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10 April 2024

The best of the academic presses for spring 2024

The New Statesman’s highlights, from AI to the American right and Greek drama to goth culture.

By New Statesman

A Great Disorder: National Myth and the Battle For America by Richard Slotkin

Modern America is, says Richard Slotkin, still shaped by differing interpretations of the past. Opposing views of the country’s foundation, its frontier and the Civil War underlie the Democrats’ and Republicans’ two nations.
Harvard University Press, 528pp, £29.95

The AI Mirror: How to Reclaim Our Humanity in an Age of Machine Thinking by Shannon Vallor

Shannon Vallor, a “data ethicist”, argues that today’s AI holds up a mirror to the past: to find a path into the future, we must rethink our relationship with technology.
Oxford University Press, 272pp, £22.99 (published 3 June)

Counterrevolution: Extravagance and Austerity in Public Finance by Melinda Cooper

Here, Melinda Cooper moves away from the traditional schools of neoliberalism – Chicago and Geneva – and examines how the Virginia School responded to the capitalist crisis of the 1970s, deepening the divide between rich and poor and reviving the spectre of dynastic wealth.
Princeton University Press, 568pp, £28

Spice: The 16th-Century Contest that Shaped the Modern World by Roger Crowley

In 1511, the Portuguese reached the Molucca islands off Indonesia and the spices they found would supercharge their economy. Roger Crowley, always an adroit and fluent historian, recounts how the competition for spices that followed drove European expansion and tradearound the globe, reaching from China to the Arctic Circle.
Yale University Press, 288pp, £20 (14 May)

Dancing With the Devil: Why Bad Feelings Make Life Good by Krista K Thomason 

According to the philosopher Krista K Thomason, emotions such as anger, envy, spite and contempt are not to be fought and suppressed but rather accepted. There is a positive side to our negative feelings, she says, because they are proof that we are attached to our own lives. They are a vital part of what makes existence meaningful.
Oxford University Press, 208pp, £18.99

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Sexed: A History of British Feminism by Susanna Rustin

This survey of British feminism ranges from Mary Wollstonecraft and the suffragists to current debates about what it means to be a woman. As the journalist Susanna Rustin emphasises, regardless of the shared aim to change society, this has always been contested territory. She argues for the centrality of sex-based rights in both feminist
and wider politics.  
Polity, 286pp, £20 (28 June)

Israel’s Black Panthers: The Radicals Who Punctured a Nation’s Founding Myth by Asaf Elia-Shalev

In the 1970s, a group of Moroccan Israeli Jews protested against the racial hierarchy then existing in Israel that left many of them both impoverished and lacking rights. Their campaign, inspired by America’s Black Panthers, was, says Asaf Elia-Shalev, part of the wider global struggle against oppression.
University of California Press, 344pp, £23

To Run the World: The Kremlin’s Cold War Bid for Global Power by Sergey Radchenko

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union tried to be both a global superpower and lead global revolution: the two aims proved irreconcilable, says Sergey Radchenko. Nevertheless, they drove the policies – territorial, nuclear, and of influence – of every Soviet leader from Stalin to Gorbachev, and are still playing out today.
Cambridge University Press, 450pp, £30 (30 May)

The Art of Darkness: The History of Goth by John Robb

Alongside interviews with the likes of the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Nick Cave, the musician and journalist John Robb also delves into the deeper past in this history of goth music and culture. Lord Byron and European folk tales have played as much of a part in this movement of “Stygian style, sex and subversion” as the post-punk club scene.
Manchester University Press, 546pp, £25

Carbon: A Biography by Bernadette Bensuade-Vincent and Sacha Loeve

Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe and the basis of human life, but it is also, thanks to fossil fuels, the greatest threat to the planet. In this book, the authors look beyond its current demonisation to examine the part carbon has played in everything from jewellery and electronics to metallurgy and pharmaceuticals.  
Polity, 316pp, £30 (21 June)

Father Time: A Natural History of Men and Babies by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy

Both cultural norms and evolutionary science have long held that caring for babies is primarily the woman’s domain. But when the anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy noticed that the role of fathers was changing, her research led her to discover the profound biological and social implications of a nurturing masculinity.
Princeton University Press, 432pp, £25 (14 May)

Taking America Back: The Conservative Movement and the Far Right by David Austin Walsh

David Austin Walsh has produced a vital work that illuminates the deep connections between mainstream American conservativism and the far right through mutual xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and hatred of the liberal New Deal. Donald Trump’s Maga movement is shown not to be an aberration but integral to the conservative tradition in the US.
Yale University Press,320pp, £25 (11 June)

The Sentinel State: Surveillance and the Survival of Dictatorship in China by Minxin Pei

How does the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) maintain its grip on power through economic growth, a culture of deference, and surveillance? For Minxin Pei, the key to the survival of the CCP is indeed the surveillance state – not the use of facial recognition AI and mobile tracking software, but the enormous infrastructure of domestic spying. 
Harvard University Press, 336pp, £29.95

Keeping the Red Flag Flying: The Labour Party in Opposition Since 1922 by Mark Garnett, Gavin Hyman and Richard Johnson

There have been just 13 Labour ministries in more than 100 years. Its natural home, it seems, is in opposition. However, according to the authors, the party has been successful – at least in part – in spending its time in the wilderness refining its policies, reforming its structure and proving an effective opposition to the Tories.
Polity, 256pp, £17.99 (25 April)  

Facing Down the Furies: Suicide, the Ancient Greeks, and Me by Edith Hall

In Oedipus the Tyrant, Sophocles writes of Jocasta’s suicide: “The tragedies that hurt the most are those that sufferers have chosen for themselves.” Here the classics professor and author Edith Hall considers her own painful family history of suicide through the lens of the great Greek dramatists and philosophers, from Plato to Camus.
Yale University Press, 256pp, £18.99 (14 May)

[See also: Women writers and the lure of deep England]

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This article appears in the 10 Apr 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Trauma Ward