The week in books

March 12, 2009

Finance: Servant or Deceiver? Financialization at the Crossroads by Paul H. Dembinski, professor of economics, University of Fribourg. Palgrave Macmillan, £60.00, ISBN 9780230220379

"Some of the book's proposals, such as taxes on financial transactions, and the use of golden shares, boil down to the far-from-novel notion of throwing sand in the wheels. More interesting, if undeveloped, are suggestions that incentive structures should be changed to reward loyalty, whether to place, individuals, ideas or projects. The one thing that looks very untimely in this otherwise timely book is a call for a return to frugality and self-restraint. When we flirt with a potential depression, this is no way to address Keynes' paradox of thrift."

John Plender, Financial Times

Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary by Miri Rubin, professor of early modern history, Queen Mary, University of London. Allen Lane, £30.00, ISBN 9780713998184

"If anything, this book could have done with more history. There is remarkably little on the iconoclasm of the Reformation, or of the Protestant Elizabeth I's invention of herself as the replacement virgin queen, too-brief references to the many 19th-century apparitions of the Virgin Mary, nothing on the Marian cult of Poland or the Marist theology of its most famous son, John Paul II. But for its insights into the medieval world and the woman who dominated so much of its culture, this is a welcome, illuminating and at times disturbing history."

Catherine Pepinster, The Independent

Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us About Development and Evolution by Mark S. Blumberg, professor of psychology, University of Iowa. Oxford University Press, £12.99, ISBN 9780199213054

"The title's gambit for attention in a crowded marketplace, which at first appears Barnumesque, turns out to be admirably humane. With famous circus 'freaks' as well as beetles and rodents as his examples, Blumberg shows that many unusual formations of human and other bodies are not genetic 'mutants' or 'monsters', but arise from the very same developmental processes as 'normal' bodies do ... We should learn, he concludes, to live with the wide variety of possible physical forms rather than consigning the 'monsters' to evolutionary oblivion."

Steven Poole, The Guardian

Apocalypse Jukebox: The End of the World in American Popular Music, by David A. Janssen, associate professor of English, and Edward J. Whitelock, professor of English, both at Gordon College, Georgia. Soft Skull Press, £11.99, ISBN 9781593762216

"US culture and End Is Nigh thinking have been entangled ever since that plucky band of cultists landed at Plymouth - rock certainly not excepted, with its penchant for ecstasies and excesses. Consider that both Charles Manson and Waco's David Koresh fell back on death-cult leadership only after music careers didn't pan out. That the world's other peoples are less concerned with the prospect of spiritual or material cataclysm may be dubious, but Whitelock and Janssen stake a fair claim that Americans monger fear in their own special way."

Carl Wilson, The Globe and Mail.

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