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Recent books by Dartmouth authors

Posted 07/28/03
Originally published in Vox of Dartmouth (Vol XXII • Issue 4)

Rationality, Rules, and Ideals: Critical Essays on Bernard Gert's Moral Theory

Edited by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Professor of Philosophy, and Robert Audi

Rowman & Littlefield 2002; Reviewed by Jeremy Presser '04

In Rationality, Rules, and Ideals, their recent compilation of critical essays analyzing Bernard Gert's Morality, Sinnott-Armstrong and Audi bring together wide ranging analyses of one of the foremost ethical theories of contemporary philosophical thought. Because Gert's concepts are clear, comprehensive and detailed, they have proven more applicable to everyday life than many comparable philosophical models. Gert's moral theories hinge on three interconnected elements: rationality, impartiality, and morality. The papers compiled in this edition provide contemporary philosophers an opportunity to try to deconstruct and grapple with these ideas. With 15 analytical papers, in addition to a response by Gert himself, Rationality, Rules, and Ideals provides ample material for analysis by scholars and students. Sinnott-Armstrong shows the relevance of Gert's writings in an essay he supplies for the compilation:

Gert seems to assume that it is easy to extrapolate from what would happen in our society to what would happen if we all started to think differently about what we are allowed to do. This is not at all easy, because so many other social circumstances might change along with this change in our public allowings. For examples, if we all viewed ourselves as allowed to break laws when doing so causes and risks no harm, then this might undermine [what Gert calls] "the order and stability that is essential for any society to function well..." Or it might lead to very few and minor illegal acts. There need be no increase in murder, rape, theft, or any harmful or dangerous acts, since those acts are still ruled out. Some people would drive through stop signs on clearly deserted streets, but other drivers would know to watch more carefully. This new attitude to law might even lead to reforms of the legal system, including better enforcement to increase risks of punishment and better laws in areas where breaking the law harms nobody.


Psychological Science: Mind, Brain and Behavior

By Michael Gazzaniga, David McLaughlin Distinguished Professor, and Todd Heatherton, Champion International Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences

W.W. Norton 2003; Reviewed by Jeremy Presser '04

In their new textbook, Michael Gazzaniga and Todd Heatherton provide an at-once introductory and in depth look into modern psychology. With sections exploring such diverse topics as the origins of psychological science, how humans cope with stress, and even the biological basis of personality, the authors ensure that their textbook will give a solid foundation of knowledge for students either looking to go on in the psychological sciences or for those simply interested in a single introductory course. Gazzaniga and Heatherton refer to examples as current as the case of the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and the Sept. 11 attacks. In fact, the textbook begins with the 1999 case of Amadou Diallo, an innocent man shot 41 times by police officers searching for a serial rapist. The authors show how relevant psychology can be to real-life events when they write:

Psychologists are interested in understanding how people perceive, think, and act in a wide range of situations. A situation such as the killing of Amadou Diallo is especially interesting to psychologists because it allows them to consider thought and behavior in the context of a real-life event.... Psychologists would be interested in knowing, for examples, how the emotional state of the officers affected their decision making at the scene. They would also want to study the accuracy of the defendants' and eyewitnesses' accounts of the shooting. In addition, they would want to examine group behavior. Did the fact that many officers arrived at the scene simultaneously affect individual behavior? Did the high-profile demonstrations outside the courthouse influence the trial? Finally, psychologists would also want to know if prejudice played a role. Did prejudice affect the way the officers identified and approached the suspect? Did prejudice affect the jury's decision?...How can we know?


The Radiant

By Cynthia Huntington, Professor of English and Chair of the Creative Writing Program

Foursquare Books 2002; Reviewed by Ian Kyle '05

Winner of the Levis poetry prize, Cynthia Huntington's newest book of poems offers a look at a diverse sampling of her work, featuring Huntington at both her frankest and her most elaborate. Several succinct, elegant poems, like "White Roses," are offset by more numerous and more complex, emotional lamentations and musings, like "For Dora Maar," that display Huntington's singular prowess in carefully metered imagery, association and metaphor. Early on in a reading of Huntington's book comes the realization that a poignant paradox underlies much of the poetry in The Radiant. That paradox is the contrast between the ill-fated transience the author feels to be inherent in her sublime feelings for the natural and the self, and the burden of the unshakable permanence of a palling, ravaging illness that discolors the relevance and surety of those sublime and already ephemeral feelings. Whether illness colors the author's self or the self colors the illness is an open question that comes with a kind of answer: above and before all there is radiance, an unconditional acceptance of life evident in Huntington's poetry that is quite visible through the wonderfully satisfying turmoil and tumult of her lyrical worlds:

Vale

This vale of tears, this world...
As in: the valley of the shadow
of death, the cloud, the fall,
the unknowing. As when he said:
"I've had another life"
and his face was lit with escape.

