Off the Shelf
Recent books with Harvard connections
Without Precedent: Chief Justice John Marshall and His Times, by Joel Richard Paul, J.D. ’81 (Riverhead, $30), offers an accessible portrait of a giant from the third branch of government. The author, of the University of California Hastings Law School, in San Francisco, observes of his subject that no founder “had a greater impact on the American Constitution,” and “no one did more than Marshall to preserve the delicate unity of the fledgling republic.” More like him, please?
Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America, edited by Cass R. Sunstein, Walmsley University Professor (Dey St./Morrow, $17.99, paper). The indefatigable Sunstein (profiled in “The Legal Olympian,” January-February 2015, page 43, and last heard from in Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide, published in October), imagines a post-terrorist-attack, President Trump-led America, and then gathers perspectives in essays by legal and other scholars from Chicago, Harvard, Yale, and elsewhere (among them, Martha Minow on the Japanese internment in World War II as a precedent for mass detentions). In the same vein, How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky, Rockefeller professor of Latin American studies, and Daniel Ziblatt, professor of government (Crown, $26), scans experiences in Europe and Latin America to explore the fateful question, “Are we living through the decline and fall of one of the world’s oldest and most successful democracies?”—and if so, what to do about it.
The People vs. Democracy, by Yascha Mounk, associate of the department of government (Harvard, $29.95). In a populist era, Mounk finds, popular will and individual rights collide. Monied campaign contributors advance rights without democracy, and populists, in effect, advance democracy without rights—collectively endangering the liberal democratic order, from India and Europe to the United States.
Of related interest, in legal and historical perspective: Habeas Corpus in Wartime, by Amanda L. Tyler, J.D. ’98 (Oxford, $85), is a Berkeley law professor’s comprehensive analysis—“from the Tower of London to Guantánamo Bay,” as the subtitle puts it—of a subject of current relevance in an era of terrorism and the political responses to it. Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics, by R. Marie Griffith, Ph.D. ’95 (Basic, $32), examines a century of Christian debate about sexual morality and gender roles, and its political consequences. The author directs the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University.
Biomedicine, then and now. Vanishing Bone, by William H. Harris, Gerry clinical professor of orthopaedic surgery emeritus (Oxford, $21.95), is a medical mystery: why hip-replacement patients began suffering severe bone loss. Harris recounts how he and colleagues figured out the molecular biology, and moved toward substitute materials for hip prostheses, eliminating the affliction. Bioinspired Devices, by Eugene C. Goldfield, associate professor of psychology in the department of psychiatry (Harvard, $45), is a demanding overview of the work pursued at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, where the author is a faculty associate working on a modular robotic system for toddlers at risk for cerebral palsy. Lay readers may find that skimming the work helps bring into focus the applied science being derived from nature’s systems of assembly and repair.
The Biological Mind, by Alan Jasanoff ’92, Ph.D. ’98 (Basic, $30). The author (who is professor not only of biological engineering, but also of brain and cognitive sciences and nuclear science and engineering at MIT), looks beyond tissue to explore “how brain, body, and environment collaborate to make us who we are” (the subtitle). His formidable credentials aside, he is accessible and inviting, beginning, “What makes you you? Wherever you come from and whatever you believe about yourself, chances are that…you know your brain is the heart of the matter.”
The China scholars have been busy, adding to readers’ understanding of the roots of the modern nation with which the United States now has its most consequential, if muddled, relationship. The Art of Being Governed: Everyday Politics in Late Imperial China, by Michael Szonyi, professor of Chinese history (Princeton, $35), vividly explores families’ relationship to the state in fulfillment of their obligation to man the army. The director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies brings the Ming roots of organization and authority to life. China at War, by Hans van de Ven, Ph.D. ’87 (Harvard, $35), is a University of Cambridge historian’s reinterpretation of the Sino-Japanese war and the brutal civil conflict between Nationalists and Communists—underpinning the People’s Republic’s founding legends and its leaders’ quest for control over a fractious society. The Contentious Public Sphere, by Ya-Wen Lei, assistant professor of sociology (Princeton, $39.50), explores how authoritarianism today involves attempts to control the media, the realm of digital dialogue, and China’s alternately rambunctious and cowed civil society. Finally, The China Questions, edited by Jennifer Rudolph and Szonyi, (Harvard, $27.95), scans the major issues associated with “a rising power.” Thirty-six experts (many from Harvard) contribute essays on history and culture, the economy and the environment, international relations, society, and China’s internal political contradictions.
When Grit Isn’t Enough, by Linda F. Nathan, adjunct lecturer on education (Beacon, $26.95). The founding head of the Boston Arts Academy tackles the “false promise” that high-school graduation alone ensures comparable preparation and success in college. She digs into the underlying assumptions about hard work and equal opportunity and focuses attention on the harder realities of poverty, race, class, and parental educational attainment that make for vastly unequal playing fields in America.
A Literary Tour de France, by Robert Darnton, Pforzheimer University Professor and University Librarian emeritus (Oxford, $34.95). A towering historian of the book, Darnton continues his scholarly work by examining publishing in France before the Revolution. Through the records of a Swiss publishing house, he reveals a world where print still seemed revolutionary, and had to contend, not with Kindle e-readers, but with censors, tax officials, piracy, and more.
Design Thinking for the Greater Good, by Jeanne Liedtka, M.B.A. ’81, Randy Salzman, and Daisy Azer (Columbia Business School Publishing, $29.95). Liedtka, at the University of Virgina’s Darden School, and her coauthors try to apply “design thinking,” associated with buzzy products, to innovating in the social sector (healthcare, education, agriculture, etc.), where vexing problems and rigid bureaucracies block progress. The focus is on collaboration, prototyping, and similar processes. The invitation to fresh approaches is welcome.
We Wear the Mask, edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page (Beacon, $18, paper), gathers 15 essays on “passing in America.” Harvardians will be affected by “Passing Ambition,” in which Sergio Troncoso ’83 recalls the mishaps, racialized slights, and kindnesses that accompanied his undergraduate attempts to have a meaningful internship in Washington, D.C.
A Life in Cybernetics, by Norbert Wiener, Ph.D. 1913 (MIT, $50, paper). A one-volume edition of the celebrated autobiography, Ex-Prodigy: My Childhood and Youth and I Am a Mathematician: The Later Life of a Prodigy. That youth figured prominently in this magazine’s January-February feature, “Prodigies’ Progress,” by Ann Hulbert.
The Painter’s Touch, by Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, Boardman professor of fine arts (Princeton, $65). A searching material analysis of the oil paint, brushwork, and textures of eighteenth-century masterpieces by Boucher, Chardin, and Fragonard. Sumptuously illustrated.