Editors’ Picks for August 2017

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.

editors' picks august 2017

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Encyclopedia of soil science, ed. by R. Lal. 3rd ed. CRC Press, 2016 (c2017). 3v bibl index ISBN 9781498738903, $895.00.

Since 2002, the Encyclopedia of Soil Science, edited by soil scientist Lal (Ohio State Univ.), has been one of the best standard reference resources about soils, competing with but also complementing such works as Springer’s Encyclopedia of Soil Science (CH, Jul’08, 45-5914). The third edition of this fine encyclopedia includes 142 new entries, although it does not appear that entries appearing in the 2006 or 2002 editions were updated in any significant manner. The contributors’ articles are informative and well written, revealing the diversity of the concerns of soil scientists (chapters include “Acid Mine Drainage,” “Land Restoration,” “Mycorrhiza of Forest Ecosystems,” “Windblown Dust”). Indexing is excellent, and the set contains a conventional table of contents along with a topical table that organizes contents under broad subject headings. Surprisingly, the editors continue to use black-and-white photographs and graphs instead of color graphics, which are now considerably more affordable than in earlier years; including some figures in color would be a much more helpful way to illustrate differences in soil classifications and structures. Despite the high cost, libraries that do not own earlier editions should acquire this new, three-volume set to support research at all levels in programs of geology, geography, agriculture, and environmental science. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduates through professionals/practitioners. —J. C. Stachacz, Wilkes University

Ghosh, Amitav. The great derangement: climate change and the unthinkable. Chicago, 2016. 196p ISBN 9780226323039, $22.00; ISBN 9780226323176 ebook, $18.00.

This vitally important book looks at how anthropogenic climate change affects literary production, particularly the novelistic imagination. Although global warming is desperately real, because of the politics of the carbon economy novels that address climate crisis tend to be relegated to the outpost of science fiction and “banish[ed] from the preserves of serious fiction” (part 1, “Stories”). A tour de force examination of how humans have changed the environment, which in turn alters literary representation, the book unfolds with dazzling insights. Ghosh argues that the Anthropocene should resist sci-fi because the impending disaster is not located in a future time or place. Linking the way the poor will be drastically affected by rising sea levels and strong hurricanes, Ghosh asserts that climate change reverses the temporality of modernity because “those at the margins are now the first to experience the future that awaits all of us.” The book concludes with a brilliant comparison of two seminal texts, both 2015, that address climate change: Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home and the United Nations Paris Agreement. Ghosh reads both as literary documents that support his thesis that climate change resists contemporary literature and its emphasis on human limitlessness and freedom. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers. —D. J. Rosenthal, John Carroll University

Huskey, Steve. The skeleton revealed: an illustrated tour of the vertebrates. Johns Hopkins, 2017. 346p index ISBN 9781421421483, $49.95; ISBN 9781421421490 ebook, $49.95.

Humans think of the skeletons of animals, whether small mice or giant whales, as the preserve of museums, where they delight and inform. Only a few books set out to provide the same experiences through photographs of skeletons accompanied by an informed commentary on the modes of life of their owners. This reviewer’s favorite is Simon Winchester’s Skulls (2012), which displays the work of a single collection. Skulls feature prominently in The Skeleton Revealed, but so does every other bone in the body, reconstructed in minute and exact detail—the whole artfully arranged into amazing “poses” and photographed as white bones on a black background. A few of the specimens are mammals (sloth, opossum, anteater, etc.), but most are fish, reptiles, birds, and amphibians. Some have prey between their teeth or in the stomachs (e.g., the rattlesnake on page 232). Indeed, teeth are importantly identified as part and parcel of the skeleton, connected to the dermal armor seen in so many of the specimens. Calcified cartilaginous skeletons of sharks and rays (page 142) would be taken as bony, if readers were not told otherwise. Look at this wonderful “picture book” for the images and read it for its informed skeletal biology and natural history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —B. K. Hall, Dalhousie University

Igoe, Vivien. The real people of Joyce’s Ulysses: a biographical guide. University College Dublin Press, 2016. 380p bibl index ISBN 9781910820063, $62.00.

