Judging Philosophy Books By Their Covers


Don’t judge a book by its cover. Do, however, judge the cover.

[assorted philosophy book covers from bookworship]

Relatedly, but not the main point: don’t judge the author by the cover of their books, as book design is often not up to the author; do judge the publisher. (Sorry/you’re welcome publisher friends.)

Philosophers are people, too, and beauty and design are among the many things we should care about, particularly in regard to activities (like work) which take up so much of our time.

Recently, there was a request to open up a space here for people to post philosophy book covers they really like. Maybe the cover captures the ideas or questions of the book in a particularly interesting or creative way, maybe its just a beautiful image or a striking piece of design work, maybe it’s humorous (intentionally or not), maybe you don’t need me to suggest reasons.

We did this 7 years ago, just a few months into DN’s existence (here). The readership of the site is larger now, and comment functionality has improved, so let’s do it again (feel free to repeat your earlier suggestions on this post, if you’d like, but you’re welcome to add new ones, too).

Please honor these few requests:

  • one book cover per comment, and please don’t submit more than three comments on this post in a single day
  • include an image of the cover; to do this, click the little image icon in the bottom right corner of the comment box
  • include the title and author, and if you know it, the publisher and year

You’re of course welcome to explain what you like about the cover.

Posting your own book’s cover is allowed, but that doesn’t stop it from being tacky. Better to do that on your own social media when you share this post. (Was that tacky?)

OK, let’s see ’em!

click to learn more

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Ian
Ian
1 month ago

This has to be the winner, right?Report

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Joel Walmsley
Reply to  Ian
1 month ago

Especially since they evidently took pictures, at the same photo-shoot, for the cover of the non-dog-lovers’ edition:Report

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Last edited 1 month ago by Joel Walmsley
Alejandro Franco
1 month ago

Practical Ethics, Peter Singer.Report

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Spencer Jay Case
Spencer Jay Case
Reply to  Alejandro Franco
1 month ago

I didn’t know that Peter Singer and David Cross were the same person!Report

Siddharth
1 month ago

Mark Wilson’s Physics Avoidance has a wonderful cover that really captures his main argument: that physicists often have to rely on a whole range of strategies to navigate the treacherous task of getting a good handle on the world.Report

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Brandon
1 month ago

It’s a played-out classic, but Leviathan surely has one of the most epic covers/frontispieces in any work of philosophy.Report

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Hilary Kornblith
1 month ago

One of my favoritesReport

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Fritz McDonald
1 month ago

A Van Gogh painting… I always liked MIT Press designs in general. Their logo is really cool too.

The Rediscovery of the Mind, John Searle, The MIT Press 1992Report

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Max DuBoff
1 month ago

On What Matters: Volume Three, Derek Parfit, 2017Report

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James
1 month ago

Helen Steward’s A Metaphysics For Freedom (2012)

The cover expresses the theme of the book beautifully – https://oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199552054.001.0001/acprof-9780199552054Report

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Travis Timmerman
1 month ago

This is one of my recent favorites.Report

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Richard
1 month ago

I still haven’t read Heidegger’s *Being and Time*, but I bought the (2008?) HarpersCollins edition just because I liked the cover.Report

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Paul Taborsky
1 month ago

Dancy’s Epistemology book has a near perfect cover. Simple, but not obvious.Report

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preston
1 month ago

it just works for meReport

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Jen Morton
Jen Morton
Reply to  preston
1 month ago

I read much of this book while on the NYC subway. I got many quizzical looks and plenty of smirks.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  preston
1 month ago

Ah, yes, I remember that cover — it ties in well with the book (Schroeder keeps referring to two characters: one loves dancing, and one hates it).

