By Eric Michael Rhodes
Gone (thankfully) from our profession is Leopold von Ranke’s old fantasy of history as objective science. And yet, while we cannot test our hypotheses in laboratories, peer review has remained central to the process of the production of historical truth—our main objective. We all learn in graduate school that we should read two or three reviews of every book in our bibliography. As monographs form the backbone of historiography, book reviews are the best vehicles for judging where—or if—our theses fit into the long arch of history. Books give us new ways of seeing the past and reviews help us understand just how novel these vantages are—or are not. Some reviews are positive, and some are negative. The best reviews are both, and foster conversation.
As a Reviews editor for The Metropole, I have enjoyed taking part in these conversations. Over the past couple of years, Jim Wunsch, Jacob Bruggeman, Bob Carey, and I have enjoyed helping to shape our membership’s thoughtful and incisive critiques of important new books in urban history. It has been a pleasure to read the brilliant insights of our reviewers while learning about the important trends in our field.
Bruce Mazlish, contemplating the art of reviewing, wrote that “in an ideal reviewing world, every review would be accompanied by a review of the review.” Our team takes this seriously. Our Reviews section stands apart from others in that we try our best to allow authors to address their reviewers. We often invite authors to respond to reviews (my personal favorite is Kim Phillips-Fein’s response to Michael Glass on Fear City). Many of us pine for the coffee-fueled hours we spent discussing books around the seminar table as students. We try to replicate these conversations on the blog.
All of this is to say that I was very excited to hear that our senior editors Avigail Oren and Ryan Reft have decided to devote this month to celebrating the talent on display in our Reviews section. World Book Day falls in March, so on the 7th please share your favorites from of our archive.
Here’s a look at what’s to come. This month, we’ll publish reviews of some very important new books in urban history. Amanda Boston brings her understanding of the history of grounded neoliberalism to her review of Samuel Stein’s Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State. Christopher Whann ponders the politics of the “white working class” as he discusses Timothy J. Lombardo’s Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics. Walter Greason reviews Amanda Kolson Hurley’s Radical Suburbs: Experimental Living on the Fringes of the American City and finds that there’s more to suburbs than what first meets the eye. Steve Tischler gets us psyched for Spring Training, telling us how we can understand cities through their baseball stadiums in his review of Paul Goldberger’s Ballpark: Baseball in the American City. Charlotte Rosen, in her review of Badges without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing by Stuart Schrader, traces the argument that policing practices the United States honed abroad came home to roost. Our own Bob Carey takes on Liz Cohen’s portrait of a redeveloper distinct from both Hausmann and Moses in his review of Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age. Richard Harris reports out on Timothy Gilfoyle’s newly edited collection of hundreds of writings on U.S. cities, The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Urban History. And I’ll be writing about the new paths broken by historian-cum-public intellectual Keeanga-Yamahatta Taylor in her award-winning Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership. Finally, stay tuned for Jim Wunsch’s monthly round-up of the latest titles in urban history, Cityscape.
We’ve decided that public history is just as important to consider as is the academic variety, and as such we’ll be highlighting reviews of exhibitions and films that have to do with our field. Charlotte Rosen inaugurates our movie reviews with a critique of Toby Perl Freilich’s Moynihan. Next up is a film that my History of New York City students loved watching, a poignant testament to the destruction wrought by the urban crisis—Decade of Fire. Gretchen Hildebran and Vivian Vásquez kindly shared an extended version of Decade with reviewer Sara Patenaude. And finally, cover your mouths! Bob Carey helps put coronavirus in perspective, writing about how Spit Spreads Death: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19—as told by the staff of Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum.
In closing and in anticipation of this month of reviews, we would like to express our deep gratitude to our contributors. You have toiled for not an excessive amount of love from us hair-splitting editors and for even less money (none!). Bravo to you for your painstaking work! Those would-be reviewers, please pitch us ideas.
See you all at the book stalls in Detroit!
Eric Rhodes is a lecturer at the University of Angers in France where he teaches the history of New York City and documentary film. He is a Reviews Editor at The Metropole. Follow him @EricMichaRhodes.
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Featured Image: Current reads of @AmandaISeligman.