Front Table - 11/20/2020

November 19th, 2020

On our Front Table this week, explore legal and rights-based approaches to contemporary dilemmas, from a redemption of the administrative state and a vindication of the rights of pregnant women, to a new declaration of the Rights of Nature. Browse anytime at semcoop.com.


Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women (Bold Type Books)
Lyz Lenz

Written with a blend of wit, snark, and raw intimacy, Belabored is an impassioned and irreverent defense of the autonomy, rights, and dignity of pregnant people. Lenz shows how religious, historical, and cultural myths about pregnancy have warped the way we treat pregnant people: when our representatives enact laws criminalizing abortion and miscarriage, when doctors prioritize the health of the fetus over the life of the pregnant patient in front of them, when baristas refuse to serve visibly pregnant women caffeine. She also reflects on her own experiences of carrying her two children and seeing how the sacrifices demanded during pregnancy carry over seamlessly into the cult of motherhood, where women are expected to play the narrowly defined roles of “wife” and “mother” rather than be themselves.


Blood Royal: Dynastic Politics in Medieval Europe (Cambridge University Press)
Robert Bartlett

Throughout medieval Europe, for hundreds of years, monarchy was the way that politics worked in most countries. This meant power was in the hands of a family - a dynasty; that politics was family politics; and political life was shaped by the births, marriages and deaths of the ruling family. How did the dynastic system cope with female rule, or pretenders to the throne? How did dynasties use names, the numbering of rulers and the visual display of heraldry to express their identity? And why did some royal families survive and thrive, while others did not? Drawing on a rich and memorable body of sources, this engaging and original history of dynastic power in Latin Christendom and Byzantium explores the role played by family dynamics and family consciousness in the politics of the royal and imperial dynasties of Europe.


Haring-isms (Princeton University Press)
Keith Haring

Keith Haring remains one of the most important and celebrated artists of his generation and beyond. Through his signature bold graphic line drawings of figures and forms dancing and grooving, Haring’s paintings, large-scale public murals, chalk drawings, and singular graffiti style defined an era and brought awareness to social issues ranging from gay rights and AIDS to drug abuse prevention and a woman’s right to choose. Haring-isms is a collection of essential quotations from this creative thinker and legendary artist. Gathered from Haring’s journals and interviews, these lively quotes reveal his influences and thoughts on a variety of topics, including birth and death, possibility and uncertainty, and difference and conformity.


A History of the Bible: The Book and its Faiths (Penguin Books)
John Barton

In our culture, the Bible is monolithic: It is a collection of books that has been unchanged and unchallenged since the earliest days of the Christian church. The idea of the Bible as “Holy Scripture,” a non-negotiable authority straight from God, has prevailed in Western society for some time. And while it provides a firm foundation for centuries of Christian teaching, it denies the depth, variety, and richness of this fascinating text. In A History of the Bible, John Barton argues that the Bible is not a prescription to a complete, fixed religious system, but rather a product of a long and intriguing process, which has inspired Judaism and Christianity, but still does not describe the whole of either religion. Barton shows how the Bible is indeed an important source of religious insight for Jews and Christians alike, yet argues that it must be read in its historical context–from its beginnings in myth and folklore to its many interpretations throughout the centuries.


Law and Leviathan: Redeeming the Administrative State (Belknap Press)
Cass R. Sunstein, Adrian Vermeule

Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule argue that the administrative state can be redeemed, as long as public officials are constrained by what they call the morality of administrative law. Law and Leviathan elaborates a number of principles that underlie this moral regime. Officials who respect that morality never fail to make rules in the first place. They ensure transparency, so that people are made aware of the rules with which they must comply. They never abuse retroactivity, so that people can rely on current rules, which are not under constant threat of change. They make rules that are understandable and avoid issuing rules that contradict each other.  Without explicit enunciation, these principles already limit the activities of administrative agencies every day.  But Sunstein and Vermeule argue that we can aspire for better. In more robust form, these principles could address many of the concerns that have critics of the administrative state mourning what they see as the demise of the rule of law. The bureaucratic Leviathan may be an inescapable reality of complex modern democracies, but we can at last make peace between those who accept its necessity and those who yearn for its downfall.


The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges are Failing Disadvantaged Students
(Harvard University Press)
Anthony Abraham Jack

The Ivy League looks different than it used to. College presidents and deans of admission have opened their doors—and their coffers—to support a more diverse student body. But is it enough just to admit these students? In The Privileged Poor, Anthony Jack reveals that the struggles of less privileged students continue long after they’ve arrived on campus. Admission, they quickly learn, is not the same as acceptance. This bracing and necessary book documents how university policies and cultures can exacerbate preexisting inequalities and reveals why these policies hit some students harder than others.


