Books by James Miller

HISTORY
Released: Sept. 18, 2018

"A revealing examination of the successes and perils of popular participation in government."
The meaning of democracy has changed dramatically throughout history. Read full book review >
EXAMINED LIVES by James Miller
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Jan. 1, 2011

"Intermittently compelling but ultimately disappointing for the general reader—though it could find use in philosophy courses."
Using biographies of 12 Western philosophers, Miller (Politics/New School for Social Research; Flowers in the Dustbin: The Rise of Rock and Roll, 1947-1977, 1999, etc.) seeks insight into the quest for wisdom about the self. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Aug. 1, 1999

In his monumental account of popular music, Miller, a music-journalist-turned-educator (Political Science/New School; Democracy Is in the Streets, 1987, etc.), ties together several intellectual and cultural strands—Norman Mailer's myth of the White Negro, Tom Wolfe's radical chic, H.G. Koenigsberger's theories on music and religion, Wagner's significance to Bismarckian Germany—all without bleaching out the raw essence of the music. Beginning with what he calls the first rock ‘n" roll record, "Good Rockin" Tonight," by Wynonie Harris, Miller traces the development of the techniques, technologies, and ethos that would synthesize a mishmash of "race music" (as songs recorded by African-American artists were called in the late "40s), teenage angst, and old-fashioned medicine-show hucksterism into a sophisticated medium that, more than a half-century later, serves as "the closest thing we have to a musical lingua franca." While ordered chronologically, the narrative jumps from place to place. Rather than appearing discordant, the structure takes on the insistent beat of its subject. As a work of history, this effort appears to contain little original scholarship—most artists" quotes come from secondhand sources, albeit strictly authoritative ones. As social commentary, however, few books, if any, come close to this one. Miller re-creates the listeners" exhilaration upon hearing the first bars of truly revolutionary music. And, possibly most important, he seems to have little trouble reconciling that a largely manufactured (or, at least, highly manipulated) form of expression had such a profound effect on individuals, even those who knew they were perhaps more a target market than a genuine social movement. Or, as the author observes about the unruly antics of performers from Little Richard to the Rolling Stones to the Sex Pistols: "What was "unruly," in short, was not rock ‘n" roll as a cultural form, but rather the central fantasy it was exploiting." A work both stunningly cogent and thoroughly enjoyable. Read full book review >
THE PASSION OF MICHEL FOUCAULT by James Miller
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Jan. 11, 1993

Revelatory, well-written account of the controversial life and writings of French historian and philosopher Foucault. Miller (``Democracy is in the Streets'', 1987, etc.) makes it clear from the start that this is not a full-fledged biography but, rather, a study that focuses on certain biographical details in order to illuminate essential features of Foucault's thought. For a quarter century, Foucault, who died of AIDS in 1984, was the source of heated intellectual debate throughout the world for his writings on power, knowledge, madness, personal identity, and sexuality. Along the way, he profoundly influenced scholarly approaches to literature, history, political science, anthropology, and other fields. Perhaps most influential were Foucault's writings on how power circulates through society, flowing through public and private institutions, permeating cultural works and intellectual disciplines, shaping the most intimate thoughts, desires, and feelings. Miller shows how these themes were related to—indeed, prompted by—aspects of Foucault's private life. He concentrates on Foucault's uneasy relations with society and his own self, detailing the philosopher's lifelong obsessions with death, suicide, rebellion, and the elusive nature of his own identity. There are also numerous passages devoted to Foucault's homosexuality, his interest in sadomasochism, his fitful forays into radical activism, and his experiments with drugs. This emphasis is bound to produce controversy, particularly among those who believe that Miller's relentless focus on biographical details distracts from the substance of Foucault's works. Anticipating this charge, Miller argues persuasively that his goal is to fashion a largely sympathetic view of a brilliant and often courageous thinker. A riveting portrait marred only by occasional lapses into redundancy, and likely to spur even greater interest—both within and outside the university—in the writings of this influential, enigmatic man. Read full book review >