New Books Network

“There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject;
the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.”
G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

I serve as a host for the New Books Network, a consortium of podcasts dedicated to raising the level of public discourse by introducing serious authors to interested audiences. We conduct interviews with authors of new books in a variety of fields, selecting projects published within the last five years that we believe to be remarkable contributions to either public or scholarly discourse. The NBN publishes 100 new interviews a month, with a library of over 4,200 interviews. We serve around 45,000 episodes every day, amounting to over 9 million downloads a year.

As a host, I contribute to New Books in History and New Books in Intellectual History. You can find links to my interviews below.


Lilian Calles Barger, World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation Theology (Oxford University Press, 2018)

Offering sharp readings of the ideas of Gustavo Gutiérrez, James Cone, Rosemary Ruether and many others, World Come of Age traces the parallels between the liberation theologies of Latin America, black theologians, and feminists in the 1960s and 70s in response to extreme poverty, entrenched white supremacy, and the constrictions of patriarchal power. Theology from the perspective of elite white men reinforced ideas of freedom defined by the individualism of capitalist economics, and upheld the rifts in post-Enlightenment theology: a sacred/secular split, a universal humanity, a private religious self, and ideological autonomy. In response, Liberationists across traditions turned to a theological poetics that would express a theology from below in a radical subversion of imperialist theopolitical practice.


David Matthews, Medievalism: A Critical History (Boydell & Brewer, 2015)

Medievalism: A Critical History moves deftly from examinations of medieval recovery in statecraft, aesthetics, art, literature, architecture, and the scholarly discipline of medieval studies. Matthews shows that an investment in the medieval has often reached far beyond academic interest in historical detail or popular interest in knights and castles. He pays particular attention to what is here called civic medievalism–attempts by writers and thinkers to recover that part of the middle ages that encouraged trade, labor, and industry, an interest on the part of statesmen and business leaders who find in the middle ages a worthy model of infrastructural expansion and open commerce. Likewise, with careful eye on ways in which being “medieval” can serve as a condemnation, Matthews pays close attention to how the idea of being medieval in the present day has the power to both attract and repel those who see an unevenness of time in our present world.


Irina Dumitrescu, The Experience of Education in Anglo-Saxon Literature (Cambridge University Press 2018)

Rereading the standard texts of the Anglo-Saxon corpus, The Experience of Education in Anglo-Saxon Literature demonstrates the ways in which texts like The Life of St. Mary of Egypt speak to broader medieval interests in learning, and drives toward a grasp of Anglo-Saxon beliefs about the purposes of teaching. Chapters on Solomon and Saturn I, Aelfric Bata’s Colloquies, and Andreas follow an approach to Bede’s Ecclesiastical History which suggests that the common focus on Caedmon’s Hymn draws attention away from the John of Beverly miracle: a story at the crossroads between miraculous Latin learning and English poetry in a mode of vernacular liberation. Treating urges and passions as sparks that give the learning process a necessary heat, even as they threaten to scorch it beyond utility, The Experience of Education in Anglo-Saxon Literature sketches a subtle and sophisticated approach to human emotion and cognition in the literature of Anglo-Saxon England.


Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (The New Press, 2016)

Tracing the open rhetoric and the social silences that reveal the shape of a community’s political imagination, Strangers in Their Own Land recounts the intellectual, political, and economic history that lies behind the great paradox of our current political crisis, and profiles figures who may offer us a way out of the bind. In exploring the ways in which the Tea Party deep story manifests a resentment against government work to curb irresponsible private power and provide public support for disadvantaged Americans, Strangers in Their Own Land chronicles Dr. Hochschild’s attempts to climb the “empathy walls” that surround and isolate communities sharply defined by ideological allegiance and disavowed histories of misused power. For this interview, I asked Dr. Hochschild to speak to the process of writing a book for multiple audiences in a partisan climate.


Liam Cole Young, List Cultures: Knowledge and Poetics from Mesopotamia to Buzzfeed (Amsterdam University Press, 2017)

List Cultures restores formal analysis to a critical discourse divided between analyses of institutions, contexts, and particular historical uses of texts. Beginning with a rereading of the earliest writing (inventories and transaction records), List Cultures explores the pop charts and the innerworkings of Buzzfeed, giving readers a chance to see how lists draw borders, create hierarchies, and provide points of reference in the world of tastemaking and fandom, and speed the spread of viral media through databases and traced signatures. As an extension and counterpoint, the exploration of lists in the administrative states of Renaissance Italy and Nazi Germany provide careful reflections on how lists have been used to establish facts, determine personhood, police subjects, and build structures of knowledge that expose bodies to violence. Young extends the work of Foucault, Latour, Poovey, Borges, Benjamin, Ong, Innis and many others, demonstrating that listing is a cultural technique that constitutes concepts and categories on which technical systems and social institutions are built.

