New and noteworthy – 17 November 2016

The latest recommended reading takes in a Marxist view of the history of the US academy, Norse sagas (walrus penis bone, check), leisure time inequality, and American army victors and their spoils

November 17, 2016
Review: The Capitalist University, by Henry Heller

The Capitalist University: The Transformation of Higher Education in the United States since 1945
Henry Heller
Pluto Press

Although there is no shortage of detailed histories of the US academy, few take this book’s Marxist perspective. Heller focuses on the disciplinary debates, scholars and scholarship relevant to the Left, Cold War manoeuvring, Berkeley and the 1960s, Chicago economists and a very thoughtful unpicking of postmodernism. A closing section on today’s landscape – rankings, Moocs, privatised learning and all – is unrepentantly pugnacious: “the purveying of half-truths is an essential feature of the neoliberal approach to the reform of the universities”.

Beyond the Northlands: Viking Voyages and the Old Norse Sagas
Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough
Oxford University Press

A BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker does that delightful trick of weaving lightly worn serious scholarship into a publisher- and educated general reader-pleasing “journey” narrative, as she serves up sagas and the world that inspired them in this well-illustrated book. Her voice is charming, wise and just the right side of whimsical as we meet “the jaculus and his posse of teeny tiny dragonlets”, Skraelings, Snorri, Snaefrid’s smelly corpse and Soviet-era Kievan Rus. Includes a knighting with a walrus penis bone; a beguiling TV series doubtless awaits.

Free Time
Julie L. Rose
Princeton University Press

Discussions of inequality typically focus on wealth and income – but what about leisure? A scholar of government enlists liberty and equality (via Rawls, Berlin, Mill and Sunday-trading case law) to argue that time, like money, is a resource that one needs to pursue chosen ends; methodically and insightfully, she dismantles the assertion – made over the heads of careworn figures at night bus stops in the dark – that we all choose our leisure patterns. A chapter on free time for caregivers dissects just why the unequal division of household responsibilities along gender lines “is unjust, twice over”. Highly recommended.

The Good Occupation: American Soldiers and the Hazards of Peace
Susan L. Carruthers
Harvard University Press

A disturbing look at the experiences of the “after-army”: the American servicepeople who stayed on active duty after the Second World War, charged with rebuilding the places they had helped to destroy. Frank, often harsh voices from letters, diaries and memoirs serve up “inconvenient truths”: the armed forces’ caste system and racism; casual cruelty and venality trumping conscience; “fraternisation” (and prostitution and rape) with “blowsy frauleins” and “anxious to please” Japanese maids. Were these “good occupations” of Japan and Germany? Carruthers’ subjects needed no reminding that it “wasn’t all ‘sweets and flowers’, but something less saccharine and fragrant”.

Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa
Keith Somerville

Who, in 2016, wouldn’t want to prohibit the criminal and environmentally immoral ivory trade? Ask Africanist, documentarist and journalism scholar Somerville. Part historical overview, part polemic and call for policy change, his book is dedicated not only to those who gave or risk their lives to conserve elephants but also to “those who have the courage to question the ruling orthodoxy” that burnings and bans save elephants. The author’s own appetite for questioning – from the “flexible meanings” of the word “poaching” to the high ideals and more nuanced realities of NGOs’ work – makes for informative reading. With demand for ivory unlikely to disappear, Somerville insists, “locally-acceptable forms of sustainable use is likely to be the only answer”.

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