Subscriber-Only Content. You must be a PW subscriber to access feature articles from our print edition. To view, subscribe or log in.
Site license users can log in here.

Get IMMEDIATE ACCESS to Publishers Weekly for only $15/month.

Instant access includes exclusive feature articles on notable figures in the publishing industry, the latest industry news, interviews of up and coming authors and bestselling authors, and access to over 200,000 book reviews.

PW "All Access" site license members have access to PW's subscriber-only website content. To find out more about PW's site license subscription options please email: PublishersWeekly@omeda.com or call 1-800-278-2991 (outside US/Canada, call +1-847-513-6135) 8:00 am - 4:30 pm, Monday-Friday (Central).

The Supreme Court Footnote: A Surprising History

Peter Charles Hoffer. New York Univ, $30 (240p) ISBN 978-1-479-83022-0

In this accessible account, historian Hoffer (Clio Among the Muses) ventures into the crowded history of the Supreme Court via a novel approach: the court’s use of footnotes. He demonstrates that justices have often turned footnotes into powerful tools that offer insights into the court’s opinions not found in the main text. Some have provided the foundational reasoning for an opinion, like footnote 11 in Brown v. Board of Education, which quoted studies that showed “separate but equal” schools for Black and white children damaged Black children and were therefore actually unequal. Others are notable for having appeared in obscure cases but created new, groundbreaking law, like the influential footnote four in U.S. v. Carolene Products, which provided the rationale for the court to apply a stricter standard of scrutiny when weighing the constitutionality of potentially racially discriminatory legislation. More recently, footnotes have become a means for justices to wage ideological battle; in their opposing opinions in Dobbs v. Jackson, Justice Samuel Alito weaponized footnotes, according to Hoffer, by quoting sources out of context and otherwise distorting the record, while Justice Elena Kagan’s footnotes attempted to influence future cases. Hoffer’s prose is elegant and entertaining (“Where in American law did [Horace] Gray find permission to plant Justinian in a Supreme Court opinion? Nowhere. He simply did it”). This is essential for dedicated court watchers and a fascinating new perspective for casual readers. (June)

Reviewed on 03/15/2024 | Details & Permalink

show more
Children of a Modest Star: Planetary Thinking for an Age of Crisis

Jonathan S. Blake and Nils Gilman. Stanford Univ, $28 (326p) ISBN 978-1-503-63785-6

Political scientists Blake (Contentious Rituals) and Gilman (Mandarins of the Future) ponder how to “effectively manage planetary issues” in this sweeping polemic. Arguing that current global governance is not up to the task of solving planet-wide problems (especially climate change, but also other transnational crises like antibiotic resistance and plastic pollution), Blake and Gilman advocate for “the creation of new institutions at larger and smaller scales than existing national states”—a concept called “subsidiarity.” The idea is “that larger-scale governing institutions should not intervene unless and until a smaller scale is unable to carry out a particular task.” This will theoretically prevent institutions from becoming inefficient or tyrannical, while still allowing for coordinated action on all-encompassing issues. The authors point to the E.U., with its common courts and currency but separate nation-states, as a promising example. They do a good job of spelling out current pitfalls of global governance (“The primary problem with the national state is its claim to absolute sovereignty, not its size or scale”) and tracing its recent history (the nation-state did not become a “hegemonic organizing unit” until after WWI). Envisioning future changes to global governance as inevitable, the authors hope to stave off more harmful and chaotic alternatives, especially “decentralization and privatization” (which they define as the full dissolution of hierarchy and grasping of power by non-state actors). It’s a stimulating argument. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/15/2024 | Details & Permalink

show more
Bite by Bite: Nourishments and Jamborees

Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Ecco, $26.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-328226-1

