UPfront: February & March

January 19th, 2009 by EVENTS

The Israeli Secret Service and the Struggle Against Terrorism by Ami Pedahzur

Columbia University Press, February 2009

In the public imagination, the Israeli secret services are frequently seen as a vaunted organization in the fight against terrorism. Not so, says Ami Pedahzur in this surprising and compelling history of Israel’s efforts to combat terrorism from the 1940s to the present-day. Israel’s reliance on a “war model” in fighting terrorists has not worked and in fact led to more terrorism and diverted intelligence from other, potentially more lethal, threats. Obviously, this book has important policy implications for both Israel and global efforts to stem terrorist activities, and Pedahzur makes several recommendations as he explains why past policies have failed. Pedahzur also offers a behind-the-scenes look at how the Israeli secret services work both on the organizational level and in the field. The book is full of fascinating and often gripping accounts of Israeli operations such as the assassination of PLO leaders after the Munich Olympics, the raid on Entebbe, and more recent efforts in Gaza and the West Bank. [Philip Leventhal]

Cultural Revolutions: Everyday Life and Politics in Britain, North America, and France by Leora Auslander

University of California Press, February 2009

Cultural Revolutions spans the momentous political and economic changes from the English Civil War of the 1640s, the American Revolutionary War of the 1770s, and the French Revolution of the 1790s. The result is a succinct journey over a hundred years and across the Atlantic world that argues with previous histories that cast these as bourgeois or consumer revolutions. Accomplished European historian Leora Auslander, presents a new theory—that they were cultural revolutions. She includes the history of women as much as men, more than any other equivalent book. And she shows that these revolutions, that ushered in the modern world, helped give the goods we use to furnish our everyday lives—our clothes, our food, our songs and plays, our household objects—a new level of national importance (either American, British, or French) that helped shape the way we identify with the nation-states we live in now. [Tom Caldwell]

Alger Hiss and the Battle for History by Susan Jacoby

Yale University Press, March 2009

The trial of Alger Hiss, a state department hotshot who was accused by Whittaker Chambers of being a communist spy in 1948, is an iconic event of the McCarthy era. He was passionately defended by civil libertarians and the Left, though recent revelations seem to suggest he was in fact up to something. Why should we care? Well, consider the issues in play: guilt by association, the idea of domestic treachery, the balance between the demands of national security and the constitutional right to privacy. Sound familiar? The debate over the nature and extent of communist espionage goes well beyond the particulars of the Hiss case, though those details are interesting enough. Susan Jacoby, whose last book was The Age of American Unreason, is a skilled practitioner of stylish cultural history, and makes every subject she writes about worth reading about. [John Eklund]

Naming Infinity: A True Story of Religious Mysticism and Mathematical Creativity by Loren Graham & Jean-Michel Kantor

Harvard University Press, March 2009

The bookshelves are groaning with recent titles on the relationship between science and religion, but I’m pretty sure there’s been nothing quite like this strange little intellectual drama. As Russian and French scientists in the early twentieth century closed in on one of the oldest questions in mathematics- what is infinity?- they were profoundly influenced by the mystical movement called Name Worshipping. This dabbling in superstition by scientists who should be proper materialists enraged Stalin, and he made their lives miserable in various sadistic ways. Loren Graham is a fantastic writer, and his earlier book, The Ghost of the Executed Engineer, was similarly engaging. In a strange way this reminded me of Sylvia Nassar’s great book on John Nash, A Beautiful Mind. And, similarly, this book would definitely make a great movie. [John Eklund]

The Death of the Animal: A Dialogue by Paola Cavalieri

Columbia University Press, March 2009

Columbia’s animal studies list continues to grow and be of interest to a wide variety of readers both within academia and beyond. The field seems to be generating a lot of intellectual and creative energy and The Death of the Animal reflects this trend. The book explores some of the key fundamental moral and philosophical issues relating to our treatment of animals but does so in a wholly original fashion. In the place of a more staid philosophical exposition, the book opens with a lively Socratic dialogue set on an imaginary Greek island. This is followed by a conversation between some of the most interesting literary and philosophical figures in animal rights: J. M. Coetzee, Matthew Calarco, Harlan Miller, and Cary Wolfe. In articulating new ways to think about the moral and ethical issues concerning the human-animal relationship, Coetzee and others question the ways in which the West’s privileging of the intellect shapes our moral world. The dialogue and “multilogue” allow the ideas under discussion to flow in unexpected ways providing an imaginative and less imposing entryway into key philosophical debates that does not sacrifice intellectual sophistication. [Philip Leventhal]

A Brief Inquiry Into the Meaning of Sin and Faith, with “On My Religion” by John Rawls

Edited by Thomas Nagel, with an introduction by Thomas Nagel & Joshua Cohen, and commentary by Robert Merrihew Adams

Harvard University Press, March 2009

Oddly, John Rawls never discussed his personal religious beliefs in his published writings, but after his death two texts shedding light on the subject were discovered. A Brief Inquiry is the senior thesis Rawls submitted as a Princeton undergraduate in 1942. At the time he was deeply religious, and even considered entering the seminary to become an Episcopal priest. On My Religion is a short statement he drafted in 1997 to describe the evolution of his beliefs, including his abandonment of religious orthodoxy during World War II. These are interesting as important additions to Rawlsiana, but also as substantive contributions to an important debate: does theology have a role in political philosophy in a pluralistic society? [John Eklund]

Out of Now: The Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh by Adrian Heathfield & Tehching Hsieh

