Category Archives: book reviews

July 20, 2010, 3:12 pm

Day 1, The Professor: A Conversation With Historiann About Terry Castle’s The Professor and Other Writings

Several weeks ago we at Tenured Radical received an email from Historiann, who was reading Terry Castle’s The Professor and Other Writings (HarperCollins, 2010.) She notified us that this book — a combination of memoir and cultural criticism — was right up our alley. Several days later, when this slim volume by a Stanford English professor I have long admired had arrived by three-day shipping (and all household activities had been put on hold indefinitely as we went on a binge of reading and downloading Art Pepper albums), Tenured Radical and Historiann agreed that a blog-to-blog conversation was in order.


This is the first of three posts taken from that conversation, which was conducted over email and then edited down. Day 2 will appear tomorrow at Historiann, and then you will want to return to here for the final post on Day 3 (Thursday, July 22). Stay tuned to Comrade

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July 17, 2010, 5:42 pm

Are We All Really Alike? The Strange Marketplace of Louis Menand

Louis Menand, The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University (New York: Norton, 2010). 174 pp., index, 24.95 hardcover.

I realize that I am a little late to the party here. But let me just say – whether you like Louis Menand or not, whether you think that folks who spend most of their lives in a very comfy chair at Harvard are better qualified to talk about education or not – people like Louis Menand matter and it is best to keep up with them. I guarantee you that you will be at a meeting with your president, provost or dean, and something is going to come out if his or her mouth at some point, and you are going to think: “Where the frack did that come from?” Your confusion will not be resolved either — unless you read this book.

Don’t worry. It’s short. In fewer than two hundred pages, Menand discusses what he considers to be the four central …

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June 10, 2010, 12:50 pm

Today’s Assigned Reading: Ayn Rand, Tony Judt and Dean Dad

I spent the first part of the morning absorbed in Jennifer Burns’ Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (Oxford: 2009). I always thought there were two kinds of people: those who were simply mad about Rand, and others (like me) who couldn’t make it through the first fifty pages of her histrionic prose and cheesy philosophizing.
Wrong, wrong, wrong (as one usually is when, as on Facebook, there appear to be only two choices: “Like” and “Dislike.”) There are also those who are neither Rand worshippers or Rand avoiders, but who are just smart, like Jennifer Burns. For all the books that have been published lately about the rise of conservatism in the post-World War II United States, I would have to say Goddess of the Market is the most unusual, in that it teases apart the different philosophical strands of conservatism and libertarianism, while also connecting them…

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April 24, 2010, 2:23 pm

Terrorists With Good Intentions: A Review of American Subversive by David Goodwillie (Scribner, 2010), 309 pp. $25.00

A combination thriller and meditation on the state of radical politics in the 21st century, David Goodwillie’s American Subversive, just out this week, begins inside the head of gossip blogger Aidan Cole who, inexplicably, is in hiding in a neglected vacation home. Why, we are not yet sure. But what we do know is that someone who has epitomized the often aimless spirit of the New Media is locked away, managed by “handlers.” He is subsisting on radio and day-old newspapers for information about the outside world and wondering whether “putting [his story] down on paper” will help him figure out how he has ended up in this place. But where is this place, you might ask? Is he in the witness protection program? And how is it that he has been thrown back on outmoded instruments like paper and pencil?

Why indeed? And do we care?

Ultimately, yes, we do. American Subversive is a fun read,…

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March 28, 2010, 1:10 pm

Sunday Radical Roundup: Death, Taxes and Homocons

The Only One Missing Is The Mad Hatter: Today’s front page story in the New York Times on Tea Party activists reveals what we already suspected: that many of its leading activists are comfortably unemployed. Many key players at the local level are older people of retirement age who are supporting themselves on Social Security and Medicare: one actually retired so that she could pursue her activism full-time. This is why they are able to dedicate themselves to running off at the drop of a hat to make signs or protest the extension of health care to younger people who have failed to exercise the responsibility to stay, or be, employed at the jobs that would give them access to affordable insurance. Because they have already paid into these big government entitlement programs, senior activists explain, “they are getting what they deserve.” Hoo-hah!

But it’s still big government, right?…

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January 17, 2010, 2:56 pm

Extra, Extra: Introducing The Sunday Radical Roundup


In an effort to post more consistently and also to celebrate the Lord’s Day in a traditionally Protestant way (what the Lord actually meant by “resting” was that he would get some work done on his Book), I am hereby inaugurating the Sunday Radical Roundup. Following a practice that is common in the blogosphere, but most expertly performed by Ralph Luker in his daily series of Notes at Cliopatria, every Sunday I will produce a series of short items, old and new, that I want to bring to the attention of my loyal readers.

Additions to the Tenured Radical sidebar links include The Book, a new book review blog that has been launched by The New Republic; The Book Bench, its predecessor at The New Yorker; and Constitutionally Speaking, a blog written by South African Constitutional scholar Pierre de Vos of the University of the Western Cape.

Registration is now open for Reblaw 2010, February …

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July 22, 2009, 5:35 pm

Adultery Carnival: John Updike’s Couples and the Sexual Revolution


John Updike, Couples (New York: Fawcett Books, 1996). Originally published 1968. 458 pp. $14.95

I don’t know whether I meant to bring two books about adultery on vacation but I did, and the contrast between Jed Mercurio’s American Adulterer and John Updike’s Couples provoked many thoughts about the shift in our sexual culture as seen through this knotty, diverse practice. One important similarity in the two books is what has not changed: adultery generates its own complex rules so that adulterers can evade and break other rules. In other words, the adulterer, although perhaps motivated by a desire to be free, is never truly free.

But the differences are also interesting, particularly since both novels describe the same historical moment, the early 1960s. While Updike’s adulterers operate as a community and literally as couples who protect each other, Mercurio’s adulterer in chief, JFK…

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July 18, 2009, 3:28 pm

And Before Bill, There was Jack: Jed Mercurio’s American Adulterer


Jed Mercurio, American Adulterer (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009), 339 pp. $25.00.

It is very rare that I finish a book with no real opinion about whether it was a good book or a bad book, but I think that this is a bad book, perhaps even a very bad book — unless, of course, you are on an airplane (check) and are not really in the mood to think much (check). My verdict is that if you don’t own a Kindle, wait for this one to be remaindered or at least come out in paperback. And I suppose whether you like American Adulterer may well depend on what you expect of historical novels in the first place. This one takes such obvious liberties with the actual history of the Kennedy administration that it isn’t clear whether, in its exhaustive attempts to explain how Jack Kennedy lived in his own ailing and hypersexual body, it adds anything to the vast amount of regurgitated information…

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May 17, 2009, 11:54 am

“Clarence Walker Can’t Say Those Things, Can He?” A Review of Mongrel Nation: The America Begotten by Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

Any of us who know Clarence Walker personally are well aware that he can, and does, say those things. He is the Molly Ivins of the historical profession, a razor-witted, capaciously well-read scholar and critic of scholars, who is often seen at professional gatherings holding court in the hotel bar or leading a large group out to a fabulous restaurant. Because Clarence is my friend, I am immediately disqualifying myself as an impartial reviewer of his new book, Mongrel Nation: The America Begotten by Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009.) But on the other hand, since he sent me a free copy and I enjoyed it so much, I have to express my gratitude somehow. So in an act of fandom, as well as friendship, I am going to try to persuade you to read this delightful book too.

Now, you may say to yourself, “I have read so much on this topic, …

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