Risk -- Negotiating Safety in American Society by Arwen P. Mohun, Johns Hopkins UPress '13, $55, 329 pages, ASIN #1421407906. Index, note on sources, notes, b&w images sprinkled through text.
In her new book, historian Arwen P. Mohun offers a thought-provoking study of danger and how people have managed it in America from preindustrial and industrial times up until today..
A brief excerpt from the Introduction:
"Physical risk is a perpetual part of the human condition. But the kinds of risks most people face in their everyday lives, how they distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable risks, and their options for limiting risk have undergone an extraordinary transformation over the past three centuries. The character of modern technology conditions how Americans experience risk
"In the 21st century, most accidents and fatalities among young people result from encounters with machines and the built environment...rather than from the natural processes that most often injured and killed our ancestors. New ways of knowing about risk and new kinds of expertise play equally important roles in determining how risk is assessed and managed. We are bombarded by accident statistics, probability assessments, and advice from experts -- all of which barely existed a hundred years ago. Vernacular risk cultures still shape the way we address everyday risks, but they no longer represent the unquestioned norm....(Today) Questions about what constitutes an acceptable level of risk and who should bear the costs of accidents are routinely handled through regulation and litigation rather than face-to-face informal negotiation.
"....(So) What risks are worth taking? Who gets to decide? How can risk be controlled? Who or what should be responsible when things go wrong? This is a book about the many ways Americans have answered these questions."
Arwen P. Mohun is a professor of history at the University of Delaware. He has written a book about the evolution of steam laundries in America and Great Britain and is co-editor of a book on gender and technology.
The Betrayal of the American Dream by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, PublicAffairs '12, $26.99, 289 pages, ASIN #1586489690. Index, note on sources, appendix, unillustrated.
Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, a journalistic team who have worked together for 40 years, winning two Pulitzer Prizes and two National Magazine Awards along the way, now turn themselves to a subject which makes tens of millions of Americans wince: "The story of how the American middle class has been systematically impoverished and its prospects thwarted in favor of a new ruling elite...."
"At a time when the federal government should be supporting its citizens by providing them with the tools to survive in a global economy," the authors argue, "the government has abandoned them. It is exactly what the ruling class want. The last thing they want is an activist government -- a government that behaves, let's say, the way China's does. Their attitude is 'let the market sort it out.'... Now that same ruling class and its cheerleaders in Congress are pushing mightily for a balanced budget at any cost. If it happens, it will be secured mostly by taking more out of the pockets of working people, driving yet another nail into the middle-class coffin."
"What is happening to America's middle-class is not inevitable," Steele and Barlett write. "It's the direct result of government policy, and it can be changed by government action. Look no further than at what the governments of our trading partners do to protect their people and advance the interests of their country. We could do the same. But the United States has taken a totally different route."
Battleborn -- Stories by Claire Vaye Watkins, Riverhead '12, $25.95, 288 pages, ASIN #1594488258.
Battleborn is "the short story collection to read this summer," write New York Magazine and The Wall Street Journal" about the debut fiction collection published by Claire Vaye Watkins, as she "takes on the mythology of the American West and fearlessly reimagines it."
From the dust jacket:
"The arrival of a foreigner transforms the exchange of eroticism and emotion at a sex ranch. A prospecting hermit discovers the limits of his rugged individualism when he tries to rescue a teenager left for dead in the desert. Decades after she coaxed her best friend into a degrading encounter in a Vegas hotel room, a woman feels the aftershock. Most bravely of all, Watkins revisits -- and reinvents -- her own troubled legacy, in a story that emerges from the mayhem and destruction of Helter Skelter.
"In settings that rove from Gold Rush to ghost town to desert to brothel, and in a voice that arcs effortlessly from the gritty and human to the sweeping and sublime, these characters orbit the region's vast spaces, winning redemption despite -- and often because of -- the loss and violence they endure."
Claire Vaye Watkins, an assistant professor of creative writing at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, was born in Death Valley and raised in the Nevada desert, which have furnished grist for her literary mill.