JAH Reviews (Dec. 2011)

I’m interested in thinking about the ways that history of science wins a place in broader conversations in American history. As part of my investigation, I’ve been skimming book review sections of JAH and similar journals. I thought you all might benefit as well from an abstract for each of the reviews published in Dec. 2011 that struck me as dealing with HOS in a significant way. Reviewed works include Philip Mirowski’s Science-Mart, Nick Cullather’s Hungry World, and Andrea Wulf’s Founding Gardeners.

Read past the break for more.


Science-Mart: Privatizing American Science. By Philip Mirowski. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011. Reviewed by Cyrus Mody.
Notes: “Part history of economics, part history of science, part lament for the decline of American academia, Philip Mirowski’s Science-Mart is an enlightening, engaging, sometimes maddening tour through the ‘Temples of Mammon’ that Mirowski believes universities have become. Science-Mart begins by surveying economists’ evolving views on the organization of science.” Mirowski also offers a periodization of American science that I’d like to explore more at some other time.


The Hungry World: America’s Cold War Battle against Poverty in Asia. By Nick Cullather. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010. Reviewed by Robert J. McMahon
Notes: Cullather wrote a terrific article on the “Foreign Policy of the Calorie” a few years back. This is the bigger book that he was writing alongside that article. “Indeed, in one of his signal contributions, Cullather explodes the popular myth of the transformative ‘Green Revolution.’ He depicts the oft-told tale of “miracle” wheat and rice strands averting starvation and spurring spectacular agricultural growth in postwar Asia as a comforting story constructed by self-interested actors that bears little resemblance to actual occurrences.”

Pox: An American History. By Michael Willrich. New York: Penguin, 2011. Reviewed by Howard Markel.
Notes: “Perhaps Willrich’s most important contribution to this burgeoning literature, however, is his superb analysis of the legal and individual rights involved in public health programs that mandate vaccination for the greater good even over the objections of individuals who desire to opt out of such interventions. Pox is a sweeping account of how mass smallpox vaccination programs helped contribute to the development and growth of such federal agencies as the U.S. Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health, along with the rise of municipal and state health departments.”

Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation. By Andrea Wulf. New York: Knopf, 2011. Reviewed by Kim Kleinman.
Notes: “In 1787 a visit by several key delegates to Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia during the Constitutional Convention helped break a deadlock around representation in the legislature.” Kleinman compares it to Phil Pauly’s recent, great book: “Pauly’s book, however, is more comprehensive, sustained, and challenging, arguing that “From the early nineteenth century onward, horticulturalists reasonably argued that [their] high culture … would lead to higher culture—to the refinement of public taste” (Pauly, Fruits and Plains, p. 6). But Wulf’s is a fine, engagingly written book, with eighty pages of notes and an extensive bibliography, that shows how the ‘founding gardeners,’ as gardeners, shaped the American nation”

Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception across the Color Line. By Martha A. Sandweiss. New York: Penguin, 2009. Reviewed by Kenneth R. Janken.
Notes. I’ve talked about this before. “Martha A. Sandweiss excavates King’s well-documented life and offers informed speculation about Ada Todd, whose appearance in the historical record is scant….Though most racial passing went in the other direction, the author historicizes meanings of race and the mutability of identity.”

Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture. By Christopher D. Bader, F. Carson Mencken, and Joseph O. Baker. New York: New York University Press, 2010. Reviewed by Sarah M. Pike.
Notes: Thinking about some alternative ways of knowing— “Bigfoot hunters, haunted houses, psychic readings, and unidentified flying object abductees are common in “paranormal America,” a world that includes a diverse spectrum of ordinary people…But historical depth and nuanced analysis aside, Paranormal America is entertaining sightseeing in a world that is often trivialized by academics, and readers will at the least come away with a glimpse of its complexity”

Measuring America: How Economic Growth Came to Define American Greatness in the Late Twentieth Century. By Andrew L. Yarrow. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2010. Reviewed by W. Elliot Brownlee.
Notes: Why do we care about GDP? I have wondered about this before. “Andrew L. Yarrow reaches two key, intertwined conclusions in this book. The first is that “Beginning in earnest in the postwar era, opinion-shaping elites in politics, business, academia, media, schools, and public diplomacy gloried in America’s ever-growing economy as the ‘measure of the nation’” (p. 2). The second conclusion is that “Economic ideas came to have vastly greater influence on American culture” as they “dovetailed with” the assertions of elites that “the meaning and value of the United States increasingly resided in its growing, quantifiable abundance” (p. 3).”

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