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Extraordinary Perspective

An adventurer who secretly entered Mecca and a translator who brought Arabian Nights to English-speaking audiences, Richard Burton was a man who seemingly lived many lives. An explorer, soldier, ethnographer, poet, and travel writer, Burton helped Victorian Britain understand new cultures and peoples encountered during the country’s imperialist march around the globe. In The Highly Civilized Man: Richard Burton and the Victorian World (Harvard University Press, 2005), Dane Kennedy helps readers understand Richard Burton.

Kennedy, Elmer Kayser Professor of history and international affairs, explores different aspects of Burton’s personality and career in the book’s eight chapters, which range from “The Gypsy” to “The Racist” to “The Afterlife.” Drawing on experiences gained during his travels and fueled by relentless curiosity, Burton sought to unlock the secrets of various cultures and, in turn, questioned the Victorian way of life.

“Biographers have tended to portray [Burton] in Nietszchean terms as a heroic, independent spirit operating outside the bounds of social conventions,” Kennedy writes. “Yet, for all his unusual talents and contrarian character, he was very much a man of his time, a product of nineteenth-century Britain and its imperial encounter with the world.”

Kennedy shows how Victorians came to better understand themselves while viewing other cultures through Burton’s gaze. This perspective proves useful to modern readers as well—as Publisher’s Weekly writes: “Kennedy succeeds in re-establishing Burton as a relevant figure for a 21st-century world grappling with issues of ethnic, cultural, and sexual diversity.”

Conquering World Poverty

The numbers are chilling. More than 800 million people worldwide suffer from chronic hunger. Every day, some 30,000 children in developing countries die from preventable causes—almost 11 million this year alone. Professor of Economics Stephen C. Smith offers strategies for tackling world poverty in his new book, Ending Global Poverty: A Guide to What Works (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).

Smith, who directs GW’s Research Program in Poverty, Development, and Globalization, explores the myriad traps that keep people entrenched in poverty—such as malnutrition, illiteracy, and poor access to health care—and presents eight keys to escaping those traps. These “keys to capability”—ranging from basic education, which builds the foundations for self-reliance, to personal and community empowerment, aimed at ensuring effective participation in the wider world, help people gain the tools to break out of the bondage of extreme poverty.

The book also offers comprehensive strategies for building capabilities and assets among the impoverished and provides an extensive set of anti-poverty initiatives and programs aimed at conquering human poverty in a single generation.

Smith is co-author, with Michael Todaro, of a leading text in the field, Economic Development (8th Ed., Addison-Wesley/Pearson, 2002), and has done on-site work in a number of developing countries, including Bangladesh, Ecuador, Egypt, Kenya, India, Peru, and Uganda. He has taught courses on economic development with an emphasis on problems of poverty since 1983.

Conflict Culture

From news reports to Web logs, popular culture plays a part in how Americans view conflict and diplomacy with the Middle East. In Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East Since 1945 (revised edition, University of California Press, 2005), Melani McAlister asserts that U.S. foreign policy—while grounded in economic and military issues—is developed in cultural context. Religious beliefs, media coverage, and popular culture contribute to how Americans understand the Middle East.

McAlister, associate professor of American studies and international affairs, illustrates this phenomenon in her chapter “9/11 and After: Snapshots on the Road to Empire,” in which she analyzes five images that have shaped global consciousness since Sept. 11, 2001: New York City firefighters raising the American flag from the rubble of the World Trade Center; Osama bin Laden’s televised image; Afghan women in burqas; Saddam Hussein’s statue toppled in Baghdad; and a hooded prisoner in Abu Ghraib. McAlister explores the contexts of these images both at the time they were taken and as they relate to current events.

While the Middle East has been a focal point of the American government, military, and public for decades, recent events have thrust the region even further into the limelight. “Any attempt to reckon with the world after September 11 is necessarily constrained by the force of current events: We are looking backward at something that is still rushing ahead,” McAlister writes.

By making sense of how Americans view the Middle East, McAlister also illustrates how Americans view themselves. “McAlister is uniquely placed to reveal what she calls ‘the often invisible significance of the Middle East to Americans,” writes The Village Voice. “[McAlister] reconfigures American investment in the Middle East as a central element to our own national, racial, and sexual identities.”

—Laura Ewald and JLF