Saturday, May 26, 2007

Andrew Rehfeld

Andrew Rehfeld is an assistant professor in the department of political science and a fellow in the Center for Political Economy at Washington University in St. Louis. He joined the faculty in 2001 after receiving an M.P.P. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago. His primary research is in the theory and practice of political representation, with other interests in the use of the Hebrew Bible in the history of political thought, and the relationship between political theory and the social sciences.

His first book, to which he applied the "page 69 test" a few months ago, is The Concept of Constituency: Political Representation, Democratic Legitimacy, and Institutional Design.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I’m currently reading two books. The first Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore. This is James T. Patterson’s second volume for the Oxford History of the United States. I enjoy reading history, and Patterson is a particularly good writer. Though there is something very un-nerving about reading a volume of history (not political journalism) of a period in which I have been alive. Even worse, I’m old enough to remember most of the events covered in it!

More seriously, though, it bugs me that Oxford pushed ahead to include this period in its series on American History. I think that when a written history of recent times is offered it must suffer either from superficiality or incompleteness (I suppose these are versions of the same problem). It is incomplete insofar as there are still classified documents (let alone people not yet willing to talk) and so much to be unearthed that cannot possible be included since it is not yet known. And that leads to a certain superficiality — I’m at page 70 (roughly 1/6th of the way through) and it does not yet feel like much more than reading a masterly summary of current events from this period. This is really not meant as a deep criticism — Patterson has done a masterful job and his emphasis on the rights explosion of the early 70’s seems to me a very good editorial move on his part. But it is simply the nature of trying to write about things from so close a vantage point that it will be incomplete. It also comes with Oxford’s attempt (as Penguin and others have offered) to offer great swaths of history in a few hundred pages; this necessitates a certain superficial approach. But thanks to Patterson’s concern to present a holistic view of economics, politics and society it is blessedly more interesting than the Middlekauf’s The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (the first volume released in the series) that was mired in “first this battle happened, then that one….” Ugh!

I’m also reading Shane, by Jack Schaefer. Okay, truth be told I’m reading it to my 11 year old son. The book was made into a memorial western with Alan Ladd in the early 1950’s. I haven’t read it (or seen the movie) and I’m only 4 chapters in. But so far there’s a lot of manly western action with a lot of mystery (who is that man; what’s Shane running from?), and brute force, it is keeping both of our attention with plot and character development. So that’s been a lot of fun.
Learn more about Andrew Rehfeld's research program at his university webpage.

The Page 69 Test: The Concept of Constituency: Political Representation, Democratic Legitimacy, and Institutional Design.

--Marshal Zeringue