James Joyce not only set Ulysses on a specific date in a specific city but drew on his memory, his father’s stories, old newspapers, and Thom’s Official Directory to populate the Dublin of his novel with hundreds of characters derived from actual citizens from the historical 1904 city. Igoe, native Dubliner and author of James Joyce’s Dublin Houses & Nora Barnacle’s Galway (2007), has made a career of identifying the geographical and biographical foundations of Joyce’s works. In identifying the “real people” of Joyce’s Ulysses, the author offers a rich, encyclopedic treatment of the hundreds of little-known figures who appear in the novel as priests, lawyers, doctors, librarians, athletes, publicans, barmaids, musicians, and many others—some revealed by their real names, and others under thinly disguised pseudonyms. In going far beyond Shari and Bernard Benstock’s Who’s He when He’s at Home: A James Joyce Directory (1980), Igoe draws on an extensive array of primary sources and contemporary historical scholarship. These short biographies are not only evidence of the verisimilitude with which Joyce constructed Ulysses but also provide insight into personalities, occupations, and living conditions that are often merely alluded to in the work. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Advanced undergraduates through researchers/faculty. —W. S. Brockman, Pennsylvania State University, University Park Campus

Kay, Sean. Rockin’ the free world!: how the rock & roll revolution changed America and the world. Rowman & Littlefield, 2017. 277p index ISBN 9781442266049, $38.00; ISBN 9781442266056 ebook, $37.99.

Kay (political science, Ohio Wesleyan Univ.) draws on scores of firsthand accounts (derived from interviews) and published sources in this wide-ranging overview of rock ‘n’ roll. Comprising nine chapters, the book opens with a chapter titled “Bob Dylan’s America,” which focuses on folk music and the social content of rock ‘n’ roll since the 1960s. Subsequent chapters take up freedom, equality, human rights, peace, education, activism, and money, and the volume concludes with a chapter titled “Rockin’ the Free World.” Scores of performers are discussed (the focus is on the US, but various other countries are also represented). For example, the chapter on peace begins with Pete Seeger, then looks at Rage against the Machine, Country Joe McDonald, System of a Down, and David Crosby—relating all to international wars and events of the 20th and 21st centuries. The endnotes and lists of sources, particularly the numerous interviews, are helpful. This is a useful addition to the untold number of studies of rock ‘n’ roll, particularly because the author includes music industry executives, foundation administrators, and music journalists as well as performers. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. —R. D. Cohen, Indiana University Northwest

Pfaff, John F. Locked in: the true causes of mass incarceration—and how to achieve real reform. Basic Books, 2017. 311p index ISBN 9780465096916, $27.99; ISBN 9780465096923 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Pfaff (Fordham Law School) would like to see reform of mass incarceration, but he argues that the “standard story” of the prison buildup has some misconceptions, and that reform built on them will be inadequate and frustrating. Pfaff’s notion of the “standard story” for mass incarceration includes the drug war, prisoners serving longer sentences, and private prisons. While not entirely rejecting the “standard story,” he argues that prosecutors were the important driver for increasing mass incarceration, especially when crime and arrest rates were falling. Prosecutors are understudied, and no reform legislation has tried to curtail their behavior, unlike police stop-and-frisk and sentencing reform. Pfaff presents a great deal of data in support of his arguments, and his preferred method is to get into the data from states and 3,144 counties to find representative patterns. Consequently, every reader will find a place to disagree with his data, but they will also encounter a well-argued reality check on their beliefs. While at times the argument is overly nuanced, this book is ultimately an original, data-rich, and thought-provoking contribution to the literature that is well worth the reader’s time. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —P. S. Leighton, Eastern Michigan University

Press, Steven. Rogue empires: contracts and conmen in Europe’s scramble for Africa. Harvard, 2017. 371p index ISBN 9780674971851, $39.95.

In the mid-1800s, private adventurers laid claim to parts of Borneo by virtue of an agreement with local authorities. Four decades later, European imperial powers carved up most of Africa because of similar claims by enterprising private companies and individuals who entered into hundreds of “treaties” with local African leaders. Notwithstanding the dubious character of these private empires, European governments at the Berlin Conference of 1884–85 not only legitimized them but also accelerated the acquisition of the remainder of the continent on similar terms. Engaging and original, Rogue Empires retells this familiar story of the so-called scramble for Africa in the 1880s and 1890s, this time with particular attention to its complex diplomatic and legal dimensions. Press (history, Stanford) places these events in the context of global imperial history, carefully tracing the emergence, proliferation, and legitimization of these “rogue” empires, devoting some 50 pages to the Berlin Conference itself. His thesis enriches the extensive historiography of Africa’s partition by exploring the various meanings of contested terms, such as suzeraintysovereigntytreatiescontractsstatehood, and empire, in the imperial narrative. Highly recommended for university and larger public libraries and collections supporting African and European studies programs. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —J. P. Smaldone, Georgetown University

Rath, Eric C. Japan’s cuisines: food, place and identity. Reaktion Books, 2016. 278p bibl ISBN 9781780236438, $45.00.

