Editors’ Picks for April 2020

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.

Love the Editors’ Picks? Try our other newsletters.

Basinger, Jeanine. The movie musical!. Knopf, 2019. 634p bibl index ISBN 9781101874066, $45.00; ISBN 9781101874073 ebook, $17.99.

The movie musical has had a turbulent history of ups and downs in Hollywood, going from popular to unpopular to popular again in a recent resurgence. From the escapist films of the world war period to animated film to present-day originals (e.g., La La Land, 2016) and remakes of standards (e.g., Bradley Cooper’s 2018 remake of A Star Is Born), musicals have permeated film culture and drawn audiences. In The Movie Musical! respected film scholar Jeanine Basinger (Wesleyan Univ.) defines and discusses the true musical film, which is not a film that includes music but a film that uses song and dance as part of the plot. Throughout this journey, Basinger discusses Hollywood’s evolving approach to the musical film, starting with early sound pictures and continuing through films of the present day. The path is not straight and narrow but rather takes one through influences from Europe and Broadway. Basinger includes many stills, from a variety of films, that will delight the reader, along with engaging footnotes that provide fun facts about some of the films she discusses. Summing Up: Essential. All readers. —J. K. Matthews, Rowan University

Bradley, James T. Re-creating nature: science, technology, and human values in the twenty-first century. Alabama, 2019. 381p bibl index ISBN 9780817320294, $39.95; ISBN 9780817392437 ebook, $39.95.

Bradley (Auburn Univ.) here presents some of the pressing moral and ethical dilemmas surrounding recent advancements in biotechnology. Topics covered include stem cells, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), nanotechnology, bioterrorism, CRISPR genome editing, and robotics, to name a few. Each of the nine chapters begins with a series of questions to outline and focus on the topic at hand and concludes with another set of questions for reflection and discussion. Given this didactic format, readers should scarcely be able to avoid questioning the ramifications of the technologies covered and considering the question of whether and how each can contribute to the common good. The book is intended to identify, develop, and build upon readers’ levels of bioscience literacy, encouraging scientists and nonscientists alike to evaluate how these technologies may affect Earth and ultimately shape human society for subsequent generations. The inclusive design extends to providing separate appendixes addressing each readership. Group work around the book will surely result in some interesting debates. Overall, the book is a must read for anyone interested in bioethics questions and useful for science courses in which discussion is central to achieving the learning objectives. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —M. C. Pavao, Worcester State University

Bullock, Julia C. Coeds ruining the nation: women, education, and social change in postwar Japanese media. Michigan, 2019. 227p bibl index (Michigan monograph series in Japanese studies, 87) ISBN 9780472074174, $70.00; ISBN 9780472054176 pbk, $24.95; ISBN 9780472125593 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Bullock (Emory Univ.) here studies coeducation in postwar Japan, utilizing discourse analysis of material that appeared in the Japanese press. She argues that the prewar Japanese system of sex-segregated schools above the elementary level was based on an assumption of gender difference, but the American occupiers assumed that equal meant guaranteeing the same rights and opportunities to women as to men. Bullock identifies three major objections to the implementation of coeducation in postwar Japan: the inadequate academic preparation of female students, the possibility that coeducation might facilitate premarital sexual experimentation, and the danger that males and females studying together would lead to the transgression of gender norms. She finds that students were much less worried about these issues than adults, who, even in the 1960s, feared that coeds were ruining the nation. However, Bullock’s tight focus on gender obscures the extent to which criticism of coeducation in the late 1950s, when revision of the constitution and its gender clauses was under consideration, was in reality criticism of the occupation. Nevertheless, she succeeds admirably in showing how those who lived through the transformation experienced the introduction of coeducation in Japan. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. —S. A. Hastings, Purdue University

Caquet, P. E. The bell of treason: the 1938 Munich agreement in Czechoslovakia. Other Press, 2019. 287p bibl index ISBN 9781590510506, $27.99; ISBN 9781590510520 ebook, $15.99.

