Monday, December 24, 2012

Dan Lainer-Vos

Dan Lainer-Vos is the Ruth Ziegler Early Career Chair in Jewish Studies and Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Southern California.

His new book is Sinews of the Nation: Constructing Irish and Zionist Bonds in the United States.

Recently I asked Lainer-Vos about what he was reading.  His reply:
A good friend, nonacademic, gave me a copy of Yuval Noah Harari’s From Animals into Gods: A Brief History of Humankind describing it as one of the best books he ever read. Being I guess a bit of an academic snob, I thought “what can be so good about a book that purports to tell the history of mankind.” But when another friend also recommended it, I decided to give the book a try and it was well worth it. The book is not quite what it sounds like. Harari is not really trying to tell a history of humanity but instead focuses on selected issues in the history of mankind—the agricultural revolution, religion, gender inequality, nationalism, etc. The book makes an exceptionally easy read without “dumbing it down.” Harari is not afraid to make bold statements but, a few lines later, he will admit for not knowing the answer to a particular question. This balance between audaciousness and caution helps him build much needed credibility for a book of this kind. A key theme of the book is the tension between evolutionary success and individual suffering. Over the course of history, humans moved from being a relatively unimportant part of the animal kingdom into the master of the planet—a species that alters the ecosystem like no other and has brought thousands of species to extinction. This evolutionary success, however, did not mean and increase in human happiness. Harari is obviously not the first to say that history is not a matter of progression, but his analysis of this tension is dynamic, fresh, and truly insightful.
Learn more about Sinews of the Nation at the John Wiley & Sons website.

--Marshal Zeringue