Front Table - 11/6/2020

November 6th, 2020

On our Front Table this week, find explorations of the limits and liberatory possibilities of the law: an examination of "Jewish law" as philosophical praxis; a reckoning with the United States government's history of fascist policies; a renowned legal scholar's study of forgiveness in the administration of law; and more. Browse anytime at semcoop.com.


Big Dirty Money: The Shocking Injustice and Unseen Cost of White Collar Crime (Viking)
Jennifer Taub

There is an elite crime spree happening in America, and the privileged perps are getting away with it. Selling loose cigarettes on a city sidewalk can lead to a choke-hold arrest, and death, if you are not among the top 1%. But if you’re rich and commit mail, wire, or bank fraud, embezzle pension funds, lie in court, obstruct justice, bribe a public official, launder money, or cheat on your taxes, you’re likely to get off scot-free. These are not victimless crimes. Big Dirty Money details the scandalously common and concrete ways that ordinary Americans suffer when the well-heeled use white collar crime to gain and sustain wealth, social status, and political influence. Taub goes beyond the headlines (of which there is no shortage) to track how we got here (essentially a post-Enron failure of prosecutorial muscle, the growth of “too big to jail” syndrome, and a developing implicit immunity of the upper class) and pose solutions that can help catch and convict offenders.


The Dictionary Wars: The American Fight over the English Language (Princeton University Press)
Peter Martin

The Dictionary Wars recounts the patriotic fervor in the early American republic to produce a definitive national dictionary that would rival Samuel Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary of the English Language. But what began as a cultural war of independence from Britain devolved into a battle among lexicographers, authors, scholars, and publishers, all vying for dictionary supremacy and shattering forever the dream of a unified American language. The dictionary wars also engaged America’s colleges, libraries, newspapers, religious groups, and state legislatures at a pivotal historical moment that coincided with rising literacy and the print revolution. Delving into personal stories and national debates, The Dictionary Wars examines the linguistic struggles that underpinned the founding and growth of a nation.


Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait
(W. W. Norton & Company)
Bathsheba Demuth

Floating Coast is a comprehensive history of Beringia, the Arctic land and waters stretching from Russia to Canada. The unforgiving territories along the Bering Strait had long been home to humans—the Iñupiat and Yupik in Alaska, and the Yupik and Chukchi in Russia—before American and European colonization. Rapidly, these frigid lands and waters became the site of an ongoing experiment: How, under conditions of extreme scarcity, would modern ideologies of capitalism and communism control and manage the resources they craved? Drawing on her own experience living with and interviewing indigenous people in the region, Bathsheba Demuth presents a profound tale of the dynamic changes and unforeseen consequences that human ambition has brought (and will continue to bring) to a finite planet.


Halakhah: The Rabbinic Idea of Law (Princeton University Press)
Chaim N. Saiman

Typically translated as “Jewish law,” halakhah is not an easy match for what is usually thought of as law. This is because the rabbinic legal system has rarely wielded the political power to enforce its rules, nor has it ever been the law of any state. Even more idiosyncratically, the talmudic rabbis claim the study of halakhah is a holy endeavor that brings a person closer to God—a claim no country makes of its law. Chaim Saiman traces how generations of rabbis have used concepts forged in talmudic disputation to do the work that other societies assign not only to philosophy, political theory, theology, and ethics but also to art, drama, and literature. Guiding readers across two millennia of richly illuminating perspectives, this panoramic book shows how halakhah is not just “law” but an entire way of thinking, being, and knowing.


A Lab of One's Own: One Woman's Personal Journey Through Sexism in Science (Simon and Schuster)
Rita Colwell and Sharon Bertsch McGrayne

If you think sexism thrives only on Wall Street or in Hollywood, you haven’t visited a lab, a science department, a research foundation, or a biotech firm. Rita Colwell is one of the top scientists in America: the groundbreaking microbiologist who discovered how cholera survives between epidemics and the former head of the National Science Foundation. A Lab of One’s Own documents all Colwell has seen and heard over her six decades in science, from sexual harassment in the lab to obscure systems blocking women from leading professional organizations or publishing their work. Along the way, she encounters other women pushing back against the status quo. A Lab of One’s Own offers an astute diagnosis of how to fix the problem of sexism in science—and a celebration of the women pushing back.


Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius (Portfolio)
Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

Nearly 2,300 years after a ruined merchant named Zeno first established a school on the Stoa Poikile of Athens, Stoicism has found a new audience among those who seek greatness, from athletes to politicians and everyone in between. In Lives of the Stoics, Holiday and Hanselman present the fascinating lives of the men and women who strove to live by the timeless Stoic virtues of Courage. Justice. Temperance. Wisdom. Organized in digestible, mini-biographies of all the well-known–and not so well-known–Stoics, this book vividly brings home what Stoicism was like for the people who loved it and lived it. More than a mere history book, every example in these pages, from Epictetus to Marcus Aurelius–slaves to emperors–is designed to help the reader apply philosophy in their own lives. A treasure of valuable insights and stories, this book can be visited again and again by any reader in search of inspiration from the past.