Poet Nezhukumatathil (World of Wonders) presents a smorgasbord of concise and lyrical odes to foods linked to some of her most important memories. She associates saba bananas, a Philippine staple, with a vacation she took to the country, where she felt the kicks of her first baby in utero (“I’m convinced I had the quickening—this baby jumping—earlier than expected, because [he] was enjoying the delicious foods of his Lola’s country”). Mangosteen fruit—“a cage trap of lightning, a sheen of sugar in a bowl”—brings to mind a trip to Hawaii with her husband. Other pieces unravel foods’ complicated origins and histories, including an ode to vanilla and Edmond Albius, the enslaved boy who in 1841 developed a revolutionary technique for pollinating the plants (white botanists attempted to take credit for his method). The author’s dazzling prose is the highlight, though her loose and associative internal logic can sometimes make the connections she draws feel tenuous or underdeveloped (a brief entry notes the proximity between the Buffalo grocery store that was the site of a 2022 mass shooting and an orchard where she and her sons once picked apples, leading to the somewhat odd observation that “there are not apples enough to cure this country’s sickness”). Readers will find this to be an appealing if inconsistent banquet. (May)

Reviewed on 03/15/2024 | Details & Permalink

show more
What Are Children For? On Ambivalence and Choice

Anastasia Berg and Rachel Wiseman. St. Martin’s, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-27613-1

For today’s millennials, having children “is a question more open-ended and fraught than ever before,” according to this rigorous and wide-ranging debut study. Probing the generation’s “ambivalence” toward having kids, Berg, an assistant professor of philosophy at Hebrew University, and Wiseman, managing editor of The Point, identify a “weakening of the motherhood mandate” and a shift to prioritizing one’s career and friends as sources of fulfillment. Also considered are concerns about having kids amid a worsening climate crisis, though in many ways those anxieties are hardly new, the authors point out; some 19th-century artists and thinkers believed “humans were laying waste the earth” and had “caused too much damage” to expect its repair. (Gustave Flaubert, whose 1838 Memoirs of a Madman features an “eschatological reverie” filled with apocalyptic depictions of civilization’s demise, wrote that “the idea of bringing someone into this world fills me with horror.”) Resisting easy answers and—for the most part—concrete guidance (“Only you can determine” if having kids is “right for you”), the authors instead offer scrupulous analysis enriched by vivid personal meditations. For example, Berg writes that after giving birth to her first child, she noted a “curious sense that nothing really happened” alongside an awareness of the responsibility she’d assumed: “to choose to be a parent is... to become inalienably vulnerable.” It’s an incisive look at a monumental life choice. (June)

Reviewed on 03/15/2024 | Details & Permalink

show more
Financially Lit! The Modern Latina’s Guide to Level Up Your Dinero and Become Financially Poderosa

Jannese Torres. Balance, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-1-5387-4166-5

“I’m on a mission to help women of color like you level up their lives by becoming FINANCIALLY UNFUCKWITHABLE,” writes Yo Quiero Dinero podcaster Torres in her upbeat debut. Encouraging readers to reflect on how “financial trauma” might be holding them back, Torres shares how growing up in a money-strapped household gave her a scarcity mindset that initially made her reluctant to invest in stocks or advocate for salary increases. Her overview of how to budget, negotiate a raise, and choose the right financial products for one’s needs tracks traditional advice, but she slips in a few surprises. For instance, she’s deeply ambivalent about homeownership and, drawing from her own experience selling her first house at a loss because she failed to understand the expenses involved, urges readers to consider whether owning a home makes sense for them. Other recommendations are specifically geared toward Latina readers, as when Torres notes that many Latinas are tasked with financially supporting multiple generations of their family and provides suggestions on how to lend assistance “without drama” (“Clearly communicate the purpose, amount, and duration of the assistance to avoid misunderstandings”). Torres speaks to the needs of her audience with passion and authority, and her wry tone lightens the financial discussions (“Investing ain’t just for white dudes”). This gets the job done with a touch of flair. Agent: Wendy Sherman, Wendy Sherman Assoc. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/15/2024 | Details & Permalink

show more
All in Her Head: How Gender Bias Harms Women’s Mental Health

Misty Pratt. Greystone, $28.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-77164-971-1

