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.
Dorothy Ross on Pocock’s Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (1975) and Mine
J.G.A. Pocock’s Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (1975)
When asked about a classic work of history that had influenced me and deserved our continuing attention, I knew at once my reply was J.G.A. Pocock’s The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition. During the late 1970s I was researching the Gilded Age generation of social thinkers in the United States and uncertain about how to frame their thought. It was easy enough to see them as socializing liberalism or scientizing social thought or professionalizing their intellectual work, that is to see them in the light of what their project became in the 20th century. But how did they relate to the past? When I read MM, I realized that their particular idiom had emerged from the republican tradition and that theirs was the same project that had occupied republican thinkers for centuries – to secure the virtuous republic in time.
Review Essay by Brian M. Ingrassia, West Texas A&M University
Matthew Levin. Cold War University: Madison and the New Left in the Sixties. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013.
Roger L. Geiger. The History of American Higher Education: Learning and Culture from the Founding to World War II. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.
The early twenty-first century is a critical time for American higher education. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker is trying to weaken tenure. In North Carolina, the state legislature is attempting to mandate 4-4 course loads for all public university faculty. In Illinois, administrators are under investigation after effectively firing a new faculty member because of his supposed “incivility” while advancing a politically controversial position via social media. Everywhere, campuses engage in a virtual arms race, seeking donors and pouring millions into facilities to attract the largest incoming classes. Administrators proliferate while the work of teaching is increasingly placed on the shoulders of overworked and undercompensated contingent faculty—including a growing army of just-in-time adjuncts. Meanwhile, the public gets its academic bread and circus by consuming a big-time athletic spectacle that enriches coaches and athletic departments while exploiting student labor.
Classics Series: Thomas Bender on Laurence R. Veysey’s The Emergence of the American University (1965).
The Emergence of the American University by Laurence Veysey was published fifty years ago, yet it remains an indispensible work on American higher education. The research that went into it is prodigious. At 505 pages, it is nonetheless a trimmed down version of a monumental dissertation at Berkeley—1300 pages in five volumes. Because I have over the years written about the American university past and present, it has been an invaluable resource for me. But in respect to its contribution to my development as an intellectual historian, its importance is more methodological than topical. It taught me that the study of intellectual history must focus on institutions as well as people and ideas. I cannot say that this was the only influence in this direction, but it was a powerful one.[i]
Elena Conis, Vaccine Nation: America’s Changing Relationship with Immunization (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015), 353 pages.
Review by Andrew J. Forney
Many people probably purchased Elena Conis’ Vaccine Nation for that special anti-vaxxer in their lives. The book’s publication dovetailed nicely with the growing hue and cry against self-professed anti-vaccination advocate Jenny McCarthy and her ilk. Scientists tied an outbreak of measles among U.S. children during early 2015 to an un-vaccinated child who visited Disneyworld with their family in conjunction with the theme park’s holiday rush. Social media erupted with vitriol towards those that would endanger the health of others for quasi-ideological (and largely unproven) beliefs about the danger of vaccines. Conis’ work, subtitled “America’s Changing Relationship with Immunization,” would surely provide the last necessary bit of evidence to quell these obviously-addled helicopter parents. Right?
Classic Review by Bruce Kuklick on a Long Affair with C.I. Lewis’s Mind and the World-Order (1929)
I first read C. I. Lewis’s Mind and the World-Order as a philosophy major in 1962. I read it in two classes. As a self-proclaimed pragmatist, I regarded the book and Lewis’s reputation as a logician as the best defense of “my” position. When, years later, I began writing about the history of pragmatism, he became my hero. I perused the book again and again, and taught it to graduate students through the 1970s. It led me to other thinkers, before and after Lewis. By the time I had moved on to different scholarship, I had begun having yearly lunches with Lewis’s elderly wife, a remarkable and gifted woman, and then started taking my daughter to these rendezvous’ in West Concord, Massachusetts. My daughter corresponded with “Mrs. Lewis,” some ninety years her senior, until Mabel Lewis died at 102, in the late twentieth century.
When I took the assignment to do an essay on Mind and the World-Order for the S-USIH, I had not opened “MWO” for some thirty-five years. I now found it clumsily composed, sometimes turgid, and relentlessly repetitive. Some of my favorite passages still gave me pleasure, but the commanding paragraphs that I most remembered do not actually crop up in any one place; they turned out to be my own selection and reorganization of several discussions from the volume.
What gave the work its power for me and for so many others? It is the vision. The machine shop of the author’s brain operates inelegantly — but it still operates and the vision still emerges.
Merit: The History of a Founding Ideal from the American Revolution to the Twenty-First Century. By Joseph F. Kett. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013. 332 pages. $29.95. Hardcover.
Review by Bradley Baranowski
As the title of his work indicates, Joseph F. Kett provides a sweeping history of the concept of “merit.” Starting with the American Revolution, Kett traces the various permutations and developments in the idea up to today. Two conceptions of merit bookend his study: essential merit and institutional merit. The former, writes Kett, has rested on “an individual’s visible and notable achievements and/or performances, [and] is most than the sum of achievements/performance.” In this mode, achievements “are seen as an accurate reflection of one’s inner merit” (2) and promotions in status are a just reward for good character.