Mason B. Williams

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[Cross-posted from New Books in History] “Today, many New Yorkers take the FDR to get to La Guardia,” Mason B. Williams jokes in the opening line of his new book City of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York (W.W. Norton, 2013) . And, depending on where they start, they pass any number of vital, iconic features in Gotham’s landscape that were built thanks to both men: Carl Schurz Park, the Triborough Bridge, Randall Island’s Stadium, the Astoria Pool, the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, William Cullen Bryant High School, the Queensbridge Houses, etc. These public works are the physical legacy of the New Deal, and the legendary partnership between the city’s famous mayor, Fiorella La Guardia, and the state’s former Governor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, during the latter’s presidency. That heritage stands everywhere around us, not just in New York but all over the country. Yet, as Williams notes, the history of this paradoxically productive era in America’s past (a stark contrast to politics in the Great Recession) has been “obscured in turns by ideology and neglect.”

City of Ambition tells that story with sophistication and verve. It is difficult for any scholar, particularly a junior one, to say something interesting about the New Deal, the Big Bang in modern American political history. But Williams uses this quasi dual-biographical approach to make a point we sometimes forget: that federalism, so often the Achilles heel of reform in the United States, actually lay at the heart of this seminal moment. Washington lacked the operational capacity to administer large-scale programs, and so relied heavily upon municipal governments. Far from a zero-sum game, the growth of federal power “enabled local action.”

Heavily researched, ambitiously broad, and finely written, Williams’s book explores a number of other local and national themes, as well. Read and enjoy.

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Carlotta GallThe Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Middle Eastern Studies] Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall reported from Afghanistan and Pakistan for almost the entire duration of the American invasion and occupation, beginning shortly after 9/11. In her new book The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), Gall combines searing personal accounts of battles and betrayals with moving portraits [...]

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Science, Technology, and Society] How did we come to think of spaces for the storage and circulation of body parts as “banks,” and what are the consequences of that history for the way we think about human bodies as property today? Kara W. Swanson’s wonderful new book traces the history of body [...]

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Matthew HuberLifeblood: Oil, Freedom, and the Forces of Capital

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Geography]  Lifeblood: Oil, Freedom, and the Forces of Capital (University of Minnesota Press, 2013) is an incisive look into how oil permeates our lives and helped shape American politics during the twentieth century. Author Matthew Huber shows the crucial role oil and housing policy played in the New Deal and how, in subsequent decades, [...]

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Anthony SantoroExile & Embrace: Contemporary Religious Discourses on the Death Penalty

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Christian Studies] The death penalty is a subject that can easily inflame emotions. However, in his book, Exile & Embrace: Contemporary Religious Discourses on the Death Penalty (Northeastern University Press, 2013), Dr. Anthony Sant0ro does an amazing job of objectively presenting opposition to and support of the death penalty and explaining his own opposition to it. [...]

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Joel MigdalShifting Sands: The United States and the Middle East

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[Cross-posted from New Books in World Affairs] Any person who turns on CNN or Fox News today will see that the United States faces a number of critical problems in the Middle East. This reality should surprise few. Stunned by the Al-Qaeda attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001, the George W. Bush administration sent U.S. troops to Afghanistan as [...]

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