Misogyny takes a heavy toll on women’s mental well-being and results in inferior medical care, according to this incisive debut inquiry. Tracing the history of hysteria, health researcher Pratt argues that 18th-century physicians regarded women diagnosed with the disorder as “wanting in character, strength, courage, or gumption to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and get on with things.” Such bias continues into the present, Pratt contends, discussing how her grandmother was diagnosed with conversion disorder around the time it replaced hysteria in psychiatric usage in 1980, despite the fact the diagnosis couldn’t explain her grandmother’s “garbled speech, delirium, and tremors.” The “constant threat of sexual violence” affects women’s brains, Pratt posits, noting research showing that the frequency with which women have their stress response activated depletes their energy levels and reduces their “concentration, attention, rational problem-solving, [and] immune response.” Elsewhere, Pratt discusses her ambivalent relationship with antidepressants and suggests that though some women may find them helpful, the drugs shouldn’t be used to recast as chemical imbalances the social forces (“patriarchy and capitalism”) that may lie at the root of one’s symptoms. Artfully weaving personal anecdotes into her probing analysis, Pratt demonstrates how broad social and historical forces converge on the individual. It’s a troubling assessment of sexism’s persistent harms. (May)

Reviewed on 03/15/2024 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Ex-Human: Science Fiction and the Fate of Our Species

Michael Bérubé. Columbia Univ, $26 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-0-231-21505-3

Bérubé (It’s Not Free Speech), an English professor at Penn State, serves up a thought-provoking examination of sci-fi novels and films that invite audiences to contemplate humanity’s “sorry fate from the vantage point of something other than human.” Studying Arthur C. Clarke’s 1968 novel, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Bérubé argues that Clarke’s vision of a near-future humanity wracked by xenophobia suggests that the ostensibly villainous robot HAL, unemotional and devoid of prejudice, would have been a better choice for first contact with extraterrestrials than the novel’s human protagonists. Turning to Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood series, Bérubé contends that the novels encourage readers to view aliens’ attempts to merge humanity into their own species as a preferable fate to the “rape, gun violence, and murder” that characterize the remaining human colonies on Earth. Elsewhere, Bérubé asserts that it would make more sense for humans in the Matrix and Terminator film franchises to cede their devastated worlds to the machines, who are better equipped to survive in the wastelands. Bérubé brings welcome humor to the proceedings (he qualifies his defense of the Matrix’s murderous Cypher: “I don’t want to fail to acknowledge that killing one’s crewmates is suboptimal. I would even go so far as to say that it is morally wrong”), though the extensive plot summaries sometimes overwhelm the unorthodox analysis. Still, sci-fi fanatics will appreciate Bérubé’s offbeat takes. (May)

Reviewed on 03/15/2024 | Details & Permalink

show more
Outspoken: My Fight for Freedom and Human Rights in Afghanistan

Sima Samar, with Sally Armstrong. Random House Canada, $26 (344p) ISBN 978-1-039007-07-9

Memoirs don’t come much more inspirational than this dispatch from medical doctor and activist Simar detailing her women’s rights advocacy in Afghanistan. Born in 1957 to a Hazara family—an often-persecuted Afghan ethnic minority—in the Jaghori district, Samar learned via childhood exposure to novels like Les Misérables that “other people didn’t live by the same strict rules that the people in Afghanistan adhered to,” and that her country “needed change.” After graduating from medical school in 1982, she founded a hospital in the Jaghori region that specifically served women and children. Over the following decades, Samar created a clinic that helped educate women health workers, and visited patients in remote areas by foot, donkey, and horse, even when her efforts angered Taliban forces who threatened to kidnap and kill her unless she stopped “promoting the rights of women every chance I got.” In 2002, Samar began serving as Afghanistan’s Minister of Women’s Affairs, and her achievements included helping to found Kabul’s Gawharshad University. Acknowledging that “most of the world sees us as a people at war,” Samar carefully balances a steely indictment of her country’s repressive tendencies with an affection for her heritage. It’s a crucial complement to American narratives about Afghanistan, like Elliott Ackerman’s The Fifth Act. Agent: Hilary McMahon, Westwood Creative Artists. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/15/2024 | Details & Permalink

