Here are a few delectable dishes that can satisfy any literary appetite until the new year.
If you want to catch up on your reading over the holiday break, consider these selections from university presses and other publishers on some high-profile topics of academic interest. What the books have in common is accessible writing, combined with clear thinking that defies the common wisdom on some controversial subjects and makes them highly readable for study or pleasure.
Burying Don Imus: Anatomy of a Scapegoat by Dr. Michael Awkward, $24.95, University of Minnesota Press, August 2009, ISBN-10: 0816667411, ISBN-13: 978- 0816667413, pp. 232.
Who could forget the big uproar over radio/TV talk show host Don Imus and his ill-chosen remarks about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team? So, who thinks the flap was much ado about nothing? This book does not suggest that, but the author adds nuance and context to this racially/sexually charged episode.
Awkward, a professor of African-American literature and culture at the University of Michigan, urges us to step back and look at the “real” Don Imus, the political commentator and satirist more closely aligned with charitable and progressive aims than with any racist agenda. How did this person become, in a televised instant, the White man everyone loved to hate?
The author, a longtime viewer of the morning program Imus lost in the scuffle, offers theories and explanations, but more importantly, he asks us to reflect on why we so often allow passion to trump reason in similar, media-fueled race dramas. He argues that while knee-jerk outrage and public hangings over perceived racial sins is an understandable reaction to centuries of distrust and animus, they are not always conducive to rational thought and arrival at just solutions to the continuing assaults and inequities.
Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and Its Legacy (The John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture) by Dr. Susan M. Reverby, $30. University of North Carolina Press, October 2009, ISBN-10: 080783310X, ISBN-13: 978-0807833100. Pp. 424.
“Tuskegee” has become shorthand for mistrust of government experimentation, medical research and everyday encounters with the health establishment for African- Americans. No doubt, what we think we know about the infamous 40-year “study” of syphilis in which unsuspecting Black men were left untreated will continue to shape attitudes toward scientific inquiry and medical treatment far into the future.
For these reasons, this book by a woman who has spent decades reexamining and reinterpreting the facts and the myths about this pivotal and catastrophic saga is a step toward healing the past and shaping the future. Reverby, a professor of women’s studies and the history of ideas at Wellesley College, reviewed documents, medical histories, survivors’ recollections and existing books. Her aim is not to indict those responsible any more than they had been, nor to absolve anyone.
Rather, she helps us understand how ideas about race and racial characteristics led to the undertaking of the study. She also shows how mistrust still fuels the notion that the government actually infected the men in the study, as opposed to recklessly withholding the cure.
As she puts it, her book “is about why the study happened, how it might have been stopped, and why the stories go on and on.”
Harlem vs. Columbia University: Black Student Power in the Late 1960s by Dr. Stefan M. Bradley, $40, University of Illinois Press, July 2009, ISBN-10: 025203452X, ISBN-13: 978-0252034527, pp. 272.
When Columbia University, a potent symbol of Ivy League elitism and power, set its sights on a small neighborhood park for the future home of a large gymnasium in the late 1960s, little did it know the rebellion that would ignite.
Protests by Black students and neighboring residents overlapped and sometimes clashed with demonstrations against the Vietnam War, for student power, for civil rights and in favor of just about every leftist cause. At the same time all these activists ran up against the police and political establishment.
The author, an assistant professor of history and African-American studies at Saint Louis University, outlines how these local events had widespread impact and paralleled similar struggles elsewhere in that era.
Here are some other recent titles to consider: Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader (Independent Studies in Political Economy) by Dr. Jonathan Bean, $24.95, University Press of Kentucky, June 2009, ISBN-10: 0813192315, ISBN-13: 978-0813192314, pp. 360.
Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification by Dr. David Waldstreicher, $25, Hill and Wang, June 2009, ISBN-10: 0809094533, ISBN-13: 978-0809094530, pp. 208. D