Ev­ery­thing un­der the sun is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion

Matthew Reisz, books ed­i­tor

THE (Times Higher Education) - - BOOKS -

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

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