As the 2012 presidential campaign begins, it's clear that, for all the talk about fiscal issues, the so-called "culture wars" will figure prominently in selecting who will run—and how they will run—against Barack Obama next November. This season's social science books examine deeply topics of conversation that will soon be bandied about loosely on talk radio, cutting to the core of who we are as Americans, with an especially strong focus on generational issues.
Topping the list is the Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel's look at the state of the American left, Where We Stand. In this collection of commentaries and columns from the first years of the Obama administration, vanden Heuvel takes on our "downsized political debate" and argues that the forces of "money and establishment power that debilitate American politics" can be overcome by "independent organizing, strategic creativity, bold ideas, and determined idealism."
The state of women is examined in a trio of fascinating books, led by Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Perry, a frequent contributor on MSNBC these days, whose Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America delves into the most persistent stereotypes black women encounter in contemporary American life. Already a #1 bestseller in many countries overseas, The Conflict by renowned French intellectual Elisabeth Badinter offers a penetrating assessment and critique of modern motherhood. And The Girl with Three Legs: A Memoir by Soraya Miré, is an eye-opening psychological treatise on "betrayal, feminism, and sexuality," which addresses the ordeal of ritual female genital cutting.
The health of our cities and the blight of gun violence is front and center in two books this season. In Don't Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America, David M. Kennedy, who has been profiled in the New Yorker and featured on 60 Minutes, tells the story of his astonishingly effective crusade to deter violence in communities across the nation. In The City That Became Safe: New York's Lessons for American Crime Control, Franklin E. Zimring uses the example of New York City to challenge prevailing assumptions about our nation's crime and drug control policies.
On the generational front, The New Kids: Big Dreams, Brave Journeys: Immigrant Teens Coming of Age in the U.S.A. by Brooke Hauser chronicles a year in the life of a diverse group of high school seniors, all recent immigrants for whom English is a second language, in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. On the other end of the spectrum, New York Times reporter and editor Patricia Cohen takes a probing look at our perceptions of later adult life in In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age.
And last but not least, pop culture takes center stage. In Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit, essayist Joseph Epstein offers an incisive exploration of our gossip-driven media, from celebrity rumors to political slander. And in the bestselling tradition of Live from New York and Please Kill Me comes the first-ever oral history of MTV, I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum, an entertaining and insightful look at the groundbreaking network's first decade, just in time for the MTV's 30th anniversary.
PW's Top 10 Social Science
Where We Stand
Katrina vanden Heuvel. Nation Books, Nov.
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America
Melissa Harris-Perry. Yale Univ. Press, Sept.
Elisabeth Badinter. Metropolitan Books, Jan.
The Girl with Three Legs: A Memoir
Soraya Miré. Lawrence Hill Books, Oct.
The New Kids:
Big Dreams, Brave Journeys-Immigrant Teens Coming of Age in the U.S.A.
Brooke Hauser. Free Press, Sept.
In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age
Patricia Cohen. Scribner, Jan.
Don't Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America
David M. Kennedy. Bloomsbury, Sept.
The City That Became Safe: New York's Lessons for American Crime Control
Franklin E. Zimring. Oxford, Sept.
Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit
Joseph Epstein. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Nov.
I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution
Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum. Penguin Group/Dutton, Oct.
Girl Scouts: A Celebration of 100 Trailblazing Years by Girl Scouts of the USA by Betty Christiansen (Oct., $29.95, ISBN 978-1-58479-942-9). You know the cookies, now you can know the rest of the story in this official 100th anniversary book celebrating the "unique sisterhood" of the Girl Scouts.
Avalon Travel & Seal Press
F 'em!: Goo Goo, Gaga, and Some Thoughts on Balls by Jennifer Baumgardner (Sept., paper, $17, ISBN 978-1-58005-360-0). Baumgardner, a leading voice of "Third Wave" feminism, offers a state of the union on contemporary feminist issues.
The Guy's Guide to Feminism by Michael Kaufman and Michael Kimmel (Oct., paper, $16, ISBN 978-1-58005-362-4). Two of the world's leading male advocates of gender equality discuss the importance of feminism to men.
What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl's Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety by Jaclyn Friedman (Oct., paper, $17, ISBN 978-1-58005-344-0). In an empowering, accessible guide, Friedman—co-editor of Yes Means Yes—gives young women the tools to decipher the modern world's hypersexualized, sometimes dangerous landscape so they can define their own sexual identity.
Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom by Catherine Hakim (Sept., hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0-465-02747-7). In 2010, pioneering sociologist Hakim shocked the world with a provocative theory: in addition to the three recognized personal assets (economic, cultural, and social capital), each individual has a fourth asset—erotic capital.
Baylor Univ. Press
More: The Vanishing of Scale in an Over-the-Top Nation by Ronald Bishop (Aug., hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-60258-258-3). Cultural critic Bishop pulls into focus the media's role in the demise of scale, arguing that Americans are assaulted with messages that cause them to now approach the most ordinary events with extreme passion.
Becoming American? The Forging of Arab and Muslim Identity in Pluralist America by Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad (Oct., hardcover, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-60258-406-8) discusses the tumultuous process of assimilation and identity formation among Arabs and Muslims in America, and argues that the American "public square" is more than able to accommodate moderate Islam.
Don't Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America by David M. Kennedy (Sept., hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1-60819-264-9). Profiled in the New Yorker and featured on 60 Minutes, David Kennedy crusades to combat America's plague of gang and drug-related violence with methods that have been astonishingly effective across the country.
Counterpoint Press/Soft Skull Press
Dirty, Dirty, Dirty! Of Playboys, Pigs, and Penthouse Paupers—An American Tale of Sex and Wonder by Mike Edison (Nov., paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-59376-284-1). New York writer and musician Edison offers a raucous history of four infamous magazines and the outlaws behind them.
Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age by Douglas Rushkoff (Sept., paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-59376-426-5) picks up where Marshall McLuhan left off, helping readers recognize programming as the new literacy of the digital age.
Duke Univ. Press
The Queer Art of Failure by Judith Halberstam (Aug., paper, $22.95, ISBN 978-0-8223-5045-3). Part of the prestigious John Hope Franklin Center Book series, this work by Halberstam, a prominent queer theorist, offers a "low theory" of culture knowledge drawn from popular texts and films.
The New Kids: Big Dreams, Brave Journeys—Immigrant Teens Coming of Age in the U.S.A. by Brooke Hauser (Sept., hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1-4391-6328-3) chronicles a year in the life of a diverse group of seniors, all recent immigrants for whom English is a second language, at the renowned International High School in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.
Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case by Debbie Nathan (Oct., hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1-4391-6827-1). The 1970s blockbuster film Sybil, allegedly a nonfiction account of a woman with multiple personality disorder, was in fact fabricated, argues the author.
On the Origin of Tepees: The Evolution of Ideas (and Ourselves) by Jonnie Hughes (Aug., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1-4391-1023-2). Science writer and television journalist Jonnie Hughes travels the American West to explain how human culture has evolved.
Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children by Joel Bakan (Aug., hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1-4391-2120-7) offers a hard-hitting examination of the widespread manipulation and exploitation of children by major international corporations.
The Immigrant Advantage: Why Newcomers to America Are Happier and Healthier and What We Can Learn from Them by Claudia Kolker (Oct., hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1-4165-8682-1). An exploration of the customs that immigrant groups have brought with them to the U.S.
The Conflict by Elisabeth Badinter (Jan., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0-8050-9414-5). In the tradition of Backlash and The Time Bind, Badinter's book, a European bestseller, examines modern motherhood.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit by Joseph Epstein (Nov., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0-618-72194-8). A juicy, incisive exploration of gossip in all its forms, from celebrity rumors to literary romans-à-clef, personal sniping and political slander.
One Smile at a Time: How an Accidental Do-Gooder Helped Change the Lives of Millions of Children and Their Communities by Brian Mullaney and Eve Claxton (Aug., hardcover, $23.99, ISBN 978-1-4013-2392-9). The cofounder of one of the most popular and effective charities today—Smile Train—presents a moving and powerful account of saving children's lives.
IPG/Lawrence Hill Books
I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman by Joumana Haddad (Sept., paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-56976-840-2). Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, calls Haddad's effort "a very courageous and illuminating" book about women in the Arab world that "opens our eyes and destroys our prejudices."
