Editors’ Picks for April 2023

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.


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Common sense has long been a problem for AI systems, and anyone interested in the future of AI systems will appreciate this book.

—C. Tappert, Pace University

Brachman, Ronald J. Machines like us: toward AI with common sense, by Ronald J. Brachman and Hector J. Levesque. MIT, 2022. 320p bibl index ISBN 9780262046794, $29.95; ISBN 9780262369237 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Brachman (Cornell Univ.) and Levesque (emer., Univ. of Toronto) offer a timely treatise on adding common sense to machine intelligence. Following an introductory chapter, chapter 2 describes common sense as already familiar to readers. Chapter 3 provides an overview of AI systems, and chapter 4 discusses knowledge representation as a critical ingredient for adding common sense to such systems. Chapter 5 explains how humans use common sense and how it changes over time because of occurring events. Chapter 6 considers ways of implementing specific elements of common-sense knowledge. Chapters 7 and 8 explain how to represent common-sense knowledge in symbolic form and how an AI system could operate on such representations. Chapter 9 describes how the pieces can come together in computational form. Chapter 10 looks at how AI systems of the future might be constructed. The text concludes by considering whether society is ready for these innovations. An appendix of technical details, a bonus chapter on the connection between logic and common-sense reasoning, chapter notes, and suggested further readings are included. Common sense has long been a problem for AI systems, and anyone interested in the future of AI systems will appreciate this book. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals. General readers. —C. Tappert, Pace University


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Sex Is as Sex Does is a timely contribution to political theory and gender theory alike, reminding readers that identifying and classifying sex and gender are central to political projects.

—J. A. Beicken, Rocky Mountain College

Currah, Paisley. Sex is as sex does: governing transgender identity. New York University, New York, 2022. 256p bibl index ISBN 9780814717103, $28.00; ISBN 9781479812028 ebook, contact publisher for price.

In this important work, Currah (Brooklyn College; the Graduate Center, CUNY) makes several contributions to current ways of thinking about how sex, and by extension transgender identity, is constructed and operationalized in the legal sphere. In a Foucauldian vein, Currah argues that the project of classifying individuals, in this case by sex, constitutes them as political subjects. Importantly, Currah notes that the state’s conception of sex is neither a singular nor totalizing category. Indeed, local, state, and federal bodies have defined sex differently in different contexts, and sex itself is, as Judith Butler argues in Gender Trouble (CH, Oct’90, 28-1264), a social construction. As movements about transgender rights gain momentum, readers should be wary of cementing a trans-/cisgender binary, overlooking the nuances within those categories. Similarly, scholars should attend to the plurality of states rather than conceive of one monolithic state. Indeed, one person’s sex may be defined differently by different governing bodies—depending on what sex does in that context. Sex Is as Sex Does is a timely contribution to political theory and gender theory alike, reminding readers that identifying and classifying sex and gender are central to political projects. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty. —J. A. Beicken, Rocky Mountain College


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Dikötter’s well-researched volume marks an important contribution to the literature on China’s rise.

—S. Boss, University of Connecticut

Dikötter, Frank. China after Mao: the rise of a superpower. Bloomsbury, 2022. 416p ISBN 9781639730513, $30.00; ISBN 9781639730520 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Chronicling China’s rapid economic transformation from the period following the death of Mao Zedong to the present era under Xi Jinping, Dikötter (history, Univ. of Hong Kong), author of the Samuel Johnson Prize–winning Mao’s Great Famine (CH, Apr’11, 48-4585), cogently argues that “without political reform, market reform cannot exist.” This account—based on rich source materials, including newspaper reports, approximately 600 documents from municipal and provincial archives, the secret diaries of Mao’s personal secretary, and other primary documents—challenges assumptions about China’s speedy, four-decade rise and its transformation from a reclusive agrarian economy into a global superpower. Dikötter’s critical examination of the traditional narrative of modern China’s ascent includes in-depth discussion of monetary and trade policies, industry and commerce, and culture and politics from 1976 to 2012. The book explores watershed moments in great detail and concludes that although China has become more open, relative to other nations, during the era of reform and opening up, it has done so only “barely.” Dikötter’s well-researched volume marks an important contribution to the literature on China’s rise. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty. —S. Boss, University of Connecticut


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Falola stresses that this African epistemological decolonization and decoloniality can become a reality only when African leaders are genuinely interested in taking part in a process that brings together intellectuals, the government, and the people.

—Z. N. Nchinda, Milwaukee Area Technical College

Falola, Toyin. Decolonizing African studies: knowledge production, agency, and voice. Rochester, 2022. 704p bibl index (Rochester studies in African history and the diaspora, 93) ISBN 9781648250279, $155.00; ISBN 9781800103917 ebook, $24.99.

