New books: Victorian sexism, Iraq's politics, Karen Armstrong on God

We are always acquiring new resources for our collection. Some new books get displayed on the aptly-named "new books shelf" on the main floor. I just had a gander at the current crop and picked a few to highlight here.

Sexual science : the Victorian construction of womanhood by Cynthia Eagle Russett. (Harvard, 1989)

This one may be of interest to those involved in Wofford's 19th-Century Studies or Gender Studies programs.

The review from Choice:
A truly splendid book. Its subject matter--19th-century scientific views of male/female difference--has been treated elsewhere but nowhere in such complete detail. This bizarre story features a prominent cast of characters, including the likes of Darwin, Lombroso, and G. Stanley Hall, and a credulous public that accepted the untested assertions of authority, at least with regard to female capacity. Victorian scientists successfully argued that women were incompletely developed (resembling children and apes more than adult men), that women had lesser brains than men (lacking in size and complexity), and that intensive intellectual effort was incompatible with female reproductive functions (causing underdevelopment or withering of the uterus). Russett sets the tale within the context of modern science and a changing social order, showing the intellectual foundations for such assertions and for their general acceptance. Her description clarifies not only the bases of a strangely uniform misogyny within the scientific establishment, but also the division of labor within the academy in contributing to a "sexual science." Assiduously researched, artfully organized, and written with grace and wit, the book makes important contributions to several fields, including the history of science, sociology of knowledge, and women's studies. Every library ought to have a copy. -N. B. Rosenthal, SUNY College at Old Westbury
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

Iraq from independence to occupation by Adeed Dawisha. (Princeton, 2009)

Topical. The author is a political scientist at Miami University and was born and raised in Iraq.

Choice's review:

Anyone who thinks that Iraq has no history of democratic government needs to read this book immediately. Dawisha (Miami Univ., OH) shows that Iraq experienced four decades of constitutional monarchy beginning in 1922. It featured many characteristics of liberal democracy, including electoral contests among political parties and a comparatively free press. That this era ended with the bloody 1958 revolution does not make the experiment moot. Dawisha's account is somewhat repetitious, but it is detailed and accessible. Why there are two separate chapters on political dynamics from 1936 to 1958 is a mystery. If the two chapters were merged, more attention could be devoted to the "ethnosectarian divide" that yawned during those years; it now gets only 11 pages. The crucial discussion of the factors that undermined the democratic regime lacks the kind of straightforward organization that might help undergraduates and general readers, and the survey of the Baath period pales in comparison to the nuanced analyses of earlier decades. But it is, after all, the ambiguous legacy of the constitutional era that has greatest significance for today's Iraq. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers, undergraduate students of all levels, and professionals. F. H. Lawson Mills College
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

The case for God by Karen Armstrong. (Knopf, 2009)

4 stars (over 500 ratings) on Library Thing. Armstrong is also the author of biographies of Muhammad and Buddha, "A History of God," and "The Battle for God," among others.


This well-researched book argues the case for God (religion?) with insight into and understanding of what makes people religious--which the new atheists don't seem to understand. But Armstrong (independent scholar) also reminds religion's spokespeople that they should leave matters of the mind (e.g., explaining the world) to science, and concentrate on the experiential aspects of life where religions play an indispensable role. "The point of religion," Armstrong rightly observes, "(is) to live intensely and richly here and now." What makes this book particularly valuable is its survey of human attempts to grasp the transcendental from transcultural perspectives. Armstrong provides rich historical examples but also makes the case for a more enlightened approach to religion in the Christian framework. Whether there is a God or not is often determined in people's minds not by any proof or ontological validity, but by how persuasive the advocates and attackers of the God concept are for their respective stances. In this book Armstrong shows herself to be a good lawyer on God's behalf. Given the many anti-God books published in recent years by scientists and journalists, this book will be acclaimed by many religiously inclined people. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-level undergraduates and above; general readers. V. V. Raman emeritus, Rochester Institute of Technology
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

No comments:

Post a Comment