The January/February edition of the American Book Review includes a nice piece on Wayne C. Booth’s recent The Essential Wayne Booth—a collection of the late rhetorician and literary scholar’s best work, edited by Walter Jost. James Phelan writes for the Review:
The seventeen essays, which Jost chose in consultation with Booth, effectively display the range of topics the critic addressed over his long career… an excellent one volume introduction to Booth’s thought.
And though delivering a comprehensive picture of the author’s multifaceted career, as Phelan notes, the essays collected here are unified by Booth’s perennial interest in “the multilayered relationship between author and audience” and his profound faith in the written word to bridge the divide between the two. Phelan’s review concludes:
Booth’s influence on so many spheres of inquiry is convincing evidence of the power of his rhetorical faith and his skill in communicating it. The Essential Wayne Booth is an important book because it puts that power and that skill on display on almost every page.
A capstone to Booth’s long career, The Essential Wayne Booth is indeed an essential work by one of the most influential literary critics of our time.
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As electronic books, on-demand printing, and other innovations proliferate, the role of the publisher in the world of books is deeply uncertain. What value do publishers add to an author’s work? In a world where authors are increasingly able to reach readers directly, is a publisher even necessary? Though these questions may seem new, Richard B. Sher demonstrates in The Enlightenment and the Book that they are as old as books themselves. Focusing on the explosion of intellectual activity in eighteenth-century Scotland that saw David Hume, Adam Smith, James Boswell, and others transform almost every field of learning, Sher demonstrates that key thinkers of the Enlightenment saw the book industry as crucial both for the dissemination of their ideas and for their dreams of fame and monetary gain. Similarly, Sher shows how publishers were involved in the project of bookmaking not only to make profits, but in order to advance human knowledge as well. The Enlightenment and the Book explores this tension between creativity and commerce—one that still exists in publishing today. Lavishly illustrated and elegantly conceived, it will be a must read for anyone interested in the history of the book or Enlightenment thought.
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Virginia Postrel has taken a detour from her Atlantic Monthly column, “Commerce & Culture,” to write an interesting review for yesterday’s New York Times Book Review of Kieran Healy’s recent work, Last Best Gifts: Altruism and the Market for Human Blood and Organs.
Healy’s book is a sociological exploration of organ donation and the ethos of altruism that surrounds it—an ethos that the ever increasing demand for blood and organs threatens to extinguish. In recent years the increasing need for transplantation has supported the notion that donors might be supplemented or replaced by paid suppliers. However, Postrel writes, “even in the face of a critical shortage of organs, many leaders in the transplant field oppose any financial incentives for organ donors, including tax credits or payments toward funeral expenses.” Last Best Gifts offers a fresh perspective on this ethical dilemma, examining the social organization of blood and organ donation in Europe and the United States to propose a balanced and nuanced solution that does justice to both sides of the argument. Postrel’s review explains:
As an economic sociologist, Healy adds important dimensions to the intensifying debate over organ procurement. He reminds both advocates and opponents of markets that commercial transactions . . .
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On Tuesday, Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement, posted an interesting comment on his blog about Joshua Weiner’s recent book of poems, From the Book of Giants. He notes that Weiner’s book includes a cleverly updated version of Martial’s epigram 10.47—a poem composed of a list of the things necessary for “the good life.”
As Stothard points out, it is a list that has been drawn from and imitated profusely throughout the centuries, translated into new languages and fitted into new meters, but whose underlying significance has retained a particular continuity that reappears almost two thousand years later in Weiner’s post-modern verse—indeed it is a telling comment on our society that even a work of poetry as informed by modernity as this one still warrants acknowledgment in terms of its classical predecessors. Find out more about the book and read an excerpted poem on its UCP webpage.
Also, note that Weiner will be doing readings in the next few months, especially in April. See our author events page for particulars.
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John Hyman’s newest work, The Objective Eye: Color, Form, and Reality in the Theory of Art, addresses one of the perennial issues in art theory—the fascinatingly complex nature of pictorial representation. Here, Hyman makes a radical departure from recent trends in the philosophy of art to formulate what a review in the January 25 London Review of Books has called a “devastating critique of subjectivism”—all the while using “a complex array of texts and arguments from the full historical sweep of Western cultural reflection on the nature of pictorial art” to build his own “carefully nuanced” objectivist stance.
But though the work of reformulating hundreds of years of theoretical writings in the arts might sound complicated, the London Review continues, “the rigorous clarity and elegant concision of Hyman’s writing—literary virtues to which the best analytical philosophy has always aspired—carry his reader through even the most difficult sections. No one will come away from this book without having learned a great deal about one of the most familiar mysteries of human culture.”
And indeed, readers will find this an engaging critique of contemporary art theory a fascinating challenge to some of our most fundamental assumptions about the nature of pictorial . . .
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Robert Bruegmann will be making a guest appearance this morning on California public radio’s Forum with Michael Krasny. If you’re in Northern California you can catch Bruegmann discussing “California sprawl and its historical, economic and aesthetic roots and consequences” with other guests Ann Wolfe and Gabriel Metcalf on KQED 88.5 San Francisco today at 10:00. If you’re not, listen online; the program airs at 12:00pm central time. An audio archive of the program should be available on KQED’s website soon.
Bruegmann is the author of the book Sprawl: A Compact History. In his incisive history of the expanded city, Bruegmann overturns every assumption we have about suburban sprawl. Taking a long view of urban development, he demonstrates that sprawl is neither recent nor particularly American but as old as cities themselves, just as characteristic of ancient Rome and eighteenth-century Paris as it is of Atlanta or Los Angeles. Nor is sprawl the disaster claimed by many contemporary observers. Although sprawl, like any settlement pattern, has undoubtedly produced problems that must be addressed, it has also provided millions of people with the kinds of mobility, privacy, and choice that were once the exclusive prerogatives of the rich and powerful.
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In Real American Ethics: Taking Responsibility for Our Country, Albert Borgmann looks at how we, as ordinary citizens, can take responsibility for our country, from the big concerns to the small and shows how the two are fundamentally connected. Accessible and timely, Borgmann’s book goes beyond merely recounting the usual litany of American moral failings to creatively grapple with the effects of our consumer-driven culture—everything from obesity to environmental destruction—and to propose actions we can take to inspire real change. By developing an ethics grounded in our everyday reality we can begin to restructure our lives in a way that’s consistent with the distinctive American values of generosity and resourcefulness. Free from ideological dogma and tiresome culture-war finger-pointing, Real American Ethics is a work of refreshing honesty and commitment—required reading for anyone who wants to see America live up to its potential.
Read the press release. Read an excerpt.
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