I know the title is an appropriate reference to Hume, but the combination of the title and the cover image led my thoughts away from anything like that natural interpretation when I was reading it. As soon as I see the book, Bryan Ferry’s song ‘Slave to Love’ starts playing in my head, do as I will to stop it.Report

Michel
Michel
1 month ago

This is one of my favourites. It apparently comes from a poster a student drew up for one of Thi’s talks.Report

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Brian Donohue
1 month ago

Every volume of this particular edition of Copleston’s “History of Philosophy” is just… aggressively uglyReport

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Urstoff
1 month ago

I can’t say I entirely know what it’s going for here, but I like it nonetheless.

C.I. Lewis, Mind and the World Order, Dover 1956 (originally published 1929)Report

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Casey Enos
1 month ago

This always reminded me of a rejected Black Sabbath album cover or something.Report

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Patrick Lin
Reply to  Casey Enos
1 month ago

Nominated as the best comment here!Report

Charles Dyer
1 month ago

The Science of Meaning, 2018, OxfordReport

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Max
Max
1 month ago

Not technically philosophy, but theatre with lots of philosophical ideas. The cover nicely portrays the main play.Report

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Matt
1 month ago

I very much like the cover of Therese Scarpelli Cory’s Aquinas on Human Self Knowledge (Cambridge UP, 2014). The way the character (Mary Magdalene, in the original) is reflecting on herself in virtue of the light from both the candle and its mirrored reflection encapsulates aspects of Aquinas’s general approach to human self knowledge. It’s pretty nifty. Plus, it’s got a cool skull.Report

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Alan Nelson
Alan Nelson
Reply to  Matt
1 month ago

It also spookily rips off the original cover of Nagel’s –Mortal Questions.Report

Umayr
1 month ago

Nietzsche’s soul reflecting through his musical composition and pockmarked by his frenemies and nemeses, including himself.Report

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Kneeburr
1 month ago

A good one with only text. Mainly because of the background color choice.Report

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Kneeburr
1 month ago

I like the juxtaposition of barb wire and the crown of thorns.Report

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Kneeburr
1 month ago

There’s hope for climate change (at least when this came out – who knows about now)Report

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Kneeburr
1 month ago

Along with being an economist, Smith was a moral philosopher. Something often overlooked. And he’s hip.Report

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Paul Taborsky
1 month ago

Transforming Conciousness: Yogacara Thought in Modern China (Oxford, 2014).Report

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Cynthia Freeland
1 month ago

Cambridge Companion to Aristotle’s Biology, ed. Sophia Connell
Cambridge, 2021
Beautiful, dramatic, nicely historical (if not quite classical Athens)Report

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Jonathan Paul van Belle
1 month ago

“Well-Being & Death” (2009) by Ben BradleyReport

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Eamon
Eamon
Reply to  Jonathan Paul van Belle
1 month ago

Terrifically badReport

Nicolas Delon
1 month ago

Sarah Moss, Probabilistic Knowledge, OUP, 2018Report

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Patrick Lin
1 month ago

This isn’t about the book’s cover but its spine. Since the spine is usually the only thing you’d see in a bookstore shelf, I don’t know why more folks don’t try to maximize the use of that space. For B-Russell’s book here, the spine is basically an abstract!

Of course, these days, most books are bought online, so the spine matters a lot less… 🙁Report

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Neil Levy
1 month ago

Far be it from me to be be tacky, so I won’t post the cover of my new book. As I worked with the publisher to choose it, however, it occurred to me that I was going to a lot of trouble over something few people would see – not just because few people will read the book, but also because few of those who do read it will notice the cover. Increasingly, we read electronic copies of books. We would notice the cover of physical books, because they’d lie around shut when we’re not reading them. But I have little idea of the covers of the books I’ve read over the past few years So maybe this post is a glance back into philosophy’s past.Report

Travis Timmerman
1 month ago

I really like the cover art for this entire series.Report

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Nico
1 month ago

Slightly off topic, but here’s one of the worst covers on my shelfReport

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Trevor
1 month ago

Always liked this oneReport

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Jake Wojtowicz
1 month ago

This is a very strange (and maybe so bad that it’s good) cover.Report

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Ben B
Ben B
Reply to  Jake Wojtowicz
1 month ago

