New and noteworthy – 28 June 2018

Are we really living in a multiverse?; the concept of race in the Middle Ages; the new Bollygarchs; the essential role of the humanities in complementing the sciences; and the reinvention of the Left

June 28, 2018
quantum trajectories
Source: iStock

Totally Random: Why Nobody Understands Quantum Mechanics 
(A Serious Comic on Entanglement)
Tanya Bub and Jeffrey Bub

Princeton University Press

The notion of “entanglement”, or particles somehow influencing each other across vast distances, is central to quantum physics, but who can truly claim to know what it means? Can we really be living in a multiverse, or a world where a cat can be both alive and dead? This mind-bending comic uses a super quantum entangler shaped like a toaster to set out the basic principles. Once readers are suitably confused, the authors go on to survey the different interpretations offered by Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr. They conclude with some dizzying reflections on quantum casinos and encryption.

The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages
Geraldine Heng

Cambridge University Press

Until recently, writes Geraldine Heng, “medievalists in general were not convinced the concept of race had any purchase for the medieval period”, while critical race theorists believed that “they could safely ignore the Middle Ages”. The limited amount of scholarship focused on the treatment of Jews and Muslims and the representation of blackness in literature. This huge book demonstrates that there is far more to the story, ranging from the myth of the “Saracens” and Prester John, changing images of the Mongol Empire and the role of the Romani and Native Americans in the Western imagination.

The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age
James Crabtree


There are now more than a hundred Indian billionaires. Between them, in 2017, they owned assets worth $479 billion. So what does it mean for these new Bollygarchs to turn parts of Indian cities into what economists have described as “islands of California in a sea of sub-Saharan Africa”? Have they inevitably created cronyism and corruption around themselves and an economy that lurches from boom to bust? Former foreign correspondent James Crabtree, now based at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, offers a compelling and often disturbing picture of the world of India’s super-rich.

The Geography of Insight: The Sciences, the Humanities, How They Differ, Why They Matter
Richard Foley
Oxford University Press

Philosophy professor Richard Foley spent 18 years as a dean at New York University and Rutgers in promotion and tenure committee meetings where “physicists and economists examine[d] the credentials of historians” and “literature scholars and political scientists assess[ed] chemists”. This underlies his incisive analysis of the complementary roles of the sciences and humanities. Humanists are less interested in a “stock of collective knowledge”, while often embracing personal perspectives and prescription. This is to be welcomed, in Foley’s view, because “a compelling defence of the humanities is possible only once it is recognized that their aims and values ought to be different”.

Leftism Reinvented: Western Parties from Socialism to Neoliberalism
Stephanie L. Mudge

Harvard University Press

In the year 2000, centre-left parties were in power in many Western countries, including the US and most of the EU. While some saw this as a “magical return of social democracy”, according to Stephanie Mudge, others attacked “third wayism” as “the left gone right” in its embrace of free market conservatism. To throw light on this crucial transition, she examines the path of “progressive” parties in Germany, Sweden, the US and UK from more or less socialist to “economistic” (or “Keynesian”) and then “neoliberalized” over the course of the 20th century. At stake, she concludes, is the question of whether such parties can transform themselves yet again in order to “effectively represent those most in need of representation”.

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