Reclaiming the Commons: Biodiversity, Indigenous Knowledge, and the Rights of Mother Earth
(Synergetic Press)
Vandana Shiva

Reclaiming the Commons: In Defense of Biodiversity, Traditional Knowledge and the Rights of Mother Earth lays out the scientific, legal, political, and cultural struggle to defend the sovereignty of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge. Corporate war on nature and people through patents and corporate Intellectual Property Rights has unleashed an epidemic of biopiracy resulting in important legal battles fighting efforts to patent the rights to many plants, including basmati, neem, and wheat. The author presents details of the specific attempts made by corporations to secure these patents and the legal actions taken to fight them. The book goes beyond the legal struggle to position the necessary solutions to corporate control including exploring the Rights of Nature and proposing a framework for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. It is the first detailed legal history of the international and national laws related to biodiversity and Intellectual Property Rights.


The Sum of Our Dreams: A Concise History of America
(USA Oxford University Press)
Louis P. Masur

In The Sum of Our Dreams, Louis P. Masur offers a sweeping yet compact history of America from its beginnings to the current moment. For general readers seeking an accessible, single-volume account, one that challenges but does not overwhelm, and which distills and connects the major events and figures in the country's past in a single narrative, here is that book. Evoking Barack Obama's belief that America remains the "sum of its dreams," Masur locates the origin of those dreams - of freedom, equality, and opportunity - and traces their progress chronologically, illuminating the nation's struggle over time to articulate and fulfill their promise.


Under the Dome: Walks with Paul Celan (City Lights Books)
Jean Daive

Paul Celan (1920–1970) is considered one of Europe's greatest post-World-War II poets, known for his astonishing experiments in poetic form, expression, and address. Under the Dome is French poet Jean Daive's haunting memoir of his friendship with Celan, a precise yet elliptical account of their daily meetings, discussions, and walks through Paris, a routine that ended suddenly when Celan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Seine. Daive's grief at the loss of his friend finds expression in Under the Dome, where we are given an intimate insight into Celan's last years, at the height of his poetic powers, and as he approached the moment when he would succumb to the debilitating emotional pain of a Holocaust survivor.


What Can a Body Do?: How We Meet the Standing World (Riverhead Books)
Sara Hendren

In a series of vivid stories drawn from the lived experience of disability and the ideas and innovations that have emerged from it—from cyborg arms to customizable cardboard chairs to deaf architecture —Sara Hendren invites us to rethink the things and settings we live with. What might assistance based on the body’s stunning capacity for adaptation—rather than a rigid insistence on “normalcy”—look like? Can we foster interdependent, not just independent, living? How do we creatively engineer public spaces that allow us all to navigate our common terrain? By rendering familiar objects and environments newly strange and wondrous, What Can a Body Do? helps us imagine a future that will better meet the extraordinary range of our collective needs and desires.


Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? (W.W. Norton & Company)
Caitlin Doughty

Everyone has questions about death. In Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?, best-selling author and mortician Caitlin Doughty answers the most intriguing questions she’s ever received about what happens to our bodies when we die. In a brisk, informative, and morbidly funny style, Doughty explores everything from ancient Egyptian death rituals and the science of skeletons to flesh-eating insects and the proper depth at which to bury your pet if you want Fluffy to become a mummy. Now featuring an interview with a clinical expert on discussing these issues with young people—the source of some of our most revealing questions about death—Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? confronts our common fear of dying with candid, honest, and hilarious facts about what awaits the body we leave behind.


x + y (Basic Books)
Eugenia Cheng

Why are men in charge? After years in the male-dominated field of mathematics and in the female-dominated field of art, Eugenia Cheng has heard the question many times. In x + y, Cheng argues that her mathematical specialty — category theory — reveals why. Category theory deals more with context, relationships, and nuanced versions of equality than with intrinsic characteristics. Category theory also emphasizes dimensionality: much as a cube can cast a square or diamond shadow, depending on your perspective, so too do gender politics appear to change with how we examine them. Because society often rewards traits that it associates with males, such as competitiveness, we treat the problems those traits can create as male. But putting competitive women in charge will leave many unjust relationships in place. If we want real change, we need to transform the contexts in which we all exist, and not simply who we think we are.

Posted in: