Editors’ Picks for December 2019

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.

Byrne, Marcus. Dance of the dung beetles: their role in our changing world, by Marcus Byrne and Helen Lunn. Wits University Press, 2019. (Dist. by NYU.) 228p bibl index ISBN 9781776144655, $89.00; ISBN 9781776142347 pbk, $30.00; ISBN 9781776142361 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Byrne (Univ. of the Witwatersrand) and Lunn (a musicologist by profession) provide a worldwide synopsis of the dung beetle, reviewing its early symbolic value while tracing the impact of the species on early entomology and evolutionary sciences. The result is an entertaining and educational “tour” incorporating both Egyptian mythology and 17th-century scientific discovery. Subsequent chapters detail the global spread of the species due to human activity, and its effects on agriculture, policy, economics, and human health, providing multiple examples from different continents. Later chapters explore the amazing attributes of dung beetle biology, including features that make them excellent models for testing ecological principals, species formation, and more. The book makes clear how much we still have to learn from insects in general, focusing especially on the charismatic dung beetles (perhaps a new idea for some readers) and the continuing effort to make further discoveries about them. Though geared for an audience already enthusiastic about entomology and its role in the history of natural science, casual readers will also find much of interest. A collection of diverse images adds value to the text, as does the detailed notes section, providing sources for each chapter. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. —T. L. Bal, Michigan Technological University

Cohen, Michael Mark. The conspiracy of capital: law, violence, and American popular radicalism in the age of monopoly. Massachusetts, 2019. 336p index ISBN 9781625344007, $90.00; ISBN 9781625344014 pbk, $32.95.

Cohen (UC Berkeley) strives to present a new analysis of class conflict in the US during the period of rapid modernization starting near the close of the 19th century. As the subtitle suggests, his ambitious, well-documented study explores the nexus between law, violence, and popular radicalism in an era when near-monopolistic conditions prevailed in the battle between labor and capital. Prominently displayed are dynamic, radical figures like the litigator Clarence Darrow; Appeal to Reason publisher Julius Wayland; and the Industrial Workers of the World chieftain Bill Haywood. But Cohen also fills his book’s pages with references to legal and extralegal repression, including that resulting in red scares, vigilantism, and a resurgent Ku Klux Klan. Both radicals and their antagonists readily resorted to conspiracy charges, with the means to act on such accusations clearly favoring the state and its agents. That ensured the demise of a potent American Left, which emerged in the midst of urbanization and industrialization but faltered on waves of conspiracy trials, heavy-handed practices that could prove lethal, and cultural dominance favoring the powers that were. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —R. C. Cottrell, emeritus, California State University, Chico

Fisher, Linda E. The foreclosure echo: how the hardest hit have been left out of the economic recovery, by Linda E. Fisher and Judith Fox. Cambridge, 2019. 214p index ISBN 9781108415576, $105.00; ISBN 9781108401616 pbk, $34.99.

A plurality of books written about the 2007–8 housing crash focus on macro-level perspectives, including federal policy at an abstract level and especially derivatives. What is underreported is a micro-sense of the housing crash, the actual nuts and bolts behaviors of mortgage lenders, as well as steps they took to avoid responsibility after a foreclosure. Law professors Linda Fisher and Judith Fox led pro bono law clinics to help victims of foreclosures, shoddy reporting, and the like. Their story, The Foreclosure Echo, walks through specific examples of how the bundling of mortgages led to foreclosure mistakes, or how banks avoided their obligations after foreclosure. They detail how consumers cooperated with banks, only to find they did not get out from under foreclosure penalties, even though that was promised by the banks. This is an outstanding book on the housing crisis from the viewpoint of consumers, full of insights into how consumer mortgage lending worked, well and badly. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —J. J. Janney, University of Dayton

Foucault, Michel. Discourse and truth and parrēsia, ed. by Henri-Paul Fruchaud and Daniele Lorenzini. English edition established by Nancy Luxon. Chicago, 2019. 276p index ISBN 9780226509464, $35.00; ISBN 9780226509631 ebook, contact publisher for price.

In 1983, the French philosopher Michel Foucault delivered a series of six lectures at UC Berkeley that addressed the ancient Greek concept of parrēsia, “telling everything” or “telling the truth,” and the role of the truth-teller. Unlike his earlier work on telling the truth as a type of confession, here he analyzes those who speak the truth out of a philosophical, ethical, and political duty to critique. There are at least two reasons why this is an invaluable book. First, these lectures occurred late in his career (he died in 1984), and the reader is privy to a summation of the most important themes that tied together all of his life’s work, especially the themes of truth and power. Second, his lectures are much clearer to follow than his books, making them an excellent complement to his written work. The inclusion of the question-and-answer sessions not only helps clarify content in the lectures, but demonstrates just how deeply he read ancient texts. A valuable addition not only to Foucault’s thought and critical theory, but also to scholars of philosophy who might otherwise ignore Foucault’s writings. Summing Up:Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —M. J. Wert, Marquette University

Pomerance, Murray. Virtuoso: film performance and the actor’s magic. Bloomsbury Academic, 2019. 347p bibl index ISBN 9781501350689, $120.00; ISBN 9781501350672 pbk, $34.95; ISBN 9781501350696 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Virtuoso is the sort of book that one can only write after a lifelong love affair with the movies—just watching them in a casual fashion; rather, thinking deeply about them, analyzing them in detail, and taking them apart at precise moments—moments in which actors shine with particular brightness in a given scene. In 44 epigrammatic chapters, Pomerance examines the work of literally hundreds of screen actors, capturing the essence of their performances in isolated gestures, speech patterns, facial expressions, and other bits of cinematic legerdemain. Thus, each chapter has a series of sharply observed entries—such as “Laurence Olivier grimaces,” “Frank Sinatra perspires,” “Ricou Browning swims,” “Orson Welles ages,” “Jean Harlow shines,” “Cary Grant flees” (this is a selection from a number of chapters)—in which seemingly fleeting moments are frozen forever in the collective cinematic memory. The depth, range, and scope of this volume is stunning, as is the precision with which Pomerance unpacks these moments from more than a thousand films, shedding new light on the actor’s craft. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals. —G. A. Foster, University of Nebraska—Lincoln

Price, Cheryl Blake. Chemical crimes: science and poison in Victorian crime fiction. Ohio State, 2019. 195p bibl index ISBN 9780814213919, $69.95; ISBN 9780814276822 ebook, $19.95.

As Price (Univ. of North Alabama) deftly reminds the reader in Chemical Crimes, the idea of poisoning is fraught with disquieting associations: distrust of science, illogical dread of foreigners, paranoid suspicion that spouses mean one harm, the equally paranoid distrust of the stranger, and many other vague qualms. No wonder Victorians took special notice of the craft of poisoning, particularly as it became affiliated with the scientific innovations of criminals, an interest that corresponded with the Victorian fascination with scientific advances in general. Significantly, readings of poisoning have often questioned the role of women, who frequently occupy the villain’s role in forensic fiction. Price interrogates the extent to which Victorian crime narratives drew women who poison as morally tainted because they possessed knowledge that threatened domesticity. This reviewer especially enjoyed the chapter “L. T. Meade’s Female Mad Scientists,” which views both the potential and the danger of female ingenuity. Whether they were male or female, fictional or actual, poisoners were not usually stupid or insane, and Victorian readers gave them backhanded respect. Chemical Crimes is a readable and intriguing work of scholarship. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. —L. A. Brewer, Perimeter College, Georgia State University

Reid-Henry, Simon. Empire of democracy: the remaking of the West since the Cold War, 1971–2017. Simon & Schuster, 2019. 865p index ISBN 9781451684964, $35.00; ISBN 9781451684988 ebook, $16.99.

