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BreakthroughBooks

RECENTLY, WE ASKED FIVE INTELLECTUAL HISTORIANS TO TELL US ABOUT THE MOST PROVOCATIVE AND IMPORTANT BOOK PUBLISHED DURING THE PAST YEAR IN THEIR FIELD. HERE ARE THEIR RESPONSES:

Hayden White, professor, History of Consciousness program, UC-Santa Cruz; author of The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (1986):

Donna Haraway, Primate Visions: Gender, Race and Nature in the World of Modern Science (Routledge, 1989). Says White: "This is a convincing exposť of sexist bias in the human sciences and especially in the fields of primatology and ethology. It is also a brilliant demonstration of the analytical power of radical feminist perspectives on cultural history."

Martin Jay, professor of history, UC-Berkeley; author of Permanent Exiles: Essays on the Intellectual Migration from Germany to America (1990):

Anson Rabinbach, The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity (Basic, 1990). Jay describes it as "quite a fascinating book about the ways the metaphor of the body as machine permeated both intellectual and technological culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It deals with the science of work, Taylorism, studies of fatigue in Germany, France, and also America, so it has an impressive scope."

Jay also admires Jonathan Crary's Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (The M.I.T. Press, 1990), which, he says, "explores changes in concepts of visuality in the nineteenth century, based on changes in science, in technology, and in aesthetic practice. It's really about the origins of the modernist aesthetic."

Jerrold Seigel, professor of history, New York University, author of Bohemian Paris: Culture, Politics and the Boundaries of Bourgeois Life, 1830-1930 (1986):

Debora Silverman, Art Nouveau in Fin-de-Siecle Paris: Politics, Psychology, and Style (University of California Press, 1989). "This is a stimulating reinterpretation of a major art movement," says Seigel, "which shows its relationship to social change, politics and psychology."

Dominick LaCapra, professor of history, Cornell University; author of Soundings in Critical Theory (1989):

Eric Santner, Stranded Objects: Mourning, Memory, and Film in Postwar Germany (Cornell University Press, 1990). Says LaCapra: "Santner's book explores the question of how to confront the Holocaust. It focuses on 'the work of mourning' as an attempt to come to terms with traumatic experience in a way that involves recollecting the 'stranded objects' of a cultural inheritance. Santner sees Germany in particular and Western societies in general as marked by an inability to mourn that fosters a tendency to deny what is painful and disorienting in the past. He provides particularly insightful analyses of two recent films: Hans-Jurgen Syberberg's Our Hitler and Edgar Reitz's Heimat."

Thomas Bender, professor of history, New York University; author of New York Intellect: A History of Intellectual Life in New York City from 1750 to the Beginnings of Our Own Time (1987):

Kenneth Cmiel, Democratic Eloquence: The Fight for Popular Speech in Nineteenth-Century America (Morrow, 1990). "It's a very inventive discussion," says Bender, "of the public language of Americans, from the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century, that relates issues of language to the larger questions of a democratic culture."

Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.


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