The shameful story of the Sudeten crisis of 1938, when Western leaders agreed to Hitler’s demands to dismember Czechoslovakia and forced Czech citizens to accept the arrangement, has been frequently studied. Typically, scholars view the incident through the diplomatic activities of those who crafted the Munich Agreement. By contrast, this well-written, moving book focuses on the experience of the Czechs themselves, while at the same time making a forceful argument that these developments could have been avoided. Using a broad range of resources—many not previously fully explored—Caquet (Univ. of Cambridge, UK) provides a vivid narrative of the events leading up to the agreement in September 1938. He treats not only Czechoslovak political leaders but also the trauma felt by ordinary soldiers and people. The author effectively analyzes the comparative strength of the German military against the combined forces of Czechoslovakia and its Continental ally France in 1938. He concludes that Hitler was far less dominant at that point than others thought, and that his ambitions might have been thwarted had Western leaders supported the Czechs. This volume is both a powerful human story and a thought-provoking indictment of appeasement. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. —P. W. Knoll, emeritus, University of Southern California

Conway, Mike. Contested ground: The tunnel and the struggle over television news in Cold War America. Massachusetts, 2019. 268p index ISBN 9781625344502, $90.00; ISBN 9781625344519 pbk, $28.95; ISBN 9781613766958 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Conway (journalism, Univ. of Indiana, Bloomington) provides an illuminating history of The Tunnel, a controversial 1962 NBC documentary about the creation of an escape route from East to West Berlin, and of a 1963 memo about television news (written by the program’s producer) that influenced a generation of broadcast journalists. NBC had underwritten the escape effort, for commercialization purposes, and there were efforts from numerous quarters to block the broadcast of the film. Conway covers NBC’s response to efforts to prevent The Tunnel’s broadcast and the impact of a subsequent memo from Reuven Frank (future NBC News president) about the role of television news. Frank argued that television news should focus on the experience of being at events more than on distribution of information. As Conway explains, the memo was influential because it differentiated television’s journalistic norms from the norms of newspapers and news magazines. The term “contested ground” references three things: broadcast journalists’ attempts to overcome the skepticism of their print media peers; the East-West Berlin border; and controversies surrounding The Tunnel’s broadcast. Supplementing Frank’s memoir—Out of Thin Air: The Brief Wonderful Life of Network News (1991)—this well-written book is a valuable addition to the literature on journalism and broadcasting history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers. —R. A. Logan, emeritus, University of Missouri—Columbia

Gutiérrez, José Angel. Tracking King Tiger: Reies López Tijerina and the FBI. Michigan State, 2019. 416p bibl index ISBN 9781611863352 pbk, $39.95; ISBN 9781628953756 ebook, $31.95.

In this partly autobiographical account, Gutiérrez, a professor emeritus of political science, formerly at the University of Texas at Arlington, and a lifelong activist, traces Reies López Tijerina’s involvement in the land recovery movement in northern New Mexico. The author, a former Raza Unida Party leader, was a fellow traveler of López Tijerina and translated his autobiography, Mi lucha por la tierra (1978). As such, Gutiérrez is uniquely qualified to tell the story of this important, curiously understudied activist. The author describes López Tijerina’s efforts, beginning in the 1950s, to restore original land grants guaranteed under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo through the growth of the Alianza movement that peaked in the late 1960s and up through López Tijerina’s death in 1979. Gutiérrez recounts cruel realities that López Tijerina, his family, and similar activists endured, including poverty, imprisonment, police brutality, attempted assassinations, and intensive FBI surveillance. The author’s involvement in this story may raise questions regarding scholarly objectivity, but it also represents a unique strength of this valuable contribution. Gutiérrez has done commendable work using FBI files on López Tijerina. This is an important effort to tell an often-overlooked but valuable story. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. —D. Newcomer, East Tennessee State University

The Lure of authoritarianism: the Maghreb after the Arab Spring, ed. by Stephen J. King and Abdeslam M. Maghraoui. Indiana, 2019. 354p index ISBN 9780253040855, $85.00; ISBN 9780253040862 pbk, $40.00; ISBN 9780253040893 ebook, $39.99.

