Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sunday Book Review Roundup

Happy New Year, all.  In the NYRB, Annette Gordon-Reed reviews Robert Parkinson’s The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution, which “offers a provocative alternative to the conventional views that blacks’ perpetual alien status in the United States is simply a natural outgrowth of having been enslaved.” Instead, Gordon-Reed says, “Americans were deciding who was “in” and who was “out” as soon as they began to fight Great Britain.”

The Nation features a review of Steven Hahn’s A Nation Without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil Wars, 1830-1910. This praiseful review tracks Hahn’s argument (“The nation-state has never been a stable political form that is distinct from empires. It has always emerged out of and then sustained itself on the imperial conquest of new territories”) and ends in a call for new political forms in a global era.  There’s also an essay on Harvey Cox, a Baptist minister, Harvard divinity professor, and “Christian left-wing intellectual to the core” that may be of interest to legal historians.

In the Wall St. Journal, legal historians can read Alex Beam’s review of A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Willard Spiegelman’s review of Berlin for Jews by Leonard Barkan, and Adrian Goldsworthy’s review of The Triumph of Empire by Michael Kulikowski, a history of the Roman Empire (“Ancient Rome continues to fascinate us, with each new generation seeing echoes of its own hopes and fears in the rise and fall of an empire that seems simultaneously modern and alien”).

 The LA Times reviews David Silverman’s Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America, which “uses military history and political economy to chip away at Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel” narrative.” Instead, he argues that American Indians “cornered the market” on firearms in Early America, so much that the U.S. army resorted to “scorched earth techniques” in armed encounters (this phrase is used literally, at least to describe wars with the Seminoles, which involved “burning Seminole villages to the ground” and destroying cattle herds).

There are a few reviews of biographies and autobiographies that may be of interest. In the Guardian, William Davies reviews David Cannadine’s new book on Margaret Thatcher; Patricia Williams reviews Coretta Scott King’s autobiography in the Times and LA Times reviews Xu Hongci’s No Wall Too High, “one of the most compelling and moving memoirs to emerge from Communist China, which is now appearing in English for the first time.”

I couldn't find a legal history review in The Economist or on its website. I did, however, find this piece on the “The far right’s new fascination with the Middle Ages,” which has prompted many Medievalists to defend their period (with broadswords, and bludgeons, one imagines) to ensure that it is not "weaponised against people of colour and marginalised communities in our own contemporary world."