I’ve never seen that one before–it’s so unlike the other (much more tasteful & conventional, obviously) Williams covers. But it’s great thematically (is the question-mark–Theory–a burden someone forced him to carry, or a weapon?).Report

Thorsten Sander
1 month ago

Jason Stanley: How Propaganda Works, Princeton UP (2015)

What I really like about the design of that cover is that it’s clearly reminiscent of certain (Sowiet?) propaganda posters.Report

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Renata Arruda
1 month ago

Join the discussionReport

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giulia
1 month ago

Anthony Everett, The nonexistent, OUP, 2013Report

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tenure track
1 month ago

Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I think the typical book on my shelf from before 1990 has a way better cover than the typical book since. The typical OUP book now is just a picture slapped on the front in the hope that the reader will see some connection between it and the theme of the book (or at least find it funny).Report

Hilary Kornblith
Reply to  tenure track
1 month ago

I disagree with this completely. The covers of philosophy books of a generation ago were often given little attention. Oxford had those solid black or brown covers with nothing else but the title and author. Cambridge’s important Studies in Philosophy series had a standard format which was little more than a little doddle that couldn’t have taken the designer more than two minutes to produce set against a flat white background. Now, many authors clearly give some thought to the covers of their books, and many of them are quite lovely. Obviously, no one will like all of them–I certainly don’t–but the contrast is striking. Compare the blandness of Stroud’s The Significance of Philosophical Skepticism with the gorgeous cover of his The Quest for Reality. Sosa has a number of Vermeers, and what’s not to like about that? Parfit’s covers are graced with his terrific photographs. I particularly like the one on Reasons and Persons. Nagel obviously puts thought into his covers: Mortal Questions and The View from Nowhere are just great. There are bad choices too, and ones which show an aesthetic sense which only some will find appealing. But I’ll take this any day over the formless covers of the past.Report

Patrick Lin
1 month ago

Maybe more iconic than creative?Report

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Daniel Swaim
Daniel Swaim
Reply to  Patrick Lin
1 month ago

The image reminds me of the animations for Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”Report

Patrick Lin
1 month ago

Any book cover by Raymond Smullyan is pretty good.Report

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Noah
1 month ago

Here’s a recent one I like.Report

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Patrick S. O'Donnell
1 month ago

Ilham Dilman, Freud, Insight and Change (Basil Blackwell, 1988). Not the best photo, but the only one I could find online.Report

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Patrick S. O'Donnell
1 month ago

Jon Elster, Ulysses Unbound: Studies in Rationality, Precommitment, and Constraints (Cambridge University Press, 2000)Report

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Patrick S. O'Donnell
1 month ago

Daniel D. Hutto, Folk Psychological Narratives: The Sociocultural Basis of Understanding Reasons (MIT Press, 2008)Report

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Neil Kalmanson
1 month ago

Cross-Cultural Existentialism – On the Meaning of Life in Asian and Western Thought by Leah Kalmanson; Bloomsbury Academic, 2021. Cover image by her husband, Christopher Chiavetta.Report

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Huseyin Gungor
1 month ago

Stephen Yablo – Aboutness. Never seen a book better summarized by its cover.Report

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Patrick S. O'Donnell
1 month ago

Constantine Sandis, Character and Causation: Humes Philosophy of Action (Routledge, 2020)Report

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Patrick S. O'Donnell
1 month ago

Daniel Perdue, The Course in Buddhist Reasoning and Debate: An Asian Approach to Analytical Thinking Drawn from Indian and Tibetan Sources (Snow Lion, 2014)Report

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Patrick S. O'Donnell
1 month ago

Joerg Tuske, ed. Indian Epistemology and Metaphysics (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017)Report

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Jenny
1 month ago

Thought in Action: Expertise and the Conscious Mind, Barbara Gail Montero, Oxford University Press 2016Report

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Matt LaVine
1 month ago

“Race, Gender, and the History of Early Analytic Philosophy”, Matt LaVine, Lexington Books, 2020

***THIS IS CLEARLY NOT MY FAVORITE, BUT I LIKE IT, AND HAVE WANTED TO EXPLAIN IT GIVEN VARIOUS CONVERSATIONS SINCE IT CAME OUT.***

Even though this book came out just a little over a year ago, I already believe there are LOTS of ways that I fucked up in it.  That said, the cover image is one of the few choices I’m very happy with.  And, one of the mistakes I realize I made was that I should have spent more time in my preface explaining the choice of the cover image.  So, I figured this was as good a space as any to do so.  