On Fascism: 12 Lessons from American History (St. Martin's Griffin)
Matthew C. MacWilliams

The United States of Lyncherdom, as Mark Twain labeled America. The Chinese Exclusion Act. The Trail of Tears. The internment of Japanese-Americans. McCarthyism. The Surveillance State. At turning points throughout history, as we aspired toward great things, we also witnessed the authoritarian impulse drive policy and win public support. Only by confronting and reconciling this past can America move toward a future rooted in the motto of our Republic: e pluribus unum (out of many, one). But this book isn’t simply an indictment. It is also a celebration of our spirit, perseverance, and commitment to the values at the heart of the American project. Along the way, we learn about American heroes who embodied the soaring, revolutionary proclamations set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution. On Fascism is both an honest reckoning and a call for reconciliation. Denial and division will not save the Republic, but coming to terms with our history might.


Rise Up: Confronting a Country at the Crossroads (Hanover Square Press)
Reverend Al Sharpton

Rise Up offers timeless lessons for anyone who’s stood at the crossroads of their personal or political life, weighing their choices of how to proceed. When the young Alfred Charles Sharpton told his mother he wanted to be a preacher, little did he know that his journey would also lead him to prominence as a politician, founder of the National Action Network, civil rights activist, and television and radio talk show host. In Rise Up, Reverend Sharpton revisits the highlights of the Obama administration, the 2016 election and Trump’s subsequent hold on the GOP, and draws on his decades-long experience with other key players in politics and activism. The time has come to take a hard look at our collective failures and shortcomings and reclaim our core values in order to build a clear and just path forward for America. Our nation today stands at a crossroads—and change can’t wait.


Say It Louder! Black Voters, White Narratives, and Saving Our Democracy (Amistad Press)
Tiffany D. Cross

Black voters were critical to the Democrats’ 2018 blue wave. In fact, 90 percent of Black voters supported Democratic House candidates, compared to just 53 percent of all voters. Despite media narratives, this was not a fluke. Yet still, this powerful voting bloc is often dismissed as some “amorphous” deviation, argues Tiffany Cross. Say It Louder! is her examination of how America’s composition was designed to exclude Black voters, but paradoxically would likely cease to exist without them. Exploring the cable news echo chamber, campaign leadership, and Black voter data, Cross examines the timeless efforts endlessly attempting to deny people of color the right to vote. And yet as the demographics of the country are changing, so too is the electoral power construct—by evolution and by force, Cross declares. Grounded in the most-up-to-date research, Say It Louder! is a vital tool for a wide swath of constituencies.


Stranger Faces (Transit Books)
Namwali Serpell

If evolutionary biologists, ethical philosophers, and social media gurus are to be believed, the face is the basis for what we call "humanity." The face is considered the source of identity, truth, beauty, authenticity, and empathy. It underlies our ideas about what constitutes a human, how we relate emotionally, what is pleasing to the eye, and how we ought to treat each other. But all of this rests on a specific image of the face. We might call it the ideal face. What about the strange face, the stranger's face, the face that thwarts recognition? What do we make of the face that rides the line of legibility? In a collection of speculative essays on a few such stranger faces—the disabled face, the racially ambiguous face, the digital face, the face of the dead—Namwali Serpell probes our contemporary mythology of the face. Stranger Faces imagines a new ethics based on the perverse pleasures we take in the very mutability of faces.


Think Like a Feminist: The Philosophy Behind the Revolution
(W. W. Norton & Company)
Carol Hay

Think Like a Feminist is an irreverent yet rigorous primer that unpacks over two hundred years of feminist thought. Professor Carol Hay takes the reader from conceptual questions of sex, gender, intersectionality, and oppression to the practicalities of talking to children, navigating consent, and fighting for adequate space on public transit, without deviating from her clear, accessible, conversational tone. Think Like a Feminist is equally a feminist starter kit and an advanced refresher course, connecting longstanding controversies to today’s headlines. Ferocious, insightful, practical, and unapologetically opinionated, Think Like a Feminist is the perfect book for anyone who wants to understand the continuing effects of misogyny in society. By exploring the philosophy underlying the feminist movement, Carol Hay brings today’s feminism into focus, so we can deliberately shape the feminist future.


When Should Law Forgive? (W. W. Norton & Company)
Martha Minow

In an age increasingly defined by accusation and resentment, Martha Minow makes an eloquent, deeply-researched argument in favor of strengthening the role of forgiveness in the administration of law. Through three case studies, Minow addresses such foundational issues as: Who has the right to forgive? Who should be forgiven? And under what terms? The result is as lucid as it is compassionate: A compelling study of the mechanisms of justice by one of this country’s foremost legal experts.

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