A Gathering of Tomes

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The Sixties: Recollections of the Decade From Harper’s Magazine, Edited by Katherine Whittemore, Ellen Rosenbush and Jim Nelson (Franklin Square Press) 298 pages

A top-shelf anthology of Harper’s Magazine pieces from the 1960s, featuring serious heavy-hitters like David Halberstam, George Plimpton and C. Vann Woodward and covering an array of subjects like Vietnam, George Wallace, and Lee Harvey Oswald in Moscow. “The passage of civil-rights legislation in the mid-Sixties set the stage for social, economic, cultural and racial change unmatched since Emancipation, and for conflict more complicated and only slightly less violent than that of a century earlier,” Eugene McCarthy from his introduction.

Pulphead: Essays, John Jeremiah Sullivan (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) 365 pages

This is a much-ballyhooed collection of fourteen personal, oddball essays, with unusual topics like Axl Rose’s comeback, the hidden unnamed caves of East Tennessee and wild animal attacks on humans. Well-written, frank and self-effacing, Sullivan’s book is hard to put down as he places himself in one fascinating situation/scenario after another. “He summoned a dark cloud of patois cursing. I couldn’t follow for minutes on end. Then he hung up. He never would call me back. I became an unanswered ring in the pockets of his marvelous suits.” From the essay entitled, “The Last Wailer.”

Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It (Discovering America Series), H.W. Brands (University of Texas Press) 139 pages

Part of a U. of Texas series edited by noted author/muckraker Mark Crispin Miller that also includes a book about Colonel Sanders, in hardcover with artful semi-gloss dust-jackets. H.W. Brands presents a brief, scholarly, chronological look at how the dollar became the dominant currency on the planet, and offers some insight into where we’re headed. “A postdollar world would look different than what Americans were used to. The American economy couldn’t help but suffer, at least comparatively. The strength of the American economy had made the dollar’s hegemony possible, but the dollar’s hegemony preserved and extended the economy’s strength. Americans could devalue the dollar and thereby transfer costs of domestic reform to the rest of the world, as Franklin Roosevelt demonstrated in the 1930s.” From the chapter entitled, “Be Nice To Your Creditors.”

The Expanding Circle: Ethics, Evolution and Moral Progress, Peter Singer (Princeton University Press) 208 pages

Originally published in 1981, the noted Australian philosopher, and author of the ground-breaking animal rights treatise, Animal Liberation, lays out his view of human reasoning as the primary basis of moral progress. Considered a modern classic in the area of ethical philosophy, Singer delivers a strong argument for a new view of altruism and, in turn, humanism. It reads quickly despite the density of the material, and makes its case with authority. “Human beings are social animals. We were social before we were human.” From the chapter entitled, “The Origins of Altruism.”