Rath’s Japan’s Cuisines is an examination of the ideology of a nation’s food and it ties to cultural identity. Rath (Japanese history, Univ. of Kansas) does an exceptional job exposing the realities of contemporary Japanese foodways versus national Japanese cuisine, and the conceptual evolution of what constitutes Japanese food. This is a revelatory book if sushi and tea ceremony foods are the definition of Japanese food for the reader. In each chapter, Rath provides the history of a particular aspect of “traditional” Japanese cuisine, such as washoku, tea ceremony foods, and rice, and then deconstructs the cultural motivations behind the establishment of these foods or food styles as native cuisine. The best chapter pertains to lunch in Japan and the evolution of bentō lunches (especially the kindergarten bentō boxes graded by teachers), and how bentō reinforces the traditional roles of women as homemakers. Lest the book be only about the relatively recent creation of national cuisine to reinforce cultural identity, Rath has an excellent chapter on discovering the very different local cuisines of remote areas in Japan and how these add to the country’s culinary history. This is an enlightening and engaging read that will alter widely held ideas of Japanese food. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —S. C. Hardesty, Georgia State University

Sitaraman, Ganesh. Crisis of the middle-class constitution: why income inequality threatens our republic. Knopf, 2017. 423p index ISBN 9780451493910, $28.00; ISBN 9780451493927 ebook, contact publisher for price.

The United States Constitution is a product of egalitarian conditions prevailing in 18th-century America. Relative economic inequality, in turn, also created a large, politically dominant middle class to safeguard the Constitution’s success. Recent increases in economic inequality, the author argues, have eroded the middle class, undermined the Constitution, and threaten the survival of democracy in America. Middle-class constitutions, dependent on economic equality, are distinguished from “class warfare constitutions” that assume the inevitability of inequality. Where economic equality yields shared values and political stability, economic inequality produces class conflict and political instability. While the efficacy of America’s middle-class constitution was challenged by rising inequality in the late 19th century, populist and Progressive reformers countered with structural changes, including the income tax amendment, to redeem their Constitution. New Deal reformers continued the struggle through the Depression and World War II. Their preference for policy changes over structural reforms, however, eventually opened the way for policy reversals, rising inequality, and the current constitutional crisis. Unfortunately, the author’s convincing depiction of the corrosive effects of inequality on democratic governance is not matched by convincing depictions of solutions for America’s political maladies. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers; Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —R. S. Hewett, Drake University

Tyson, Timothy B. The blood of Emmett Till. Simon & Schuster, 2017. 291p bibl index ISBN 9781476714844, $27.00; ISBN 9781476714851 pbk, $17.00; ISBN 9781476714868 ebook, $12.99.

Tyson (Univ. of North Carolina) uses thorough research, a gift for storytelling, newly assembled evidence, and a personal commitment and passion to produce a stunning account of the lynching of Emmett Till, one of the most significant events of the 20th-century civil rights movement. He documents how mid-20th-century cultural assumptions justified the violent suppression of African Americans to keep “inferior” citizens in their place. The brutal lynchers later explained that they meant the tortured killing of Till to be a pillar marking the white supremacy social order. Tyson argues that Till’s mother’s controversial decision to expose her son’s abused body in an open casket funeral invigorated the civil rights movement and focused attention on the culture of abuse from that date forward. It was not what the lynchers, acquitted by the Mississippi courts, anticipated. With new evidence that the charges against Till were falsified, Tyson shows that the 1950s national culture accepted the use of violence to suppress minorities. He also shows, however, that seeds of integrity could sprout in churches, labor unions, and some law and judicial offices and is careful to reveal the personal context of the villains, heroines and heroes, and victims of the drama. This is important revisionist history vital to explaining American culture. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. —J. H. Smith, Wake Forest University