This is a useful book, a troubling book, and a book tells us something about the strange state of contemporary publishing. I’ll try and deal with each of these in turn.
The title of this book, Antarctica: a Biography, might cause some initial confusion but this is rectified by the publisher’s puff on the front inside flap of the dust jacket where it is described as ‘the first major international history of this forbidding continent’.
The historical literature on Afghanistan and the various armed conflicts fought on its soil has greatly increased in recent years, due to the tragic events following the American-led invasion of the country in October 2001.
Psychoactive drug restrictions and prohibitions have typically followed a reactionary pattern. From tobacco to LSD, the introduction of novel drugs has prompted therapeutic experimentation. Officials showed little concern until these substances also became popular recreational intoxicants.
Officially, the designated revolution that took place in historical theory since the Second World War is that of the so-called ‘linguistic turn’. But as the postmodernist era in historical theory begins to fade, one begins to wonder if the real revolution in post-war historical theory actually consisted of the rise of memory studies.
Elizabeth Schmidt’s Foreign Intervention in Africa: From the Cold War to the War on Terror is an enticing prospect for those studying conflict and warfare in contemporary Africa.
At first sight this looks like another of those increasingly common commodity books, some of which are intended to be global in scope, and which include studies of chocolate, sugar, cod, salt and many others (digestible or not!). As Riello points out, commodities are a good way to tell a global story since many of them have been traded throughout the world for centuries.
Historians can only feel ambivalent about bureaucracy. ‘Admin’ tends to get in the way of those two core activities that define a university, research and teaching. Some of it might be necessary and benign: seminars require registers, after all.
Books on the history of the evolution of the welfare state in Britain are numerous.
Biography has always been as something of the black sheep of historical writing; we cannot do without it, yet it always looked down upon, particularly by those in the profession that are committed to more high-flown subjects and methods of analysis. Yet there can be no doubt that John Campbell has made a serious contribution to British political history through his biographical studies.