The week in books

July 31, 2008

Children of the Revolution: The French, 1799-1914 by Robert Gildea, professor of modern history, Oxford University. Allen Lane, £30.00, ISBN 9780713997606

"As a professor of history at Oxford University who has spent a lifetime studying France, Gildea is an accomplished interpreter of this convulsive era. Yet at times his scholarly book becomes a rather unconvincing mix of analysis and narrative, and (his) fascinating analytical theme sometimes loses itself in the descriptive undergrowth ... Although Gildea suggests that the great ideological battles had largely exhausted themselves by 1914, it is striking to see how many of these debates still resonate today. What does the separation of church and state mean in practice? What role should the state play in forging a common identity?"

John Thornhill, Financial Times

Music at the Limits by Edward W. Said, late professor of comparative literature at Columbia University, with a foreword by Daniel Barenboim. Bloomsbury, £20.00, ISBN 9780747597780

"Music at the Limits (is) an invigorating collection of essays from the last twenty years of Said's life. Living in New York, as music critic of The Nation, Said mostly reviewed productions at the Met, a company he frequently criticised for its unadventurous repertoire ... (A)s with Boulez, it is always stimulating to disagree with Said, and reading the last essay in this book, appropriately about late Beethoven, which Said felt to be more about the opening up of new horizons than reaching conclusions, makes one sadly aware of just what a loss his premature death has been."

David Matthews, The Times Literary Supplement

Just One Child: Science and Policy in Deng's China by Susan Greenhalgh, professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. University of California Press, £32.95, ISBN 9780520253384

"Greenhalgh's investigation of the history and politics of this fateful (one child) policy is meticulous. Through compelling storytelling and analysis, she draws together field and archival studies that cover the two decades from 1982 to 2007, spanning huge social, political, cultural and geographical distances."

Ling Chen and Gang Zhang, Nature

The Slave Ship: A Human History by Marcus Rediker, professor of history, University of Pittsburgh. John Murray, £25.00, ISBN 97807195630

"(L)ost, of late, according to Marcus Rediker, has been the human experience of slavery ... The Slave Ship is dramatic, moving and kaleidoscopic. It draws on a remarkable array of sources: memoirs, eyewitness accounts, government documents, merchants' record books and the database of slaving voyages compiled in the 1990s ... It ranges from the counting houses of Liverpool and Bristol to the 'factories' (slave-trading outposts) of West Africa and the slave markets of the Caribbean ... This is truly an Atlantic history - something frequently called for but much less frequently achieved."

Eric Foner, London Review of Books.

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