Front Table - 10/30/2020

October 30th, 2020

On our Front Table this week, find intersections of science and politics with an exploration of the ecological possibilities and ethical challenges of de-extinction, an account of the historical vicissitudes of psychedelic medicine, a collection of essays on disaster culture and climate anxiety, and an analysis of the geopolitics of a low carbon future.


Danielle Giffort

Danielle Giffort examines how a new generation of researchers and their allies are working to rehabilitate psychedelic drugs and usher in a new era of psychedelic medicine. This colorful and accessible history of the rise, fall, and reemergence of psychedelic medicine is infused with intriguing narratives and personalities—a story for popular science aficionados as well as for scholars of the history of science and medicine.



Balzac's Lives (New York Review Books)
Peter Brooks
 

Balzac, more than anyone, invented the nineteenth-century novel, and Oscar Wilde went so far as to say that Balzac had invented the nineteenth century. But it was above all through the wonderful, unforgettable, extravagant characters that Balzac dreamed up and made flesh—entrepreneurs, bankers, inventors, industrialists, poets, artists, bohemians of both sexes, journalists, aristocrats, politicians, prostitutes—that he brought to life the dynamic forces of an era that ushered in our own. Peter Brooks’s Balzac’s Lives is a vivid and searching portrait of a great novelist as revealed through the fictional lives he imagined.


How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of Extinction
(Princeton University Press)

Beth Shapiro

Could extinct species be brought back to life? In How to Clone a Mammoth, Beth Shapiro, an evolutionary biologist and pioneer in ancient DNA research, addresses this intriguing question by walking readers through the astonishing and controversial process of de-extinction. From deciding which species should be restored to anticipating how revived populations might be overseen in the wild, Shapiro vividly explores the extraordinary cutting-edge science that is being used to resurrect the past. Considering de-extinction’s practical benefits and ethical challenges, Shapiro argues that the overarching goal should be the revitalization and stabilization of contemporary ecosystems. Looking at the very real and compelling science behind an idea once seen as science fiction, How to Clone a Mammoth demonstrates how de-extinction will redefine conservation’s future.



The Jefferson Bible: A Biography (Princeton University Press)

Peter Manseau

In his retirement, Thomas Jefferson edited the New Testament with a penknife and glue, removing all mention of miracles and other supernatural events. Inspired by the ideals of the Enlightenment, Jefferson hoped to reconcile Christian tradition with reason by presenting Jesus of Nazareth as a great moral teacher—not a divine one. Peter Manseau tells the story of the Jefferson Bible, exploring how each new generation has reimagined the book in its own image as readers grapple with both the legacy of the man who made it and the place of religion in American life. Manseau sheds light on the influences that inspired Jefferson to revise the Gospels and situates the creation of the Jefferson Bible within the search for the historical Jesus. Manseau describes the intrigue surrounding the loss and rediscovery of the Jefferson Bible and traces its reception history from its first planned printing in 1904 for members of Congress to its persistent power to provoke and enlighten us today.



Katia Moskvitch

Neutron stars are as bewildering as they are elusive. The remnants of exploded stellar giants, they are tiny and incredibly dense. In Neutron Stars, award-winning science journalist Katia Moskvitch takes readers from the vast Atacama Desert to the arid plains of South Africa to visit the radio telescopes and scientists responsible for our knowledge of neutron stars. She recounts the discoveries, disappointments, and controversies of the past several decades and explains cutting-edge research into such phenomena as colliding neutron stars and fast radio bursts: extremely powerful but ultra-short flashes in space that scientists are still struggling to understand. She also shows how neutron stars have shed light on topics such as dark matter, black holes, general relativity, and the origins of heavy elements like gold and platinum. With clarity and passion, Moskvitch describes what we are learning at the boundaries of astronomy, where stars have life beyond death.



The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations (Penguin Press)

Daniel Yergin

The world is being shaken by the collision of energy, climate change, and the clashing power of nations in a time of global crisis. The “shale revolution” in oil and gas has transformed the American economy, ending the “era of shortage”, but introducing a turbulent new era. Almost overnight, the United States has become the world’s number one energy powerhouse. Yet concern about energy’s role in climate change is challenging our economy and way of life, accelerating a second energy revolution in the search for a low carbon future. All of this has been made starker and more urgent by the coronavirus pandemic and the economic dark age that it has wrought. A master storyteller and global energy expert, Daniel Yergin takes the reader on an utterly riveting and timely journey across the world’s new map. He illuminates the great energy and geopolitical questions in an era of rising political turbulence and points to the profound challenges that lie ahead.