In this large volume, Simon Reid-Henry (Univ. of London, UK) provides a well-written, well-researched account of the challenges and controversies that have beset democracy in the West since the 1970s. The book begins by exploring the political upheaval in Western democracies during the aftermath of Watergate, the Vietnam War, and various European political scandals. Democratic countries in the 1980s moved away from the welfare states of the 1960s and 1970s to a form of politics that prioritized the individual and the power of the free markets. This emphasis on laissez-faire economics and individual rights continued in the 1990s under political parties that once stood for collective rights and the power of welfare spending. During the 2000s, 9/11 and the war on terror greatly influenced the move by Western governments to curtail civil rights and to increase the power of the executive. This book is not suited for general readers or lower-level undergraduates, as it does require some familiarity with Western political history over the past several decades. However, it would make a good textbook for upper-division courses dealing with the political history of the West. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —M. Love, Nicholls State University

Ross, Robert E. The framers’ intentions: the myth of the nonpartisan Constitution. Notre Dame, 2019. 273p index ISBN 9780268105495, $50.00; ISBN 9780268105518 ebook, $49.99.

Likely, most American voters are unaware that our party system did not exist when George Washington was elected president in 1789 and 1792. At the time of the elections, the framers viewed the Constitution as anti-party and wanted nothing to do with an electoral system that could be manipulated by partisan politics. Regardless of the framers’ view, in time the Constitution would serve the needs of party politics. The heart of this scholarly study is Ross’s thesis, which proposes to scholars that there is another way in which to view the Constitution’s transition from anti-party to party. Although this well-researched study is intended for historians and political scientists, it is also a work for graduate students studying American political development. It consists of seven chapters that serve as support for the author’s thesis. The chapters are embraced by an introduction and a conclusion. The materials within the 215 pages could serve as course material from high school AP courses through graduate school. Ross (Utah State) offers a book that belongs on the library shelves of all academic institutions with advanced history and political science programs. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —J. J. Fox Jr., emeritus, Salem State University

Sidorsky, Kaitlin N. All roads lead to power: the appointed and elected paths to public office for US women. University Press of Kansas, 2019. 234p bibl index ISBN 9780700627868, $34.95; ISBN 9780700627875 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This stellar book is a major contribution to the study of women’s political participation in appointed offices in state-level executive branch positions. Sidorsky reaches the conclusion that many more women are appointed rather than elected to political office. Using data from her State Political Pathway Survey (and follow-up interviews), which yielded over 1,500 responses from elected and appointed officials, Sidorsky presents quantitative and qualitative data that indicate that women fill 35.1 percent of state-level appointments, and that they are participating in politics without being political. Political scientists have ignored this aspect of political participation, and this book fills that lacuna in the body of literature. The last survey of female appointees at the state level was conducted in 1983; hence this is a major scholarly contribution to the field. Women are serving as public servants in a variety of boards and commissions, including regulating waterways and utilities, and professional licensing; most of these appointees had professional expertise to share or personal interest in specific issues—mental health, services for the blind, etc. This book should be required reading in graduate-level classes in political science, women’s studies, and research methodologies. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —I. Coronado, University of Texas at El Paso

Spengler, Robert N., III. Fruit from the sands: the Silk Road origins of the foods we eat. California, 2019. 374p bibl index ISBN 9780520303638, $34.95; ISBN 9780520972780 ebook, $34.95.

Archaeobotanist Spengler (Max Planck Institute) combines the studies of history, archaeology, and botany in an excellent account of where many of our foodstuffs originate, showing how they became distributed over most of Eurasia. The Silk Road is described here, as well as the more southerly Spice Routes. Maps are provided indicating the geography as well as the archaeological sites where varieties of various foodstuffs have been found. As explained, “Silk” is a misnomer, since the amounts and values of all foodstuffs and plants shipped and traded along these routes were higher than the amounts and values for silk alone. Chapters describe in turn the millets (broomcorn, barnyard), rice, buckwheat, barleys, wheats, legumes (beans, peas, soybeans, lentils), grapes and apples, plums, peaches, apricots, cherries, melons, olives, pomegranates, dates, figs, persimmons, jujubes, hawthorn apples, lettuces, cabbages, broccoli, turnips, mallows, spinach, carrots, onions, lilies, rhubarb, and black pepper (a key Spice Route commodity from Roman to modern times) that were transported. Likewise coriander, cumin, dill, sesame, flax, tea, pistachios, walnuts, almonds, and pine nuts. Notably, mention is also made of the reverse migrations of New World plants and foodstuffs. The various dynasties and historical periods relevant to the area are also listed. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. —R. E. Buntrock, independent scholar