Archive for the 'book reviews' Category

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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September 20th 2013
An almost unbloglich level of Franzenfreude

Posted under American history & art & book reviews & European history & Gender & race & technoskepticism & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness & women's history

Check it out:  Amanda Hess’s analysis of Jonathan Franzen’s recent essay in which he screams at the children to get off his lawn, and to take their Twitter-machines with them:

Franzen blames the Internet for eradicating “the quiet and permanence of the printed word,” which “assured some kind of quality control,” in favor of an apocalyptic hellscape punctuated by “bogus” Amazon reviews and “Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotion.” Back in Franzen’s day, “TV was something you watched only during prime time, and people wrote letters and put them in the mail, and every magazine and newspaper had a robust books section, and venerable publishers made long-term investments in young writers, and New Criticism reigned in English departments.” He goes on: “It wasn’t necessarily a better world (we had bomb shelters and segregated swimming pools), but it was the only world I knew to try to find my place in as a writer.”

Wow.  Not too many white people can openly express their nostalgia for segregation or apartheid and get their 6,500 word essays published in The Guardian!  But that’s not all:  apparently, guys like Franzen really are victims!  Of something.  The important thing to know is that Jonathan Franzen can no longer “find his place. . . as a writer” in our modern dystopia.  But the pre-internet world doesn’t seem all that awesome in his telling:

And then there is the tale of the German chick, told to pinpoint exactly the moment Franzen became an angry person. Continue Reading »

42 Comments »

August 23rd 2013
A Major Problem you wish you had, or, Historiann-thologized, again!

Posted under American history & book reviews & captivity & Gender & happy endings & local news & race & students & women's history

This is what’s called a super-slow rollout, folks:  a chapter from my book Abraham in Arms:  War and Gender in Colonial New England (2007) has been excerpted for inclusion in the latest edition of Major Problems in American Women’s History, 5th edition (Cengage Learning, 2013), edited by Sharon Block, Ruth M. Alexander, and Mary Beth Norton.  My book has now been excerpted in the two biggest anthologies of American women’s history, as a portion of my book was included in Women’s America (7th ed., 2010), edited by Linda K. Kerber, Jane Sherron DeHart, and Cornelia Hughes Dayton.  Pretty cool, eh?

As I wrote the first time around: Continue Reading »

19 Comments »

May 23rd 2013
Bleg: Introduction to Historical Practice

Posted under American history & book reviews & students

Help me!

Howdy, friends:  today’s post is a transparent cry for help!  I’m teaching historiography again to our incoming graduate students.  (“Historiography” is the obscurantist term we use for a course that’s meant to be something like “introduction to historical practice.”  I think we should just change the name to the latter term and stop intimidating our graduate students.)  I’ve organized the course around an exploration of various scandals or ethical controversies in the practice of history recently, and I need your advice before I submit my book orders for the fall semester.

First, I’d like your suggestions for a memoir or reflexive book by a historian.  In the fall of 2011, the last time I taught the course, I used Richard White’s Remembering Ahanagran:  A History of Stories (1998; 2003), a book about White’s attempts to research the stories his mother told about her family and girlhood in Ireland.  It was very good, but almost too subtle for my purposes.  We also read the following week Debra Gray White’s Telling Histories:  Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower (2008), which I will keep on the syllabus this time around because I found it incredibly effective and moving series of essays written from the margins rather than the center of the profession. Continue Reading »

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May 20th 2013
When you see Count MOOCbot, scream and run away!

Posted under American history & book reviews & childhood & students & technoskepticism & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness

Daniel Luzer on Jeffrey J. Selingo’s College (Un)bound:  The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Students, in a review entitled “Revolution for Thee, Not Me:”

[I]f we’re expanding access to college through alternative, technology-based systems, is this really expanding access to college or providing a different experience entirely? Perhaps the biggest flaw of this book is that while Selingo offers a very good take on what declining state funding and innovative technology could mean for both colleges and students, he fails to consider what this “revolution” in higher education might mean for American society as a whole.

“The college of the future will certainly be different than the one of today,” he explains, “but robots will not replace professors in the classroom anytime soon. Harvard will remain Harvard.” He estimates that 500 or so of America’s 4,000 colleges have large enough endowments to remain unchanged by this revolution. But isn’t that a problem? If Princeton and Williams will be unaffected by these trends, what’s really going on here?

It seems that the future won’t unbind higher education for everyone—just for the working and middle classes. That’s because rich people will always be able to afford traditional colleges. Continue Reading »

17 Comments »

May 18th 2013
John Winthrop: still controversial after all these years.

Posted under American history & bad language & book reviews & European history

For a comment on a paper that I’m giving this afternoon, I needed to check a quotation from The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649 (1996), edited by Richard Dunn, James Savage, and Laetitia Yeandle, the most recent and authoritative edition of Winthrop’s journals.  I should have done this at home, as I own this 799 page doorstop of a book, but luckily I found that the relevant passage was available via Google books.  Yay!  Mission accomplished.  Thanks, internets!

But wait:  there are two online reviews of Winthrop’s journal, which I thought was pretty interesting as he’s been dead since 1649.   “Imi” wrote, “Thank God we only have to read a small part of it for a lecture, because even those couple of pages were really boring. Continue Reading »

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May 6th 2013
Monday round-up: endless semester edition

Posted under American history & art & bad language & book reviews & European history & Gender & Intersectionality & jobs & race & the body & wankers & women's history

You’ve heard of The Endless Summer?  It sure seems to me like this is the Endless Semester.  Maybe it’s all of the snow and slush in April, but more than any other spring semester in recent memory, this one drags on and on.  While I’m desperately trying to lasso this semester and tie it up real good, here are some fun links and ideas to keep you diverted:

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January 5th 2013
2012: the Year of the Asshole?

Posted under American history & bad language & book reviews & European history & fluff & Gender & the body

Some of you have probably heard of Geoffrey Nunberg’s Ascent of the A-word:  Assholism, the First Sixty Years (2012) because of his platform as the resident linguist for NPR’s Fresh Air.  A few weeks ago, we learned that Aaron James, a philosophy professor at the University of California, Irvine, published a book in 2012 called Assholes:  A Theory, and this article describing James’s book made me laugh out loud:

So what is an asshole, exactly? How is he (and assholes are almost always men) distinct from other types of social malefactors? Are assholes born that way, or is their boorishness culturally conditioned? What explains the spike in the asshole population?

James was at the beach when he began mulling those questions. “I was watching one of the usual miscreants surf by on a wave and thought, Gosh, he’s an asshole.” Not an intellectual breakthrough, he concedes, but his reaction had what he calls “cognitive content.” In other words, his statement was more than a mere expression of feeling. He started sketching a theory of assholes, refining his thinking at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, where he spent a year as a fellow in 2009.

Now here’s the part I really like as a historian.  James pushes beyond the linguist’s focus on the word to explore the history and philosophy of the asshole avant la lettre:

He consulted Rousseau (who, James notes, was something of an asshole himself on account of his shabby parenting skills), Hobbes (especially his views on the “Foole” who breaks the social contract), Kant (his notion of self-conceit in particular), and more-recent scholarship on psychopaths. He spoke with psychologists, lawyers, and anthropologists, all of whom suggested asshole reading lists. “There are a lot of similar characters studied in other disciplines, like the free rider or the amoralist or the cheater,” James says, calling his time at Stanford an “interdisciplinary education in asshole theory.”

James argues for a three-part definition of assholes that boils down to this: Continue Reading »

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