Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday Book Review Roundup

This week, reviewers are taking advantage of the centennial of the Russian revolution to look at some important books on the subject. So if you’re interested in Russia, but worried about disclosure requirements, check out this week’s reviews.

In the NYRB, Ben Nathans reviews The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution by Yuri Slezkine, who argues, according to Nathans, that “Bolsheviks displayed the particular form of religious fervor associated with millenarian sects, namely the desire to eradicate ‘private property and the family as the most powerful and mutually reinforcing sources of inequality,’ and applies an “intoxicating” framework in which Capitalism is “Babylon,” the Bolsheviks are “the preachers,” Marxism-Leninism is “the faith,” agitation and propaganda are called “missionary work,” and the end of tsarist Russia becomes “the end of the world.”

The LA Review of Books, like it’s New York counterpart, is looking at histories of the Russia and the Soviet Union. Douglas Smith covers Laura Engelstein’s
Russia in Flames: War, Revolution, Civil War, 1914–1921, which is “likely to become a standard work” on Revolutionary Russia, and Anne Applebaum’s Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, the “definitive history of Stalin’s famine” and its impact on Ukranian nationhood. Paul Delany also takes on two books by oral historian Svetlana Alexievich’--The Unwomanly Face of War An Oral History of Women in World War II and Boys in Zinc, which is about the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Evan Burkin reviews Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation, Serhii Plokhy’s history of ethnicity and Russian identity in Eastern Europe.

Mark Mazower covers Polkhy, Slezkhine and Masha Gessen in his Guardian review of new histories of the Russian Revolution. The BBC collects personal histories of the Russian revolution.

Some reviewers, of course, avoid contact with the Russians: In LARB, Darryl Holter also reviews Grown-Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Calumet Massacre of 1913, Daniel Wolff’s “comprehensive history of copper mining in the Upper Peninsula” and reflection on Bob Dylan’s relationship with folk music and perpetual reinvention. In the Guardian, Maya Jasanoff reviews Victorious Century by David Cannadine review, “a sparkling history of 19th-century Britain.”

In the NYRB, Judge Jed Rakoff reviews Judge Jon O. Newman’s memoir, which is entitled Benched: Abortion, Terrorists, Drones, Crooks, Supreme Court, Kennedy, Nixon, Demi Moore, and Other Tales from the Life of a Federal Judge.  Newman's memoir, according to Rakoff, has a “certain insider quality that may limit its accessibility” but may be of interest to historians of 20th Century America or court-watchers in general. And also in the NYRB (but like Rakoff’s article, behind a paywall), is Sam Tanenhaus’s review of several new takes on the Conservative movement and its history, including historian Nicole Hemmer’s Messengers of the Right.

Historians of the American Empire--or the executive--will be interested in the NY Times’ review of President McKinley: Architect of the American Century, Robert W. Merry’s “measured and insightful” biography of the President. Merry argues that McKinley, not Roosevelt, was “actually was responsible for America’s new role in the world.” Executive power and personality are also at play in Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel by Francine Klagsbrun. According to the New York Times, Klagsbrun, a purveyor of the growing “Golda rethink,” “wrests Meir from the shadow of the Yom Kippur War and presents her life and career as a lens to examine Israel’s challenges.”

Also in The Times, Gary Bass reviews The Future of War: A History, Lawrence Freedman’s “eclectic” survey of British and American strategic thinking for the past several centuries. Historians of international law may be interested. Freedman was a Privy Council of the United Kingdom and participated in the Iraq Inquiry in 2009, is “sobered by the ferocity of nationalist passions,” and “wary of idealistic efforts to criminalize warfare and supplant power politics with international law.”

In the Wall St. Journal, but behind a paywall, are several reviews of interest. Kathleen Duval on Russell Shorto’s Revolution Song, A. Roger Ekirch on Diana Preston’s Paradise in Chains: The Bounty Mutiny and the Founding of Australia, and Ben Leubsdorf on the Turnerian frontier thesis.