Editors’ Picks for January 2020

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.

Love the Editors’ Picks? Try our other newsletters.

The blue wave: the 2018 midterms and what they mean for the 2020 elections, ed. by Larry Sabato and Kyle Kondik. Rowman & Littlefield, 2019. 293p index ISBN 9781538125267, $80.00; ISBN 9781538125274 pbk, $28.00; ISBN 9781538125281 ebook, $26.50.

It is unusual for a collection of academic essays to flow as though written by a single author or pair of authors. The Blue Wave, edited by Larry Sabato and Kyle Kondik, does so. Any political scientist prepping courses on elections for next year, media pundits wanting to sound more knowledgeable, or political consultants seeking to give clients good advice must read this book. Its initial chapters provide an excellent, detailed retelling of the 2018 election. It moves on to “slice and dice” the role of different demographic constituencies in the outcome of the election. Lastly, the book does two things. First, it sets up how, if what was observed as widespread group behavior continues through 2020, the 2020 presidential election may be impacted. Second, it defines a wave election while simultaneously determining whether the 2018 election was a wave. Wave or not, the 2018 election was certainly significant, and Sabato and Kondik have assembled knowledgeable experts who write well and detail the election in a compelling way. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —Jim Twombly, Elmira College

Chevassus-au-Louis, Nicolas. Fraud in the lab: the high stakes of scientific research, tr. by Nicholas Elliott. Harvard, 2019. 205p index ISBN 9780674979451, $35.00; ISBN 9780674242111 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Chevassus-au-Louis is a French investigative journalist with a background in biomedical research. In this volume, he reviews numerous examples of scientific results between the 1970s and the present in which data were invented, massaged, or selected inappropriately. He also points out how failures to follow standard refereeing processes allowed some of this fraudulent research to be published, and he reflects on the challenges posed by the real difficulties involved in replicating experiments. Chevassus-au-Louis includes cases from Europe, North America, and Asia, and draws on journal articles, other scientific reporting, and his own observations. He focuses on the biological and medical sciences, although some of the phenomena described, such as plagiarism and pressures to publish frequently and quickly, are found in the physical sciences and mathematics too. He closes with a call for “slow science,” characterized by free exchanges of ideas and information, with evaluations based on qualitative standards. Fraud in the Lab would be a suitable text for methodology, capstone, and ethics courses in a variety of fields, as it provides thought-provoking discussion material about the complexities of practice in science, publishing, business, and academia. The translation is clear, apparently accurate, and accessible. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. —A. K. Ackerberg-Hastings, independent scholar

Couldry, Nick. The costs of connection: how data is colonizing human life and appropriating it for capitalism, by Nick Couldry and Ulises A. Mejias. Stanford, 2019. 323p bibl index ISBN 9781503603660, $90.00; ISBN 9781503609747 pbk, $30.00.

Couldry (London School of Economics) and Mejias (SUNY, Oswego) make the provocative argument that data is a commodity and is shaping a new form of colonization. The importance of data, of how much social media and IT companies know about individuals, has been widely discussed (e.g., by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier in Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, CH, Aug’13, 50-6804, and Rebecca MacKinnon in Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom, CH, Oct’12, 50-0700). In 2015, China’s minister of industry, Miao Wei, remarked that big data would be the 21st century’s major “competitive resource,” as oil and gold were during previous eras. Couldry and Mejias argue that data accumulation and analysis transform human activity into commodities that can be used to predict and shape human behavior, altering social and political relations. The authors effectively blend their particular skills: Couldry applies critical theory to the transformation of media, and Mejias concentrates on the failings of social media to affect political change. Those studying political science, information technology, and communications at the undergraduate level will grapple with the authors’ arguments about whether data can be colonized and exploited in the same way labor and resources were under traditional forms of colonialism. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —H. L. Katz, Southwestern Oklahoma State University

