Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sunday Book Review Roundup

If you want to curl up with a steaming cup of commodity history this winter, check out Simon Winchester’s review of two not-too-creatively titled books on the history of the British empire. The Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World is Lizzie Collingham’s “pointilliste picture of the world’s food economy in all its magical complexity,” encapsulated in the recreation of several dozen British meals. Erika Rappaport’s A Thirst for Empire: How Tea Shaped the Modern World is a history of the changing tea market. It is “a somewhat drier work than Collingham’s,” but “nonetheless fascinating,” according to Winchester, “especially for an academic
audience.” The paper’s collection of “notable books” of 2017 also includes several legal histories, like Ganesh Sitaraman’s The Crisis of the Middle‑Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic and Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.

Michael Taube reviews Kenneth Whyte’s new biography of Hoover, which argues that “it was a Republican who opened the awful Pandora’s box to big government.” The Washington Post also reviews Linda Gordon’s The Second Coming of the KKK, which traces “the KKK’s tentacles across the country, particularly in the North,” “upending notions that the Klan was a marginalized group of backward, uneducated Southerners.”

The New York Review of Books is characteristically interested in histories with present-day ramifications. Adam Hoschild reviews Gordon’s book and Felix Harcourt’s Ku Klux Kulture: America and the Klan in the 1920's in a NYRB article called “Klu Klux Klambakes,” observing that the Klan of the 1920s “was a movement, but also a profit-making business.” Diane Ravitch’s Big Money Rules covers Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean and The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time by Gordon Lafer, which “meticulously demonstrates how the Koch brothers and the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of 2010 have influenced elections and public policy in the state”. Robert Cottrell’s Russia’s Gay Demons is a review of The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen.

In the Times Literary Supplement, Sarah J. Young reviews Daniel Beer’s The House of the Dead: Siberian exile under the Tsars. And in The Nation, J. Hoberman reviews Left Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History and Memory by Enzo Traverso. Although Traverso’s book takes its title from a 1931 essay in which Walter Benjamin “excoriated a fashionable group of Weimar writers for a left-liberalism that he believed was pitifully devoid of any corresponding action,” Traverso, according to Hoberman, “seeks to commemorate and dignify the vanquished.” 

Finally, NBN features interviews with Richard White about The Republic for Which it Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 (which “makes a strong case for a wholesale reevaluation of the long period after the Civil War as more than just decades of missed opportunity; Americans spent those years fundamentally reshaping the republic itself.”); Paul Irish about Hidden in Plain View: The Aboriginal People of Coastal Sydney (which “debunks the myth that local Aboriginal people disappeared from Sydney within decades of the arrival of Europeans in 1788.”); Stephen F. Williams about The Reformer: How One Liberal Fought to Preempt the Russian Revolution (which “uses a biographic account of the life and career of Vasily Maklakov to explore issues of legality and rule of law in Tsarist Russia” from 1905 til the Bolshevik Revolution); Nikhil Pal Singh on Race and America’s Long War (a long history which “highlights how the policies and cultural norms of war have become deeply intertwined with, and often dependent on, the architecture of racial difference inside and outside the United States.”),Lawrence R. Douglas about The Right Wrong Man: John Demjanjuk and the Last Great Nazi War Crimes Trial (which “examines the trial of John Demjanjuk,” once thought to be the “Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka”).