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Montage

Off the Shelf

March-April 2017

Windermere, 1821, by Joseph M.W. Turner, in the spirit of Wordsworth

Image from the Bridgeman Art Library


Windermere, 1821, by Joseph M.W. Turner, in the spirit of Wordsworth

Image from the Bridgeman Art Library

Harvard Square as it was, 1962

Photograph courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University


Harvard Square as it was, 1962

Photograph courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

Civil Wars: A History in Ideas, by David R. Armitage, Blankfein professor of history (Knopf, $27.95).The planet has not been globally at war since 1945, but “The world is still a very violent place,” the author notes, as “Civil war has gradually become…the most characteristic form of organized human violence,” prompting this original history of the idea and its unfortunate metastasis.

 

As dynasts, the Bushes and Clintons fell far short of the standard-setting Boston Brahmins, covered in two new books. The Lowells of Massachusetts: An American Family, by Nina Sankovitch, J.D. ’87 (St. Martin’s, $27.99), chronicles the archetype, through and including Lawrence, whose accession to the Harvard presidency must have seemed preordained. Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire, by Kay Redfield Jamison (Knopf, $29.95), is a deep psychiatric perspective on the connection between bipolar illness and creativity, involving the great poet whose Crimson experience is remembered less for his incomplete undergraduate studies than for his subsequent teaching (see “The Brahmin Rebel,” May-June 2004, page 39).

 

William Wordsworth, The Prelude, edited by James Engell, Gurney professor of English literature and professor of comparative literature, and Michael D. Raymond, A.L.M. ’00 (Godine, $40). The great Romantic poem, newly edited from manuscripts, with critical commentaries, is lushly illustrated with contemporary, complementary paintings, drawings, and other artworks.

 

Thirtyfour Campgrounds, by Martin Hogue, M. Arch. ’93 (MIT, $34.95). A landscape architect meticulously depicts the intersection of Americans’ desire to commune with nature with their devotion to their stuff—and hence the rituals of parking trailers, service hook-ups (today including WiFi), setting out lawn chairs, and more. Forget about traveling light.

 

The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic, by Ganesh Sitaraman ’04, J.D. ’08 (Knopf, $26.95), probes a different kind of threat to the American way. A former staffer to Senator Elizabeth Warren observes that the Constitution was drafted at a moment of unusual equality, and so is ill-suited to addressing the distortions of power caused by current levels of inequality. Whatever other problems loom, he argues, “It is much harder to have a functional constitutional republic without a strong middle class.”

 

Presidents’ Secrets: The Use and Abuse of Hidden Power, by Mary Graham ’66, co-director of the Transparency Policy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School (Yale, $30). In a time of uncertainty about a very different administration, Graham provides timely, if worrisome, historical context.

 

Casting astute eyes on a very different landscape, in Ecologies of Power (MIT, $39.95 paper), Pierre Bélanger, associate professor of landscape design, and Alexander Arroyo, M.L.A. ’13, assess U.S. military “logistical landscapes” and the “military geographies” of defense, conducted on a scale large enough to mark, and even remake, the planet.

 

American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion from the Puritans to the Present, by Philip Gorski ’86 (Princeton, $35). A Yale sociologist plumbs the apparent divide between conceptions of the United States as a Christian nation or a secular democracy, and finds a combined civic republicanism—a key to the “American project”—put at risk in today’s intense culture wars.

 

The Face of Water: A Translator on Beauty and Meaning in the Bible, by Sarah Ruden, Ph.D. ’93 (Pantheon, $26.95). A classical philologist with a vivid grasp of languages and imagery ancient and contemporary (how would you write up a Paul Simon/Ladysmith Black Mambazo antiapartheid concert?) tries to make the Bible “less a thing of paper and glue and ink and petrochemicals, and more a living thing.”

 

In the Heat of the Summer, by Michael W. Flamm ’86 (University of Pennsylvania, $34.95). An Ohio Wesleyan historian digs into the “Harlem Riot” of 1964 (a white policeman shoots a black teenager, a demonstration turns to protests, riots ensue) to illuminate the “wars” on poverty and on crime, national political polarization, and issues that resonate still: militarized policing, mass incarceration, and “law and order.”

 

The Campus Rape Frenzy, by KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor Jr., J.D. ’77 (Encounter Books, $25.99). Historian Johnson and journalist Taylor (who was a petition candidate for the Board of Overseers last year, and has written critically about affirmative action), critiqued accounts of Duke’s infamous lacrosse case. Here, they join to attack “a powerful movement” that has made it unlikely that “colleges and universities—and their students—will judge sexual assault allegations fairly” because of what the authors perceive as violations of due process.

 

Building Old Cambridge, by Susan E. Maycock and Charles M. Sullivan, M.C.P. ’70 (MIT, $49.95). From the Cambridge Historical Commission’s survey director and executive director comes a massive, absorbing, and enthrallingly illustrated volume on the community’s evolution—full of enlightenments even before chapter 10, on the “Development of Harvard University.”

 

Matters strategic: The Imagineers of War, by Sharon Weinberger, RI ’16 (Knopf, $30), is a comprehensive account of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—the folks who brought you the Internet, drones, and self-driving-car technology, plus some terrible ideas, some of them unfortunately implemented. The Chessboard and the Web, by Anne-Marie Slaughter, J.D. ’85 (Yale, $26), lays out the case for moving beyond a chess image of international relations (the United States vs. Iran, say) toward a “playbook for strategies of connection” (U.S. interest in Syria not as a strategic concern itself, but as a destabilizing source of refugees); it would be interesting to see that applied to coming trade confrontations with China. The U.S. negotiators might want to pack The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap, by Gish Jen ’77, RI ’02 (Knopf, $26.95), who turns from fiction to cultural analysis to sort out the roots of “so much of what mystifies us”—needlessly—“about the East.”

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You Might Also Like:

Kaey Nakae, of the champion Santa Barbara Condors, gets “totally horizontal,” exhibiting the Ultimate form David Gessner admired.
Photograph by Tom Kennedy

Recent books with Harvard connections

Among the nineteenth-century frauds Kevin Young explores are the pseudo-scientific Great Moon Hoax.
Photograph from Chronicle/Alamy

"Bunk" review: Kevin Young surveys American culture, from circuses to con men

Photograph courtesy of the Boston International Book Fair

2017 Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair