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Volume 10, No. 7 - October, 2000  
Table of contents for this issue
Survivors: Best Books Of The 90's

THE TRIBE HAS SPOKEN. By internet plebiscite, the readers of Lingua Franca have chosen the best academic books of the 1990s. And like most things wrought by democracy, the results inspire a wistful sense of untapped possibility. In a just world, no doubt someone would have seconded the lone vote for Wheeler M. Thackston's translation of The Jahangirnama: Memoirs of Jahangir, Emperor of India,whose nominator called it "extraordinary" and "long overdue." And The Prokaryotes,a four-volume handbook on microorganisms who are nucleus-challenged, surely ought to have seduced more than one biology professor into "overextending my faculty borrowing privileges."

But although more than three hundred books were nominated, few such specialized titles received more than one vote. To win, books had to tackle big, interdisciplinary topics: gender, class, race, natural selection, America, or Elizabeth I.

The following titles get to stay on the island:

  1. Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (Yale, 1990)
  2. George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (Basic, 1994)
  3. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (Routledge, 1990)
  4. Patricia J. Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights (Harvard, 1991)
  5. John Guillory, Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (Chicago, 1993)
  6. Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (Simon & Schuster, 1995)
  7. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (California, 1990)
  8. Sherry Lee Linkon, ed., Teaching Working Class (Massachusetts, 1999)
  9. Carole Levin, The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power (Pennsylvania, 1994)
  10. Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (Knopf, 1992)

Honorable mention goes to the following: City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles by Mike Davis, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond, Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s by Ann Douglas, There's No Such Thing As Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too by Stanley Fish, The Art of Living: Socratic Reflections From Plato to Foucault by Alexander Nehamas, The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker, Political Liberalism by John Rawls, Lectures on Conversation by Harvey Sacks, Working-Class Women in the Academy: Laborers in the Knowledge Factory edited by Michelle M. Tokarczyk and Elizabeth A. Fay, and Shame and Necessity by Bernard Williams.

For a full listing of nominated books and their publishers click here. Also check out the full list of readers' responses. Here's a sampling:

On Sexual Personae by Camille Paglia: "Almost too brilliant to even discuss properly"; "rigorous and passionate adaptation of classical paganism to modern intellectual life."

On Cultural Capital by John Guillory: "Restores my faith whenever I begin to think my profession is drowning in dreck."

On Epistemology of the Closet by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick: "Sedgwick particularly impressed me with the generosity of her theorizing (including, even especially, toward those whose approach is less theoretically inflected than hers)."

On Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990-1990 by Charles Tilly: "A must for anyone whose interest in history outpaces his ability to remember details."

On Itch: Mechanisms and Management of Pruritis by Jeffrey D. Bernhard: "First (and still the only) comprehensive medical textbook about itching."

On Mr. Bligh's Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theatre on the Bounty by Greg Dening: "Showed me how fascinating the issue of representation can be just when I was losing interest in it."

On Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution by Ken Wilbur: "Though it has almost no standing in the is the sole work of the modern period that rivals Hegel."

On The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism by Richard Sennett: "Wrongheaded but beautifully crafted and argued...a model of popular academic writing."

On Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America by Laura Kipnis: "Who knew that fat porn interrogated both normative sexuality and class privilege?"

On The Culture of Disbelief by Stephen L. Carter and The Soul of the American University by George Marsden: "Put the issue of religion and education on the academic map, where it will continue to stay as long as politicians argue about how best to restore character and fundamental values to the academy."

On Wittgenstein's Place in Twentieth Century Analytic Philosophy by P. M.S. Hacker: "Strikingly accurate picture of the decline of analytic philosophy, that is, how it degenerated from its once noble stature as the tribunal of science to becoming its mere handmaiden."

On Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language by Steven Pinker: "The approach of my genomics research group to the analysis of DNA is through linguistics....I found that I could read Pinker's book, inserting 'DNA sequence' into his analyses, and could come up with many interesting hypotheses."

On Tears by Mark C. Taylor: "Taylor's meditation on religion bridged negation theology and poststructuralism, making available a radically new way to inhabit the idea of faith."

On Confronting Sexual Harassment: What Schools and Colleges Can Do by Judith Berman Brandenburg: "I have bought seventy-eight copies."


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