Gertz, Nolen. Nihilism. MIT, 2019. 209p bibl index ISBN 9780262537179 pbk, $15.95; ISBN 9780262353328 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Gertz (applied philosophy, Univ. of Twente, The Netherlands) makes a valuable contribution to the “MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series,” which comprises pocket-size books on topics of interest. In fewer than 200 pages, complete with pull quotes decorously spread across entire pages, Gertz explains what nihilism is and is not, the history of nihilism (going back to Plato), and societal identification of nihilism in the settings of everyday life. Gertz is well versed in the subject matter at hand and has a strong command of both the philosophical roots of nihilism and the emergence of nihilism in popular culture. The questions Gertz raises about nihilism in today’s cultural milieu serve as the starting point, and he demands that one think about whether one is oneself a nihilist without knowing it. This is a wonderful introduction to some pressing questions in philosophy, both political and personal. Those who would like to explore the interplay of Nietzschean ideas, existentialism, and postmodernity in the Western world will enjoy this book. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —J. Sienkiewicz, Benedictine College

Gonschor, Lorenz. A power in the world: the Hawaiian kingdom in Oceania. Hawai’i, 2019. 235p bibl index ISBN 9780824880019, $68.00; ISBN 9780824880187 ebook, contact publisher for price.

According to Gonschor (‘Atenisi Univ., Tonga), traditional accounts of Hawaiian history, written by missionaries and their descendants, have presented a negative view of the Hawaiian monarchy, King Kalākaua, and its last ruler, Queen Lili‘uokalani. Gonschor critiques the missionary/the imperial and fatal impact of schools of historiography, and ascribes agency to the Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. In this fascinating book, he makes a case that the Hawaiian Kingdom, by practicing similitude and selective appropriation, was able to achieve cultural and political hybridity. Hawai‘i was recognized as a sovereign nation-state, becoming a model for countries in Polynesia, Oceania, and Asia. Japan, for example, asked Kalākaua to help end its unequal treaties with the West. Gonschor points to Charles St. Julian and Walter Murray Gibson as important in devising a pan-Oceanian, pan-Austronesian, and pan-Asian vision for Hawai‘i as “a power in the world.” Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Kiribati, and other islands in Micronesia even studied the different Hawaiian constitutions, but only achieved mixed degrees of success. Unfortunately, coups in 1887 and 1893 toppled the Hawaiian Kingdom and ended its hopes for regional integration. Stimulating and informative about current scholarship in Oceanian studies. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —F. Ng, emeritus, California State University, Fresno

Lovell, Julia. Maoism: a global history. Knopf, 2019. 610p bibl index ISBN 9780525656043, $37.50; ISBN 9780525656050 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This interesting and insightful volume by Lovell (Univ. of London) aims to recount a global history of Maoism by re-centering China in the global history of the past 80 years through 12 chapters cataloging the ideology’s chronological development and manifestations. Following the introduction, chapters 1 and 2 review the beginning of international Maoism in the 1930s. Chapters 3 through 8 cover the early Cold War period, when China’s treaty with the Soviet Union worried many Western governments, detailing how Maoism played an important role in different countries’ communist movements. Chapters 9 through 11 describe Maoism’s afterlife in Peru, Nepal, and India, and chapter 12 examines a neo-Maoist revival. In the conclusion, the author questions how “the PRC [will] weather the contrast between the CCP’s Maoist heritage and the hybrid, globalised nature of contemporary China” and how “it [will] reconcile its expansive, internationalist rhetoric and intolerant nationalism.” Lovell ultimately believes that “we should get used to the contradictions of Maoism,” as it seems “they will be with us for some time yet.” Supported by substantial references, this text is a worthy read. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —S. K. Ma, emeritus, California State University, Los Angeles

Petrone, Chiara Maria. Volcanoes and earthquakes: a guide to our unquiet earth, by Chiara Maria Petrone, Roberto Scandone, and Alex Whittaker. Smithsonian Books, 2019. 144p bibl index ISBN 9781588346551 pbk, $19.95.

Each contributing separate chapters, the authors have created a valuable primer on the geology and hazards of volcanoes, earthquakes, and their associated phenomena. Separate bibliographies accompany all but the tectonics chapter. Petrone (Natural History Museum, London), Scandone (National Inst. of Geophysics and Volcanology, Naples), and Whittaker (Imperial College, London) provide examples drawn from throughout geologic time, with an emphasis on recent occurrences. The book is filled with color photographs, maps, and figures, evidently targeting an educated readership. Brief explanations accompany the illustrations, for example of Earth’s structure, plate tectonics, types of faults and volcanoes, and how a seismograph works. The text employs scientific terminology whose definitions are often revealed in context. Meanwhile, a reader with no background in these subjects might be slowed. One chapter explores the beneficial role of volcanoes in creating minerals, landscapes, and eventually fertile soils. Petrone discusses the known and hypothesized effects of eruptions on human populations in several locations. She also notes the effects of volcanic activity as represented in various art forms and cultural observances. The book concludes with a discussion of related hazards and the development of pertinent observational and predictive systems to address them. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. —L. S. Zipp, independent scholar

