1. Catherine Clinton, Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. I hadn’t realized that so much was known about her life, or that she spent so much time in Canada, or that she fell into such obscurity during the early part of the twentieth century. She died the same year Rosa Parks was born. I liked this book very much.
2. Tom Miller, China’s Asian Dream: Empire Building Along the New Silk Road. A good look at the new conflicts between China and its southeast Asian and central Asian neighbors. Clear enough to be a good introduction, detailed enough to be useful to those who already know something about the topic.
3. Robert Alter, The Art of Bible Translation. Alter is one of today’s most important doers, and his forthcoming Hebrew Bible translation is likely to be definitive and the most important act of publication this year. This short volume presents his perspective on what he has done, most of all focusing on how to turn Hebrew into English.
4. Michael Tomasello, Becoming Human: A Theory of Ontogeny. How does human psychological growth run in the first seven years, in particular how does it instill “culture” in us? Tomasello address this question in a Belknap Press book by comparing us to chimpanzees and bonobos. Most of all, how does the capacity for shared intentionality and self-regulation evolve in people? This is a very thoughtful and also important book, but I’m not sure it finally succeeds into tying up all the pieces into a broader picture of…shared intentionality.
5. Camille Paglia, Provocations. At first I was discouraged by the notion of a recycled Paglia compilation, but the quality of these pieces is often high and many of them are not readily available elsewhere. The now-classic Sexual Personae is still the best introduction to her work, but if you think you might be tempted by this one, you should buy it. I would put the hit rate at about fifty percent (who else will give you running commentary on the main cinematic adaptations of Homer’s Odyssey?), and it is sad to see so far it has not been seriously reviewed.