Archive for the 'book reviews' Category

April 21st 2014
Josephine Baker’s postwar/Cold War “rainbow tribe”

Posted under American history & art & book reviews & childhood & European history & Intersectionality & race

The book that kept Matthew Pratt Guterl indoors all last summer was published last month by Harvard University’s Belknap Press.  Rebecca Onion gives it a nice rundown here at Slate:

Baker was born in St. Louis but moved to France in 1925. Her danse sauvage, famously performed in a banana skirt, brought her international fame. During World War II, she worked for the Red Cross and gathered intelligence for the French Resistance. After the war, married to her fourth husband, Jo Bouillon, she struggled to conceive a child. Meanwhile, her career waned. Guterl’s book is about this period of Baker’s life, as she built her large adopted family, became ever more active on behalf of the nascent civil rights movement in the United States, and re-emerged into fame.

Baker purchased her estate, known as Les Milandes, after marrying Bouillon in 1947. In addition to the chateau, the property boasted a motel, a bakery, cafés, a jazz club, a miniature golf course, and a wax museum telling the story of Baker’s life. As Guterl makes clear, the place was over-the-top, but its ostentation was a political statement. Les Milandes, with its fairy-tale setting, announced to the world that African-American girls born poor could transcend nation and race and find wealth and happiness.

Guterl makes it sound like Baker’s family was kind of a multicultural Trapp Family Singers or a Partridge Family, crossed with the Dionne QuintupletsContinue Reading »

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April 19th 2014
Saturday: Thank Dog.

Posted under American history & bad language & book reviews & childhood & class & jobs & local news & nepotism & the body & unhappy endings & weirdness

Lucky dog!

Lucky dog!

My weekends are just too freakin’ short this semester, as I’m teaching two lecture classes on a MWF schedule.  I honestly don’t mind teaching three days a week–I’m just frustrated that I don’t have a discretionary extra day to prep for Monday lectures, finish the neverending piles of grading, etc., let alone think for 20 minutes about how to get back to writing my book and figuring out what needs to happen archival research-wise before I make my base camp at the feet of the San Gabes.  What’s with the MWF; can’t we get a MWR, or a MTR, or a TWF?  Let the people who teach twice a week show up on Mondays and Fridays, as they’ll have three weekdays in-between without classes to TCB.

I know this is an academic blog, but you didn’t come here to see me b!tch about my mostly-imaginary and very temporary frustrations now, did you?  So here are some random tidbits of THC, TBD (The Big Dog), and OMs on TDIS (Thank Dog It’s Saturday).

  • Nepotism alert:  Sometime in the next generation, every single American roots music recording artist will be either a member of the Wainwright-McGarrigle clan or of the Carter-Cash family clan.  Seriously:  are there no other worthy recording artists these days?
  • Recreational reefer madness 2014!  Earlier this week, some dip$hit in Denver ate some marijuana-infused candy and then shot his wife in the head and killed her in front of their three little kids.  Of course, the media conversation in Denver is all about the marijuana edibles instead of the gun in the home.  (Because that’s what all upper-middle class people need in their homes with three children in perfectly safe neighborhoods:  easily accessible handguns!)  You gotta love the politics of Colorado!  Or just shake your head in wonder at the criminal stupidity of it all.
  • Speaking of polidicks:  I’m reading Double Down:  Game Change 2012 by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann (which, BTW, is pure political crackerjack, so delicious and so non-nutritious!), and I get to this paragraph: Continue Reading »

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April 3rd 2014
The author, the work, and “the objectivity question.”

Posted under American history & book reviews & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & jobs & race & students & weirdness & women's history

Claire Potter (aka Tenured Radical) has an interesting post on her book blog about the assumptions that audiences make about the politics of historians based on their subject matter choices.  She writes:

It isn’t uncommon that, when hearing about the research I have done on the history of anti-pornography feminism, audiences assume that I must be an anti-pornography feminist too.But do you know that? Do you even have the right to ask? Should I tell you?

My hope for this book is that you will be so compelled by my scholarship that you will never know my private views on this question.

I found the assumption really interesting, in that the vast, vast, vast majority of feminist intellectuals I know and have worked with are far from anti-porn feminists.  Maybe my experiences are idiosyncratic, but in my experience academic feminists–much as most of us are disgusted by mainstream pornography–tend also to be First Amendment absolutists.