518f0rhhb5l-_sl160_John Rieder, Science Fiction and the Mass Cultural Genre System (Wesleyan University Press, 2017)

A brilliant sketch of science fiction history that shows the genre to be “a product of multiple communities of practice whose motives and resources may have little resemblance to one another” (11), but whose work we would all identify, somehow, as science fiction. Drawing on the fruit of both his forays in genre theory and their thorough exploration in well-designed case studies, Rieder makes the case for understanding science fiction as a social convention familiar to authors, editors, booksellers, and readers, but often the worse for its encounters with the jagged edges of traditional genre systems. Discussing the development of the idea of science fiction over its lifetime, Rieder’s book includes a careful reception study of Shelley’s Frankenstein, draws insights from the work and experiences of Philip K. Dick, shows the way science fiction was put to use for women fans and writers making gains for feminism in the 1970s, and explores more recent examples of Afrofuturism and indigenous futurism in North America.

51-wk60np9l-_sl160_Jeremy C. Young, The Age of Charisma: Leaders, Followers, and Emotions in American Society 1870-1940 (Cambridge University Press, 2017)

A fascinating history of a period when followers came to believe in their right to an emotional connection to their leaders. Using a wealth of archival work, synthesizing decades of newspaper reporting, early photography, and historical writing, and delving into collections of follower testimonies in journals, letters, and more, Young explores both the perspectives of leaders who harnessed the power of charisma for their cause, and the experience of following charismatic American leaders. Young’s research overturns our expectations about how leaders and followers saw themselves, their relationships, and their place in an unstable political, economic, and religious landscape. All told, The Age of Charisma provides a rich and detailed picture of the effects of charismatic leadership, and of the people who followed them, on the present and future shape of American society.

41eziwinytl-_sl160_Molly Worthen, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press, 2014)

Worthen describes the early history of institutions like the magazine Christianity Today, the Evangelical Theological Society, Fuller Theological Seminary and many other academic and cultural meeting grounds for white American protestants who wanted to rehabilitate the intellectual reputation of their traditions and win souls, and the culture, for Christ. With rare attention to the ways in which the central ideas behind evangelicalism shifted as they were adopted by leaders across protestant faiths, Worthen creates a remarkably clear and nuanced view of the variety of white evangelicalisms. Closing with internal critiques from scholars like Mark Noll on the ways in which history, tradition, and authority are employed in intradenominational politicking and ongoing efforts to expand the borders of evangelicalism through church growth and culture war, Apostles of Reason presents a marvelously deft and cogent intellectual history of a powerful and dynamic force in American life through the twentieth century and to the present.

312z03cpdcl-_sl160_David Rosen and Aaron Santesso, The Watchman in Pieces: Surveillance, Literature, and Liberal Personhood (Yale University Press, 2013)

Through a sweeping and insightful history of human interiority, from Locke’s Essay on Toleration through Bentham’s panopticon, Wordsworth’s Prelude, and Orwell’s oeuvre to Enemy of the State and other films from our own era, Rosen and Santesso demonstrate that the “hermeneutic problems of surveillance are also literary problems” (13). Engaging thinkers who have attempted to grapple with the power of narrative to shape our lives–More, Swift, Bentham, Mill, Weber, Adorno, Habermas, Foucault, Baudrillard, and others–Rosen and Santesso essentially set out to rethink modernity, exploring “the effects that fiction has on reality” (9). The argument traces the development of surnames, the history of the post office and the surveillance of mail, the relationship between class and policing (and the detective novel), and the split between progressivism and paranoia in twentieth century narratives, finally offering us a new way of understanding how and why we watch and read our neighbors.

