In its commitment to promoting research, teaching and intellectual exchange on the historical study of American thought, the Society for U.S. Intellectual History offers a book review section that identifies new and significant historical monographs in the field of U.S. intellectual history. Book reviews facilitate informed dialogue on the current state of the field and raise interest in the political, cultural and intellectual project of writing history. Historical scholarship is the foundation of our profession and teaching its heartbeat; book reviews introduce our diverse readership to the creative and original questions and methodologies of scholars dedicated to the dissemination of historical knowledge and understanding. Thus, book reviews play an integral part in the collective intellectual project that is the writing and teaching of U.S. intellectual history.
Matthew D. Tribbe, No Requiem for the Space Age: The Apollo Moon Landings and American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) 276 pages.
Reviewed by Drew Maciag
Matthew Tribbe’s engaging and highly readable No Requiem for the Space Age tells two interconnected stories in parallel. The tangible tale in the foreground is about NASA’s mission to beat Soviet cosmonauts to the moon and the subsequent winding down of that ambitious program; the less-tangible drama in the background (the one that will be of greater interest to intellectual/cultural historians) concerns the climax and ultimate decline of America’s faith in techno-rationality. By the time Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific in 1969, the modernization ideal that had been so ascendant just a few years earlier when John F. Kennedy launched the “space race” had already been undermined by its fallibility in the face of racism, poverty, alienation, injustice, pollution, and war—among other earthly considerations.
Mia Bay, Farah J. Griffin, Martha S. Jones, and Barbara D Savage, editors. Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).
Review by Lilian Calles Barger
When thinking of black women in history, Ida B. Wells, Zora Neale Hurston, or Pauli Murray may come to mind. Going further back into the nineteenth century, we may think of Sojourner Truth, Harriet Jacobs, or any number of authors of slave narratives. Their actions impress us. However, we are less likely to think of these women as forming a subfield of intellectual history. Black women usually show up alongside white women and black men fighting for political rights and rarely stand alone as a group of thinkers. Mia Bay and the editorial team of Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women want to change that. They have brought together a strikingly good collection of essays presenting us with a sampling of a neglected field of thought. The collection came about through a series of interdisciplinary meetings begun at Rutgers University in the spring of 2002. All sixteen essays focus on black women in the diaspora of North America, the Caribbean, and Africa as subjects of critical thought and articulators of ideas. In defining this focus, the authors demonstrate the particularity of black women’s thought at the intersection of race and gender. The aim of the editors is to bring attention to a stream of thought that remains largely unrecognized in intellectual history.
Carl E. Schorske. Fin-de-Siècle Vienna (New York: Random House,1979)
Review by George Cotkin
Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. Such was the case with Carl E. Schorske’s Fin-de-Siècle, published in 1980. The cover featured a lush gold-colored background, with a vertical rectangular form imposed on it that looked like a bookmark or bookplate. At its top was a Gustav Klimt illustration, which had appeared in the first issue of the Austrian secessionist magazine Vera Sacrum in 1898. Below this image of a helmeted woman with some demon’s head just below her neck, was blank space, allowing perfect balance for the title and author’s name at the bottom. The typeface, of course, suggested the secessionist style. Opening the volume yielded additional delights, with many black and white images interspersed within the text, as well as two sections resplendent with color plates. This feast for the eyes would quickly translate into munificence for the mind.
Erik Christiansen. Channeling the Past: Politicizing History in Postwar America. (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013) 302 pages.
Review by Nick Witham
In a 1955 episode of the CBS historical education series You Are There entitled “The Emancipation Proclamation,” viewers are presented with an on-the-ground news report relating the responses of various Civil War-era Americans to Abraham Lincoln’s famous executive order. In presenting this televised historical re-enactment (if we can call it that, given the interpolation of TV journalists into the fray), You Are There broke with the mainstream of 1940s and 1950s US historiography by presenting the events of 1 January 1863 through the eyes of recently freed slaves. As Erik Christiansen relates in his excellent 2013 book Channeling the Past, in one amazing and powerful scene, viewers watch “as the slaves transform themselves into full citizens,” thus rendering the words and actions of their President “almost irrelevant.” This was a dramatically different version of Civil War history than that presented in school and university textbooks of the period, and, in Christiansen’s view, was the result of a politically motived script penned by a screenwriter with a distinctively leftist perspective on the US past: blacklistee Howard Rodman (135).
Craufurd D. Goodwin, Walter Lippmann: Public Economist (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014)
Review by Tom Arnold Forster
Craufurd Goodwin’s new book is the most sustained and detailed account yet written of the journalist Walter Lippmann as a figure within the history of economic thought. The relationship between Lippmann and economics has recently generated much interest among historians of neoliberalism, and we now know a great deal about how the “Colloque Walter Lippmann,” a 1938 gathering of key thinkers to discuss the French translation of The Good Society, helped to create intellectual and institutional foundations for neoliberal political economy. Scholars dispute Lippmann’s commitment to neoliberalism as a political project (his diffidence is deftly described in Angus Burgin’s Great Persuasion), but his significance as a touchstone in the intellectual history of market liberalism has been richly demonstrated.
Martin Halliwell and Joel Rasmussen, eds., William James and the Transatlantic Conversation: Pragmatism, Pluralism, and Philosophy of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) 256 pages.
Review by Paul Croce
There is a specter haunting this lively and insightful anthology, the specter of ambivalence. William James and the Transatlantic Conversation presents essays by leading scholars depicting James not only between North America and Europe, but also between an abundant variety of contrasts, mostly dealing with the topics named in the subtitle, Pragmatism, Pluralism, and Philosophy of Religion: James between Victorianism and modernism, psychology and philosophy, theory and poetry, embodied and abstract consciousness, agnosticism and theism, and more.