New and noteworthy – 28 February 2019

Follow the climate change leaders; navigate freedom’s tricky path; grok Robert A. Heinlein; and stand with scientists, students and society

February 28, 2019
Source: iStock

A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow
Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist
Public Affairs

Climate change, argue an emeritus professor of international relations and a Swedish engineer, is even “worse than you think”. Yet a way out is at hand, they propose, if we can learn from solutions that have already been adopted successfully in places such as Sweden, France and Quebec; commit fully to decarbonisation; and adopt nuclear energy alongside renewables (and, above all, avoid replacing existing nuclear programmes with greater use of fossil fuels). The introduction by Steven Pinker describes A Bright Future as a book “that could, quite literally, save the world”.

On Freedom
Cass R. Sunstein
Princeton University Press

With their celebrated 2008 book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler spurred many governments to adopt new ways of encouraging citizens to behave differently. In On Freedom, Sunstein returns to the core issue of whether “people’s free choices really make their lives go better”. Although “the liberal philosophical tradition” responds with a simple “yes”, he suggests that “artists, novelists, psychologists, and theologians offer a more complicated answer”, not least because of the difficulties many of us experience in navigating crucial aspects of our lives. This dazzling little book explores some of the major implications.

The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein
Farah Mendlesohn

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-88) is often ranked alongside Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke as one of the “Big Three” in English-language science fiction, with novels such as Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers remaining highly influential to this day. Yet he was also a complex figure, admired by both radicals and conservatives, whose ideas about gender relations have been seen as both prophetic and sexist. This major critical study offers a potted biography before turning to Heinlein’s rhetoric and technique, attitudes to social structures, sexuality, race and “the right ordering of self” – and his enduring fascination with cats.

March 4: Scientists, Students and Society
Edited by Jonathan Allen
MIT Press

On 4 March 1969, students and faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology organised a day of protest against US involvement in Vietnam and the development of nuclear weaponry. The talks and panel discussions, featuring Noam Chomsky, Lionel Trilling and Nobel laureate George Wald among many others, were published a year later. In a new foreword to this 50th-anniversary edition, surviving participant Kurt Gottfried recalls the “tension and excitement” that led to “a ‘teach-in’ and a work stoppage – something that, as far as I know, U. S. scientists had never contemplated before…[Their] call to action is as relevant today as ever.”

Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’ān
Asma Barlas
Saqi Books

In a new edition of her 2002 book, Pakistani-American politics professor Asma Barlas addresses head-on one of the most contentious questions about Islam: does the Koran “teach or condone sexual inequality or oppression” or, by contrast, “permit and encourage liberation for women”? Via detailed textual analysis, she claims to demonstrate “the Qur’ān’s unyielding rejection of the patriarchal imaginary of God-the-Father” and its assumption that “women and men have similar sexual natures and needs”. By “emphasiz[ing] those aspects of the Qur’ān’s teachings” that she sees as “conducive to theorizing sexual equality”, she also hopes to support women who “find it hard to struggle for equality within an Islamic framework”.

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