Thursday, July 30, 2009

Peter M. Shane

Peter M. Shane is the Jacob E. Davis and Jacob E. Davis II Chair in Law and Director of the Project on Law and Democratic Development at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, and Executive Director of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.

His new book is Madison's Nightmare: How Executive Power Threatens American Democracy.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Despite my best efforts at pursuing an organized reading program, my routine is pretty haphazard. Unfortunately (for me), the two areas in which I do most of my research, teaching and writing, are areas in which the volume of potentially interesting literature seems to explode on a daily basis. These are (a) the state of the U.S. presidency (and law as it applies to the President), and (b) the intersection of law, communication, and democratic development.

In the former category, I am currently looking at Scott Matheson's Presidential Constitutionalism in Perilous Times, Hal Bruff's Bad Advice, and Dana Nelson's Bad for Democracy: How the Presidency Undermines the Power of the People. I came across each of these after I published my own book, Madison's Nightmare. I am hoping the Matheson book will help me take a longer historical view of developments in presidential power I identified as becoming especially troubling between 1981 and 2009. The Bruff book is a really thorough analysis of what went wrong in the Justice Department's handling of national security-related legal questions after September 11. The Nelson volume is prodding me to consider whether my own critique of presidentialism goes deep enough. Even if Presidents remain squarely within the purview of their well-founded legal authorities, Americans might still be too preoccupied with the presidency as an instrument of democratic change; at least, that's the argument Dana is urging.

On the communication front, I find myself dipping into a lot of books in the hope of better understanding the convulsive media environment in which we now live. In terms of getting a sound overview of the political impacts of digital media, I learned a lot from Andy Chadwick's Internet Politics; it's a textbook, but still a very accessible read. Bruce Bimber's Information and American Democracy: Technology in the Evolution of Political Power offers an excellent historical framework. I've just started Holding On to Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium by Albert Borgmann, which I hope will help me sort out a more philosophical direction on where we are headed.

In terms of books I am likeliest to sit down with for long periods and read cover to cover, my primary loyalties remain with Victorian novelists and their modern-day imitators. I'm on a bit of a Wilkie Collins run, having just finish Armadale -- a marvel of plotting. I am nearly finished with Eliot's The Mill on the Floss. I love fiction that envelops me in a world somewhat removed from my own, especially if it combines an artful narrative with social critique and cultural exploration.
Read an excerpt from Madison's Nightmare, and learn more about the book at the University of Chicago Press website.

Visit Peter M. Shane's website.

--Marshal Zeringue