Protecting historic coastal cities: case studies in resilience, ed. by Matthew Pelz. Texas A&M, 2019. 132p index (Gulf Coast Books, 34) ISBN 9781623497705, $30.00; ISBN 9781623497712 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Protecting Historic Coastal Cities contends that “we need to understand what builders and homeowners of the previous few centuries understood when constructing buildings that responded to location and geographic factors.” As climate change intensifies, preservationists and others must understand the past and plan for the future to ensure that our communities do indeed have a future. This is the central theme of the text, and in eight chapters Pelz (Galveston Historical Foundation) brings together essays focused on the geographic coastal areas of Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and the Netherlands, as well as on hazards such as storm surges. Peppered throughout with color and black-and-white maps, graphs, and photographs, including historic ones, the book delves into changing shorelines and solutions such as seawalls and dikes, and their size and the materials they are made of. The reader learns of past efforts, such as Galveston’s seawall and grade-raising projects after the 1900 hurricane, and more current efforts, slowed by rapid code adoption but with flood-hardy solutions, in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This valuable, impactful book is a local complement to books such as The Water Will Come (2017), by Jeff Goodell. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. —L. B. Allsopp, Arizona State University

Vizenor, Gerald. Native provenance: the betrayal of cultural creativity. Nebraska, 2019. 199p ISBN 9781496216717, $29.95; ISBN 9781496218087 ebook, $29.95.

The present volume is a collection of lectures, presentations, and essays produced by Gerald Vizenor, a highly regarded critical theorist and scholar of Native American culture and literature, over the past two decades. Fair warning: it is not a primer or introduction to Vizenor. Indeed, without previous exposure, the reader will find him or herself at sea struggling to understand Vizenor’s neologisms, such as survivance and transmotion. Someone who has studied his previous work, meanwhile, may easily ride the waves of his subtleties and the elusiveness of his language. Like the phenomena they “describe,” his thoughts are in constant motion, and references change along with the texts and surfaces he examines. Prepared readers will be challenged to think deeply and to discard all former notions of Native American literature and art as Vizenor refuses to categorize, stand still, or be labeled, and shreds the “gossip theory” espoused by scholars and nostalgic academicians who have tried to tie down what is a fluid, ironic, and playful way of being in the world. In these essays Vizenor presents a way of seeing as compelling as his fiction, though perhaps more scholarly. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers; upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —L. De Danaan, emeritus, Evergreen State College

William S. Burroughs cutting up the century, ed. by Joan Hawkins and Alex Wermer-Colan with Charles Cannon, Tony Brewer, and Landon Palmer. Indiana, 2019. 434p bibl index ISBN 9780253041326, $85.00; ISBN 9780253041333 pbk, $35.00; ISBN 9780253041357 ebook, $34.99.

This sumptuous collection of materials on American experimental writer and social critic William Burroughs (1914–97) is a landmark in scholarship. The essays and interviews are indispensable, and the book has excellent illustrations and reprints of Burroughs’s writings. There is an especially useful exchange between the author’s two most important editors, Davis Schneiderman and Oliver Harris. The long interview with Barry MiIes, Burroughs’s most thorough biographer (Call Me Burroughs, CH, Jan’15, 52-2404), is indispensable. Topics in the collection include globalism, ecology, feminism and gender, pornography, film, photography and audio work, and popular culture and Burroughs’s role in it. The editors assume the importance of Burroughs in literature, media, and popular culture, and their assumption is borne out by the book. Burroughs has long been treated as primarily a Beat Generation writer, but he transcends labels. A strong contribution to the study of American literature, the collection is many sided, like Burroughs himself. The useful apparatus includes a detailed chronology of Burroughs’s life and career, extensive bibliographies, and a robust index. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. —B. Almon, emeritus, University of Alberta