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.
The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe
by Michael D. Gordin
304 pages. University of Chicago Press, 2012
To enter the thought world of Immanuel Velikovsky, the Velikovskians, and Velikovskianism is to be absorbed into a fantastical language of largess. One hears unfamiliar terms such as cosmic catastrophism, geocentric catastrophism, flood geology, astral catastrophists, secularly-oriented catastrophists, and alternative cosmologies. Michael D. Gordin’s intellectual history provides a sense of the characters, context, and complexity that surrounded Immanuel Velikovsky, his fans, and his followers. It is a fascinating and sobering story that will be of interest to all concerned about science, democracy, and the public good. (more…)
Colored Cosmopolitanism: The Shared Struggle for Freedom in the United State and India
by Nico Slate
344 pages. Harvard University Press, 2012.
In Spring 1941, a colored woman boarded the “whites only” car of a segregated train in the American South. Crossing the Louisiana border, she was asked by the ticket collector to move to a colored car or else she “will regret it” (1) She refused and the ticket collector left to get the engineer. When he returned however, he did not ask her to move. He had learned something new. “You are an Asian” he sneered before skulking out of the car (1). He would “not bother her” for the rest of the trip (1). (more…)
The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism
by Joyce Appleby
494 pages. W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.
This is a big book. I don’t mean by this that it is physically large: it is 436 pages before the endnotes, a reasonable length considering the topic. I mean instead that it is big in scope, interpretation, and ambition. At times, Appleby offers vistas of world history that are breathtaking, both in how much of that history they take in at once, and in how readers are invited to reconsider whole periods in a new light. Appleby stresses that capitalism has never been a natural or fore-ordained system. It happened by accident, Appleby insists, refuting Adam Smith and Karl Marx. It happened against many odds, in particular ways, beginning with seventeenth-century England, and then happened again, in different ways, in other places and times. Once it did happen, though, it remade – and continues to remake – our world. It is a cultural system as much as an economic system, which is inseparable from our ideas of morality and how the world works. Among the most important changes it has wrought are: a departure from old expectations of scarcity; a new expectation of turning profits; mobility, in every sense of that word; encouragement of democracy; ever-increasing emphasis on consumer choice; and even, Appleby avers, an uncovering of what it is that people really want. (more…)
Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind
by Nikolas Rose and Joelle M. Abi-Rached
352 pages. Princeton University Press, 2013.
In a typical PET (positron emission tomography) brain scan, a radioactive element attached to glucose is injected into the subject’s blood and traced as it flows into and throughout the brain, where the molecule’s decay can be measured to yield an image of the brain at work. In Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind, Nikolas Rose and Joelle M. Abi-Rached attempt an analogous procedure regarding the diffusion of a neuroscientific mode of thinking about the mind into the psychological and social sciences and practices concerned with keeping society safe and and its members sane. (more…)
Homeless: Poverty and Place in Urban Amercia
by Ella Howard
288 pages. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.
What goes through your mind when you see a beggar, or someone living in the streets? I have only ever seen three beggars in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. In this small city of 65,000, panhandling is rare. Of the three, I have spoken with one on many occasions. I’ll call him “Vinnie.” When I see Vinnie, I become rather anxious. I’m someone who tends to give money to those who ask me, and Vinnie knows this well. He almost never fails to make a beeline for me and press me hard. Thus, I am anxious about what I will say this time. When I see Vinnie, I also feel, against my will, critical of him. In summer or winter, he is wearing a big, bulky coat, sometimes more than one coat. “Aren’t you hot?” I wonder to myself. I don’t know why this bothers me. When I talk to Vinnie, I always wonder to myself: how much of what you are saying is true? Vinnie has told me several times that he has been homeless for more than twenty years. On one occasion, however, I drove him to his home. At other times, Vinnie has shown signs of being homeless: out in the streets all day, even in horrible weather. I also know that our two small homeless shelters in town are oversubscribed. Although I have only ever seen three beggars, there are scores of homeless in town. Routinely, there are more people in need of a place to stay each night than the homeless shelters can provide. Where do these people come from? Are they local or transient? Why are they homeless? Why is anyone homeless? (more…)
Roundtable on Andrew Jewett’s Science, Democracy, and the American University: From the Civil War to the Cold War
We are pleased to kick off the 2013 S-USIH Annual Conference with a Book Reviews Page roundtable on Andrew Jewett’s 2012 book, Science, Democracy, and the American University: From the Civil War to the Cold War (Cambridge University Press).
Below, please find reviews by Christopher Shannon and Ethan Schrum well as an author’s response by Andrew Jewett. If you are joining us in UC Irvine this weekend, be sure to attend the roundtable in Session 7.
Read, post your comments, and enter the conversation!