The Girl with Three Legs: A Memoir by Soraya Miré, foreword by Eve Ensler (Oct., hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-1-56976-713-9). This psychological treatise on betrayal, feminism, and sexuality discusses the ritual of female genital cutting.
I'll Have What She's Having: Mapping Social Behavior by R. Alexander Bentley, foreword by John Maeda (Oct., hardcover, $22.95, ISBN 978-0-262-01615-5). A thought-provoking look at how we learn from those around us and a guide to understanding what drives other people's behavior.
Halsted Plays Himself by William E. Jones (Oct., hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-58435-107-8). The life, times, and mysteries of Fred Halsted, gay porn's first film auteur.
Where We Stand by Katrina vanden Heuvel (Nov., paper, $12.99, ISBN 978-1-56858-688-5). "For the first time in decades, electoral politics became a vehicle for raising expectations and spreading hope," said Nation editor vanden Heuvel on the night of 2008's presidential election. So much for that. As the 2012 election season kicks into high gear, she offers a call for progressives to be "clear-eyed and tough."
The Maid's Daughter: Living Inside and Outside the American Dream by Mary Romero (Sept., $27.95, ISBN 978-0-8147-7642-1). Based on some 20 years of interviews, Romero tells the story of Olivia, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant domestic worker who gains acceptance from her mother's affluent, white employer as one of the family, and explores how this affected Olivia's sense of identity and belonging.
Oxford Univ. Press
The City That Became Safe: New York's Lessons for American Crime Control by Franklin E. Zimring (Nov., hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-19-984442-5). Using New York as an example, Zimring challenges the major assumptions dominating American crime and drug control policies.
I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum (Oct., hardcover, $28.95, ISBN 978-0-525-95230-5). In the bestselling tradition of Live from New York and Please Kill Me comes the first-ever oral history of MTV, revisiting the network's first decade just in time for the network's 30th anniversary.
The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters by Jeffrey Zaslow (Dec., hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1-59240-661-6). The Wall Street Journal columnist and New York Times bestseller takes us to a remarkable smalltown bridal shop, where generations of mothers and daughters have shared precious dreams of love and life.
Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future by Tom Scocca (Aug., hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-1-59448-784-2). A definitive—and highly entertaining—account of contemporary Beijing, which Scocca calls the undisputed capital of the 21st century.
The Digital Divide: Writings for and Against Facebook, YouTube, Texting, and the Age of Social Networking, edited and with an intro. by Mark Bauerlein (Sept., paper, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-58542-886-1). Bauerlein, a social critic on the perils of new media since the publication of his 2008 book, The Dumbest Generation, cuts through the noise with this anthology of arguments from both sides of an increasingly loud debate.
A Long Bright Future by Laura Carstensen (Sept., paper, $15.99, ISBN 978-1-61039-057-6). Critics praise Carstensen for challenging assumptions about what longer lives mean for individuals and for societies in her important book on the subject of "longevity."
Pax Ethnica: Where, How, and Why Diversity Succeeds by Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac (Jan., hardcover, $28.99, ISBN 978-1-58648-829-1). Kerala, India, Tatarstan, Russia, Marseille, France, Flensburg, Germany, and Queens, N.Y., are all locations where people of many ethnicities, religions, and races live peacefully together. Through many interviews, journalist Meyer and documentary producer Brysac detail how they manage to do it.
Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 by Charles Murray (Jan., hardcover, $26; 978-0-307-45342-6). In a talk last year, libertarian Murray, coauthor of the controversial The Bell Curve, said economic and "social" data from 1960 to last year showed that "working-class whites" have experienced declines in marriage, church attendance, and work ethic, among other social factors.
Rowman & Littlefield
Lincoln, Inc.: Selling the Sixteenth President in Contemporary America by Jackie Hogan (Nov., $24.95, ISBN 978-1-4422-0954-1). In an engaging examination of the uses and abuses of the 16th president's image in America today, whether in political campaigns, films, school pageants, or advertisements, Hogan argues that the use of Lincoln's image reveals a nation's "shared fears and fascinations."
St. Martin's Press
Making an Exit: From the Magnificent to the Macabre, How We Dignify the Dead by Sarah Murray (Oct., hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-312-53302-1). Murray takes readers on a journey into the astonishingly diverse ways in which we send off our dead.
Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings (Sept., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1-4391-6717-5). Jennings, a New York Times bestselling author and well-known Jeopardy! contestant, explores the world of maps and map obsessives.
In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age by Patricia Cohen (Jan., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1-4165-7289-3). From New York Times reporter and editor Patricia Cohen comes a revelatory and timely book about what it means to be in the "middle age," from the 19th century to the present.
Green Ribbons and Turbans: Young Iranians Against the Mullahs by Armin Arefi, trans. by Joanna Oseman (Oct., hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-61145-319-5). Journalist Arefi gives voice to the new generation of Iranians in this account of the 2009 "Green Revolution."
Temple Univ. Press
Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us by Nancy Berns (Aug., paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-4399-0577-7). Talking about closure actually limits how we think about grief, Berns argues, and fails to capture the experiences of loss.
Texas A&M Univ. Press
Race? Debunking a Scientific Myth by Ian Tattersall & Rob DeSalle (Aug., hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-1-60344-425-5). Leading researchers from the American Museum of Natural History give an in-depth look at what human races really are and are not, arguing that many of the differences among human populations that people view as "racial" are in fact superficial and of recent origin.
Trafalgar Square Publishing/ IPG/Hodder & Stoughton
ID: The Quest for Meaning in the 21st Century by Susan Greenfield (Sept., paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-340-93601-6). Arguing that individuality is under attack as never before, British academic Greenfield cites new technology and the rise in fundamentalism as among the threats.
Trafalgar Square Publishing/IPG/Lion UK
Martin Luther King by Richard S. Reddie (Nov., paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-0-7459-5282-6). An "intimate and comprehensive" behind-the-scenes portrait at America's most famous civil rights activist focuses on the sociopolitical developments that led to his untimely death.
Trafalgar Square Publishing/IPG/Orion Publishing
Lady Gaga: Just Dance: The Biography by Helia Phoenix (Sept., paper, $12.95, ISBN 78-1-4091-2113-8). Lady Gaga's fans love the star for her positive message for those who are bullied or are different, as well as for her giant talent, and her almost academic obsession with fashion, art, and fame.
Trafalgar Square Publishing/ IPG/Virago UK
Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter (Sept., paper, $13.95, ISBN 978-1-84408-709-9) takes a controversial, much needed look at highly sexualized culture, from Bratz dolls to the "empowerment" of pole-dancing classes.
Univ. of California Press
In Your Eyes a Sandstorm: Ways of Being Palestinian by Arthur Neslen (Oct., hardcover, $34.95, ISBN 978-0-520-26427-4). Against the backdrop of a new push for peace, the voices of Palestinian women, children, farmers, fighters, drug dealers, policemen, doctors, and others spanning the political divide bring the Palestinian story to life.
Univ. of Minnesota Press
Loving Animals: Toward a New Animal Advocacy by Kathy Rudy (Sept., hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8166-7468-8). An alternative to blindly accepting animal exploitation on one side, and to following radical animal liberationists on the other, Rudy offers an examination of the emotional bonds that define human/animal relationships.
Univ. of Nebraska Press
All Indians Do Not Live in Teepees (or Casinos) by Catherine C Robbins (Oct., hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-8032-3973-9). At once paying tribute to the unique experiences of individual Native Americans and a celebration of the values that draw American Indians together, Robbins explores contemporary Native American life based on a mix of personal experience, and journalism.
Univ. Press of Kansas
That Girl: Single Women in Sixties and Seventies Popular Culture by Katherine J. Lehman (Sept., hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-7006-1808-8). The first book to focus exclusively on the struggle to define the "single girl" character in TV and films during a transformative period in American society.
Univ. Press of New England
Make Mine a Double: Why Women Like Us Like to Drink (or Not), edited by Gina Barreca (Sept., paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-58465-759-0). A collection of witty, provocative pieces about women and their beverages of choice pulled together by humorist Gina Barreca, these tales of women's complex relationships with alcohol are the story of every woman's effort to find independence. All profits from the book will be donated to Windham Hospital's "Gina's Friends" fund, which aids women in need.
Yale Univ. Press
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa Harris-Perry (Sept., $28, ISBN 978-0-300-16541-8). Princeton professor Harris-Perry, a frequent contributor on MSNBC, looks at the most persistent stereotypes that black women encounter in contemporary American life.