Editors’ Picks for February 2020

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.

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Alexievich, Svetlana. Last witnesses: an oral history of the children of World War II, tr. by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Random House, 2019. 295p ISBN 9780399588754, $30.00; ISBN 9780399588778 ebook, contact publisher for price.

In 2015 Alexievich won the Nobel prize for literature for her “polyphonic writings.” For this book, she gathered the stories of approximately one hundred individuals who were children in the Soviet Union in June 1941, and who were shaped by the experience of Nazi occupation, the siege in Leningrad, or as refugees in the east. Most of her subjects were between the ages of 4 and 14 when the war began. Their stories, some as short as one page, have a few common themes. Many speak of hunger or the loss of parents and siblings either to Nazi violence or disease, and many describe the long-term impact of the war on their psyches. Alexievich does not provide an introduction or even an explanation of the questions she asked. The reader does not even know how she choose the individuals whose stories are included. What the book provides is an unfiltered view of experiences that were burned into the memories of children and recalled more than 70 years later by adults who could never leave the war behind. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. —F. Krome, University of Cincinnati—Clermont College

Bevis, Matthew. Wordsworth’s fun. Chicago, 2019. 303p index ISBN 9780226652191, $82.50; ISBN 9780226652191 pbk, $27.50; ISBN 9780226652221 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Wordsworthians will devour this book. Bevis (Univ. of Oxford, UK) begins with William Hazlitt, who thought of Don Quixote on meeting Wordsworth and later observed, “To one class of reader he appears sublime, to another (and we fear the larger) ridiculous” (p. 9). In this book, Bevis addresses the former class of readers, but he might well convert the latter. Fascinated by both sublimity and humor, Wordsworth was a lifelong admirer of such comic writers as Ariosto, Cervantes, and Sterne. “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” foregrounds the traditional associations of daffodils with daftness because, Bevis writes, “To be open to ridicule is to be open to possibility” (p. 29). Offering a combination of social history and critical detection that eventually turns to the poet’s biography, Bevis argues (in the section titled “Fooling”) that Wordsworth’s frequently mocked poem “The Idiot Boy” discloses “one of Wordsworth’s secrets: he has lived like that too, and will continue to do so whenever he gets the opportunity.” In the final section (“Humoring”), Bevis reads The Prelude as “the comic-epic story of the child who is father of the man, the man who cannot help but play Sancho to his own past Quixote.” Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —T. Ware, emeritus, Queen’s University at Kingston

The Cambridge history of the book in Britain: v.7: The twentieth century and beyond, ed. by Andrew Nash, Claire Squires, and I. R. Willison. Cambridge, 2019. 766p bibl index ISBN 9781107010604, $155.00; ISBN 9781108644976 ebook, $42.00.

A fitting conclusion to a splendid seven-volume series (the first volumes appeared in 2008), this wonderfully useful and engaging collection presents 31 essays on topics including print materials and technology, book formats, and the digital book; authorship, publishing, distribution, and ownership; particular publishing niches from government publications, university presses, journals, magazines, children’s literature, and comic books and graphic novels; publishing in various fields, from art books (including museum catalogs), popular history, and works of reference to books on religion and popular since; and books in relation to larger historical developments: the book in wartime, intellectual property and copyright, colonization and empire, and various minority and countercultures. The essays occupy 700 pages (followed by a 35 page index), range in quality from good to superb, and are uniformly well edited. One might complain that there are only 15 illustrations (fewer than in most volumes in the series) and insufficient attention to actual reading practices, but this would be churlish. This rich volume and indeed the whole series are essential for all who are interested in the history of the book. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals. —D. L. Patey, Smith College

Mehta, Suketu. This land is our land: an immigrant’s manifesto. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019. 306p index ISBN 9780374276027, $27.00; ISBN 9780374719357 ebook, $13.99.

Hotly debated since Colonial America, human mobility—in all domains of life—has been the subject of innumerable books over the years, but few writers have captured the very essence of immigration. In this timely, powerful, and provoking analysis, Mehta (journalism, NYU), an award-winning writer, vividly details the truths and realities of immigrants. Exposing not only the immigrant story but also the unspoken/underlying forces governing anti-immigrant movements, Mehta masterfully delineates the immigrant journey, struggles, and dreams. Mehta writes from a humanistic standpoint, and he effectively situates immigration within a broader context and reveals contributions of immigrants and their significance to US society. This Land Is Our Land is a must read for all who are interested in better understanding the historical forces shaping immigration law, anti-immigrant movements, and immigrants’ contributions to the US. In the face of extreme anti-immigrant hate across the US, from mainstream America to the White House, Mehta offers a picture of unity, positive transformation, and hope for social change, equality, and justice. This book will be a fundamental resource in the areas of sociology, history, immigration studies, ethnic/minority studies, political science, and criminal justice. Summing Up: Essential. All readers. —M. G. Urbina, Sul Ross State University

Odets, Walt. Out of the shadows: reimagining gay men’s lives. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019. 347p index ISBN 9780374285852, $30.00; ISBN 9780374719326 ebook, $14.99.

Odets, a clinical psychologist and writer, reframes the way gay men could imagine their lives, moving toward self-realization and away from self-loathing. The book examines gay men’s emotional lives through a series of case studies, including men Odets has treated as a psychotherapist, past lovers, and himself. Odets focuses on three core issues: “the ongoing psychological aftermath of an uncontrolled, deeply stigmatizing fifteen-year plague [AIDS]”; the “current HIV epidemic”; and “the still-ongoing childhood and adolescent trauma that gay people are subjected to.” These three issues anchor the book as the author explores other important issues in the gay community, such as the emotional aftermath of the AIDS crisis during the 1980s and early-mid 1990s, which is perhaps one of the strongest elements of the entire volume. While this text makes an important contribution to conversations about gay men’s lives, younger scholars and activists may take umbrage with the author’s focus on cisgender men. Regardless, scholars of LGBTQ studies, social workers, and psychologists will find the text illuminating for their scholarship and practice. Summing Up: Essential. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals. —C. Pinto, Mount Holyoke College

Parasecoli, Fabio. Food. MIT, 2019. 211p bibl index ISBN 9780262537315 pbk, $15.95; ISBN 9780262353779 ebook, contact publisher for price.

In this contribution to the “MIT Press Essential Knowledge” series, Parasecoli (New York Univ.) provides a refreshingly clear and compact overview of the complex supply networks and interconnected environmental issues engaged by every consumer trip to the supermarket—the unseen interactions embedded within our food system. As with any short consumer guide, chapters can only sketch out key issues and debates in the broadest terms. Such global perspective also encourages what seem at times superficial generalizations. Yet precisely because its chapters cast a wide net—ranging across food production networks, health issues, sustainability, technology, and food security—this book succeeds as a provocative introduction to the constellation of issues surrounding food production and distribution, giving due attention to their social and environmental implications. The bibliographic references (included with each chapter) may not provide as much depth as readers might like, but the value of this work clearly lies in its synthetic power. Going far beyond monotonous description of food systems, Parasecoli here interweaves his lucid description of contemporary food production and consumption practices with admonitions and reflections on the necessity of informed, critical attention to our food choices as consumers and citizens. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. —F. Gibbs, University of New Mexico

Pulford, Ed. Mirrorlands: Russia, China, and journeys in between. Hurst & Company, 2019. 346p index ISBN 9781787381384, $29.95; ISBN 9781787382862 ebook, contact publisher for price.

On a global scale, borderlands are misunderstood areas that remain largely underresearched by academics. As these are often sites of frequent tension, the reasons for their omission from academic studies are many and understandable. Investigating the social nuances of the border areas between China and Russia, the world’s largest and most populous countries, is particularly fraught with challenges, and yet Pulford (Hokkaido Univ., Japan) readily took on the task. He crisscrossed the large, often extremely isolated geographic expanse in order to understand, as fully as possible, the condition of both sides of the demarcation. What he found were communities that shared much in common, owing to their continued interaction via economic and social networks. Their proximity at the border necessitated associations that for practical reasons would not be possible with more distant places, including each borderland’s respective national capital. Mirrorlands is a collage of historical, anthroposociological, and geographical explanations that incorporates the observations and worldviews of dozens of residents who routinely interact along the border areas. This book is strongly recommended, as it will surely help readers understand the role borderlands play elsewhere. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals. —L. Yacher, emeritus, Southern Connecticut State University

