All Fall

Scott McLemee offers a roundup of books from this coming autumn's university press catalogs and more.

May 31, 2019
 
 
Istockphoto.com/chdwh

University presses usually make their fall catalogs available in the weeks just before and after Memorial Day. So far, I have gone through about 40 of them with an eye to identifying books of possible nonspecialist interest, including the ones flagged below. Another roundup column or two will follow later in the summer as the stragglers come in. (All quoted material here is from the publishers' descriptions.)

A couple of titles clearly have a large portion of the Inside Higher Ed readership in mind: David Gooblar's The Missing Course: Everything They Never Taught You About College Teaching (Harvard University Press, August) and Jessamyn Neuhaus's Geeky Pedagogy: A Guide for Intellectuals, Introverts and Nerds Who Want to Be Effective Teachers (West Virginia University Press, September). The Missing Course draws on current research into how the brain functions and harvests "invaluable insights to help students learn in any discipline." Geeky Pedagogy "encourages faculty … to view themselves and their teaching work in light of contemporary discourse that celebrates increasingly diverse geek culture and explores stereotypes about super-smart introverts."

Part of that "increasingly diverse geek culture" is weaponized in Winning Westeros: How Game of Thrones Explains Modern Military Conflict (University of Nebraska Press, September), consisting of essays by "30 of today’s top military and strategic experts, including generals and admirals, policy advisors, counterinsurgency tacticians, science fiction and fantasy writers, and ground-level military officers." The first listed of the volume's four co-editors is Max Brooks, of World War Z fame, and it comes with a blurb praising its insights on "diplomacy, conflict, warfare and the range of complex competitions that influence our security and prosperity today” from Lieutenant General (retired) H. R. McMaster.

The flood of Trump-centered books from university presses seems to have diminished, although it has not dried up entirely. Adam Hodges's When Words Trump Politics: Resisting a Hostile Regime of Language (Stanford University Press, September) brings concepts from linguistic anthropology to bear on "the language ideologies, word choices and recurring metaphors that underlie Trumpian rhetoric."

In Talk Radio’s America: How an Industry Took Over a Political Party That Took Over the United States (Harvard University Press, October) author Brian Rosenwald treats Trumpian rhetoric as the culmination of developments that he traces to "August 1, 1988, when, desperate for content to save AM radio, top media executives stumbled on a new format that would turn the political world upside down." The argument sounds interesting, but I find Rosenwald's timeline to be, in a word, wrong. I recall hearing various proto-Limbaughs on AM talk radio in Texas no later than 1980, with listeners calling in to blame the Council on Foreign Relations for everything they accuse George Soros of masterminding now.

Due to arrive just ahead of the 2020 campaign, H. Gibbs Knotts and Jordan M. Ragusa's First in the South: Why South Carolina’s Presidential Primary Matters (University of South Carolina Press, December) throws down the gauntlet to Iowa and New Hampshire. It calls for a shift of national attention "to South Carolina because of its clarifying and often-predictive role in selecting presidential nominees for both the Republican and Democratic Parties." The catalog description curiously omits a claim on the press's website that First in the South "offers hope to political newcomers and candidates who have not mastered the art of fund-raising."

The challenges of campaigning are steeper than that for the sort of candidate Mark Stein writes about in The Presidential Fringe: Questing and Jesting for the Oval Office (Potomac Books, distributed by University of Nebraska Press, February 2020). Some of the campaigns he describes were serious challenges to exclusionary norms (Victoria Woodhull and George E. Taylor, who were the first female and African American presidential candidates, respectively). And some were entertainers using politics as a stage (Will Rogers and Stephen Colbert), while candidates of the Vegetarian and the Flying Saucer Parties seized the opportunity to publicize their concerns. "It was often precisely these fringe candidates who planted the seeds from which mainstream candidates later harvested genuine, positive change." No word as yet whether the book will cover the Giant Meteor 2016 campaign ("Just End It Already").

Some books seem to fall implicitly into pairs. The connection is obvious in the case of Ryan Patrick Hanley's Our Great Purpose: Adam Smith on Living a Better Life (Princeton University Press, September) and Samuel Fleischacker's Being Me Being You: Adam Smith and Empathy (University of Chicago Press, October) which share an interest in the moral philosopher behind the political economist. Hanley focuses on Smith's advocacy of ancient virtues "such as prudence, self-command, justice and benevolence" as essential for a sound character, while Fleischacker translates "what Smith called 'sympathy'" into what in contemporary usage is known as empathy: the "uniquely human feat" of "entering into the perspective of another … that connects people while still allowing them to define their own distinctive standpoints."

More tenuous, perhaps, is the link between Brian D. Earp and Julian Savulescu's Love Drugs: The Chemical Future of Relationships (Redwood Press, distributed by Stanford University Press, January 2020) and Ela Przybylo's Asexual Erotics: Intimate Readings of Compulsory Sexuality (Ohio State Press, August). Earp and Savulescu describe the emergence of a new wave of psychoactive pharmaceuticals that "may help couples work through relationship difficulties to strengthen their connection" -- or, failing that, may help sever an emotional bond during a breakup." Love Drugs "builds a case for conducting research into such 'love drugs' and 'anti-love drugs' and explores their ethical implications," encouraging us "to decide if these sorts of medications should be a part of our society. And if chemical romance is right for us."

The Viagra allusion is cute but also telling: whether or not such medication "should be part of our society" is a matter for the pharmaceutical companies first and for the ethicists to deal with after the fact. Once pills are available to turn romantic feelings as well as sexual desires on and off, Przybylo's book on "none" as a sexual preference may be less of an outlier. (Among the letters lately added to LGBT is "A" for asexual, understood as an orientation in its own right.) Against the wider culture's "obsession with sex and sexuality," Asexual Erotics proposes "an alternative language for discussing forms of intimacy that are not reducible" to the libidinal, "asking that we consider the ways in which compulsory sexuality is detrimental not only to asexual and nonsexual people but to all." And in case you are wondering, no, incels do not count as asexuals, though they undoubtedly qualify as evidence of detriment.

Read more by

Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.

 

Back to Top