New and noteworthy – 26 November 2015

From Saudi Arabia’s religious rebels to TTIP's unknown unknowns: new academic books worth adding to your reading list

November 26, 2015
Reading glasses lying on open book

Muted Modernists: The Struggle over Divine Politics in Saudi Arabia
Madawi Al-Rasheed

Most of the interviewees who gave so generously of their insights and time for this nuanced, myth-debunking book, says its author, must remain nameless. And for good reason, too. Al-Rasheed’s close-up focus on “religious modernists” (a term intended to challenge assumptions about these Islamists’ social conservatism) takes in ulama, writers, intellectuals and online activists, all of them daring to imagine a new politics in the very teeth of a paranoid and hostile Saudi regime.

My Histories
Kenneth O. Morgan
University of Wales Press

Vice-chancellor, peer, labour and Labour historian, Keir Hardie’s biographer and James Callaghan’s too (despite Callaghan’s daughter jotting “Too Welsh?” in her meeting notes), Morgan writes gracefully of his life and times and those who threaded through it, from Asa Briggs to the Queen – to whom Morgan’s first word was, accidentally, “socialism”. The best kind of scholarly memoir, told with clear-eyed understatement and flashes of fire, as when recounting his denouncement of the impending Iraq War in the House of Lords, or reaffirming, despite it all, that ours is “a better world than when I entered it in 1934”.

Paradigm Shift: How Expert Opinions Keep Changing on Life, the Universe and Everything
Martin Cohen
Imprint Academic

Cohen, unclubbable philosopher and devout sceptic, specialises in free-range skewering of solemnly intoned bullshit. In this glinty-eyed grab-bag of variably digestible disquisitions on H1N1 vaccines, God particles, Ben Goldacre’s awards shelf, not-so-jolly climate change hockey sticks and philosophers’ star signs, his gadfly jibes serve serious ends. Bestow on your favourite contrarian.

Writers as Public Intellectuals: Literature, Celebrity, Democracy
Odile Heynders
Palgrave Macmillan

Thinker as superstar: if you’re writing your to-do list for Pikettydom, it’s all about cultural authority; social and cultural context; mediated context of production and reception; and aesthetic performance of theatricality, says Heynders, a comparative literature scholar. Her detailed, geographically broad account sizes up the cut of the public-intellectual jib of H. M. Enzensberger, Dubravka Ugrešić, Slavenka Drakulić, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, David Van Reybrouck, Geert van Istendael, Hamed Abdel-Samad, Elif Shafak and, inevitably, Bernard-Henri Lévy. It is, however, Slavoj Žižek-free.

Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (And Winning)
Marion Nestle
Oxford University Press

Are the fizzy drink pedlars a big problem? Yes. It’s exhilarating watching a scholar of this eminence not only write the rap sheet for the sugar-pushers – in all their kid-targeting, water-siphoning, tooth-eroding, medic-suborning, politician-buying evil glory – but also persuasively and precisely detail the current fightbacks and potential solutions. Now there’s a public intellectual for you.

TTIP: The Truth About the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
Ferdi De Ville and Gabriel Siles-Brügge

A Belgian, a German and a scary acronym: two political economists walk us deftly through a beyond-the-headlines, polemic-free analysis of the US-European Union trade negotiations that could usher in huge economic growth – or, say opponents ranging from the Greens and Corbyn’s Labour to Ukip, an “assault on society”, workers’ rights, safety regulations and national autonomy. The study ends with three possible scenarios, in which the words “Pyrrhic victory” and “chlorinated chicken” appear.

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