Steinberg, Ronen. The afterlives of the Terror: facing the legacies of mass violence in post-revolutionary France. Cornell, 2019. 222p bibl index ISBN 9781501739248 pbk, $19.95; ISBN 9781501739262 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Steinberg’s excellent new book looks at the aftermath of the Reign of Terror in France through the modern lens of transitional justice, asserting that the French ultimately failed to work through or find resolution to the Terror’s brutal events. Steinberg (Michigan State Univ.) divides this well-written and thoughtful piece into five broad chapters: “Nomenclature,” “Accountability,” “Redress,” “Remembrance,” and “Haunting.” He posits that instead of applying the traditional approach to the aftermath of a mass traumatic experience, in which a ruler enforces collective amnesia, the new democratic and radical values of the French Revolution prompted an ongoing public debate about guilt, revenge, restitution, and ownership. With detailed citations, the author argues that the aftermath of the Terror represents one of the earliest examples of using transitional justice to attempt to work through a national trauma, though it failed in this case. Steinberg is able to draw clear linkages and similarities between how 20th-century revolutions and genocides were processed by the victims/perpetrators and how French society was affected by violence and attempted to address the various legacies of the Terror. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers, graduate students, faculty, and professionals. —S. M. McDonald, Bentley University

Wehner, Peter. The death of politics: how to heal our frayed republic after Trump. HarperOne, 2019. 264 pages ISBN 9780062820792, $25.99; ISBN 9780062820815 ebook, $12.99.

Writing for nonspecialists, Wehner, a New York Times opinion writer who covers US politics and conservative thought, seeks to rehabilitate the faltering ways of contemporary American politics. Early on he explains the reasons for bitter partisanship and elucidates how corruption today is less than at many points in US history. In endorsing politics as a human activity, he draws on Aristotle, Locke, and Lincoln, arguing in chapter 3 (“What Politics Is”) that the “power of ideas” can “shape history.” His arguments for the importance of faith in politics (pp. 60–76) are particularly well rendered. Further on in the book Wehner condemns Trump’s “character flaws and moral failures” (p. 80) and decries the baleful political effects of this “con man.” Wehner served in the George W. Bush administration, and he is candid about its failures in Iraq (though he places ultimate blame for the Iraq reversal on Obama’s peremptory withdrawal). Seeking to move readers beyond the performance art that dominates current politics, Wehner urges a frank view of domestic policy failures (which he argues are many). He remains committed to the cause of good government, arguing that it can come only from an atmosphere of civility and compromise, both now sorely lacking. Including extensive bibliographical references, this thoughtful analysis deserves a wide readership. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers. —S. E. Schier, emeritus, Carleton College

Wheeler, Elizabeth A. HandiLand: the crippest place on Earth. Michigan, 2019. 260p bibl index ISBN 9780472074204, $80.00; ISBN 9780472054206 pbk, $34.95; ISBN 9780472125715 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Part critical reading and part disability-rights activism primer, HandiLand is poised to become the definitive study of representation of disability in contemporary literature for young readers. Wheeler (Univ. of Oregon) charts the correlation between changes in disability rights and related legislation to an increasing number of literary works for children and young adults that center on the experiences of persons with disabilities, which in turn generates a much-needed, broader public understanding of disability and the lived experience of disabled people in contemporary society. Interwoven with critical reflections on a number of children’s and young adult titles (largely from the US, UK, and Ghana), the book reflects Wheeler’s own personal and familial experiences with disability as well as the experiences of other disabled people when engaging with literature that represents them explicitly, implicitly, or metaphorically. Scholars and lay people whose personal or professional work intersects with the fields of literature, education, disability studies, and social justice should consider this title a must read. Summing Up: Essential. All readers. —A. Tureen, University of Nevada, Las Vegas