51l9kezra0l-_sl160_ Scott Selisker, Human Programming: Brainwashing, Automatons, and American Unfreedom (University of Minnesota Press, 2016)

Scott Selisker offers readers a fascinating new history of American anxieties along the borderland between the machine and the human mind. Demonstrating the way that a variety of fields influence and coproduce one another, Human Programming follows the metaphor of the automaton through news media, fiction, psychology, cybernetics, film, law and back again. Beginning with a prehistory in WWII propaganda, this timely study “offers a new literary and cultural context for understanding the human automaton figure” as it has appeared and reappeared over the half century, and explores how the metaphor of the automaton has “shaped American conversations about the self and other, the free and unfree, and democracy and its enemies, since World War II” (7, 8).


Gail Ashton ed., Medieval Afterlives in Contemporary Culture (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015)

This volume collects the work of 29 scholars studying the ongoing power and pleasure to be found in the ways that we resuscitate and remix remnants of the medieval world. It’s a wide-ranging introduction to the study of contemporary medievalisms that engages questions of authority in interpretation, authenticity in translation and adaptation, and the accessibility of the past that inhere in the many ways that we engage the middle ages in the twenty-first century. Through Medieval Afterlives in Contemporary Culture, Gail Ashton and the scholars that have contributed to this collection invite readers, writers, researchers, and educators to look at our shared life today through the various ways that we play and replay a medieval past.

412b0f8tvgal-_sl160_ Andrew Cole, The Birth of Theory (University of Chicago Press, 2014)

Andrew Cole challenges readers with insights won from strenuous contests with the writing of history, philosophy, religion, literature, and political economy. As he makes the case for rereading Hegelian dialectics based on the essentially feudal social and economic organization of Germany in Hegel’s moment, Cole drives at the arbitrary distinctions between medieval and modern but also those between dialectical and anti-dialectical thinking, writing a long arc of intellectual history that renegotiates theory’s relationship to Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, Deleuze and many others in between (xviii).

k10567Richard Bourke, Empire and Revolution: The Political Life of Edmund Burke (Princeton University Press, 2015)

This beautifully written book uses Burke as a window into the eighteenth-century articulations of British imperial power, exploring the way that Burke approached relations between Britain, Ireland, America, India, and France. Beginning with Burke’s boyhood in Ireland, and closing with the challenge of grappling with Burke’s ongoing legacy, Empire & Revolution displays Professor Bourke’s long study, attention to detail, and gift for trenchant observation. Our conversation ranged over subjects as familiar today as they were in the 1700s, including Burke’s understanding of representative politics as a means of resolving conflicts present in the public at large, struggles between state and corporate power, and the warrant for popular revolution.

514refzcwxl-_sl160_Carlo Rotella and Michael Ezra, The Bittersweet Science: Fifteen Writers in the Gym, in the Corner, and at Ringside (University of Chicago Press, 2017)

Bringing together essays by fighters, managers, and keen observers of boxing’s past and present, this collection restores the qualitative weight of what appear to be quantitative measures – like a fighter’s win-loss record – peeling back the layers of history and culture and life experience in events and careers in the fight industry. While they engage the legacy of boxing’s all-time greats, the writers here also plumb the networks of amateur and Olympic fighters, trainers, managers, and administrators who make up the vast majority of those in the fight world. Often correcting for the force of the “invisible numbers” behind the record book page, this book’s perspectives from around the fight world, and across more than 100 years of history, reveal the ways in which national culture, race, gender, and social status open and close opportunities for a professional fighter, and influence current and future earning potential.

51f1hqkzzil-_sl160_Larrie D. Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It (Knopf, 2016)

A revision of the national myth that the American colonies rose up and threw off imperial control solely by the strength of their convictions, this globalist return to the 1760s and 70s weaves together military, economic, diplomatic, and social history with fascinating stories of the European soldiers, sailors, merchants, and ministers who collaborated to give the north American colonies a fighting chance. In Brothers at Arms, and in this interview, Dr. Ferreiro advances the argument that for the governments of France and Spain, defeating the British in the American colonies was as much about achieving their own interests in the sphere of European power as it was about heeding the call to advance the ideals of liberty and justice across the Atlantic, and that the relationships that developed between France, Spain, and the new United States did more to shape American institutions and ways of life that we often acknowledge.

Medieval RobotsE.R. Truitt, Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015)

Medieval Robots is a fascinating investigation of role of automata in the culture of the medieval Latin west. Our conversation ranged over C-3PO’s medieval forebears in the alabaster chamber, the religious rehabilitation of disembodied talking heads, the role of clocks and clockwork in the discourse shift from natural philosophy to mechanical engineering, and the political significance of lewd mechanical monkeys covered in rotting badger pelts. Like I said, great stories, great scholarship, a really excellent book.


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