To begin with, the cover looks like the image below.

The photo is of graffiti protesting this barrier constructed by the Israeli government in the West Bank as part of their apartheid program against Palestinians.  I chose this photo for a large number of reasons.

(1)  The most obvious political motivation of the book was Black Lives Matter and the larger Movement for Black Lives.  The inspiration that this movement gave, and continues to give, me has been greatly connected to its ability to bring together the need for identity-specific conversations and an unwavering willingness to see connections of different liberation struggles around the world.  In particular, thanks to Angela Davis, I have always seen Black Lives Matter as a global movement trying to bring down global white supremacy and its manifestations in the United States, Israel, South Africa, Canada, and elsewhere (and that these ties are more than just theoretical, social, political, and emotional—e.g. “G4S is directly responsible for the ways Palestinians experienced political incarceration, as well as aspects of the apartheid wall, imprisonment in South Africa, prison-like schools in the United states, and the wall along the US-Mexico border” Davis 2016, p. 5).  I took the cover photo to be an attempt at a visual reminder of all of that.

(2) I think graffiti is an underappreciated form of political protest.  I’ve often thought that one of the best ways to know what’s actually going on in a place is to look at the graffiti in the surrounding area.  Furthermore, wonderful work by scholars and activists like Davis, Linda Martin Alcoff, Tommy Curry, Kristie Dotson, Lewis Gordon, Charles Mills, and many others have shown that the horrifically white supremacist world we live in requires us (especially white folx) to lie to ourselves constantly, to avoid saying certain things, to avoid using certain concepts, etc.  Because of this, I see graffiti as an essential tool for reminding us that those things are lies, for saying the unsayable, for getting us to see the possibility in certain concepts.  If you’re interested, I also developed some of my thoughts on graffiti, racial justice, and the philosophy of language in more detail at the 2021 Pacific APA session awesomely chaired by Dwight Lewis that had amazing contributions from Stephanie Rivera Berruz, Taina Figueroa, and Katie Howard https://apapacific21.secure-platform.com/a/gallery/rounds/8/details/1167 .

(3) Finally, I saw this cover photo as a response to Wittgenstein’s “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent”.  While it has been the least well-received chapter of the book, I try to argue in Chapter 4 that there is a particular approach to society, ethics, and politics wrapped up in Wittgenstein’s sentiment here that has been more influential than realized and contributes to analytic philosophy ignoring the real world around us.  I really want for that to change—so, again, I gave this desire space on the cover.  Pointing this out also gives me the opportunity to point out another one of my mistakes in the book.  I did not emphasize early and often enough that: “I do not want my focusing on the positive potential of early analytic philosophy to be mistaken for praising the institution of analytic philosophy. If anything, this is meant as a significant criticism of the field. The extent to which it has become disengaged, purely academic, and obtuse is disturbing to say the least. My point in focusing on the fact that a promotion of social justice was central to early analytic philosophy was to point out the fact that this change is not only disturbing but it actually misunderstands its own genesis as well. The proper inheritors of the tradition of Russell, Moore, Carnap, Neurath, Stebbing, Austin, and Barcan Marcus are folks like Liam Kofi Bright, Catarina Dutilh Novaes, Sally Haslanger, Quill Kukla, Charles Mills, Audrey Yap, Naomi Zack, and the like.”Report

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ehz
ehz
Reply to  Matt LaVine
1 month ago

