Front Table - 11/12/2020

November 12th, 2020

On our Front Table this week, consider globalization, its consequences and its limits: find a history of American isolationism, from George Washington to the present; an argument for globalization that takes on critiques from both the Left and Right; a new political interpretation of Werner Herzog's international films; an account and defense of liberal internationalism as a mode of safeguarding democracy; a peek into the increasingly global yet steadfastly closed off world of contemporary art; and more. Browse anytime at semcoop.com.



Conditional Citizens (Pantheon Books)
Laila Lalami

What does it mean to be American? In this starkly illuminating and impassioned book, Pulitzer Prize­­–finalist Laila Lalami recounts her unlikely journey from Moroccan immigrant to U.S. citizen, using it as a starting point for her exploration of the rights, liberties, and protections that are traditionally associated with American citizenship. Tapping into history, politics, and literature, she elucidates how accidents of birth—such as national origin, race, and gender—that once determined the boundaries of Americanness still cast their shadows today. Lalami poignantly illustrates how white supremacy survives through adaptation and legislation, with the result that a caste system is maintained that keeps the modern equivalent of white male landowners at the top of the social hierarchy. Conditional citizens, she argues, are all the people with whom America embraces with one arm and pushes away with the other.


The Hitler Conspiracies (USA Oxford University Press)
Richard J. Evans

In his new book, Richard J. Evans, one of the world's leading historians of the Third Reich, explores this new golden age of conspiracy theories and what underlies it. To do so, he focuses on five of the most enduring conspiracies theories of the Nazi period, including those that fueled Hitler's rise in the first place. Hence he reexamines the notorious anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; the "stab-in-the-back" myth about the role of Jews in Germany's loss in World War One; and the 1933 burning of the Reichstag, which the Nazis used to solidify their grip on power. Evans also delves into the multiple rumors regarding the ill-fated and mysterious 1941 flight to England by Rudolf Hess, Deputy Leader of the Nazi Party, and his death in Spandau prison in 1987. Lastly, he turns to the recurrent rumor that Hitler somehow managed to escape from Berlin in 1945 and live out his days in Argentina.


Illusions of Emancipation: The Pursuit of Freedom and Equality in the Twilight of Slavery (University of North Carolina Press)
Joseph P. Reidy

In this sweeping reappraisal of slavery's end during the Civil War era, Joseph P. Reidy employs the lenses of time, space, and individuals' sense of personal and social belonging to understand how participants and witnesses coped with drastic change, its erratic pace, and its unforeseeable consequences. Emancipation disrupted everyday habits, causing sensations of disorientation that sometimes intensified the experience of reality and sometimes muddled it. While these illusions of emancipation often mixed disappointment with hope, through periods of even intense frustration they sustained the promise that the struggle for freedom would result in victory.


Isolationism: A History of America's Efforts to Shield Itself from the World
(USA Oxford University Press)
Charles A. Kupchan

In his Farewell Address of 1796, President George Washington admonished the young nation "to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world." Isolationism thereafter became one of the most influential political trends in American history. From the founding era until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States shunned strategic commitments abroad, making only brief detours during the Spanish-American War and World War I. Amid World War II and the Cold War, Americans abandoned isolationism; they tried to run the world rather than run away from it. But isolationism is making a comeback as Americans tire of foreign entanglement. In this definitive and magisterial analysis—the first book to tell the fascinating story of isolationism across the arc of American history—Charles Kupchan explores the enduring connection between the isolationist impulse and the American experience.


Mage Merlin's Unsolved Mathematical Mysteries (MIT Press)
Satyan Devadoss, Matt Harvey

Most people think of mathematics as a set of useful tools designed to answer analytical questions, beginning with simple arithmetic and ending with advanced calculus. But, as Mage Merlin's Unsolved Mathematical Mysteries shows, mathematics is filled with intriguing mysteries that take us to the edge of the unknown. This richly illustrated, story-driven volume presents sixteen of today's greatest unsolved mathematical puzzles, all understandable by anyone with elementary math skills. These intriguing mysteries are presented to readers as puzzles that have time-traveled from Camelot, preserved in the notebook of Merlin, the wise magician in King Arthur's court.


On Treason: A Citizen's Guide to the Law (Ecco Press)
Carlton F. W. Larson

Drawing on over two decades of research, constitutional law and legal history scholar Carlton Larson takes us on a grand tour of the Treason Clause of the United States Constitution. Despite the Clause’s apparent simplicity, Larson demonstrates that it is a form of constitutional quicksand in which seemingly obvious intuitions are often far off the mark. From the floors of the medieval British Parliament that codified the Statute of Treasons upon which the American law was based to the treason of Benedict Arnold, our nation’s founding traitor, to more recent events, including WWII’s “Tokyo Rose” and the allegations against Edward Snowden and Donald Trump, Larson provides a riveting account of treason law in action. On Treason is an indispensable guide for anyone who wants to understand this fundamental aspect of our legal system.