Part of the “Indiana Series in Middle East Studies,” this volume, edited by King (Georgetown Univ.) and Maghraoui (Duke Univ.), brings together various experts to explain the persistence of authoritarianism in the Maghreb region. The book is organized into two parts and consists of 12 chapters. Part 1 clusters “around three broad topics: the normative or ideological foundations of authoritarianism, the social and economic drivers of authoritarianism, and the security justifications for authoritarianism” (p. 6). Part 2 covers case studies of Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, and Algeria (lacking an independent study of Egypt), including a chapter on elections before and after the Arab Spring. As the contributors detail, the lure of authoritarianism, and even centralized autocracy, is strong in both Arab monarchies and republics because of the nuanced intermingling of fear of radical violence, broad popular support for Islam, demographic pressure and slow economic growth, historical and modern experiences with violence and instability, the character of civil society, and changing political dynamics at both the country and regional levels. This is a highly valued contribution to the study of Middle Eastern politics for scholars and students. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —A. R. Abootalebi, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire

Menashy, Francine. International aid to education: power dynamics in an era of partnership. Teachers College Press, 2019. 139p bibl index ISBN 9780807761816, $114.00; ISBN 9780807761281 pbk, $37.95; ISBN 9780807777688 ebook, $37.95.

Menashy (Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston) analyzes the role of partnerships in international aid to education since the development of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. Introducing key concepts and themes, chapter 1 lays out the author’s methodological approach of network and process-tracing analyses, including more than 50 interviews with key informants. Chapter 2 offers a historical portrait of international aid to education, and chapter 3 illustrates how network analysis and a critical approach to power hierarchies reveal the continuing influence of global North donors within transnational partnership-aid organizations. Chapters 4 and 5 are case studies of two major partnerships, using qualitative research methodologies to highlight the prominent role of private sector actors, with particular emphasis on analyzing discourse that prioritizes the value of private sector participation. Menashy’s concluding chapter contains a summary of findings with recommendations to reform educational aid partnerships. These include increasing the use of network analysis to reexamine how power is utilized and sustained, engaging a broader range of civil society actors in partnerships, and employing critical discourse analysis on private sector participation that is grounded in empirical evidence. Highly recommended for those researching comparative and global education. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals. —W. R. Fernekes, Rutgers Graduate School of Education

Postel, Charles. Equality: an American dilemma, 1866–1896. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019. 390p bibl index ISBN 9780809079636, $30.00.

What did equality look like in the US after the Civil War? Historian Postel (San Francisco State Univ.) provides the answer in this well-researched book. He critiques equality through the prisms of race, gender, and class by investigating agricultural organizations, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Knights of Labor. Postel’s discussion is particularly unique for its dissection of labor. He inspects workers in northern factories, farmers, coal miners, and domestic laborers as well as workers in the Midwest, South, and West. He finds that some organizations occasionally paid lip service to egalitarian values, but in reality, the concept was reserved for the world of white male supremacy, and, as a result, these organizations contradicted themselves in practice over the issue of equality. Just as radical Republicans had done in the 1870s, by the 1890s, these organizations had abandoned African Americans, although they still fought economic divisions. Socialism, to a degree, is present throughout the text, but its analysis could be better developed. However, this does not diminish the main crux of Postel’s thesis, which exposes another root of inequality in the US, one that is still visible today. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —R. D. Screws, Arkansas National Guard Museum

Wang, Jessica. Mad dogs and other New Yorkers: rabies, medicine, and society in an American metropolis, 1840–1920. Johns Hopkins, 2019. 322p index ISBN 9781421409719, $54.95; ISBN 9781421409726 ebook, $54.95.

Although bats currently constitute the principal source of indigenously acquired human rabies in this country, such was not always the case. Prior to the successful elimination of the canine variant of the rabies virus as a result of intensive vaccination programs begun in the 1930s, dogs were the main source of human rabies in the Americas (and are still the most important vectors of human rabies worldwide). Wang (Univ. of British Columbia) provides a fascinating, insightful discussion of the dramatic impact of canine rabies in New York City from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries. Setting the story against the cultural, medical, economic, and political backdrop of a growing metropolis, she highlights the city’s ever-changing response in its attempts to control this lethal affliction, the evolution of understanding of the dreaded disease, the myriad treatments—ranging from the reasoned to the absurd—recommended by the medical establishment of the time, and the widespread skepticism among medical practitioners regarding the emerging germ theory of disease (and even their reserve about the utility of Pasteur’s revolutionary rabies vaccine). This well-researched text will be of considerable interest to students of epidemiology, public health, and the history of medicine. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —D. A. Brass, independent scholar