The Chronicle Review

What New Book Are You Most Excited About?

Eleven scholars on what they’re looking forward to reading

November 05, 2017

Jeremy Adelman, professor of history, Prince­ton University: Yuri Slezkine’s The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution (Princeton University Press). With the anniversary of the Russian Revolution upon us, we need to look back on the last century through a different lens. And this one, written in the tradition of Leo Tolstoy and Vasily Grossman, has the hallmarks of a great, great epic story.

Jennifer Burns, associate professor of history, Stanford University: Written by a political scientist taking a historical and theoretical approach, Karen Long Jusko’s Who Speaks for the Poor? Electoral Geography, Party Entry, and Representation (Cambridge University Press) explains the underrepresentation of low-income voters. I’m always encouraging my students to think more structurally when it comes to political history, and I think this book will help me better explain the peculiarities and limitations of American democracy.

Matthew Desmond, professor of sociology, Princeton University: Right now, I’m reading an advance copy of Not a Crime to Be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America (The New Press) by Peter Edelman, one of the nation’s leading thinkers about poverty and public policy. It’s a powerful investigation into the ways the United States has addressed poverty, not through effective social services, but by outlawing it. Lucid and troubling.

Ashley D. Farmer, assistant professor of history and African-American studies, Boston University: Given the current political climate, many are looking to the social, cultural, and political debates of the 1960s as guideposts for chronicling and debating activism today. Christopher M. Tinson’s Radical Intellect: Liberator Magazine and Black Activism in the 1960s (University of North Carolina Press) distills and analyzes these conversations through the lens of the popular monthly magazine Liberator. Tinson’s book will be the first full-length history of a publication that profoundly shaped ideological and organizational conversations about black revolt in the 1960s and 1970s. This sharp study reveals how black publications documented civil rights, black power, and black radical activism, and will be important reading for students of past struggles and political mobilization today.

Mark Greif, associate professor of literary studies, The New School: I’m looking forward to John Plotz’s Semi-Detached: The Aesthetics of Virtual Experience Since Dickens (Princeton University Press). Absorption and undivided attention are less and less our primary experience of all sorts of aesthetic objects, from texts and letterlike messages to pictures and bits of film. We need a new language for partial experiences, and it’s as likely to come from Victorian England, when one rupture occurred into new omnipresent lightweight media, as directly from the rupture today. Certainly a compelling, unsensational, but mind-expanding account of it is likely to come from Plotz — writing on J.S. Mill, H.G. Wells, William Morris, and even Buster Keaton, with reference to aesthetic transformations today — as he is one of the canniest literary readers and most expansive appreciators in his field. I’m eager to see what he has accomplished.

Johanna Hanink, associate professor of classics, Brown University: I’m really excited about Why Bob Dylan Matters (HarperCollins), by Richard F. Thomas, a Roman-poetry specialist at Harvard. Thomas has long taught a popular "Dylan 101" course, and it was Dylan’s Nobel Prize win last year that finally prompted him to put his ideas down on paper. Thomas will show us how Dylan’s lyrics — his poetry — belong to a long poetic tradition, and reward close reading just as much as the works of Virgil or T.S. Eliot. The book is also yet another great example of a classicist reaching and reading beyond the classics — and showing that the tools of the classics trade are just as useful farther afield.

Martha S. Jones, professor of history, The Johns Hopkins University: I’m reading The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits (The New Press), the latest book from the historian Tiya Miles (see Page B6). I read everything Miles writes, from history to fiction, because she is among the best when it comes to blending artful storytelling with an unwavering sense of social justice. Her history of Detroit has a special sort of urgency. This year the city is marking a half-century since the 1967 uprising, and much ink will be spilled chronicling the highs and lows of the 20th century. Miles takes us back to Detroit’s 18th-century origins, which is a story of bondage and the mixing of people black, white, and native. The result radically reframes Detroit’s modern civil-rights era, and leaves me with a new sense of how the city’s struggles of today have roots way deep in its very soil.

Ibram X. Kendi, professor of history and international relations, American University: Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital (University of North Carolina Press), by Chris Myers Asch and George Derek Musgrove. This epic, heavily detailed, and richly written history arrives right on time for me, a new resident of Washington, D.C. It arrives right on time for America, as people struggle to understand the enduring tensions and contradictions of race and democracy. Chocolate City — the book and the city — shall provide clarity for us because the historic struggles of the nation’s capital have been the historic struggles of the nation.

Jacob T. Levy, professor of political science, McGill University: Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles’s The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality (Oxford University Press). It’s hard to think carefully about how economic forces shape politics and political decisions shape the economy at the same time. Lindsey and Teles’s book looks likely to do that, in the process of identifying common ground between market-liberal worries about market distortions and egalitarian-liberal worries about rising political and economic inequality in the United States.

Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, associate professor of history, University of Wisconsin at Madison: The book I am most eagerly awaiting is Kieran Setiya’s Midlife: A Philosophical Guide (Princeton University Press). In his earlier works, Setiya has shown how academic philosophy can help us not only think more clearly but also live better by providing practical knowledge and ethical insight for daily life. Plus, I’ll be celebrating my 47th birthday this fall, so I’ll need something more potent than "47 is the new 37!"

Victor M. Rios, professor of sociology, University of California at Santa Barbara: Nilda Flores-González’s Citizens but Not Americans: Race and Belonging Among Latino Millennials (NYU Press). Scholars seeking to understand how young Latinos experience and make sense of contemporary U.S. nationalism and xenophobia must read this book. Flores-González masterfully shows how Latino millennials born in the United States feel they are citizens but not Americans, how these young Americans are cheated out of a sense of national belonging, and, as such, how they are working to rewrite the national narrative on belonging in order to counter dominant narratives of exclusion.