Monday, October 04, 2010

What I've been reading: A promissory note

Once grant/fellowship/job application/recommendation season is over, I owe posts on three excellent books, one each from political theory, political philosophy, and political science:

Bryan Garsten, Saving Persuasion: A Defense of Rhetoric and Judgment
Avery Kolers, Land, Conflict, and Justice: A Political Theory of Territory
James Scott: The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia

Garsten's and Kolers' books are immediate additions to my list for graduate students: "You want to aspire to write a dissertation that could, after a few years of post-PhD work, turn into something like that." In addition to their many substantive merits, they're each in very different ways exemplary in size and scope. They show how much can be accomplished with a well-defined project. They're each big and ambitious projects, going after fundamental questions in novel ways; and they each articulate and defend a sufficiently clear and interesting position that they can make real progress on those big questions within a few hundred pages.

Scott's book is of a different order of magnitude. It will take further reflection to feel confident of this, but I think it's the most important political science book of the 2000s of which I'm aware. I think political theorists aren't rushing to it the way we did to his earlier Seeing Like A State, but I recommend it to all those who appreciated that book-- or, for that matter, to those who appreciated Rousseau's Second Discourse, or Smith's Lectures on Jurisprudence, or Ferguson's Civil Society.

There are others to whom I'll be recommending it in a more antagonistic spirit-- not, "here, you'll appreciate this!" but rather, "here, you really need to read and understand this because it will correct your errors!" But that will have to wait for the real post.