Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sunday Book Review Roundup

Legal historians, are you worried about keeping up with the newest scholarship while you finish your holiday shopping and work through those not-so-historical guilty pleasures?  If you don't have time to read the season's hottest histories cover to cover, these reviews should keep you adequately prepared for conference chit-chat--and may generate some new items for your 2017 reading list. 

In The Guardian, Mark Trahant reviews Blood and Land by anthropologist J.C.H. King, a “sweeping history” that captures the opposing perspectives of treaties within native America.

The NY Times includes a review of John Edgar Wideman’s Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File, which uses declassified military records to assemble “a searching account of his attempt to learn more about the short life of Louis Till,” father of Emmett Till, the fourteen year old who murdered in 1955 in Mississippi. His father, Louis, was one of the many black soldiers were accused, convicted and executed for rape in World War II.

In the same publication, Mike Rappaport reviews Richard Evans’ The Pursuit of Power, a volume in the Penguin History of Europe series that covers the period between 1815 and 1914. “The enviably Tolstoyan scale of the book allows Evans, first, to immerse the reader in a narrative that moves seamlessly from Russia to Iberia and all points in between.”  

Also in the Times, Margaret MacMillan reviews Robert Gerwath’s The Vanquished, which traces the long term effects of WWI (“the fires of extreme nationalism died down but did not go away, and the language of political leaders in certain countries continued to resonate with talk of enemies and metaphors of war. … Constitutional and democratic governments never quite managed to shake off the charge that they were weak and, perhaps worse, boring.”)  Finally, Brenda Wineapple covers Steven Hahn’s A Nation Without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil Wars, 1830-1910, the “most sweeping indictment to date of the American appetite for conquest.” John Stauffer reviews Hahn’s book in the Wall St.Journal.

In the Times Literary Supplement, Ari Kelman reviews books on emancipation by Manisha Sinha and Ira Berlin, focusing more on Sinha’s 700-page take on the topic, “the comprehensive history of abolitionism” that Berlin called for in his shorter volume. Both books challenge the traditional “great man” version of abolitionism: “Sinha hammers home the point that black people, when they fought for their freedom, were the movement’s beating heart.”

The Washington Post features a review of The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the Present by John Pomfret, which covers 600 years of relations between the two countries (albeit unevenly--Pomfret’s description of pre-1930 relations is “a little thin”) and ends (again, “a bit hastily”) with reflections on some of the events of 2016, “none of which offered cause for optimism.” The book is also reviewed in the Wall St. Journal.
The Wall St. Journal features stories on James L. Haley’s The Shores of Tripoli, which “will do for the U.S. Marines what Patrick O’Brian did for the Royal Navy. It is that good.”; Peter Fritzsche’s An Iron Wind, which “shows just how swiftly Europeans were prepared to abandon their commitment to a normative morality and to ignore, justify or endorse Nazi persecutions”; Matthew Karp’s This Vast Southern Empire, which tracks pro-slavery policy makers’ “obsession” with Cuba, and Clifton Hood’s In Pursuit of Privilege, which shows how the “one percent” built New York.

In the LA Review of Books, one can read an essay about the history of America’s higher education system and a review of Christopher Newfield’s The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them. The LARB also features a review of Robert Reiley’s Inside the Clinton White House, an oral history of an era when even democrats were steeped in a “deep-seated conservatism” that, in the words of John Compton, “is no more.”

On the New Books Network, listen to interviews with Richard Griffiths (on his book What Did You Do During the War? The Last Throes of the British Pro-Nazi Right, 1940-45), Bill V. Mullin (on his new biography of DuBois, W. E. B. Du Bois: Revolutionary Across the Color Line), Jennifer Palmer (on Intimate Bonds: Family and Slavery in the French Atlantic, her portrait of two “extraordinary” families in the era of French slavery), and Regis Darques (on Mapping Versatile Boundaries: Understanding the Balkans, which “sheds light on an apparent ‘chaos’ of the Balkan geography).