The suggestion that the Israeli treatment of Palestinians is a manifestation of white supremacy is amusing for several reasons: (1) in the US, all Middle Easterners are considered white (in many contexts, at least), and that includes both Israelis and Palestinians; (2) many white supremacists do not see Jews as white — in fact, some of them see Jews as a threat to what they consider to be the white race (there are all kinds of conspiracy theories related to this); (3) the white/non-white distinction does not make a whole lot of sense in some contexts, and this seems one of those contexts — a substantial portion of Israeli Jews come from places such as Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, and Ethiopia, and it does not seem correct to classify them as white.Report

Last edited 1 month ago by ehz
chris
chris
Reply to  ehz
1 month ago

Yes, but as you probably know, there is a long history of changes in how people classify – Italians and Irish in the US were also variously considered “non-White” at points in the past; there has also been substantial discrimination in various places and times against those with darker skin than others even if both groups would be classified by most Americans as “Black” etc. So sure “White” is in many ways a social construct, and has taken on different definitions and meanings, but this doesn’t mean that such discriminatory practices can only be carried on in one way across different cultures and times… Is “white supremacy” going to mean the same thing across these different contexts? No. Might it still be useful as a category to explain certain discriminatory behavior? Perhaps so. That’s going to depend on the details, which are of course hard to get into in a blog comment. But there’s a ton of historical, empiricial, and philosophical work on these topics…Report

Matt LaVine
Reply to  ehz
28 days ago

To start, I want to say thank you for engaging, ehz.  Given that I’m going to be pretty critical of some of what you said in your post, I want to make that clear at the outset.  Also, given your response to my initial post, I’m taking you to be someone that appreciates criticism.  So, please read my response in that vein.

(1)  I may be reading too much into this, but I find it concerning that you would find my initial suggestion “amusing”.  I’m completely open to admitting that I might be wrong, but even if I am, amusement seems an inappropriate response.  These are serious and traumatic matters.  If I’m wrong about them, I’d hope for you to have some response which could help improve the situation, my understanding of it, or to alert those who might potentially be open to my views.  It seems to me that to respond with amusement is to treat this as a game and to take a stance of pompousness unhelpful to any of those goals.  Please note that, as concerning as I find your response, I don’t want to single you out here.  This is a really sad part of the way the institution of philosophy teaches us to interact with each other.  I hope we can work on changing that together. 

(2)  As for the content of what you said, it’s important to note that somebody can accept all of what you say and still hold that the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians is a manifestation of white supremacy.  On almost any contemporary account of white supremacy, it is a system of institutions which tend toward amassing power, resources, opportunities, etc. for whites to the detriment of BIPOC folx.  On these accounts, a particular manifestation of white supremacy need not be “overseen” by white individuals or be at the expense of non-white individuals.  It just needs to be non-accidentally integrated into that larger system of advantaging those who get closer to whiteness and harming those closer to Blackness and/or Indigeneity.  Personally, I find Charles Mills’ work on white supremacy to be the most helpful.  Given the recent, very well-deserved award that Professor Mills received for this work and which was highlighted on this site, there is also a dialectical advantage to using his work. So, for instance, Mills says things like:
white supremacy and global white supremacy, in contrast, have the semantic virtues of clearly signaling reference to a system, a particular kind of polity, so structured as to advantage whites.” (Mills 1998, p. 100)
“Race is dynamic rather than static—the relations between races change over time, as do the rules for racial membership.” (Mills 1998, p. 76)        
“although there are local systems with different rules, historically the most important global racial system has been the system of white domination, structured on a white/nonwhite axis.” (Mills 1998, p. 77)
“the changing nature of the system implies that different racial organizations of labor, dominant cultural representations, and evolving legal standings are to be expected.” (Mills 1998, p. 101)
“an objective look at the world reveals that independent Third World nations are part of a global economy dominated by white capital and white international lending institutions, that the planet as a whole is dominated by the cultural products of the white West, that many First World nations have experienced a resurgence of racism, including biologically deterministic ideas once thought to have been definitively discredited with the collapse of Nazi Germany, and that in general the dark-skinned races of the world, particularly blacks and indigenous peoples, continue to be at or near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder in both metropolitan and Third World polities.” (Mills 1998, p. 102)

