New and noteworthy – 28 January 2016

From Eva Perón's earthly remains to Taksim Square stray dogs and disability seen from the Left: academic titles worth adding to your reading list

January 28, 2016
Books open on table outside

The ‘R’ Word: Racism
Kurt Barling

In this eloquent polemic, an ex-BBC journalist and Middlesex University academic tackles “issues I have wrestled with personally and professionally for over fifty years”: namely race and racism’s myths and realities. Ranging over his own London childhood, meeting a rattled Enoch Powell for lunch as the Dr Barling the Conservative politician wasn’t expecting, as well as Francis Galton, the Empire Windrush, the Race Relations Act, Philippe Rushton, Rachel Dolezal and Stephen Lawrence, Barling argues that despite being a “bankrupt scientific concept”, race “remains an idea with a vice-like grip on people’s imaginations”, and concludes that remedies to inequality lie in “open politics that is not governed by ‘racial truths’”.

Dead Matter: The Meaning of Iconic Corpses
Margaret Schwartz
University of Minnesota Press

Lenin, Diana, Eva Perón: Schwartz sees dead people – and what we see in them. Her consideration of the body as “simultaneously thing and representation” begins with a moving account of seeing her father’s mortal remains transformed by a funeral home into something “grotesque and horrible and wrong”. Deleuze, Guattari and Philippe Ariès figure in her study of the role of photography in the mourning of leaders, victims of atrocity and the dead stars she sums up as “tabloid bodies”. Despite the inevitable doctoral-dissertation jostle of jargon (liminality, polysemy and nonhegemonic interpretative strategies) this is a creative and rewarding exploration.

With Dogs at the Edge of Life
Colin Dayan
Columbia University Press

It’s rare enough for a law scholar to feature canines in the title of one acclaimed book, but Dayan is heading for two, with her latest likely to draw plaudits as warm as those that greeted its predecessor. While The Law Is a White Dog (2011) focused on the deprivation of personhood from medieval England to Abu Ghraib, this, a shorter and even more personal and morally inspired work, combines memoir, case law and film as she ranges across animal welfare societies, “pit dog” fights in the bayou and Taksim Square strays in Istanbul. Concluding with a passage from the Koran, she urges us to “let our bond with dogs count for something momentous”, and conceive of a more humane way to see the world.

Imperial Gamble: Putin, Ukraine, and the New Cold War
Marvin Kalb
Brookings Institution Press

Kalb, Harvard University foreign policy scholar and NBC’s former Moscow bureau chief, begins this gripping account of the intertwined fates and tortuous histories of Russia and Ukraine with a killer of a drop intro: the invasion of Crimea in March 2014. The clichés are serviceable (sleepless nights, bumpy rides), the phrasing journalistic (“Putin may be the worst of the current lot of possible Russian leaders, or he may be holding off someone even worse”), but Kalb’s willingness to foreground his point of view speaks of experience rather than ego.

A Very Capitalist Condition: A History and Politics of Disability
Roddy Slorach

Is capitalism’s commodification of minds and bodies at the heart of the marginalisation of the disabled? Slorach, a disability adviser at Imperial College London, argues emphatically that it is, in this thoroughly referenced and accessible work that not only surveys the long and often terrible tale of the treatment of people with disabilities from prehistory to today, but also draws out the political underpinnings of repression and resistance alike. Particularly strong on key subjects such as agency, the social model of disability, deaf culture, neurodiversity and disability hate crime, and on UK legislation, pressure groups and current debates, this is both a critique from the Left and a valuable resource.

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