Year 501: The Conquest Continues

Noam Chomsky

Although Chomsky’s influence over the field of linguistics has been unrivaled by any other living scholar, he is more widely known for his writings on political issues. Published 501 years after Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas, this book delineates the hidden history of the U.S., the story of “Europe’s conquest of the world” and its “great work of subjugation.” Tracing the contours of neocolonialism to its roots in the old world order, Chomsky maps the faultlines between geopolitical blocs (north/south, east/west), and develops pointed insights and damning critiques of Western culture. The volume shines brightest in its examination of the vast gulf between the idealistic language of American democracy and to such social realities as the “free” market and human-rights abuses, indeed all of present-day imperialist exploitation and murder. Year 501 closes with Chomsky’s continuing condemnation of the news media: its misrepresentations, its “murder of history,” and subsequent widespread loss of hope. Not a light read. HS

Publisher: South End
Paperback: 332 pages

Marks of Civilization: Artistic Transformations of the Human Body

Edited by Arnold Rubin

Rubin, the late UCLA professor of non-western academic art history, is often remembered as the first to legitimize piercings, scarification and tattoos as serious objects of academic scrutiny. Reviled by some for popularizing body modification yet adored by many as the father of modern primitivism and the prophet of the tattoo renaissance, Rubin provides rigorous yet accessible ethnographic studies of the history of body art, offering art historians, anthropologists and aficionados alike an excellent comparative text. Since its publication by the UCLA Museum of Cultural History in 1988, Marks of Civilization has remained the ethnographic bible of body modification, with well-illustrated offerings from anthropologists, art historians and ethnologists, who span the globe from Africa to Japan, Micronesia to the Americas. Rubin’s closing essay, “Tattoo Renaissance,” brought well-deserved academic and popular acclaim to such artists as Don Ed Hardy, Cliff Raven, Leo Zulueta and the late Jamie Summers. HS

Publisher: University of California
Paperback: 280 pages

Voyages of Discovery

Captain James Cook

“It was now just eight o’clock, when we were alarmed by the discharge of a volley of small arms from Captain Cook’s people, and a violent shout of the Indians… Captain Cook and four marines had fallen in this confounded fray.” So writes James King from his vantage aboard ship, upon taking over captaincy of the Resolution after James Cook was slain by provoked Hawaiian natives in 1779. One eyewitness declaims that “matters would not have been carried to the extremities they were, had not Captain Cook… first unfortunately fired.”
In the eyes of the traditional historian, this event is the tragic death of a hero, akin to the slaughter of Orpheus by hysterical Bacchantes; yet for revisionist champions of native peoples, the repulsion of the English becomes a temporary victory for the people of Kealakekua Bay. A reprint of an 1860 compilation by naval historian John Barrow, this concise edition condenses four tomes of Admiralty records by excising navigational details, thus offering an eminently readable narrative. Highlights include: Cook’s discovery of Australia during his first voyage, resulting in the British Crown’s decision to establish a penal colony at Botany Bay; the events leading up to Cook’s demise during his fated third voyage, including a stranger-than-fiction account of how the Kealakekuan natives mistook him for an earthly manifestation of the god Lono; and Cook’s painstaking descriptions of Tahitian and New Zealand natives during his second voyage.
In these descriptions of natives and their customs, the heart of the Voyages, Cook displays a nearly modern sophistication. Resisting the romantic racism of the 18th century, he assiduously refuses to treat natives as noble savages, children of nature, or heathen devils. Barrow illustrates this sensitivity by juxtaposing another contemporary description of Tierra del Fuegans (“perfectly nude, wild and shaggy… like so many fiendish imps”) with Cook’s more humanitarian perspective (“These people appeared on the whole to be the outcasts of human nature; their only food was shellfish; and they were destitute of every convenience arising from the rudest art”).
Although relentlessly mild by today’s standards, the Voyages were immensely popular, consistently titillating readers from their first publication through the 19th century. Just as those who wanted to see naked men and women in the pre-Playboy era would look through National Geographic, many would turn to the Voyages of Discovery to read about the promiscuity, license and nudity of natives. HS