show more
After 1177 B.C.: The Survival of Civilizations

Eric H. Cline. Princeton Univ, $32 (352p) ISBN 978-0-691-19213-0

Historian Cline follows up 1177 B.C., his bestselling study of the end of the Bronze Age, with a sweeping account of what came next. Picking up immediately after a “megadrought” resulted in broken trade networks, mass migrations, and political crises that caused the collapse of the ancient Mediterranean’s interconnected civilization, Cline moves on to recount how various remnants adapted. In Egypt, the reduction of the Nile’s flow due to drought caused economic slowdown and ultimately a loss of military might, leading to an era of coups and intrigues. Meanwhile, Greece underwent the collapse of the palace system that epitomized Homeric society; Cline notes that its demise “may have actually freed” regular people “from a tremendous burden.” The Assyrians and Babylonians proved more resilient; hit by “drought, famine, and plague,” they repeatedly bounced back. But it’s the innovative Phoenicians, Cline suggests, who really flourished in a freer, less hierarchical world order. Arising on the Levantine coast in a post-Hittite power vacuum, the Phoenicians were a collection of allied city-states who launched themselves west, establishing trading colonies across the Mediterranean. They brought with them a standardized alphabet (the ancestor of nearly all alphabetic scripts used today) and a game-changing metallurgic invention from Cyprus, iron. Cline distills an immense amount of material into a highly readable narrative that in its conclusion draws startling parallels with contemporary climate change. It’s a dizzying feat of scholarship. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/15/2024 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Wrong Stuff: How the Soviet Space Program Crashed and Burned

John Strausbaugh. PublicAffairs, $30 (272p) ISBN 978-1-541-70334-6

This buzzy yet unbalanced account of the Soviet space race from historian Strausbaugh (Victory City) plays on the title of Tom Wolfe’s account of American astronauts, The Right Stuff. Strausbaugh opines that the Soviets—who launched the first man-made satellite, Sputnik, into space in 1957; the first man, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961; and the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, in 1963—relied on the “wrong stuff.” Drawing from published histories and memoirs (such as Mathew Brzezinski’s Red Moon Rising), he relates a string of near-catastrophes, deadly flukes, and cover-ups. He portrays key players in the Soviet program as hard drinkers with “reckless bravado,” who under unrelenting political pressure sent cosmonauts into orbit with glitchy equipment, and suggests the Soviet government kept its lead in the space race through subterfuge: when the first animal (a dog named Laika) was sent into orbit in 1957, “the Soviets issued false reports [she] was doing fine”; later, when a fire broke out aboard the aging space station Mir, Russian authorities “blandly lied” about how safe the highly flammable oxygen containers were. Though captivating, these anecdotes deserve scrutiny. Strausbaugh relies heavily on secondhand sources and familiar tropes of Russian bravery teetering on madness. He also issues generic criticisms of “a society rotten with corruption and almost guaranteed to underperform,” and underassesses Soviet scientific achievements. Readers earnestly interested in the topic will want to explore elsewhere. (June)

Reviewed on 03/15/2024 | Details & Permalink

show more
X
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
X
X
Email Address

Password

Log In Forgot Password

Premium online access is only available to PW subscribers. If you have an active subscription and need to set up or change your password, please click here.

New to PW? To set up immediate access, click here.

NOTE: If you had a previous PW subscription, click here to reactivate your immediate access. PW site license members have access to PW’s subscriber-only website content. If working at an office location and you are not "logged in", simply close and relaunch your preferred browser. For off-site access, click here. To find out more about PW’s site license subscription options, please email Mike Popalardo at: mike@nextstepsmarketing.com.

To subscribe: click here.