Spinoza's Political Psychology: The Taming of Fortune and Fear
(Cambridge University Press)

Justin Steinberg

Spinoza's Political Psychology advances a novel, comprehensive interpretation of Spinoza's political writings, exploring how his analysis of psychology informs his arguments for democracy and toleration. Justin Steinberg shows how Spinoza's political method resembles the Renaissance civic humanism in its view of governance as an adaptive craft that requires psychological attunement. He examines the ways that Spinoza deploys this realist method in the service of empowerment, suggesting that the state can affectively reorient and thereby liberate its citizens, but only if it attends to their actual motivational and epistemic capacities. His book will interest a range of readers in Spinoza studies and the history of political thought, as well as readers working in contemporary political theory.



To Make the Wounded Whole: The African American Struggle Against HIV/AIDS (University of North Carolina Press)

Dan Royles

In the decades since it was identified in 1981, HIV/AIDS has devastated African American communities. Members of those communities mobilized to fight the epidemic and its consequences from the beginning of the AIDS activist movement. They struggled not only to overcome stigma and denial, but also to bring resources to struggling communities that were often dismissed. To Make the Wounded Whole offers the first history of African American AIDS activism in all of its depth and breadth. Dan Royles introduces a diverse constellation of activists, including medical professionals, Black gay intellectuals, church pastors, Nation of Islam leaders, recovering drug users, and Black feminists who pursued grassroots approaches to slow the epidemic's spread and address its impacts. Through interlinked stories from Philadelphia and Atlanta to South Africa and back again, Royles documents the work of African American activists in the decades-long battle against HIV/AIDS.

 

 

Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945
(W. W. Norton & Company)

Ian W. Toll

Beginning with the Honolulu Conference, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt met with his Pacific theater commanders to plan the last phase of the campaign against Japan, Twilight of the Gods brings to life the last year of World War II in the Pacific. Ian W. Toll’s narratives of combat in the air, at sea, and on the beaches are as gripping as ever, but he also reconstructs the Japanese and American home fronts and takes the reader into the halls of power in Washington and Tokyo, where the great questions of strategy and diplomacy were decided. An authoritative and riveting account of the final phase of the War in the Pacific, Twilight of the Gods brings Toll’s masterful trilogy to a thrilling conclusion. This trilogy will stand as the first complete history of the Pacific War in more than twenty-five years, and the first multivolume history of the Pacific naval war since Samuel Eliot Morison’s series was published in the 1950s.



The Tyranny of Merit: What's Become of the Common Good?
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Michael J. Sandel

These are dangerous times for democracy. Stalled social mobility and entrenched inequality give the lie to the American credo that "you can make it if you try." The consequence is anger and frustration that has fueled populist protest and extreme polarization and led to deep distrust of both government and our fellow citizens - leaving us morally unprepared to face the profound challenges of our time. Michael J. Sandel argues that to overcome the crises that are upending our world, we must rethink attitudes toward success and failure. Sandel shows the hubris a meritocracy generates among the winners and the harsh judgement it imposes on those left behind. He offers an alternative way of thinking about success, more attentive to the role of luck in human affairs, more conducive to an ethic of humility and solidarity, and more affirming of the dignity of work. The Tyranny of Merit points us toward a hopeful vision of a new politics of the common good.



The Unreality of Memory: And Other Essays (FSG Originals)

Elisa Gabbert

The feeling that we’re living in the worst of times seems to be intensifying, alongside a desire to know precisely how bad things have gotten—and each new catastrophe distracts us from the last. The Unreality of Memory collects provocative, searching essays on disaster culture, climate anxiety, and our mounting collective sense of doom. In this new collection, acclaimed poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert explores our obsessions with disasters past and future, from the sinking of the Titanic to Chernobyl, from witch hunts to the plague. These deeply researched, prophetic meditations question how the world will end—if indeed it will—and why we can’t stop fantasizing about it. With The Unreality of Memory, Gabbert offers a hauntingly perceptive analysis of our new ways of being and a means of reconciling ourselves to this unreal new world.



Young Rembrandt: A Biography (W. W. Norton & Company)

Onno Blom

Rembrandt van Rijn’s life has always been an enigma. Seeking the roots of Rembrandt’s genius, the celebrated Dutch writer Onno Blom immersed himself in Leiden, the city in which Rembrandt was born and where he spent his first twenty-five years. It was a turbulent time, the city having only recently rebelled against the Spanish. Blom, a native of Leiden himself, brings to life all the places Rembrandt would have known. He investigated the concerns and tensions of the era. And he examined the origins and influences that led to the famous and beloved paintings that marked the beginning of Rembrandt’s celebrated career as the paramount painter of the Dutch Golden Age. Young Rembrandt is a portrait of the artist and the world that made him. Evocatively told and beautifully illustrated with more than 100 color images, it is a superb biography that captures Rembrandt for a new generation.

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