Editors’ Picks for January 2018

10 reviews handpicked from the January 2018 issue of Choice.

Andersen, Kurt. Fantasyland: how America went haywire: a 500-year history. Random House, 2017. 462p index ISBN 9781400067213, $30.00; ISBN 9781588366870 ebook, $14.99.

Everyone realizes that things have become weird in US politics and culture over the past several decades. Andersen argues that this recent development actually has deep historical roots going back 500 years. In this romp through US history, Andersen asserts that Americans have been dreamers and gamblers. They lived in a land immersed in possibilities. Historically, the US was a national culture based on Protestantism and the Enlightenment. These foundations meant Americans valued free thinking, discipline, literacy, empiricism, skepticism, and reason. Unfortunately, during the last few decades the balances between the various aspects of Protestant and Enlightenment culture have become unbalanced. Phenomena such as talk radio and the internet have abetted this dysfunction, where outlandish conspiracy theories have driven out respect for expertise and facts. All of this might sound like dry intellectualism, but Andersen’s prose and presentation is both compelling and entertaining. He presents his tale of the country’s current woes with humor, passion, and a deluge of historical evidence. Not everyone will like what Andersen has to say, but he has written a fine work of history that convincingly explains how we got to where we are today. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All public and academic levels/libraries. —R. Fritze, Athens State University

Archaeologies of “us” and “them”: debating history, heritage and indigeneity, ed. by Charlotta Hillerdal, Anna Karlström, and Carl-Gösta Ojala. Routledge, 2017. 303p bibl index (Routledge studies in archaeology, 24) ISBN 9781138188914, $140.00; ISBN 9781315641997 ebook, $54.95.

A spate of books advocating postcolonial archaeology has recently been published. The current volume comes from two 2013 meetings, at Uppsala and at the World Archaeological Congress. The core of the book is that “Indigeneity” is an academic label obscuring great diversity among colonized peoples. Part I, “Politics of Indigeneity,” stems from UN human rights resolutions extended to community rights. Part II looks at issues of who are indigenous, where population movements challenge the status of contemporary locals as indigenous. Part III focuses on heritage management, discussing economic benefits from “performing ‘Indigenous’” for tourists or collecting funds for maintaining “indigenous” activities. The 20 contributors come from Europe, North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia, providing a wide range of cases and questions. In common with other postcolonial archaeology publications, this one emphasizes that “Indigenous” tends to be equated with timeless, tradition-bound, non-Western, endangered––in a word, a euphemism for “primitive.” That colonized peoples are generally poor tends to be glossed over. A strength of this book is that many authors make this clear. Most of the chapters are well written, interesting, and deepen understanding of what “indigenous” may entail. [Ed. note: capitalization of indigenous/Indigenous is an evolving discussion, addressed in the book’s introduction: “In the volume there remains a certain ambiguity in the use of “Indigenous” and “indigenous,” which ultimately reflects the complexity of the issue.”] Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. —A. B. Kehoe, Marquette University

Carlson, Matt. Journalistic authority: legitimating news in the digital era. Columbia, 2017. 248p index ISBN 9780231174442, $90.00; ISBN 9780231174459 pbk, $30.00; ISBN 9780231543095 ebook, $29.99.

This book asks great questions. “How is it that journalism comes to possess a right to be listened to?” “What are the necessary conditions for any news story to be accepted as a legitimate account of an event?” These queries hardly could be timelier given popular mistrust of news media, the president’s assault on its credibility, and the digital disruption that has scattered audiences and advertising dollars. Carlson (Saint Louis Univ.) answers these questions with a veritable master syllabus on journalism and society, mostly as developed in the 20th century. He duly notes that this model has changed over time, but that the key is relationships between journalists and audiences in the encounter of news. His relational focus is apt and intuitively powerful. However, while ultimately this book is about theory-building more than empirical investigation, the reader may yearn for more extensive analyses of concrete examples regarding the different kinds of relationships that have prompted audiences to bestow authority on journalists in the past and today and among mass and alternative media. Such evidence will certainly provide clues as to how to further theorize the legitimating of news in the digital era. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —J. K. Chakars, Gwynedd Mercy University

Fishes out of water: biology and ecology of mudskippers, ed. by Zeehan Jaafar and Edward O. Murdy. CRC Press, 2017. 390p bibl index ISBN 9781498717878, $119.95; ISBN 9781351646178 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This book is devoted to the biology of a distinct evolutionary group of fishes that belong to the family Gobiidae. The mudskippers are amphibious and are adapted for life on mudflats and mangrove forests. The 43 species are primarily found in the tropics of the Indo-West Pacific, but one species inhabits the Eastern Atlantic tropics. Much of their lives are spent out of the water where they find food, defend territories, breed, and construct tunnels to their nests. Although mudskippers have attracted the attention of biologists since the 17th century, this volume constitutes the first comprehensive review. The 15 chapters contain up-to-date information on mudskipper anatomy, physiology, distribution, systematics, ecology, and conservation. The illustrations, consisting of colored photos and full-page distribution maps, are of the highest quality. The 24 authors are recognized authorities within their special areas. The book is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Toru Takita, a pioneer in mudskipper study. Overall, this beautiful book is a tribute to its authors, editors, and CRC Press. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above; professionals and practitioners. —J. C. Briggs, Oregon State University

Fitzgerald, Frances. The Evangelicals: the struggle to shape America. Simon & Schuster, 2017. 740p bibl index ISBN 9781439131336, $35.00; ISBN 9781439131343 pbk, $20.00; ISBN 9781439143155 ebook, $13.99.

Fitzgerald’s Evangelicals are a subset of the larger evangelical movement that emerged during the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries and became an important element in the religious ecology of the US. Fitzgerald (who is an award-winning writer) focuses on leaders and congregants in this protean tradition—Presbyterians and Pentecostals—who consciously shaped governmental and social behavior through revivals, legislation, and in recent years the Republican Party. She chronicles the tides of evangelical fervor, corresponding with believers encountering new ideas, livelihoods, locations, and populations, suggesting the power of certain faith in a changing world. Not always successful in national policy making, Evangelicals have shaped state laws and policies, and through denominational politics and schism have countered the influence of mainline Protestantism and many expressions of social Christianity. Focusing on well-known figures—John Gresham Machen, Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Rick Warren—the author captures a culture that is diverse and subject to change over time. Despite divisions over public issues since 2006, more than 80 percent of self-described Evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016. Synthetic more than original, Fitzgerald’s narrative demonstrates how and why her Evangelicals seek to sculpt the US in their own image. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. —E. R. Crowther, Adams State University

Jackson, Robert. Fade in, crossroads: a history of the southern cinema. Oxford, 2017. 329p bibl indexes ISBN 9780190660178, $99.00; ISBN 9780190660185 pbk, $35.00; ISBN 9780190660192 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Jackson (English, Univ. of Tulsa) investigates connections between the American South and the movies. Among his topics are the history of film production in the South; the contributions of southern actors, writers, and directors; the careers of black directors like Oscar Micheaux; and depictions of the Civil War with emphasis, of course, on Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind. Jackson is at his best when discussing Hollywood’s attitude toward the South: its fascination with the antebellum period and its apparent sympathy with the Confederate cause and the de facto segregation that prevailed—in Los Angeles, within the Hollywood studios, and among the Hollywood elite. (He points the finger at such virulent racists as Howard Hughes and Tallulah Bankhead.) Jackson reminds readers that the film industry did almost nothing to fight against or even question segregation, acquiescing to both segregated theaters and local censorship and limiting its representations of African Americans to the stereotypes represented by Hattie McDaniel and Stepin Fetchit. He devotes a chapter to lynchings. This reviewer was disappointed to find nothing about Cabin in the Sky, but on the whole the book is thorough and persuasive. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. —W. A. Vincent, Michigan State University

Postell, Joseph. Bureaucracy in America: the administrative state’s challenge to constitutional government. Missouri, 2017. 403p bibl index ISBN 9780826221230, $44.96.

