Susan Wallace Boehmer
Assistant Director & Editor-in-Chief
As the quest for the White House intensifies, HUP would like to draw our readers’ attention to new Harvard books that offer perspective on a range of issues in play during this election. We begin with Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College? Every four years Americans find themselves asking why they choose their presidents through a process that narrows campaigns to swing states and can permit the loser of the popular vote to become president. Alexander Keyssar describes past efforts to abolish or reform this institution and explains why those efforts have failed.
America’s Rust Belt looms large in this election cycle, as voters ask why manufacturing jobs have disappeared and what kinds of work will replace them. Bethlehem PA, once synonymous with steel, provides a compelling example of the hard decisions urban dwellers face after factories close. In From Steel to Slots Chloe Taft describes a population that bet its future on casino gambling and is still struggling to make sense of the ways global capitalism has transformed jobs and identities.
The housing bubble is behind us, but the housing crisis is not. For Tommie Shelby, the persistence of ghettos in the United States raises thorny questions about what justice requires of government and its citizens. Shelby’s social vision, presented in Dark Ghettos, puts the abolition of ghettos at the center of progressive reform. On income insecurity among older Americans, Anne Alstott explains how changes in the workplace, longevity, and marriage have undermined Social Security and made the experience of aging increasingly unequal. In A New Deal for Old Age she offers a pragmatic, progressive plan that would permit all Americans to retire between 62 and 76 but provide generous early retirement benefits for workers with low wages or physically demanding jobs. Turning to Medicare and universal health insurance, Miriam Laugesen investigates the source of disparities in how physicians are paid. In Fixing Medical Prices she introduces readers to a largely unknown committee of organizations affiliated with the American Medical Association, whose periodic advisory recommendations to Medicare set off chain reactions across the entire health care system, leading to high—and disproportionate—rates for surgery and technology-based procedures.
Commentators have bemoaned the loss of civility in public life, particularly during the U.S. primaries. But Teresa Bejan asks: In liberal democracies committed to tolerating diversity as well as disagreement, is civility really a virtue, or is it a demand for conformity that silences dissent? In Mere Civility she turns to early modern debates over religious toleration for answers about what a vibrant civil society looks like. In Democracy: A Case Study David Moss points out that the United States has often counted on intense political conflict to revitalize governance and democracy. Adapting the teaching method made famous by Harvard Business School, he offers nineteen historic disagreements and asks readers to weigh facts, choices, and consequences, and then make up their own minds about a contentious course of action.
Assessing the prospects for democracy around the globe, our authors this election year are, at best, cautious. In Democracy in Iran: Why It Failed and How It Might Succeed, Misagh Parsa writes that gradual reforms will not be sufficient to change the role of religion in Iranian civic life, and that Iran’s democratic options are quickly narrowing to a single path: another revolution. In China’s Crony Capitalism, Minxin Pei reports that China’s efforts to modernize have yielded a kleptocracy characterized by corruption, wealth inequality, and social tensions. She gathers unambiguous evidence that beneath China’s facade of ever-expanding prosperity and power lies a Leninist state in an advanced stage of decay. In Strangers in Our Midst David Miller brings a bracing dose of realism to the international immigration debate. Seeking to balance the rights of immigrants with the legitimate concerns of citizens, he defends the right of democratic states to control their borders and decide upon the future size, shape, and cultural make-up of their populations.
In Capital without Borders Brooke Harrington poses a question that resonates with the ninety-nine percent: How do the very rich keep getting richer despite financial crises and the myriad of taxes on income, capital gains, and inheritance? For an answer, she interviewed wealth managers—professionals who specialize in protecting the fortunes of the world’s one percent—and gained access to their tactics and mindset by training to become one of them. In The Market as God Harvey Cox critiques wealth accumulation from another angle: capitalism’s tendency to deify the market as omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. This belief system, he argues persuasively, has made all of the world’s problems—widening inequality, a rapidly warming planet, the injustices of global poverty—harder to solve.
Midway between the parties’ conventions and election day, on the fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Americans and others around the world will pause to remember victims and their families. Jay Aronson chronicles the most costly investigation in U.S. history—not to identify the terrorists and their international network but to identify, and return to families, every body part recovered from the World Trade Center site, however small. Who Owns the Dead? The Science and Politics of Death at Ground Zero tells a new and unsettling story about the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil. In The Politics of Mourning: Death and Honor in Arlington National Cemetery, Micki McElya takes readers to America’s most sacred shrine and reveals how this political landscape encompasses both shameful and inspiring aspects of American history.
Finally, as the 2016 election season continues to unfold, Ellen Fitzpatrick’s The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency offers readers “a history of political women that reads like a murder mystery,” according to Times Higher Education. For those seeking some perspective on the astonishing events of any given day, this book might be just the ticket.
HUP’s Spring 2016 and Fall 2016 catalogs present a wide variety of books on other topics of interest to voters in November—First Amendment protections, incarceration, work/life balance, capital punishment, climate change, gender inequality, race relations, and the role of the media, to name just a few. I hope you will take some time to click on our editors’ webpages and read our blog to learn more about the Press’s recent publications.