New and noteworthy – 7 April 2016

Dutch goddesses, the tragedy of the commons, Justin Trudeau’s dad and putting what’s left of the UK’s family silver to good use: must-read academic titles

April 7, 2016
Hand holding UK pound currency symbol against world map
Source: iStock

A Sharing Economy: How Social Wealth Funds Can Reduce Inequality and Help Balance the Books
Stewart Lansley
Policy Press

Short book, big ideas: academic and ex-journalist Lansley on why Britain’s an outlier, and not in a good way; why the sharing economy is more than just Uber; why the erosion of unionisation and rise of rent-seeking in the wake of the 1970s shift “from labour to capital and from wages to profits” has been such bad news for most of us; and – look, there’s Mariana Mazzucato and John McDonnell nodding in agreement – why we must mobilise the financial potential of “what remains of the family silver”, ie, national assets, for a social wealth fund that can boost economic and social investment and improve public finances.

Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life
Edward O. Wilson
W. W. Norton

Listen up: it could literally mean the world to us. As we “stumble forward in hopeful chaos”, the eminent octogenarian biologist, in the third volume of a trilogy, casts a sorrowful eye over invasive species, coral reefs, dwindling rhinos, sinking Kiribati and the tragedy of the commons in “the barbaric period in which we still live”. Wilson makes an urgent case for a large, (end)game-changing goal: set aside half the planet to halt biodiversity’s point of no return. “The most successful scientists are like prospectors,” he observes. “What they mostly care about is making a strike…Later in life they become philosophers, and worry.”

Jan Gossart and the Invention of Netherlandish Antiquity
Marisa Anne Bass
Princeton University Press

A satisfyingly lavishly illustrated, beautifully written and detailed study of one of the Renaissance’s most important northern European painters, Jan Gossart, or Mabuse, whose fascination with Rome’s antiquities and Classical culture was second only to his obsession with bodies, especially women’s. His Venuses and Danaës, Eves and Madonnas, pale and blonde-ringleted, dreamy and wise, blend the pensively human with monumentality. “Only Mabuse,” wrote Maître Frenhoffer to Nicolas Poussin, quoted here, “possessed the secret of giving figures life.”

A Bun in the Oven: How the Food and Birth Movements Resist Industrialization
Barbara Katz Rothman
New York University Press

A sociologist in the world of midwifery is introduced to food studies, and spots parallels everywhere with the world of birth. Her wittily named study ranges insightfully from Julia Child to natural childbirth, and from Lamaze and Pavlov to labour times, Cesareans and kale chips as she considers how “birth and food, once so profoundly part of women’s world of production, ultimately came to be acts of consumption…framed inside a big machine, an industrialized, medicalized, and capitalist system”.

Citizen Trudeau: An Intellectual Biography 1944-1965
Allen Mills
Oxford University Press

Brilliant, bold, flâneur, provocateur, “not great on feminism” (in the blunt words of his son and current prime minister Justin), Pierre Elliott Trudeau was a dazzling blip in a long line of variously grey, dour or shifty Canadian leaders – and a looker, as this book’s cover will remind anyone too young to have entertained the possibility. The Jesuits, Charles Taylor, Mao’s China, the Grande Noirceur of 1950s Quebec and a young-man-in-a-hurry’s scorn for socialist plodders all figure in this political scientist’s account of the pre-power days, as does Trudeau deftly turning Frantz Fanon on the “reaction and atavism” of Quebec nationalism. Up-close-and-personal charisma makes but a fleeting appearance via lust letters to the even more brilliant psychologist Thérèse Gouin, as Mills hastens to assure us that their 27-year-old author was surely “a good Catholic and dutiful son”.

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