In this comprehensive book, Africanist Falola (Univ. of Texas, Austin) meticulously explores the origins of the Eurocentric academic, socioeconomic, and political onslaught on Africa. He calls on scholars in modern higher education to counter this by challenging academia to transform the assumptions underlying certain epistemologies regarding the continent. The book is organized into three sections. The first chronicles how Euro-American imperialist epistemology and methodology hijacked modern African knowledge production systems and suppressed the voices of others. The second part discusses the voices of decolonization and decoloniality, promotes an Afrocentric mode of reasoning that incorporates other global knowledge systems as an antidote to Eurocentrism, and entertains alternative discourses on diverse realities and epistemologies suited to a transmodern and pluriversal world. The final section challenges Africans to dismantle colonial presuppositions that still have a grip on their minds and embrace the world without abandoning their cultural past and identity. Falola stresses that this African epistemological decolonization and decoloniality can become a reality only when African leaders are genuinely interested in taking part in a process that brings together intellectuals, the government, and the people. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals. —Z. N. Nchinda, Milwaukee Area Technical College


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As a research director for Reform in its foundational period and a key player in the Conservative Party under Stephen Harper, Flanagan is well placed to tell this story.

—J. L. Granatstein, emeritus, York University

Flanagan, Thomas. Pivot or pirouette?: the 1993 Canadian general election. UBC Press, 2022. 248p bibl index ISBN 9780774866835 pbk, $24.95; ISBN 9780774867740 ebook, $24.95.

The Canadian federal election of 1993 came as a shock. The reigning Conservatives’ majority government was reduced to two seats, and two new parties, the Bloc Québécois (BQ) and Reform, won 54 and 52 seats respectively, with the separatist BQ even forming the official opposition. The New Democratic Party (NDP) lost almost 80 percent of its seats, and the Liberals formed a majority government. Was this election a genuine pivot, asks Flanagan (emer., Univ. of Calgary, Canada), or just a pirouette? A combination of factors led to this stunning outcome, notably a widespread detestation of Conservative leader Brian Mulroney and his successor Kim Campbell, constitutional feuding over Quebec’s place in the Confederation, and western Canadian resentment over its perceived slighting by Ontario and Quebec. But the pivot did not last long, and in little more than a decade, Conservatives absorbed Reform and formed a government, while the BQ and NDP continued as small parties. Liberals returned to power a decade later, and Canada’s two “old” parties resumed control, the pirouette completed. As a research director for Reform in its foundational period and a key player in the Conservative Party under Stephen Harper, Flanagan is well placed to tell this story. The result is a well-written, first-rate election study. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduates through faculty and general readers. —J. L. Granatstein, emeritus, York University


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This is sociology at its best—Forrest offers a robust explanation of the structural conditions that create political hazards for progressive groups and concrete examples and explanations of ways to circumvent these barriers to achieve a more egalitarian society.

—J. A. Beicken, Rocky Mountain College

Forrest, David. A voice but no power: organizing for social justice in Minneapolis. Minnesota, 2022. 320p bibl index ISBN 9781517913519, $112.00; ISBN 9781517913526 pbk, $28.00; ISBN 9781452967882 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Forrest’s fresh take on social justice organizing is a must-read volume for academics of social movements and organizers alike. Though social movement theory has long focused on how movements materialize, few works consider how organizing tactics may impact the relative success or failure of movements—past emphasis focused more on the role of structural conditions or political opportunities. Using a city of great relevance to the present moment, Minneapolis, Forrest (politics, Oberlin College) provides a detailed explanation of why social justice organizers might repeatedly fall short of their aims and offers insights into how organizers can improve their chances of attaining what he calls abolitionist goals—efforts to dismantle systemic oppression rather than merely make reforms in the lives of certain groups. Indeed, neoliberalism and capitalist realism created conditions in which organizing for social justice is challenging, but the author demonstrates that groups are capable of advocating for broadscale change. This is sociology at its best—Forrest offers a robust explanation of the structural conditions that create political hazards for progressive groups and concrete examples and explanations of ways to circumvent these barriers to achieve a more egalitarian society. Summing Up: Essential. General readers through faculty; professionals. —J. A. Beicken, Rocky Mountain College


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Shining light on all aspects of Truman’s character and decisions, Frank’s volume provides a nuanced account of this important American leader.

—C. G. Frentzos, Austin Peay State University

Frank, Jeffrey. The trials of Harry S. Truman: the extraordinary presidency of an ordinary man, 1945-1953. Simon & Schuster, 2022. 576p bibl index ISBN 9781501102899, $32.50; ISBN 9781501102905 pbk, $20.99; ISBN 9781501102912 ebook, $16.99.