Open: The Progressive Case for Free Trade, Immigration, and Global Capital
(Harvard University Press)
Kimberly Clausing

Globalization has a bad name. Critics on the Left have long attacked it for exploiting the poor and undermining labor. Today, the Right challenges globalization for tilting the field against advanced economies. Kimberly Clausing faces down the critics from both sides, demonstrating in this vivid and compelling account that open economies are a force for good. A leading authority on corporate taxation and an advocate of a more equal economy, Clausing agrees that Americans face stark economic challenges. But these problems do not require us to retreat from the global economy. On the contrary, she shows, an open economy overwhelmingly helps. Clausing outlines a progressive agenda to manage globalization more effectively, presenting strategies to equip workers for a modern economy, improve tax policy, and establish a better partnership between labor and the business community.


Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope (IVP Press)
Esau McCaulley

Reading While Black is a personal and scholarly testament to the power and hope of Black biblical interpretation. At a time in which some within the African American community are questioning the place of the Christian faith in the struggle for justice, New Testament scholar McCaulley argues that reading Scripture from the perspective of Black church tradition is invaluable for connecting with a rich faith history and addressing the urgent issues of our times. He advocates for a model of interpretation that involves an ongoing conversation between the collective Black experience and the Bible, in which the particular questions coming out of Black communities are given pride of place and the Bible is given space to respond by affirming, challenging, and, at times, reshaping Black concerns. McCaulley demonstrates this model with studies on how Scripture speaks to topics often overlooked by white interpreters, such as ethnicity, political protest, policing, and slavery.


The Tragedy of Heterosexuality (New York University Press)
Jane Ward

Heterosexuality is in crisis. Reports of sexual harassment, misconduct, and rape saturate the news in the era of #MeToo. Straight men and women spend thousands of dollars every day on relationship coaches, seduction boot camps, and couple’s therapy in a search for happiness. In The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, Jane Ward smartly explores what, exactly, is wrong with heterosexuality in the twenty-first century, and what straight people can do to fix it for good. She shows how straight women, and to a lesser extent straight men, have tried to mend a fraught patriarchal system in which intimacy, sexual fulfillment, and mutual respect are expected to coexist alongside enduring forms of inequality, alienation, and violence in straight relationships.


Werner Herzog (University of Illinois Press)
Joshua Lund

Werner Herzog's protean imagination has produced a filmography that is nothing less than a sustained meditation on the modern human condition. Though Herzog takes his topics from around the world, the Americas have provided the setting and subject matter for iconic works ranging from Aquirre, The Wrath of God, and Fitzcarraldo to Grizzly Man. Joshua Lund offers the first systematic interpretation of Werner Herzog's Americas-themed works, illuminating the director's career as a political filmmaker—a label Herzog himself rejects. Lund draws on materialist and post-colonial approaches to argue that Herzog's American work confronts us with the circulation, distribution, accumulation, application, and negotiation of power that resides, quietly, at the center of his films.



A World Safe for Democracy: Liberal Internationalism and the Crisis of Global Order (Yale University Press)
G. John Ikenberry

For two hundred years, the grand project of liberal internationalism has been to build a world order that is open, loosely rules-based, and oriented toward progressive ideas. Today this project is in crisis, threatened from the outside by illiberal challengers and from the inside by nationalist-populist movements. This timely book offers the first full account of liberal internationalism’s long journey from its nineteenth-century roots to today’s fractured political moment. Creating an international “space” for liberal democracy, preserving rights and protections within and between countries, and balancing conflicting values—these are the guiding aims that have propelled liberal internationalism through the upheavals of the past two centuries. G. John Ikenberry argues that in a twenty-first century marked by rising economic and security interdependence, liberal internationalism—reformed and reimagined—remains the most viable project to protect liberal democracy.



A Year in the Art World: An Insider's View (Thames & Hudson)
Matthew Israel

Over the last few decades the contemporary art world has become more globalized and more visible than ever before – and yet in many ways it remains closed and obscure. What actually happens behind the doors of a contemporary artist’s studio? At an auction house before a major sale? In the vaults of an art storage unit? How can art museums keep up with Instagram – and why does everyone seem to hate art fairs? Join curator, writer and art historian Matthew Israel on a year-long journey through the contemporary art world. From Los Angeles to Hong Kong via Venice, Basel, Paris and New York, from biennials in summer to auction houses in autumn, Israel reveals the joys and anxieties of this sometimes baffling, often intimidating field.

Posted in: