).
"Naomi Murakawa, a political scientist and associate professor of African American Studies at Princeton, has written an interesting book that blames both features on American liberals—in particular Harry Truman, Ted Kennedy, and Bill Clinton (and Lyndon Johnson and Joe Biden)—and American liberalism. In The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison American, Murakawa takes as her target a conventional wisdom that explains the rise of mass incarceration as a victory of Republican law-and-order over Democratic civil rights. Rather, she argues, starting right in her subtitle, “liberals built prison America.” It was liberals, she claims, who “established a law-and-order mandate: build a better carceral state, one strong enough to control racial violence in the streets and regimented enough to control racial bias in criminal justice administration.” (page 3)"
Michael Signer's Becoming Madison: The Extraordinary Origins of the Least Likely Founding Father (PublicAffairs) is excerpted in The Daily Beast.

H-Net adds a review of The Street Politics of Abortion: Speech, Violence, and America's Culture Wars by Joshua C. Wilson (Stanford University Press).
"Firstly, he attempts to develop these stories through the lens of "movement-countermovement" analysis whereby he analyzes "how directly competing movements interact with one another—and possibly with a more traditional entity like the state—in a dynamic process where each movement in part creates the conditions within which the other acts" (p. 10). At the same time, he sets out to understand what we can learn about these stories regarding questions raised by traditional "legal consciousness" research, including "determining if and how law mattered for those involved in these disputes; how their stories may or may not reproduce, challenge, or amend legal power and state authority; ... and how their conceptions of law affect the ongoing politics of abortion" (p. 111). Lastly, Wilson includes the perspective of a group of participants in these legal conflicts that is often explicitly excluded in traditional legal consciousness research: state legal insiders or legal "elites," specifically lawyers, legislators, and amicus brief authors. Overall, this book achieves the ambitious goals it sets for itself in that it engages with and furthers two types of socio-legal-historical research: movement-countermovement literature and legal consciousness literature. Nonetheless, certain aspects of the conclusions reached by Wilson raise questions and leave room for further analysis."
More on culture wars and rights can be found in a review of Andrew Hartman's A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars (University of Chicago Press) in the Washington Independent Review of Books.

Still yearning for yet more Magna Carta talk? The Los Angeles Review of Books has a multi-book review including Magna Carta and the Rule of Law by Roy Edmund Browned II, Andrea Martinez, Daniel Barstow Magraw (American Bar Association); In the Shadow of the Great Charter: Common Law Constitutionalism and the Magna Carta by Robert M. Pallitto (University Press of Kansas); King John and the Road to Magna Carta by Stephen Church (Basic); and Magna Carta: The Foundation of Freedom 1215-2015 by Nicholas Vincent (Third Millennium).
"The deeper that one goes in studying Magna Carta, beyond the uncritical and largely superficial treatment it receives in high school and popular culture, the more one begins to understand that it is the myth and the reinterpretation of Magna Carta over time that have influenced later generations far more than what actually happened in June 1215."
Also in the LA Review of Books is a review of Steve Inskeep's Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab (Penguin).

History Today reviews Don H. Doyle's The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War (Basic).

The New York Review of Books adds a couple of reviews of interest, including one of Chen Guangcheng's The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man's Fight for Justice and Freedom in China (Henry Holt).

There's also a multi-book review titled, "Our Universities: The Outrageous Reality," that takes up many works, including, Degrees of Inequality: How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream by Suzanne Mettler (Basic); The Student Loan Mess: How Good Intentions Created a Trillion-Dollar Problem by Joel Best and Eric Best (University of California Press); Financing American Higher Education in the Era of Globalization by William Zumeta, David W. Breneman, Patrick M. Callan, and Joni E. Finney (Harvard Education Press); Locus of Authority: The Evolution of Faculty Roles in the Governance of Higher Education by William G. Bowen and Eugene M. Tobin (Princeton University Press); Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality by Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton (Harvard University Press); and Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa (University of Chicago Press). Here's a bit of the review:
"All in all, despite an emerging recognition that we must change course, the story told in the books under review is a dispiriting one. Mettler attributes the decline of educational opportunity since the 1980s to a failure of “upkeep,” by which she means the failure of government to renew and adapt policies from the past in order to advance their original purposes in the present and future. This strikes me as a generous explanation. The truth may be uglier. Perhaps concern for the poor has shriveled not only among policymakers but in the broader public. Perhaps in our time of focus on the wealthy elite and the shrinking middle class, there is a diminished general will to regard poor Americans as worthy of what are sometimes called “the blessings of American life”—among which the right to education has always been high if not paramount."
In The New York Times, Ryan Gatos's novel, All Involved (Harper Collins), is reviewed.
"Gattis’s premise is provocative: In the six days following the verdict of April 29, 1992, that acquitted three white police officers of using excessive force on Rodney King, the Los Angeles Police Department was so focused on the most violent manifestations of civil unrest that much of the rest of the city went unregulated. “All Involved” consists of 17 different perspectives, a majority of which issue from characters who have all been involved in some manner of illegal activity. As their neighborhood, Lynwood, plunges into general lawlessness because the police are struggling elsewhere, the path becomes clear for these individuals to go extra rogue, settling scores that mostly revolve around revenge and betrayal."
With Politics & Prose Joseph Ellis discusses The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 (Knopf).

Geraldo L. Cadava discusses his Standing on Common Ground: The Making of a Sunbelt Borderland (Harvard University Press) with New Books in American Studies.

The New York Times has curated a list of fiction and nonfiction works for those interested in "Reading About Racial Boundaries."