(3)  Given this understanding of white supremacy, it’s also important to note that the term ‘white supremacist’ applies to many more people than the traditionally-noted members of the KKK, Nazis, etc.  So, yes, members of these groups may not see Jewish people as part of the white race (and we should be VERY concerned about the antisemitism of the members of these groups).  I take the vast majority of people in the Western world to be white supremacists, though (in so far as they are proponents and advocates of the institutions which constitute the white supremacist system).  And, the majority of people in the Western world do take Jewish people to be a part of the white race (certainly over the last half century at least).  

(4)  Just as the dynamic nature of white supremacy can be seen with the changing racial status of Jewish people, I believe it can be seen with the changing racial status of people from the Middle East more generally.  Since at least September 11th, 2001, it seems to me that there has been an imposition of a hardening of a non-white racial identity for Arabs/Muslims/Middle Easterners in the West.  Please note that I am not identifying Arabs with Muslims with Middle Easterners.  This is what the horrific system of white supremacy is trying to do, though.  It can be seen through the War on Terror, Muslim bans, economic/structural ties between Israeli apartheid against Palestinians and the American prison-industrial complex, etc.    Report

ehz
ehz
Reply to  Matt LaVine
27 days ago

The idea that Israelis and Palestinians can be meaningfully located on a scale from White to Black/Indigenous is absurd, and one that smacks of American parochialism. Why Black? Why Indigenous? Obviously, because those are groups that have been oppressed by white Americans and Western Europeans. But what does that have to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? (Suggesting that it’s a manifestation of the same phenomenon would be begging the question at this point.) To a Middle-Easterner the idea of placing Israelis and Palestinians on a scale from White to Black/Indigenous makes just as much sense as the idea of placing Americans of all races on a scale from Jew to Arab.Report

Last edited 27 days ago by ehz
Matt LaVine
Reply to  ehz
27 days ago

Hello again, ehz,

            There’s a certain sense in which we agree on the absurdity of parochialism from the United States and the West.  It seems where we disagree is over where that parochialism is coming from.  You seem to say it’s coming from me.  From my side, what I’m trying to do is to admit that that parochialism exists, that it has been imposed on the rest of the world, and that it has connections to Israeli apartheid against Palestinian people.  To be completely transparent, I have a hard time seeing how somebody engaging in good faith could deny those things.  The West colonized almost all of the world in obviously racist ways, the US is the height of that hegemony today (and since WWII), and the settler colonialism of the Israeli government is only possible with international support (especially of that hegemon).  Given these things and rampant denial of them, the only way forward seems to me to go through that absurd parochialism, rather than around it.   

            My best,
MattReport

kitty
1 month ago

Raymond Geuss
Reality and its Dreams
2016

I like it because of the spooky skeleton with a crown.Report

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Jeremy
1 month ago

Re-Engineering Humanity by Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger (Cambridge, 2018)

Great book and great cover!Report

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Hans Maes
1 month ago

Simple. Subtle. And so powerful.Report

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Justine Kingsbury
1 month ago

There is a later edition of this that has a completely irrelevant cover, but I think this one is good.Report

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Smith&Jones
1 month ago

Caspar Hare, ‘On Myself, and Other, Less Important Subjects’

One of the greatest titles of all time. Cover is also nice. The book begins with a description of one of the Sun King’s lavish and self-important daily rituals.Report

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Walter Horn
1 month ago

I kinda like this one.Report

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A. Paul O'gee
1 month ago

Sorensen all the way:Report

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R. J.
1 month ago

Hopefully, not too tacky?!Report

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Steven DeLay
29 days ago

Fans of Kandinsky are sure to like the cover of Michel Henry’s little phenomenological book on Kandinsky. A great title, too. And the book itself is very good, I might add.Report

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