Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sunday Review Roundup

Fan of Marx? Hitler? Just need more information?  Check out these book reviews.

In The Guardian, Richard Norton-Taylor reviews Susan Williams’s Spies in the Congo, which describes American activities in the Shinkolobwe uranium mine in then Belgian Congo during the Cold War. Using newly opened archives and personal interviews, she describes how the OSS “recruited a motley band to ensure the uranium reached the US and did not fall into the hands of Nazi Germany.”

In the Times Literary Supplement, one can read about Greatness and Illusion, Gareth Stedman Jones’ “fine new biography” of Karl Marx. Jones sets out to resurrect Marx’s intellectual and personal world without drawing on the “all the posthumous elaboration of his character and achievements.” Indeed, he “calls his subject ‘Karl,’ not to suggest a fake intimacy but to remind us that we are dealing not with an already marmoreal icon but with a human being thinking his way through a recalcitrant world.”   Michael Kazin explores the same work a New Republic piece cleverly titled “Prophet or Loss.”  According to Kazin, Jones tries to disabuse readers of “the notion that, in Capital, Marx explained anything significant about the workings of capitalism—either then or now. … Where Marx did excel, according to Jones, was in his vivid and lavishly detailed descriptions of the miserable lives of ordinary English workers, which he had spent years researching in the British Museum.”

In the Wall Street Journal, Neil Gregor reviews Volker Ullrich’s Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939, the first part of a two-volume biography of Hitler originally published in German. Ullrich, who is a journalist by training (and thus avoids the “often deadening prose of his German academic colleagues”), uses “a wonderful array of well-chosen anecdotes” to emphasize Hitler’s personal role in “driving the war” and orchestrating the Holocaust.

In the LA Review of Books, filmmaker Priyanka Kumar reviews Elizabeth Hinton’s From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (it is “rich with details and synthesis that give the reader fresh insights into how the well-meaning policies of the Kennedy and Johnson eras went awry”) and Stephen Hansen takes on Aviezer Tucker’s The Legacies of Totalitarianism: A Theoretical Framework (it rejects the revisionism of many contemporary accounts of Russian history to make a “forceful defense of the central arguments of the totalitarian school about the nature of Leninist rule”).

In the History News Network, John L. Godwin reviews Kenneth Robert Janken’s The Wilmington Ten: Violence, Injustice, and the Rise of Black Politics in the 1970s. According to Godwin, you should pick up Janken’s book after you finish reading Gareth Stedman Jones: “For believers in the Russian Revolution, those who still reverence Mao and anticipate the return of Radical Reconstruction—this book will seem to capture a fleeting sense of that revolutionary moment waiting to happen. But for those who are interested in facts and want to know what really happened on the streets of Wilmington on the weekend of February 5-6, 1971, and the subsequent trial, The Wilmington Ten will surely raise new questions.”

The New Books Network features interviews with Katherine Turk, whose Equality on Trial: Gender and Rights in the Modern American Workplace explores the EEOC’s treatment of gender
discrimination cases in the 1970s. The backlog of claims, she argues, “pressed the EEOC to narrow the definition of sex equality and turned to statistics in developing cases to be tested in the courts.” One can also hear Marisa J. Fuentes on her new book Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence and the Archive, which “challenges historians to think more carefully about the methods and categories with which they have described and analyzed slavery,” taking up larger questions about “agency, violence, the production of knowledge, and gender,” and Megan Tompkins-Stange on the role of foundations in education reform (the subject of her new book: Policy Patrons: Philanthropy, Education Reform, and the Politics of Influence). Finally, the Network published an interview about America Abroad: The United States’ Global Role in the 21st Century, which takes stock of debates about globalization and serves as a “powerful reminder that a robust American presence is crucial for maintaining world order” a powerful defense of American globalism.” How’s that for “agency”?

The Literary Review (It's "for people who devour books”...) features reviews of several books of interest to legal historians, especially those with an interest in English law. David Edgerton reviews Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon’s Continental Drift: Britain and Europe from the End of Empire to the Rise of Euroscepticism and Brendan Simms’s Britain's Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation. Richard Overy reviews The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End, 1917–1923 , by Robert Gerwarth. You can also check out Adam Zaymorski on Richard Evans’s The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815–1914 and Jeremy Lewis on Giles MIlton’s The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: Churchill’s Mavericks – Plotting Hitler’s Defeat.

 And finally, when I say “Thug Nation,” you think “Great Britain,” right? In a playfully titled review, Ted Vallance discusses A Fiery & Furious People: A History of Violence in England. The book, by James Sharpe, is also reviewed this week in The Guardian.