Publisher: Academy Chicago
Paperback: 555 pages

Oxford History of the Prison: The Practice of Punishment in Western Society

Edited by Norval Morris and David J. Rothman

“The U.S. rate of incarceration today (519 per 100,000 population) is second in the world, after Russia, and at least five times greater than that of most other industrialized nations.” As the first comprehensive study of its kind, this volume boasts contributions from criminologists and social, political and legal historians, nearly all of whom are pioneers in the young field of the history of incarceration. Based on the premise that to understand normative Western society we must first examine the deviance it suppresses, highlights include: theatrical execution on the scaffold and lesser punishments involving bondage and labor; female convicts and their prisons; and analyses of hard labor, juvenile justice and political prisoners. Generously illustrated, including 11 color plates of recent prison art, this scholarly yet enjoyable collection is the perfect companion to Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, as well as to the long tradition of prison notebooks and narratives, from Boethius to Mumia. HS

Publisher: University of California
Paperback: 489 pages

Renaissance Magic and the Return of the Golden Age: The Occult Tradition and Marlowe, Johnson and Shakespeare

John S. Mebane

“You, like a judge appointed for being honorable, are the molder and maker of yourself; you may sculpt yourself into whatever shape you prefer.”—Pico della Mirandola
Positing that philosophical occultism may be read as the logical extension of Renaissance humanists’ “affirmation of the power of human beings to control both their own personalities and the world around them,” Mebane provides in-depth analyses of philosopher-magicians Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola and Cornelius Agrippa, each an example of how “magic became the most powerful manifestation of the growing conviction that humankind should act out its potential in the free exercise of its powers on the social and natural environment.” Because Johnson, Marlowe and Shakespeare were “thoroughly familiar with the philosophical, social and political implications of Hermetic/Kabbalistic magic, as well as with the claims of particular occult philosophers,” the later chapters examine how Dr. Faustus, The Alchemist, and The Tempest reflect each playwright’s response to the centrality of magic in both humanist thought and everyday life. Throughout, Mebane weaves a rigorous symbiosis of history, philosophy and literary criticism, offering readers an intelligent re-evaluation of the importance of the occult tradition to the thought and literature of the Renaissance. HS

Publisher: University of Nebraska
Paperback: 317 pages

War, Progress and the End of History: Three Conversations, Including a Short Tale of the Antichrist

Vladimir Solovyov

“Is evil only a natural defect, an imperfection disappearing by itself with the growth of good, or is it a real power, ruling our world by means of temptations, so that to fight it successfully assistance must be found in another sphere of being?” So begins Solovyov’s preface, written shortly before his death on July 30, 1900. Prophet, mystic, poet-philosopher and the prototype for Dostoevsky’s Alyosha Karamazov, Solovyov offers an examination of evil which proves chillingly prophetic, especially in his parable of a European Antichrist: he envisions Israel reunified, Islam emerging as a world power, and eerily asserts that “the imitative Japanese, who showed such wonderful speed and success in copying the external forms of European culture… proclaimed to the world the great idea of Pan-Mongolism… with the aim of conducting a decisive war against foreign intruders.” HS

Publisher: Lindisfarne
Paperback: 206 pages

Wind Energy in America: A History

Robert W. Righter

“For many people, assessment of wind energy is based largely on a fleeting observation from an automobile window.” This highly readable social history details the brief yet vital role of wind in American energy-generation: After World War I, mass-produced U.S. windmills (both water-pumpers and wind-chargers) signified individualism, self-sufficiency and decentralized technology, in direct opposition to government-regulated “hard” energy sources such as coal, petroleum, natural gas and nukes. The history of the Rural Electrification Administration, established in 1935, traces the high-wiring of the U.S. landscape, a transformation of both physical and economic topographies, which signaled the decline of independent farms and the growth of agribusiness. Righter concludes by examining closely the wind-generator boom of the past two decades in California, now totaling over 12,000 turbines and producing 96 percent of U.S. wind-generated electricity. HS

Publisher: University of Oklahoma
Hardback: 384 pages

Detecting Forgery: Forensic Information of Documents

Joe Nickell

A highly readable and amply illustrated historical overview of forged documents (both petty and famous) and the methods of their detection. Although he inadvertently offers a how-to manual for handwriting forgery and document alteration, the author demonstrates that very little can escape detection by forensic detectives and their high-tech methods, which brings to mind the old forger’s adage: “The only good forgery is one that is never suspected.” HS

Publisher: University of Kentucky
Hardback: 228 pages