Postell (Univ. of Colorado at Colorado Springs) calls attention to the fact that in the American democratic process today, policies are typically crafted and implemented by unelected bureaucratic agencies—not Congress nor even the president. The administrative state continues to operate out of the minds of average Americans while combining the legislative, executive, and judicial functions, which were originally designed by the Framers to belong exclusively to separate branches of government. This leads to serious constitutional questions, some of which have been publicly explored but most of which have not. By bringing together American political development literature, political theory, and both constitutional and administrative law, Postell’s work helps place questions of policy-making clearly on the administrative units of government, which are not directly responsible to citizens regarding the decisions they make. Postell helps readers see why more scrutiny should be placed on potentially non-responsive bureaucrats, who are charged and empowered to implement passed laws. This deep analysis is a must read for anyone interested in public administration or constitutional law. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —W. Miller, Flagler College

Robins, Anthony. New York art deco: a guide to Gotham’s jazz age architecture. SUNY Press, 2017. 273p bibl index ISBN 9781438463964 pbk, $24.95; ISBN 9781438463988 ebook, contact publisher for price.

SUNY Press’s “Excelsior Editions” focus on the historical and cultural heritage of New York State. Written by Robins, a 20-year veteran of the New York City Landmarks Commission, New York Art Deco is steadfastly urban. After a concise and informative introduction, it presents fifteen walking-tour itineraries. (A few outside of Manhattan may benefit from access to an automobile.) Research in historic periodicals is evident in occasional direct quotations, and the author’s prose is highly articulate and descriptive. The longer entries—as many as three pages (e.g., the 1931 Century Apartments)—read somewhat like walking-tour transcriptions. Unfortunately, with page layouts lacking a grid, a too-light serif font, and illustrations that vary in quality—sometimes suffering from glare or the absence of perspective correction—the graphic design fails to reflect the taut design of the buildings and the elegance of the prose. Though there are clear black-and-white maps, placement on the second page of each tour obscures them, and the absence of maps for the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island relegates them to a secondary level of importance. Despite these lapses, New York Art Deco is essential for all architecture and urban-history collections. Summing Up: Essential. Undergraduates through professionals/practitioners; general readers. —P. Glassman, Yeshiva University

Segal, Julia. The trouble with illness: how illness and disability affect relationships. Jessica Kingsley, 2017. 312p bibl index ISBN 9781785923326 pbk, $19.95; ISBN 9781784506513 ebook, $19.95.

Segal, a counselor with over 30 years of experience working with clients with disabilities, especially those with deteriorating conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS), documents the psychodynamic processes and realistic consequences of the condition, which have variations in improvements and relapses that range from case to case. Using the analytical techniques pioneered by Melanie Klein, a colleague of Anna Freud, Segal examines the intrapsychic conflicts or acceptance of patients living with neurological dysfunction. She stresses the importance of familial support and acknowledgment of hidden fears and anxieties in coping with the nonlinear trajectory of the illness. Every angle of the impact of MS on the family is explored extensively. One major criticism of this otherwise illuminating book is that it deemphasizes prevailing negative, stereotypical, systemic attitudes toward people with disabilities. Such attitudes often shape retrograde policies such as architectural barriers, which are more limit-imposing than the functional limitations themselves. The book is well written with the narrative flowing easily while engaging the reader in the process. It is strongly recommended for readers at all levels, especially students, professionals, and policy makers who are working with individuals experiencing neurological conditions. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —D. J. Winchester, Columbia University

Teaching, affirming, and recognizing trans and gender creative youth: a queer literacy framework, ed. by sj Miller. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. 323p index ISBN 9781137567659, $99.99; ISBN 9781137567666 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This timely book is a splendid addition to the literature aimed at informing and guiding educators in supporting trans individuals (“trans” is an inclusive term for anyone along the “non-conforming” gender identity spectrum). The editor, an associate professor of literacy at the University of Colorado, has gathered a talented group of knowledgeable contributors who collectively provide a rich mix of theory and practice. Although the book contextualizes things within a “queer literacy framework,” it is not by any means a polemic. On the contrary, it removes LGBTQ concerns as a subspecialty within a queer studies or gender studies program, and redirects its focus to the (mostly secondary) English language arts (ELA) classroom. The contributors provide pre-service and in-service teachers with a clear picture of the lives of trans individuals and, from a very practical perspective, offer specific classroom activities and lessons aimed at bringing a more expansive understanding of diversity into the nation’s schools. And while the examples are geared toward the ELA curriculum, the book would be of great benefit within any teacher education program, especially now when trans rights and safety are under fire in so many quarters. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through practitioners. —H. M. Miller, Mercy College