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.
Philip N. Johnson-Laird. How We Reason. Oxford University Press, 2006. (Hardback) 573 pages. ISBN 0-19-856976-9
Removing the Brackets from Context and Advanced Cognitive Processes
A Review by Joe Petrulionis
World shaking intellectual projects have rarelybeen contained within boundary lines of a solitary academic field. Nor did they all happen near the turn of the seventeenth century. From Copernicus, to Kant, Leibniz, Darwin, Husserl, and to Einstein, some of these ideas and their originators were overlooked in their first published editions. Among the ten thousand or so academic books published initially in 2006, there will certainly be a few that will prove instrumental to the preparation of future specialists within their respective fields, specialists who will do their part, in turn, to push back the edge of the unknown in their own incremental ways. Perhaps the true measure of a great book is not the number of copies sold, but the number of scholars–external to the author’s field–whose collective paradigm will be launched toward new productivity through the insights contained in that one book. Only time and future scholarship will tell if Philip N. Johnson-Laird has written “only” another book that will shake up the field of psychology, or if the insights he gleans from cognitive sciences, artificial intelligence, logic, and Philosophy’s “Theory of Knowledge” will be duly recognized as a founding document of something new, an experimental science of human understanding.
Hoeveler, J. David. The Evolutionists: American Thinkers Confront Charles Darwin, 1860-1920. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007. 250 pp. (Paperback) Bibliography. ISBN-13: 978-0-7425-1175-0
The Evolutionists: A “Classroom” Review
Review by John Thomas Scott, Mercer University
Having taught a one-semester survey of American Intellectual History for a number of years now, I have always found the Gilded Age to be the most challenging sections to teach. The colonial period, with the Puritans and the Enlightenment, comes easy. The Revolutionary and Early National Periods, containing the wonderful debates about political rights and governmental powers, flows naturally, and the Antebellum Period, suffused with the conflicts between the Whigs and Democrats on the one hand and the nationalists and sectionalists on the other, provides ample fodder for classroom discussion. From the turn of the twentieth century on, as well, the topics come easily: progressivism, liberalism, and conservatism, ideologies of the foreign threats of fascism, communism, and Islamicism, and feminist and civil rights ideologies to boot! The Gilded Age, though, often seems to lack both the coherence and the fire of these other ages. Certainly no President or statesman emerged to encapsulate the ideas of the age—no Jefferson or Teddy Roosevelt, or Kennedy. Choosing reading assignments for this period can be daunting. J. David Hoeveler’s new monograph, The Evolutionists, provides an alternative intellectual nucleus around which the ideas of the Gilded and Progressive Eras orbited—not the ideas of a politician but of a scientist, Charles Darwin.
B. Jill Carroll, A Dialogue of Civilizations: Gülen’s Islamic Ideals and Humanistic Discourse Forward by Akbar S. Ahmed. Somerset, NJ: The Light, 2007. (114 pages) Paperback, ISBN 13: 978-1-59784-110-8.
Who Speaks for a Civilization?
A review by Joe Petrulionis
Theologian, B. Jill Carroll, a lecturer in Humanities and Religion at Rice University, presents a laudable idea. Dr. Carroll wants to set up a hypothetical dialog between civilizations. On one of her hands is the Muslim world; on her other the rest of humanity. Because of her respect for a very prolific Islamic cleric named Fethullah Gülen, Dr. Carroll would like to promote Gülen as the mouthpiece for Islamic civilization, and place him into topical “dialogues” with philosophers representing the rest of the world, specifically, Confucius, Plato, Kant, Mill, and Sartre. Another goal for A Dialogue of Civilizations: Gülen’s Islamic Ideals and Humanistic Discourse is to place Fethullah Gülen “into a context of the larger humanities.”
Philosophy Americana: Making Philosophy at Home in American Culture
Douglas R. Anderson
Fordham University Press, 2006
0-8232-2550-X (cloth), 0-8232-2551-8 (paper)
Review by Mike O’Connor
The American view toward philosophy might best be exemplified by Ferris Bueller’s assessment of his upcoming exam on European socialism. “[R]eally, what’s the point? I’m not European; I don’t plan on being European: so who gives a crap if they’re socialist? They could be fascist anarchists—that still wouldn’t change the fact that I don’t own a car.” In the United States, the subject has never been among the more treasured forms of cultural expression; indeed, the emphasis on the pragmatic over the theoretical is often cited as a paradigmatically American trait. Whether this ordering signifies a focused drive to prune away the irrelevant or merely a certain boorishness, it is nonetheless a pronounced characteristic of the national culture.
Michael Kazin. A Godly Hero: the Life of William Jennings Bryan. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. ISBN 0-375-41135-6 (374 pp.)
Reviewer: Andrew Hartman
One of the main threads of United States historiography is the search for an authentic working class. This search has often proved fruitless, at least insofar as scholars have tied authentic working-class behavior to voting patterns. It seems the working class has rarely voted in accordance with its economic interests and instead is motivated by other, less rational, perhaps unconscious pursuits. This historiographic thread might best be summed up by Werner Sombart’s famous question that he posed in 1906: “Why is there no socialism in the United States?” For more, see the full review here.
The Paradox of Democratic Capitalism: Politics and Economics in American Thought
Johns Hopkins University Press
When financial giant Bear Stearns recently danced perilously close to the edge of bankruptcy, the Federal Reserve induced JPMorgan Chase, with $29 billion worth of loan guarantees, to purchase the investment bank. Coming in the midst of a credit crisis in which many Americans were losing their homes, the government’s offer was the target of a great deal of criticism. During a Senate hearing on the subject, Banking Committee Chair Christopher Dodd (D-CT) asked Fed chief Benjamin Bernanke whether this action constituted “a justified rescue to prevent a systemic collapse of financial markets or a $30 billion taxpayer bailout for a Wall Street firm while people on Main Street struggle to pay their mortgages?” Bernanke responded that while “normally, the market sorts out which companies survive and which fail,” the significance of this particular company’s market position is such that “the damage caused by a default by Bear Stearns could have been severe and extremely difficult to contain.” (more…)