Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sunday Book Review Roundup

In the New York Review of Books, Linda Colley reviews David Armitage’s Civil Wars: A History in Ideas, which covers hundreds of years of civil wars to show how these “unnatural” conflicts promote religious and moral rebirth. Armitage also ends with an homage to the historian’s craft:
“Where a philosopher, a lawyer, or even a political scientist might find only confusion in disputes over the term ‘civil war,’ the historian scents opportunity. All definitions of civil war are necessarily contextual and conflictual. The historian’s task is not to come up with a better one, on which all sides could agree, but to ask where such competing conceptions came from....”

Also in the NYRB, Jed Rakoff reviews Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishmentby Carol S. Steiker and Jordan M. Steiker. The Steikers describe the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s anti-death penalty litigation, and assess the death penalty as a racialized symbol, but don’t totally acknowledge “that rational human beings can feel such revulsion at the taking of an innocent life as to wish the taker dead.” 

In the Washington Post, Charles Lane reviews The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein. The review is aptly titled “the New Deal was a raw deal for African Americans.”  Slate’s review of the book puts Rothstein in the context of the equal protection jurisprudence that he’s primarily arguing against, and NPR gives more details on the federal housing policy--that infamous underwriting manual--that Rothstein describes. Not to be outdone by Terry Gross, Slate also features not one but two interviews with Rothstein.

The Guardian features a review of Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day by Peter Ackroyd, observing that the book“turns out to be less an excavation than a hasty piece of cultural speed dating,” starting with a “scene-setting cacophony of all the names London has ever called us.”

In the LA Review of Books Andrew Seal reviews “Keep the Damned Women Out”: The Struggle for Coeducation. Seal reads Nancy Weiss Makiel’s book alongside other histories of the ivy league--“the jaded memoir-cum-exposés of figures like Walter Kirn, Ross Douthat, William F. Buckley, Dinesh D’Souza, or William Deresiewicz--and admires its focus on the administrators who advanced equality and reform in the ivies.

The New Books Network features interviews with Mary E. Adkins about Making Modern Florida: How the Spirit of Reform Shaped a New State Constitution, an account “of the reformation of the Florida state constitution in the 1960s,” and with Ryan Alford, whose Permanent State of Emergency: Unchecked Executive Power and the Demise of Rule of Law “offers a fresh perspective on debates about the expansion of executive authority in the US in the post-9/11 period” (but throws Nixon in for good measure).

And in the New Rambler, Diana Muir Applebaum reviews the Museum of the American Revolution as well as the revolution itself (“it was a deeply conservative revolution, led by privileged and successful men who intended not to change the world they had inherited, but simply to free themselves from British rule and continue to live in a society not very different form the world of their fathers.”).