Frank, a journalist and a former editor of The New Yorker and The Washington Post, produces a captivating narrative of Harry Truman’s years in the White House. Making extensive use of primary and secondary sources, archival collections, and oral histories, Frank paints a vivid portrait of the down-to-earth, plain-spoken midwesterner who guided the United States during what was arguably the most formative time in the nation’s history. As the US assumed the burden of world leadership during the emerging Cold War, Truman’s policies and decisions molded the international environment for the rest of the century. In addition to highlighting the major foreign policy events of his presidency, this account also demonstrates the influence that Truman’s advisors and cabinet officials had on shaping his world view. Truman emerges as a straightforward, decisive, honest man with a strong sense of duty and obligation. Although he relied heavily on his cabinet and close advisors for guidance, he was at times prone to making decisions in haste without always considering the full consequences of his actions, as when he deployed American troops to Korea in the summer of 1950. Shining light on all aspects of Truman’s character and decisions, Frank’s volume provides a nuanced account of this important American leader. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduates through faculty and general readers. —C. G. Frentzos, Austin Peay State University


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Border Bodies effectively demonstrates the dehumanizing forces of sexual capital on large populations of women who are often erased from history.

—T. P. Bowman, West Texas A&M University

Hernández, Bernadine Marie. Border bodies: racialized sexuality, sexual capital, and violence in the nineteenth-century borderlands. North Carolina, 2022. 244p bibl index ISBN 9781469667881, $95.00; ISBN 9781469667898 pbk, $29.95; ISBN 9781469667904 ebook, $23.99.

Border Bodies is an important study of Mexican women’s racialization in the North American Southwest through their gender and sexualities, a process that became linked to capital during the rise of the US nation-state around the turn of the 20th century. Notably, Hernández (English, Univ. of New Mexico) argues that the link between capital and the sexualization of Mexicanas in the region can be traced back to the colonial period. Californio men oftentimes married their daughters off for economic gain, which Hernández argues “opened up social capital” for heads of households (p. 27). Mexican intellectuals continued to racialize gender and sexuality before the large-scale arrival of the US in the region, which Hernández examines through the writings of 19th-century novelist María Ruiz de Burton in chapter 2. Hernández’s analysis coalesces throughout the remainder of the book, covering the interrelated subjects of mob and state violence against Josefa Chipita Rodriguez in chapter 3, the sexualization of Nuevomexicanas in chapter 4, and the construction of Arizona prostitutes as a drain on early-20th-century socioeconomics in chapter 5. Border Bodies effectively demonstrates the dehumanizing forces of sexual capital on large populations of women who are often erased from history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty. —T. P. Bowman, West Texas A&M University


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This is a noble effort, clearly advanced and brilliantly argued.

—Z. B. Johnson, Lake Erie College

Morizot, Baptiste. Wild diplomacy: cohabiting with wolves on a new ontological map, by Baptiste Morizot; tr. by Catherine Porter. SUNY Press, 2022. 318p bibl index ISBN 9781438488394, $95.00; ISBN 9781438488400 pbk, $32.95; ISBN 9781438488417 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Unlike the US government’s reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, wolves found their own way back to France more than half a century after their eradication. The inevitable result was, and remains, conflicts between livestock farmers and wolves in a rural France that is becoming ecologically wilder as human populations there decline. Whether as a result of reintroduction plans or an outcome of the natural dispersal tendencies of these tenacious apex predators, the global question of how to live with wolves is coming to the forefront. In Wild Diplomacy, philosopher Morizot (Aix-Marseille Univ.) argues that neither of the historical approaches to managing large predators—exterminating them or confining them to preserves—is currently tenable. He proposes negotiating with wolves in ways that can alter pack behavior and redirect them toward hunting wild prey. This necessitates a better, more complete understanding of wolf society. It also requires a different diplomatic approach, one that emphasizes developing relations instead of prioritizing one entity over another. Morizot systematically evaluates and expounds on the necessary biological, ethological, ecological, cultural, philosophical, and political elements necessary for cohabitating with wolves. This is a noble effort, clearly advanced and brilliantly argued. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals. General readers. —Z. B. Johnson, Lake Erie College


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Each chapter is well referenced, pulling extensively from the literature through in-depth interviews and copious field notes to illuminate the creative methods social service workers use to build relationships and obtain housing for people who may not meet the current policy definitions of eligibility.

—K. E. Murphy, independent scholar

Smith, Curtis. Homelessness and housing advocacy: the role of red-tape warriors. Routledge, 2022. 184p bibl index ISBN 9780367507046, $160.00; ISBN 9780367507039 pbk, $44.95; ISBN 9781003050872 ebook, $44.95.

Drawing on his previous fieldwork and internship experiences, Smith (Bentley Univ.) presents a compelling and readable ethnography about social service workers who provide services for homeless people. He follows specific workers in a specific location, infusing the book with a local feel that adds a powerful dimension to a difficult topic. His emphasis is on the challenges and the long-term success that these workers have in placing and helping clients sustain housing in a constantly changing bureaucratic environment. This unique perspective is refreshing because of the author’s professional experience and his attention to detail. The chapter on methodology will be invaluable to social scientists and social work students. Each chapter is well referenced, pulling extensively from the literature through in-depth interviews and copious field notes to illuminate the creative methods social service workers use to build relationships and obtain housing for people who may not meet the current policy definitions of eligibility. Though the book focuses on social service workers, there is much to learn here about homeless people, poverty, social inequality, and social policy. Summing Up: Essential. Undergraduates, graduate students, and professionals. —K. E. Murphy, independent scholar