Potter continues with a meditation about identity politics and historical subject matter that is really worth the read:

Making assumptions about intellectuals based on superficial knowledge of their research interests is fairly common, but honestly? I think it happens to women, queers and people of color more often. I have a friend and colleague who is African-American, and writing a history of African-American conservative thought. That colleague is frequently assumed to be a conservative, much as I am often presumed, on the basis of nothing, to be an anti-pornography feminist. Continue Reading »

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February 1st 2014
From crisis to between covers in 19 months: Congratulations, Flavia!

Posted under book reviews & happy endings & publication

confessionsoffaithIt’s true:  our friend Flavia from Ferule and Fescue has a real, live, codex book in her delicate hands as of yesterday!  Some of you may remember that she was in crisis mode just 19 months ago, when after two years and two rounds of reviews solicited not together but seriatum, her would-be publisher dropped her project like a hot rock.  Oh noes!!!  Penn Press must have snapped her project up in a Philadelphia minute, and here it is:  Confessions of Faith in Early Modern England.  Order it for yourself or or university’s library now! Continue Reading »

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January 30th 2014
I think I’m a little bit in love

Posted under American history & book reviews & class & happy endings & jobs & students

Meredith Broussard

Meredith Broussard

with Meredith Broussard, a data journalism professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.  Get this:  she bans the use of e-books in her classes although she teaches courses in digital journalism (h/t to commenter Susan.)  As Broussard explains on her syllabus:

You must bring a print copy of the texts to class. While I understand that e-books are convenient, and I enjoy reading them myself, our class depends on face-to-face interaction. Print is the absolute best interface for what we do in this class. The myriad interruptions and malfunctions of electronic readers tend to interfere with class conversation and distract you from being able to refer quickly to a passage in the text. So: read on whatever you like at home, but bring a book or a printout to class.

Why?  It turns out that in her experience, our so-called “digital native” students don’t always plan ahead.  (Surprise!  Or not, for anyone accustomed to working with late adolescents and young adults.)  Also, as I have argued here in the past, she notes that codex technology is unsurpassed for her teaching style and goals:

I really do believe that print is the ideal interface for a classroom. I used to allow e-readers in class. For a couple of semesters, I patiently endured students announcing their technical difficulties to the entire class: “Wait, I’m out of juice, I have to find a plug.” “What page is that on? My Kindle has different pages, so I can’t find the passage we’re talking about.” “Professor, do you have an iPad charging cord I could use?” After a while, I realized that I was spending an awful lot of class time doing tech support. The 2-minute interruptions were starting to add up. E-readers were a disruptive technology in the classroom—and not in a good way. Continue Reading »

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November 18th 2013
Dead feminist Nobelist novelist’s work described as “seminal.” Srsly?

Posted under art & book reviews & captivity & European history & Gender & women's history

Doris Lessing died yesterday, as you may have heard.  As I was making sandwiches for lunches this morning, I heard the NPR top-of-the-hour news announcement about her death, and it actually described her work as “seminal.”  SEMINAL!  I am serious, as well as seriously disgusted. Dr. Crazy offers some thoughts on her post-graduate discovery and appreciation of Lessing, both The Golden Notebook and her later works.

Last night I finished semi-binge watching Jenji Kohan’s Orange is the New Black and am totally jonesing for season 2.  SPOILER ALERT:   Continue Reading »

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November 17th 2013
Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery by Rachel Adams

Posted under American history & art & book reviews & childhood & class & Gender & happy endings & Intersectionality & the body & women's history

The offending photograph of "privilege."

The offending photograph of “privilege.”

After reading Cristina Nehring’s breathtakingly nasty review (described in the previous post) of Rachel Adams’s Raising Henry:  A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery (Yale University Press, 2013) I just had to read it myself.  So, a borrowed copy from our in-state interlibrary loan system arrived this week, and I’ve spent the last few days in my head with Rachel Adams and her family as they adjust to the surprise of having a child with Down syndrome.  I found the book smart, funny, and incredibly moving.  I also ordered a copy of it for our university library, as I hope it finds a wide audience of readers among parents, teachers, therapists, and people who work in medicine.

