In the monthly "Ethical Inquiry" series, we examine ethical questions, highlighting a broad array of opinion from journalism, academia, and advocacy organizations. Our intent is to illuminate and explore the complexity of some of the most vexing ethical questions of our time.

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Ethical Inquiry: December 2011

Recommended Books From the Year

For the December installment of "Ethical Inquiry" we are taking the opportunity to recommend some books published in the last year on topics related to the work of the Ethics Center and by people affiliated with the Center, as well as a few selections not as closely tied to our work that have impressed members of our staff. (See our recommendations from 2010 here, and our 2009 recommendations here.) The following are selections from works published in 2011:

from the Center

Acting Together volumes I and II

Acting Together: Performance and the Creative Transformation of Conflict, Volumes I and II edited by Cynthia E. Cohen, Roberto Gutiérrez Varea, and Polly O. Walker

Edited by Cynthia E. Cohen, director of the Center’s Program in Peacebuilding and the Arts; Roberto Gutiérrez Varea, Associate Professor of Performing Arts and Social Justice at the University of San Francisco; and Polly O. Walker, a postdoctoral research fellow with the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland, this two-volume work describes peacebuilding performances in regions beset by violence and internal conflicts. Volume I emphasizes the role theater and ritual play in both the midst and in the aftermath of direct violence. Volume II focuses on the transformative power of performance in regions fractured by "subtler" forms of structural violence and social exclusion, and offers resources, tools, and recommendations to help educators, artists, students, policymakers, and funders alike to become involved with, and contribute to, the emerging field of peacebuilding performance. Details and to order.

by Ethics Center Board members

Jerusalem Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World by James Carroll

Carroll tackles the complicated interplay between religion and violence over the whole of human history, using the city of the book’s title as both a literal and a figurative touchstone. The book’s release in March 2011 was the subject of a Center symposium: “Religion and the Quest to Contain Violence.”

What is a Palestinian State Worth?

What Is a Palestinian State Worth? by Sari Nusseibeh

A prominent Palestinian intellectual (and the Center’s first distinguished visitor back in 1997) offers a provocative assessment of the nature of a state, arguing that people should think less about the trappings and symbols of sovereignty, and more about fundamental rights and freedoms. Harvard University Press

Hell No!

Hell No! by Michael Ratner and Margaret Ratner Kunstler

In Hell No! Ratner, Brandeis class of 1966 and board chair of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Margaret Ratner Kunstler, an attorney in private practice, offer a report on government attacks on dissent and protest in the United States, along with “a guide for activists, teachers, grandmothers, and anyone else who wants to oppose government policies and actions.” The New Press

Who Killed Che?

Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder by Michael Ratner and Michael Steven Smith

Who Killed Che? recounts the life and deliberate killing of Ernesto Che Guevara. Ratner and Smith survey the trajectory of Che’s career, “from an early politicization recounted in the Motorcycle Diaries, through meetings with his compañero Fidel Castro in Mexico, his vital role in the Cuban revolution, and his expeditions abroad to Africa and Latin America,” with a focus on his final days in Bolivia. OR Books

Journeys to War and Peace

Journeys to War and Peace: A Congressional Memoir by Stephen J. Solarz

Solarz, Brandeis class of 1962 and founding board member of the Center, dedicated his 18-year career as a Congressman to foreign policy, and particularly to efforts to help countries like the Philippines make the transition from totalitarianism to democracy. This spirited account was, sadly, published several months after Solarz’s death in late 2010. Brandeis University Press

by Center "alums"

This is Our Story

This is Our Story by Wendi Adelson

This novel follows the lives of two young women from different countries who become victims of human trafficking when unwittingly duped into domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation in the American Southeast. In a highly readable, gripping way, Wendi Adelson gives life to the stories of suffering and triumph in the lives of individual immigrants. You've read the statistics; now read the novel to see why these vulnerable human beings deserve our finest efforts. Adelson, a member of the Brandeis class of 2001, is a 1999 Ethics Center Student Fellowship (now Sorensen Fellowship) alum. She is an attorney with the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University and teaches at the FSU College of Law. Available as an e-book at Also available in paperback.

