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.
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]
Karen L. Kilcup Fallen Forests: Emotion, Embodiment, and Ethics in American Women’s Environmental Writing, 1781-1924 Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013, 504 pages.
Review by Nicolette Gable
The idea of a book on nineteenth century environmental writing conjures images of Walden Pond and white men of leisure rhapsodizing over sublime scenery. It is pleasantly surprising to read a book that subverts such expectations. In Fallen Forests Karen Kilcup takes on several large projects. First, she seeks to enlarge the scope of what we consider environmental writing and activism. Next, she attempts to shift the discussion of nineteenth century women’s writing from analysis of sentimentalism to the rhetorical use of emotional intelligence. Finally, she seeks to reclaim the discussion of women and nature from essentialism and idealism, by examining material conditions and directly confronting the limitations, contradictions, and failings of these women’s work.
James G. Morgan. Into New Territory: American Historians and the Concept of US Imperialism. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014. 268 pp.
Review by Andrew Seal
Robert K. Musil. Rachel Carson and Her Sisters: Extraordinary Women Who Have Shaped America’s Environment. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2014) 328 pages.
Frank S. Zelko. Make It a Green Peace!: The Rise of Countercultural Environmentalism. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013) 400 pages.
Essay by Anthony Chaney
In her recent climate change bestseller, journalist Naomi Klein condemns three decades of inadequate response to industrial destruction of the environment for trying too hard to accommodate the reigning ethos of unregulated capitalism. With this in mind, it’s useful to revisit the earlier history of modern environmentalism. Two new books, Robert K. Musil’s Rachel Carson and her Sisters, Extraordinary Women Who Have Shaped America’s Environment (Rutgers, 2014) and Frank Zelko’s Make it a Greenpeace! The Rise of Counterculture Environmentalism (Harvard, 2014), narrate the contrasting approaches to ecology. They do so in ways that divide ecological thought along stereotypical understandings of gender. Musil’s cast of characters is a cooperative and mutually supportive set of women. Zelko’s are mostly combative and often reckless young men. It’s a minefield, treading the line between the found and the made in human nature.
Drew Maciag, Edmund Burke in America: The Contested Career of the Father of Modern Conservatism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 280 pages.
Review by Bradley Baranowski
Hegel in his brief remarks on America called it the “land of the future.”Fittingly, the political tradition often associated with this land is one with little regard for the past: liberalism. In his new book, Edmund Burke in America the historian Drew Maciag takes aim at liberalism’s grip on America’s historical imagination.