This world is where we die:
place of gardens and fires,
water carried up from streams.
Water carves itself a home
in the lowest place. Can only rest
where there is nowhere to fall.
We catch it, racing downhill

The people sleep
with their heads on stones,
and angels come down on ladders,
bearing messages. They carry
The page held open to our names:
Let's not be there when they come.


Germans and Indians

Edited by Colin G. Calloway, Professor of History, Gerd Gemünden, Professor of German and Comparative Literature, and the late Susanne Zantop, Professor of German and Comparative Literature

University of Nebraska Press 2002; Reviewed by Edward Yip '04

In Germans and Indians: Fantasies, Encounters and Projections, Colin G. Calloway, Gerd Gemünden, and Susanne Zantop examine the dynamic association between the two cultures. Each of their articles explores the relationship between German and North American Indian culture. Calloway studies Germanic and Native American interaction in his article "Historical Encounters Across Five Centuries." Tracing colonial lineages back to the 17th century, Calloway identifies the first German colonies in the New World, following their Indian interactions during westward expansion over three centuries. In his article "Between Karl May and Karl Marx: The DEFA Indianerfilme," Gemünden examines the immense popularity of Indianerfilme in German audiences. By relating the characteristics of Indianerfilme and German literature, he discovers an "existential identification" between Germans and Indians. Zantop's article "Close Encounters" studies "Indianthusiasm," the strong interest that German society has continually shown for Native American culture. Paralleling the differences in the cultural relationships of literature and theatre, Zantop moves beyond the "clichés" of both Native American and German societies:

More important than the "cliché-ridden relationship" between Germans and Indians, however, is the fact that the discussions of the relationships themselves have been replete with clichés - not just clichéd conceptions and stereotypical depictions of Indians, but also stereotypical accounts of Germans and their supposed national character or alleged (sinister) motivations. Recent traumatic events - the Holocaust, WWII, and the Cold War - have revived conceptions formed over centuries and hardened them into caricatured notions of the Other on all sides, be they noble savages or ignoble savages, neo-imperialist capitalists or the harbingers of democracy, evil Krauts or Nazi Übermenschen. More often than not, these binary confrontations obfuscate specific historical constellations and internal multiplicities and replace their careful, nuanced study.


Democracies at War

By Allan Stam, Associate Professor of Government and Dan Reiter, Associate Professor of Political Science at Emory University

Princeton University Press 2002; Reviewed by Jeremy Presser '04

Democracies are less successful in fighting wars than other governments. This is the traditional view that Dan Reiter and Allan Stam argue against in their book Democracies at War. Conventional wisdom has held that democracies have a difficult time being successful in battle: because democratic leaders must constantly answer to the shifting demands of the public, they have less freedom to effectively make war. Reiter and Stam's book is the first major critical analysis of this commonly held view. They ultimately conclude that the conventional wisdom is far off: in fact, their findings indicate that democracies win about 80 percent of the wars in which they participate. Reiter and Stam find that democracies' constant insistence on public involvement in foreign policies actually makes it more likely that democratic countries will win wars: democracies will only fight wars that they know they can win because losing a war almost certainly leads to a change in leadership. In addition, they find that soldiers under democracies fight with more initiative and under better leadership. Reiter and Stam, writing in clear prose, use specific examples, general statistics and hypothetical situations to take the reader through their case study. In this excerpt, the authors explore the connection between losses in battle and removal through elections:

One of the gravest policy failures a nation can confront is defeat in war. Defeat damages the pride of the nation, needlessly expends blood and treasure, and may endanger the very existence of the nation.... Governments that lead their nations into unsuccessful wars are especially likely to confront an angered citizenry. Democratic governments have much to fear from an angered public, as their hold on power is particularly dependent on the continuing pleasure of the people. President George Bush recognized this on the eve of the Gulf War in 1990, stating the possibility in the bluntest terms: "I'll prevail or I'll be impeached." Repressive governments, less vulnerable to the displeasure of their peoples, are less likely to be myopically concerned with defeat; they need not face the public in elections, and they can violently repress opposition if the need arises.


