Thursday, August 21, 2014

Stephen Eric Bronner

Stephen Eric Bronner is a noted political theorist and Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Comparative Literature, and German Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. He is also Director of Global Relations for its Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights and on the Executive Committee of UNESCO Chair for Genocide Prevention. His books include Modernism at the Barricades: Aesthetics, Politics, Utopia and the newly released The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists.

Recently I asked Bronner about what he was reading. His reply:
Writers Read caught me at the right time. Although most won’t admit it, writers do not read much while they are writing and, if they do, it is usually related to the project in which they are engaged. Following the publication of The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists (Yale University Press) and the new 2nd edition of Moments of Decision: Political History and the Crises of Radicalism (Bloomsbury) I now have some time. And it’s been put to good use.

I have always liked to read a few books simultaneously and that is the case now. The best is a magisterial interdisciplinary work in German with the title Terror and Dream: Moscow 1937 by Karl Schlögel. It recreates the cultural social and political circumstances in which Stalin’s greatest purge took place. In this 900 page work, the author provides a constellation of intersecting facts, stories, and social scientific studies that range from an investigation of the Moscow phone book to an interpretation of Mikhal Bulgakov’s classic The Master and Margarita to a portrayal of the geographic shifts to a host of other pregnant depictions in demonstrating the modernizing process in action and the communist attempts to intensify it whatever the costs. This is one of the great books that I have read in the last twenty-five years and it has provided me with numerous insights that I might just be able to employ down the road in what I hope will become a work on genocide.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which won the prestigious Booker Prize, is a novel set in the 16th century that focuses on Thomas Cromwell and the strategies employed by rival interests concerning the matrimonial woes of Henry VIII. I’m reading it now. Elegantly written, it captures the spirit of the time, and it offers provocative and unsentimental descriptions of figures like Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey. Interesting is the way in which the real issues like the spreading influence of Protestantism, the decadence of the Catholic Church, the burgeoning liberalism and the looming civil wars seem to creep in through the back door without much comment. It's almost self-consciously serious tone is in marked contrast to the bubbly style of Janet Evanovich whose Stephanie Plum crime novels take place in the Chambersburg section of Trenton where my wife, Anne Burns, grew up. She has now written over 20 of them—I am currently on number 4 – and they make great plane reading material.

So that is where I am at the moment: each of these books provides me with a break from the political reports and documents that take up another part of my life – much less provocative, much less elegant, and much less fun.
Learn more about The Bigot at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Modernism at the Barricades.

The Page 99 Test: The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists.

--Marshal Zeringue