Everything under the sun is under investigation
Matthew Reisz, books editor
There’s nothing like looking through a few publishers’ catalogues to get an exhilarating sense of just how much of life gets examined and illuminated by academics.
Intriguing titles in this year’s spring lists cover everything from Coca-Cola to comic books, marine biology to Mexican cowboys, the Anglo-Irish border to the age of addiction. Bold books survey not only the history of celebrity culture but the history of feelings and even the history of ambiguity. More sobering, I suspect, will be Michael Mandelbaum’s The Rise and Fall of Peace on Earth (Oxford University Press, May), an account of what the publisher describes as “the singularly peaceful quarter century” after the close of the Cold War in 1989 – and why it has now come to an end.
Compared with the past few seasons, there seem to be slightly fewer despairing books on Brexit, Trump, populism and the possible imminent death of democracy, although I like the sound of Russell Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum’s account of “the new conspiracism”, A Lot of People Are Saying (Princeton University Press, April). Other crucial contemporary issues also come up for debate.
Jen Schradie’s The Revolution That Wasn’t (Harvard University Press, May) explains why “digital activism favours conservatives”, while Kate Eichhorn’s The End of Forgetting (Harvard, July) looks at what it’s like to “grow up with social media”, in a world where it is virtually impossible to destroy evidence of some of the dumb things we did when young.
And what about the famously dismal science of economics? Several of the forthcoming titles sound very stimulating and likely to attract interest well beyond the standard readership. I look forward to learning “how women made the West rich” in Victoria Bateman’s The Sex Factor (Polity, March), how “economics has corrupted us” in Jonathan Aldred’s Licence to be Bad (Penguin, May) and what Gary Roth means by The Educated Underclass (Pluto, April). And can Rachel McCleary and Robert Barro, in The Wealth of Religions (Princeton, May), really make a convincing case that faith, and particularly a firm belief in Heaven and Hell, is good for the economy?
It is nice to see that publishers have neglected neither food nor sex. Elyakim Kislev’s Happy Singlehood (University of California Press, February) looks at “the rising acceptance and celebration of solo living”. Robyn Metcalfe explores the Food Routes (MIT Press, March) that bring what we eat from producer to consumer and reflects on a disconcerting future when far more of our food will be engineered, networked and virtually independent of crops grown in fields.
There are always some interesting books that challenge the way the academy itself works. In Seeing Race Again (University of California Press, February), Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, who pioneered the notion of intersectionality, has joined forces with fellow theorists to show how academic disciplines – law, musicology, sociology, literary and gender studies – are all built on structures of white supremacy. And, speaking of race, I confidently expect to be both enlightened and disturbed by Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism (Allen Lane, February).
There seem to be slightly fewer despairing books on Brexit, Trump, populism and the possible imminent death of democracy