British Association for American Studies


Book Reviews

Book Review: FDR in American Memory: Roosevelt and the Making of an Icon by Sara Polak

Sara Polak. FDR in American Memory: Roosevelt and the Making of an Icon (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2021), £54.   In FDR In American Memory: Roosevelt and the Making of […]

Book Review: Contemporary American Fiction in the Embrace of the Digital Age by Béatrice Pire, Arnaud Regnauld & Pierre-Louis Patoine

Béatrice Pire, Arnaud Regnauld, and Pierre-Louis Patoine. Contemporary American Fiction in the Embrace of the Digital Age (Sussex Academic Press, 2022), pp. 224, £70 Published earlier this year, Contemporary American […]

Book Review: The South: Jim Crow and Its Afterlives by Adolph Reed Jr.

During a long career spanning political science, activism, and journalism, Adolph Reed Jr has cultivated an enigmatic reputation among left public intellectuals, continually checking the inertial tendencies and oversights of contemporary left theorising to critique race reductionism and what Reed calls the left’s increasingly ‘quietistic’ cultural politics. Locked in ever-fiercer, internecine, and insular skirmishes adrift from site-specific questions of political economy, Reed suggests that this ‘flight from concreteness’ underplays the role of class, favouring representation over redistribution and thus undercutting opportunities for cross-racial mobilisation. [1]

Book Review: William Faulkner and Mortality: A Fine Dead Sound by Ahmed Honeini

For scholars of the works of William Faulkner, his preoccupation with mortality may be best thought of as an attempt to evade, and even deny, the subject of his own death by, instead, creating an immortal presence and literary legacy through his body of work.[1] Faulkner, however, proposes that fiction was not simply a means of escaping death’s inevitability. ‘Man will not merely endure,’ as stated aptly by Faulkner in his 1950 speech as the recipient for the Nobel Prize in Literature, ‘he will prevail’.[2] With this sentiment in mind, Ahmed Honeini’s William Faulkner and Mortality: A Fine Dead Sound offers the first full-length study of mortality in Faulkner’s fiction.

Book Review: Female Physicians in American Literature: Abortion in 19th-Century Literature and Culture by Margaret Jay Jessee

Margaret Jay Jessee. Female Physicians in American Literature: Abortion in 19th-Century Literature and Culture (New York: Routledge, 2021). pp. 108. £44.99. Female Physicians in American Literature: Abortion in 19th-Century Literature […]

Book Review: The End of Ambition: The United States and the Third World in the Vietnam Era by Mark Atwood Lawrence

If there was anything that most historians had firmly placed on the list of Richard M. Nixon’s accomplishments – good or bad – it was that his presidency engineered a rightward shift in US foreign policy. Yet, according to Mark Atwood Lawrence’s important new study, The End of Ambition: The United States and the Third World in the Vietnam Era, even this too must be stripped from the 37th president’s beleaguered historical legacy. An analysis of US policy towards the ‘Global South’ during the 1960s, Lawrence’s book argues that the key transitions away from the ‘ambitious’ policies of the John F. Kennedy years were made not by Nixon but Lyndon Johnson. Under the pressure of the Vietnam War, political change at home, and increasing anti-Americanism abroad, Johnson abandoned his predecessor’s interest in transformative global change to focus on stability and lower costs, even if that meant embracing pro-US strongmen. Nixon’s subsequent ‘doctrine’ to this effect merely codified in rhetoric what was already the case in practice.

Book Review: Charlie Brown’s America: The Popular Politics of Peanuts by Blake Scott Ball

Blake Scott Ball’s biography of Peanuts’ cultural life chronologically documents the development of Charles M. Schulz’s work from a daily comic strip in seven US newspapers, to a national icon that articulated Cold War anxieties and the values of a past era. Though Peanuts is an artefact of extensive cultural significance, as Ball points out it has been ‘woefully understudied’ [5]. Ball’s study is the first to provide an extensive investigation into Peanuts’ place in Cold War American life.

Book Review: Burroughs Unbound: William S. Burroughs and the Performance of Writing edited by S. E. Gontarski

Burroughs Unbound is a collection of essays which explores recent interdisciplinary research on the twentieth-century US author William S. Burroughs. The main issues of the book concentrate on the performative aspects of Burroughs’ experiments on literature, particularly through what he, and collaborator Brion Gysin, called the ‘cut-up project’. The structure of the book somewhat mirrors the cut-up techniques used by the artists by being sliced and divided into three parts, with a series of appendices. The first part deals with ‘Theory’, where postmodernist and poststructuralist notions of control are captured via Derrida, Deleuze and Foucault. The second part, entitled ‘Texts’ is a textual analysis of Burroughs’ writing, from Naked Lunch (1959) to the cut-up texts and beyond. The third part explores Burroughsian ‘Performance’, in which, as the editor, Stanley Gontarski argues in his ‘Atrophied Introduction’, ‘Burroughs was as much a media and performance artist as he was a traditional literary figure’.[1]

Book Review: The Invention of the American Desert: Art, Land, and the Politics of Environment edited by Lyle Massey and James Nisbet

If I had to choose just one moment to share from The Invention of the American Desert: Art, Land and the Politics of Environment, it would be this: J. Robert Oppenheimer, creator of the atomic bomb, dreamed about deserts. Joseph Masco, in his contribution to this volume, describes the way that Oppenheimer’s role in the siting of the Manhattan Project’s intellectual heart at Los Alamos reverberated outward with material impact. Masco calls Oppenheimer a ‘committed desert modernist’ who considered the desert a beautiful and empty space ripe for inspiration and experimentation. ‘His perfect desert,’ Masco writes, ‘the one with both sage and physics—set in motion a series of ongoing environmental, scientific, and military revolutions, transformations that now connect every living being on the planet via the embodied radioactive residues of US nuclear nationalism’ (24). Masco goes on to look at US military photography of the hundreds of nuclear explosions carried out in the Nevada desert in the 1950s, arguing that Oppenheimer’s idealised desert is reproduced in these photos—a settler-colonial imaginary of uninhabited space that created ‘an image of containment for events that were quite literally planetary in scope, dosing the global biosphere and every living being in [radioactive fallout] with each thermonuclear detonation’ (35).

Book Review: Phantoms of a Beleaguered Republic: The Deep State and the Unitary Executive by Stephen Skowronek, John A. Dearborn, and Desmond King

The Trump presidency was a period of unrelenting drama. Trump was often joined at centre stage by members of his own administration, cast as his adversaries. He described these previously anonymous bureaucrats as members of a hidden ‘Deep State’ within the government scheming to undermine his control over the executive branch.[1] Trump viewed the Article II vesting clause, which states that ‘[t]he executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States’ as having lodged all executive power in the presidency and, under that unitary executive theory, considered any resistance to his will to be a constitutional offence. He moved to stamp out all opposition within the government; frequently, as if to confirm Trump’s allegations of a rogue bureaucracy, the bureaucracy fought back.

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