Edgar Allan Poe, Wallace Stevens, and the Poetics of American Privacy

By Louis A. Renza, Professor of English

Louisiana State University Press 2002; Reviewed by Jeremy Presser '04

An inherent part of the American democratic tradition, privacy is an ideal that has been disputed and argued about since our nation's inception. This debate, though it still rages today, has largely failed to develop into a subject of literary criticism. Louis Renza examines this often overlooked topic in his new book Edgar Allan Poe, Wallace Stevens, and the Poetics of American Privacy. In the literary criticism that has been done on the subject, privacy has been interpreted as an inherently public field: we define privacy by the public's knowledge (or lack thereof) of that private information. Renza takes a somewhat contrary view, arguing that in writing, authors often express private thoughts that are so opaque as to allow varied readings and interpretations of things that have specific and precise meanings for the author. This method then allows the author's true thoughts to remain hidden among a wide range of readers' perspectives. Written in academic prose, Renza's book uses a detailed examination of Poe and Stevens' writings to defend his thesis that privacy is often inherent in public writing. As he concludes his book, Renza notes how both Poe and Stevens' works support this idea:

One needs to emphasize that Poe and Stevens write to imagine a right to privacy. Both writers never "rush" to literary privacy in precipitous reaction to a multi-identifiable American public's reach into their very scenes of writing. In writing, both writers appreciate what Stevens terms the "heavy historical sail," and both offer what to them signifies "the slight transcendence" of it for the public to share, reject, or not notice at all. Beyond that, to paraphrase Emily Dickinson's well-known poem #303, Poe and Stevens shut "the Door" to the "Divine Majority" - even to those who represent and work for whatever a good public sphere might be - and become as if "Present no more."


The Adventures of Pinocchio: Story of a Puppet

By Nancy Canepa, Associate Professor of French and Italian

Steerforth Press 2002; Reviewed by Jeremy Presser '04

In Nancy Canepa's new translation of Carlo Collodi's classic The Adventures of Pinocchio, she captures the spirit and weight of one of the most influential works of modern Italian literature, originally published as a serial in the early 1880s. We see characters like the Talking Cricket that would eventually provide the inspiration for characters in the Americanized versions of Pinocchio. It quickly becomes clear that the story is much more than a simple fairy tale; Pinocchio was originally written for adults as well as children. In this translation, Canepa balances the light-hearted nature of the book with some of its more mature themes. The balance can be seen in this exchange between Pinocchio and a groundhog soon after Pinocchio begins turning into a donkey near the end of the novel:

"My dear," replied the Little Groundhog, trying to console him, "what can you do about it? At this point it's destiny. At this point it's written in the decrees of wisdom that all lazy boys who get fed up with books, schools, and teachers and spend their days in fun and games and other amusements sooner or later must end up being transformed into so many little jackasses."

"But is it really just like that?" asked the puppet, sobbing.

"Unfortunately, it is! And crying serves no purpose now. You should have thought of it before!"

"But it's not my fault. Believe me, Little Groundhog, it's all Lampwick's fault!"...

"And why did you follow the advice of that false friend? Of that bad companion?"

"Why?...Because, my Little Groundhog, I'm a puppet without common sense...and without a heart."


Free Trade Under Fire

By Douglas A. Irwin, Professor of Economics

Princeton University Press 2002; Reviewed by Edward Yip '04

Free Trade: Is it a blessing of economic prosperity or a curse of corporate monopolization? In Free Trade Under Fire, Douglas A. Irwin confronts trade's "globalization backlash." As a proponent of free trade, Irwin addresses the many misconceptions surrounding the controversial topic. The popularity of trade has been continually marred with fears of unemployment, environmental adversities and painful economic adjustments. Irwin's extensive research on global political economy and his economic knowledge provides strong analytical evidence on the benefits of free trade. Examining opposing positions, Irwin dispels their misconceptions with economic, social and historical evidence. As he analyzes U.S. history, Irwin weaves a convincing argument. Continuing through the dilemma in society today, Irwin argues in a thorough yet accessible manner. Irwin's following excerpt puts free trade in perspective:

The benefits of free trade appear to be substantial, although precise quantification of those benefits is sometimes difficult. In extreme cases, governments that force their citizens to forgo the advantages of international trade, particularly in developing countries, do not sacrifice just a couple of percentage points of national income, but risk impoverishing their people. The higher real income that comes with trade is valuable not just to allow the consumption of more goods for crass material reasons, but to help people afford food and medicine. With free trade comes higher income, which gives people access to better health care, better education, and better technologies that will help to improve the environment. Regrettably, the United States still imposes import barriers on labor-intensive manufactured goods, such as clothing and leather, and on agricultural products, in which developing countries have a comparative advantage. This not only harms consumers in the United States, but reduces the income of people in developing countries as well.

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