Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Books to Read

A collection of academic book titles produced by Oxford University Press

It is perhaps the rule rather than the exception for teachers and academics to ignore what seemingly is an unceasing deluge of emails from representatives of conference-organising companies and book publishers. For some lecturers whose immediate reaction is to wince in annoyance, the automated response may be to ignore the message or to reach for the delete button.

Earlier this month I came across an email from a commissioning assistant of Higher Education Law titles at Oxford University Press who made an offer I found hard to refuse. The deal was that in return for using one’s subject-specific insight to review a revision guide for undergraduate level Criminal Law -effectively evaluating the current edition in order to improve the next edition- I would be given £100 worth of OUP academic books. A link was provided.

Now lecturers are entitled to a range of free ‘inspection copies’ of textbooks related to the subject areas on which they teach. However, the fact that this offer entitled one to select from a range of disciplines including medieval, military and contemporary history was an inducement which a bibliophile such as myself found to be simply irresistible.

Although I would not consider myself to be an avid connoisseur of books on European medieval history, I found the idea behind Debating Truth: The Barcelona Disputation of 1263  to be very attractive both in terms of its subject matter and its presentation. It concerns the story of Nahmanides, that is, Rabbi Moses ben Nahman, a Jewish scholar based in Aragon who was summoned by King James the First to engage in a public debate with a Christian Friar about the role of the Messiah in Judaism and Christianity. Published in graphic history format, the book contains historical essays, historiography and study questions which enumerate on the methods historians use to frame narratives while at the same time enlightening the reader about the processes by which history is constructed.

The debate is historically important as it presaged the pogroms visited upon Jewish communities in the following century which culminated in the expulsion of Jews from Spain in the late-fifteenth century.

I also selected two books on military history: Churchill and Sea Power and Churchill and the Dardanelles. My rationale here is not based on a big interest in the life of Winston Churchill but in reading detailed studies of aspects of the history of the Royal Navy and naval warfare for which I have had a near life-long interest owing to my father’s career as a naval officer and his collection of books relating to British and German naval confrontations in the Second and First World Wars. Churchill of course presided over two naval disasters in both World Wars, first that of the doomed Dardanelles Campaign when he was the secretary of state for war and later when as First Lord of the Admiralty, he oversaw the failed action in Norway.

The remaining three selections concern the United States of America. George C. Herring’s The American Century and Beyond: US Foreign Relations, 1893-2014 forms part of the acclaimed Oxford History of the United States series. It was also the winner of the Robert H. Ferrell Book Award of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations when it was first published in 2007. A comprehensive and authoritative book on American foreign affairs is a most welcome addition to my library although I do not think that it will displace the high esteem and affection that I have for the Harold Evans-edited coffee table-sized epic, The American Century: People, Power and Politics which was published back in 1999.  

While both United States Law and Policy on Transitional Justice: Principles, Politics and Pragmatics and National Security and Double Government are categorised as books on public international law, they focus on essentially different matters. The former relates to the United States role in the development of transitional justice institutions documenting and analysing six case studies: Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda.

The author’s thesis is that political and pragmatic factors feature more prominently in US transitional justice policy than US government officials normative beliefs. ‘Prudentialism’, a term encompassing pragmatism and political considerations, has in the author’s view primacy over legalism in transitional justice policymaking. This is of great interest to me given the United States refusal to submit itself to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. What will also be borne in mind is that war crimes tribunals of the sort that have been created to deal with conflicts in Africa and the Balkans are out of the question for the United States despite the sizeable segment of world public opinion in support of the trial of high-ranking American officials of state for what many believe to have been an illegal war of aggression and occupation of Iraq.

The final book, on Double Government is effectively recasting a lengthy academic article written by Michael J. Glennon for Harvard National Security Journal. It essentially makes the case for the existence of another layer of government termed the ‘Trumanite Network’ of military, intelligence and law enforcement managers which has usurped the power of forging US security national policy from the ‘Madisonian’ institutions of the Presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court.

It develops Walter Bagehot’s concept of the “double government” which the English constitutionalist formulated in the 19th Century.  There are echoes of what is termed ‘deep state’ and while Glennon’s work is focused on the evidence of minimal changes in security policy after the changeover from the administration of George W. Bush to Barack Obama, it has particularly resonance in relation to the ongoing tussle between the newly elected Donald Trump and the intelligence community.

My only regret is that I could not obtain all of my six selections as hardback copies and stay within the £100 limit. The one hardback I ordered was the Churchill and the Dardanelles book but they are all well bound and the Debating Truth book is particularly well designed.

I am very much looking forward to reading these books.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a law lecturer and writer based in London, England.

Debating Truth: The Barcelona Disputation of 1263 by Nina Caputo & Liz Clarke (2017)

Churchill and Sea Power by Christopher M. Bell (2014)

Churchill and the Dardanelles by Christopher M. Bell (2017)

The American Century and Beyond: US Foreign Relations, 1893-2014 by George C. Herring Second Edition (2017)

United States Law and Policy on Transitional Justice: Principles, Politics and Pragmatics by Zachary D. Kaufman (2017)

National Security and Double Government by Michael J. Glennon (2016)

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