These soulful lines that open Otis Redding’s 1964 hit do not appear in John T. Hamilton’s masterful meditation. Nevertheless, they poignantly describe the paradox that he explores through fifteen beautifully written and cogently argued chapters. Etymologically, se-cura means without care. But if security turns into carelessness, then one risks pain and “great loss,” while conversely the “cost” of guarding against all conceivable threats is to forfeit any peace of mind. “Without care no one can be secure” (284). Hamilton carefully traces this dilemma in a series of readings ranging from myths of antiquity to contemporary film and art installations.

The applicability of Hamilton’s investigation in the age of terror and the modern security state is clear. Yet he resists the widespread temptation to collect evidence of egregious governmental failings and to proselytize either for or against greater security measures. Instead, he unearths...

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