The MIT Press, March 2009

This book is something of an event in an art movement that is so new it doesn’t even have an agreed upon name, though it’s been called “endurance art” and “durational work.” Tehching Hsieh is a legendary, reclusive Taiwanese-American artist who made a series of mind-blowing performance art works in the late seventies and eighties. Time and his own body were his materials. He spent a year in self-imposed solitary confinement; he spent a year during which he punched a time-clock every hour on the hour, twenty-four hours a day (think about that); he spent a year living outside without shelter in New York; he spent a year tied by an eight foot rope to the artist Linda Montano. These were watershed works in performance art, and this book is the long-awaited documentation thereof, as well as a piece of stunning book-making. [John Eklund]

The Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire by Clifford Ando

University of California Press, March 2009

A selection of related essays on ancient Roman religion that Ando has written over the last five years. The first four essays examine in turn the epistemic basis of Roman state religion; the impact of theories of representation and materiality on the study of cult objects; the practice of naming gods in Roman cults; and the social-theoretical work performed by religion in the codification of law between the late Republic and high empire. He concentrates on these themes in part to render Roman religion intelligible to scholars outside the field. Above all, they concentrate on the actions that the Roman state took to move cults, whether from foreign cities to Rome, or out from Rome to Roman colonies. The group closes, as does the first, with an extended and detailed look to the future, to the fate of theology in the Christian Roman Empire of late antiquity. [Tom Caldwell]

The Philosophers Quarrel: Rousseau, Hume and the Limits of Human Understanding by Robert Zaretsky and John T. Scott

Yale University Press, March 2009

A sometimes thrilling, sometimes puzzling, but always entertaining guided tour through the emotional maze that was the friendship between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume, two of the greatest philosophers of the 18th Century. Their spectacular falling out occurred just a few months after they met, and the exchange of bitter letters back and forth across the Channel forced every intellectual and ordinary reader to take a side. This is a deeply scholarly, somewhat rigorous exploration of the costs of a failure to understand each other. Along with all the interpersonal drama, I came away with a much better grasp of what each of these thinkers passed on to us. If you’re a fan of Rousseau’s Dog, Wittgenstein’s Poker, and Descartes’ Bones, this one should be next up. [John Eklund]

Worlds Made by Words: Scholarship and Community in the Modern West by Anthony Grafton

Harvard University Press, March 2009

Anthony Grafton is a national intellectual treasure, and just about every word he writes is worth reading. This essay collection- it actually coheres like one text- is a survey of the way scholars have gone about their scholarship, from the early modern humanists, up through the world of electronic databases and digitized knowledge. It’s amazing how collaboration has been an enduring feature of creative discovery for centuries, and Grafton is passionate about the need to safeguard the spirit of community among scholars today. He rallies support for the book as a physical object. He champions the benefits of small group reading. And the reminiscences of his father in “Arendt & Eichmann at the Dinner Table” are alone worth the price of admission. This book put me in mind of Sven Birkerts’ Gutenberg Elegies, and Pascale Casanova’s World Republic of Letters, but Grafton is, of course, an original. [John Eklund]

Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don’t Play Baseball by Jennifer Ring

University of Illinois Press, March 2009

In my son’s 12-and-under youth baseball league each team included one or two girls who had started in the “peanut league” at age eight and moved through the upper divisions with their male peers. However, when the 13-14 year old league began, the girls disappeared. Where did they go? Jennifer Ring’s new book illuminates the male barriers that have been erected throughout history to keep girls off of the baseball diamond. And she’s not pleased that softball has been offered as the consolation sport. In 216 pages Ring provides an engaging explanation to my local mystery. [Michael Roux]

Mind in the Balance: Meditation in Science, Buddhism, and Christianity by B. Alan Wallace

Columbia University Press, March 2009

I have never been one for meditation (both too uptight and not disciplined enough) but Alan Wallace certainly convinces one of meditation’s potential to shape individual lives as well as its importance in Christianity and Buddhism. Ultimately, Wallace’s book forces us to think about meditation in completely new and unexpected ways. Alan Wallace always exhibits an uncanny ability to integrate science and religion. What is interesting in Wallace’s work is that the relationship between religion and science is not an either-or proposition and, in fact, two share many affinities in their understanding of consciousness. Thus, meditation in Wallace’s view is not just a relaxation technique good for relieving stress but is “a precision tool for exploring consciousness and the universe scientifically – that is using empirical methods similar to those intrinsic to scientific method.” Both for its history of the development of meditation and its exploration of theories and practices, Wallace’s work offers much to think about for even non-adherents like myself. [Philip Leventhal]

The Godfather Doctrine: A Foreign Policy Parable by John C. Hulsman & A. Wess Mitchell

Princeton University Press, March, 2009

Hulsman & Mitchell use the plot and characters of Francis Ford Coppola’s classic film The Godfather as a metaphor for current U.S. foreign policy. When the film opens, the Corleone family is in decline, allowing for a devastating attack upon their leader – just as the once-invincible America became a target for terrorism in the 21st century. The parallels do not end there; the authors use the principal characters of the film to personify the various current schools of thought within international relations. Sonny, the warhawk, represents neoconservatives. Tom, the negotiator, represents today’s liberal institutionalists. And Michael, having spent enough time away from the family to think beyond these two formulaic approaches, recognizes the family need to adapt their policies if they are to regain stability. He is the realist, using bits and pieces of his brothers’ political philosophies to form a pragmatic strategy. Hulsman & Mitchell see Michael as the true heir, and his politics as offering the most effective strategy for America. [Tom Caldwell]

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