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.
Mical Raz, What’s Wrong with the Poor? Psychiatry, Race, and the War on Poverty (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 242 pages.
Review by Trevor Burrows
The cover image of Mical Raz’s What’s Wrong with the Poor? Psychiatry, Race, and the War on Poverty shows Lady Bird Johnson reading to a handful of mostly black children at a Head Start center. The First Lady also provides the book’s opening vignette, which describes how Johnson’s announcement of Project Head Start in the spring of 1965 included a number of characterizations of poverty that bordered on the outlandish, with Johnson suggesting that many poor children had never seen a flower or did not even know their own names. This juxtaposition of images recurs throughout Raz’s book, as her cast of well-meaning social workers, researchers, educators, and policy makers repeatedly (and often erroneously) interpreted the lives and habits of poor families through a lens of absolute deprivation. What’s Wrong with the Poor? examines how the broad discourse of “cultural deprivation” provided the framework through which poverty was conceptualized as a problem of deficiency and deprivation throughout the 1960s. Raz argues that the basic tenets of cultural deprivation theory underwrote many of the assumptions and programs at the core of the War on Poverty.
Don H. Doyle. The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the Civil War
New York: Basic Books 2014. 382 pages.
Review by John McKee Barr
In August 1858, during his first debate with Democratic opponent Stephen Douglas, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, attacked Douglas’s central idea of popular sovereignty. Douglas’s amoral stance toward inhuman bondage, Lincoln believed, made its extension more likely. This was dangerous, because for Lincoln, “public sentiment is every thing. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes, or pronounces judicial decisions. He makes possible the inforcement [sic] of these, else impossible.” It is hardly surprising, then, that after ascending to the presidency a few years later, Lincoln’s administration became obsessed with shaping public sentiment across the world in order to help stave off the successful secession of the Confederate States of America from the United States.
Fred Turner. The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. 376 pages.
Review by Matthew D. Linton
In the introduction to his The Democratic Surround Fred Turner paints a conventional picture of 1960s cultural radicalism’s relationship to the post-1945 period. “In popular memory”, he writes, “the 1960s rose up in a Technicolor wave and washed away decades of bland, black-and-white American life” (8). Though this picture of the revolutionary 1960s has proliferated, Turner argues that 1960s radicalism is best understood as the culmination of postwar American liberalism, not a reaction against it. Postwar intellectuals and their later critics “call[ed] for a society in which individual diversity might become the foundation for collective life” (9). They also shared a common mode for the realization of collective good in individual self-expression: democratic surrounds – multimedia installations in theaters and museums that promoted individual participation to actualize liberal values. For Turner, democratic surrounds showed the potential and perils of mid-century liberalism. While multimedia provided a useful critique of totalitarianism in its Nazi and Soviet variants, it also “represented a turn toward the managerial mode of control” that enveloped postwar liberalism, 1960s radicalism, and “haunts our culture today” (10).
Nicolas Guilhot, ed. (2011). The Invention of International Relations Theory: Realism, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the 1954 Conference on Theory. New York: Columbia University Press.
Review by Jessica Blatt
In May 1954, the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) brought together a group of scholars, foundation officials, and foreign-policy practitioners including Hans Morgenthau, Reinhold Niebuhr, Walter Lippmann, Arnold Wolfers, Dorothy Fosdick, and then-RF President Dean Rusk. As Rusk set it out, their task was to arrive at “basic philosophic aspects of the … theory of international politics” in order to do some “sorting out of intellectual factors in our foreign policy” (240).
In this, they failed miserably. As Nicolas Guilhot puts it in his introduction to The Invention of International Relations Theory, the transcript of this two-day conference reveals mostly “unfocused discussion, misunderstandings, equivocal notions, disagreements about fundamental concepts, and much soul searching that remains inconclusive down to the very end” (11). That participants were “realists” was clear, but the precise theoretical content of realism was not. However, the essays in this fascinating volume—all departing in some way from the conference—show that arriving at a theory, while it would have been nice, was only one of the conference’s goals.
For those of you unaware, S-USIH’s assistant book review editor Lilian Calles Barger has conducted an interview with Tim Lacy. The interview, posted at New Books in American Studies, concerns Lacy’s latest book, Dreams of a Democratic Culture: Mortimer J. Adler and the Great Books Idea. In addition, I’d like to also remind everyone of the roundtable we did last year concerning Lacy’s book. In short, it’s as good a time as any to read Dreams of a Democratic Culture, especially with recent debates about how the public perceives the historical profession and what makes up the “public.” Good job Lilian and Tim!
Also, I’d like to also remind everyone about Lilian’s interview with Lisa Tetrault, the author of The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898. Lilian’s review of that book is here.
Peter Gardella. American Civil Religion: What Americans Hold Sacred. Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press, 2014. 368 pages.
Review by John D. Wilsey
In the first paragraph of his book entitled American Civil Religion: What Americans Hold Sacred, author Peter Gardella notes that “the US government . . . has always found people who hold American symbols and values to be sacred—worth living and dying and perhaps killing for” (1). This visceral and primal commitment that Americans have to their symbols and values points to something greater than mere patriotism, Gardella asserts. This is a commitment that amounts to a real religion. In an April 2014 interview conducted for Marginalia Review of Books by Art Remillard, Gardella said, “You can’t have people putting their lives on the line unless there is a religious dimension to what they’re doing.”[i]