by members of the Center's extended justice community

The Making of International Criminal Justice

The Making of International Criminal Justice by Theodor Meron

Meron, judge and former President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), has published a collection of the most important speeches from his first decade on the ICTY bench. Meron participated in the Brandeis Institute for International Judges in 2006, 2010 & 2012. The speeches in The Making of International Criminal Justice (Oxford University Press) offer the reader Meron’s personal insights on the development of international law as well as an insider’s perspective on the role of judges in the enforcement of international law. Oxford University Press

other recent works about justice

Humanity's Law

Humanity’s Law by Ruti G. Teitel

New York Law School professor Ruti G. Teitel offers a powerful account of one of the central transformations of the post-Cold War era: the profound normative shift in the international legal order from prioritizing state security to protecting human security. As she demonstrates, courts, tribunals, and other international bodies now rely on a humanity-based framework to assess the rights and wrongs of conflict; to determine whether and how to intervene; and to impose accountability and responsibility. Oxford University Press

by members of the Center's extended peacebuilding and the arts community

Say Word!

Say Word! Voices from Hip Hop Theater by Daniel Banks

A collection of eight works by contemporary artists who confront today's compelling issues, ranging from racial profiling and police brutality to women's empowerment and from the commercial exploitation of Hip Hop to identity politics. Editor Daniel Banks, a contributor to the Center’s Acting Together project, has augmented the assembled work with an extensive introduction and other informative commentary. The book also includes a roundtable conversation that traces the roots of Hip Hop Theater and imagines its future directions. [from] University of Michigan Press

Dog and Wolf & Killing the Boss

Dog and Wolf & Killing the Boss by Catherine Filloux

Two plays by award-winning playwright Catherine Filloux focus on societies torn by war, and how individuals try to live with the trauma in aftermath and/or fight tyrannical power however they can. Filloux is a contributor to the Center’s Acting Together project. This collection from No Passport Press, features an introduction by Cynthia E. Cohen, director of the Center’s Program in Peacebuilding and the Arts. More info and to order.

other recent works about peacebuilding and the arts

American Tensions

American Tensions: Literature of Identity and the Search for Social Justice edited by William Reichard

This anthology of contemporary American poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction, including contributions from Sherman J. Alexie, Dorothy Allison, Louise Erdrich, Tony Hoagland, Javier O. Huerta, Yusef Komunyakaa, Bill McKibben, Adrienne Rich, and many others, explores issues of identity, oppression, injustice, and social change. New Village Press

Awakening Creativity: Dandelion School Blossoms

Awakening Creativity: Dandelion School Blossoms by Lily Yeh

Awakening Creativity shows in gloriously illustrated detail how Lily Yeh guides a participatory process of artistic expression that uplifts a distressed community. Her open, joyful approach to artmaking is a model for building healthy cultural esteem. New Village Press

by Brandeis faculty

Reimagining Equality

Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home by Anita Hill

Anita Hill’s most recent book is a meditation on the meaning of home in American life, and how people’s relationships to home are shaped by race and gender. The book draws on multiple sources, including interviews with women caught in the recent mortgage crisis, the author’s own family history, literary texts like A Raisin in the Sun, and the thousands of letters sent to Hill in the wake of her role in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. Beacon, BrandeisNOW


Pox: An American History by Michael Willrich

A Brandeis historian looks at the social and cultural dimensions of smallpox, and especially at the battles over the centuries over immunization, as a window on ideas about the role of government and law in American life. Penguin Books. Also see our Ethical Inquiry on the ethics of parents opting out of immunizing their children.