Raising Henry is also very self-deprecating–so many of the scenes that Nehring pretended to be offended by are clearly moments in which Adams is holding herself up for criticism or even ridicule.  One of the things I really like about Adams’s style is that she doesn’t brook any false piety about motherhood.  She doesn’t want to be informed that Henry is an “angel” sent to her by God for a special purpose.  She’s a secular (and highly successful) academic:  before becoming a mother, she loved having an entire room of their apartment as her office, where she could “work in pajamas and screen my calls, surrounded by piles of books and notes.”  (Isn’t that the fantasy of every humanist you know?  Those of us who live outside Upper Manhattan, where third and fourth bedrooms are much cheaper to come by, are frequently living that dream, Historiann included!)  When she and her husband move into a two-bedroom apartment of their own upon the birth of their first (non-disabled) son, she confesses to “imagining what it would be like to write in his big sunny room, my research spread out in the space that now held a crib, a changing table, and growing numbers of brightly colored plastic toys,” (82).  Like youth, expensive real estate is sometimes wasted on the young.

Adams is also the author of Sideshow U.S.A.:  Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination (University of Chicago Press, 2001) and a scholar of disability studies, and she incorporates insights from her decades of research in this field into her book about her younger son, Henry.  Continue Reading »

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November 7th 2013
Competitve motherhood and envy meet the oppression olympics.

Posted under art & bad language & book reviews & class & Gender & publication & unhappy endings & weirdness & women's history

Just go read Cristina Nehring’s review of Rachel Adams’s Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery (Yale University Press, 2013). I don’t want to exerpt any of it, it’s just so unbelieveably mean. So go ahead–I’ll wait.

I haven’t read the book, but it strikes me as completely appropriate (insofar as I can tell through this rather nasty review) that Adams writes about her own experiences of parenting a child with Down syndrome, as the subtitle suggests. As one commenter at the Chronicle notes: “I admire Adams’s restraint in focusing on herself. I am alarmed when parents seem to think that all aspects of a child’s growing up are theirs to tell. Adams has told a story about herself and is clearly careful to draw boundaries between her story and her son’s story, as any thoughtful writer would do.”

Word. Too many parents rush in to tell their children’s stories, making them props in their books or characters in blog posts.

I also think it’s an interesting and rather brave choice for a woman memoirist not to make herself the virtuous heroine of her own story. (I’ll tell you right now: I don’t think I could do it.) Continue Reading »

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November 6th 2013
The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down: Historiann wings it to NYC

Posted under American history & art & book reviews & local news

It’s a wonderful town! I’m looking forward to my trip to New York, as I haven’t been there in thirteen years.

Tell me what you think: Frank Sinatra or Gene Kelly? I’m a Kelly girl, myself. (We’ll just leave the unfortunate Jules Munchin out of this contest.)

See you at NYU next Tuesday for lunch, and at the Columbia Early American seminar that evening. I’m very much looking forward to my visit, which was coordinated by Zara Anishanslan at the College of Staten Island, Eric Herschthal at Columbia, and Nicole Eustace at NYU. (Eric has been writing for Slate lately–have you seen his latest on Governor Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment? I especially liked his commentary this summer about why popular histories of the American Revolution ignore the current scholarship. He writes:

These pop histories make arguments I haven’t seen scholars of the Revolution make in years. Continue Reading »

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October 28th 2013
Pauline Maier, 1938-2013

Posted under American history & book reviews & unhappy endings & women's history

paulinemaierPauline Maier, the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of History at MIT, died August 12 this year at age 75, a fact that this blog failed to note at the time.  (I can’t remember why, except to note that an extended family member of mine like Maier also died of a recently diagnosed lung cancer a few days earlier, so I suppose his death was on my mind instead.)  Mary Beth Norton writes to inform us that she will be speaking at a memorial service for Maier at MIT on Tuesday, October 29 in the Kresge Auditorium at MIT at 4 p.m.

You have to love the fact that in her obituary the Grey Lady 1) helpfully provides the pronunciation of Maier’s surname “(pronounced MAY-er)” and 2) called Maier the “Historian Who Described Jefferson As ‘Overrated’” right in the headline!  Awesome!  All historians should aspire to this irreverence, in my opinion.

The Jefferson-is-overrated comment is a reference to Maier’s brilliant history of the Declaration of Independence called American Scripture (1997).  Many readers and reviewers have failed to note that the title is ironic, given that the goal of Maier’s book was to illuminate the role of the hundreds of state and local declarations of independence that were issued before the Continental Congress got around to writing theirs in the spring and early summer of 1776.  It was a terrific book Continue Reading »

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