by Brandeis alums

Freedom Riders

Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Ray Arsenault

Originally published in 2006, this abridged, paperback version was released by Oxford University Press in 2011 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the freedom rides. Written by Brandeis alumnus Ray Arsenault (M.A. ’74, Ph.D. ’81), now John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, Freedom Riders was the subject of an October event cosponsored by the Ethics Center that included a screening of a new film based on the book.

from Brandeis University Press

Citizenship, Faith, and Feminism: Jewish and Muslim Women Reclaim Their Rights

Citizenship, Faith, and Feminism: Jewish and Muslim Women Reclaim Their Rights by Jan Feldman

Part of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute (HBI) Series on Gender, Culture, Religion and Law, this is the first book to examine religious feminist activists in Israel, the U.S., and Kuwait. The Center cosponsored the launch of the book at Brandeis in September. Brandeis University Press

Israel, Jordan, and Palestine

Israel, Jordan, and Palestine: The Two-State Imperative by Asher Susser

Asher Susser, Associate Professor of Middle East Studies at Tel Aviv University formerly a senior fellow on the Myra and Robert Kraft Chair in Arab Politics at the Crown Center at Brandeis (2007-2008 and 2009-2010), presents an astute assessment of the relationship between Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians, with scenarios for the future of Palestinian statehood. Brandeis University Press

fiction (and beyond)

The Free World

The Free World by David Bezmogis

This first novel focuses on a multi-generational Jewish family in transit from the Soviet Union to the West in the mid-1970s, stuck for months in Rome. A moving portrait of an emigrant family torn between the “old world” and the “new.”

The Dovekeepers

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Hoffman’s newest novel turns the story of Masada on its head, by granting its narrative to four powerful female voices. The Dovekeepers replaces the epic myth of first century stoic martyrdom with a nuanced and dramatic tale of how the subtleties of human relationships matter, even in the face of unspeakable violence. Hoffman wrote the book as a resident scholar at Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research CenterSimon and Schuster

Nanjing Requiem

Nanjing Requiem: A Novel by Ha Jin

Ha Jin, winner of the National Book Award, “…returns to his homeland in a searing new novel that unfurls during one of the darkest moments of the twentieth century: the [1937] Rape of Nanjing….Ha Jin re-creates the terror, the harrowing deprivations, and the menace of unexpected violence that defined life in Nanjing during the occupation.”[from the Random House website]

Pigeon English

Pigeon English by Steven Kelman

A graphic story of violence, love, and friendship in a rough-and-tumble London neighborhood, told through the eyes of an eleven-year-old boy recently arrived from Ghana. Both beautiful and brutal, this novel was shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Great Soul

Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India by Joseph Lelyveld

A former journalist for the New York Times focuses on Gandhi’s role as a social reformer, with particular attention to impact on his worldview of the two decades he spent in South Africa. Lelyveld is less interested in conventional biography, and more interested in exploring how specific experiences affected the underlying nuances and tensions in the Mahatma’s thought. Random House

Out of Oz

Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire

The final installment in the four-book Wicked cycle that spawned the hit Broadway musical. Maguire’s Oz, a world where totalitarian and liberal forces are in a constant state of war, is peopled by colorful witches, dwarves, dragons, and Animals, as well as by richly developed human characters. HarperCollins

State of Wonder

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

“Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist with a Minnesota pharmaceutical company, is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have all but disappeared in the Amazon while working on what is destined to be an extremely valuable new drug…Marina embarks on an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding her former mentor as well as answers to several troubling questions about her friend's death, the state of her company's future, and her own past.” [from description]

Better Angels

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

No one on the Center’s staff has yet read this recently-released 800-plus page magnum opus by a Harvard psychologist, but we are all curious to learn more about his argument that the 20th century – contrary to popular belief – actually represented progress in containing the worst excesses of man’s inhumanity to man. Penguin Books


Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

A tragicomic first novel about how members of a family in the Florida swamps try to save their theme park business…and one another. Knopf



What do you think?

Suggestions for other selections from 2011 that we missed in our list?  Let us know.

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