Editors’ Picks for January 2022

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.

book covers

Colapinto, John. This is the voice. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 320p bibl index ISBN 9781982128746, $28.00; ISBN 9781982128760 ebook, $14.99.

New Yorker writer John Colapinto got interested in the voice mechanism when he damaged his own vocal cords belting out rock music. In This Is the Voice, he tells the unique story of the voice and its role in biology, linguistics, rhetoric, and psychology. Colapinto is witty, charming, clear, and erudite all at once, tacking back and forth from scientific topics to engaging accounts of the people behind the science and of actual voices, such as those of Churchill, Pavarotti, Michael Jackson, Kim Kardashian, and Beyoncé. The first half of the book covers the ontology and phylogeny of the voice and the role of the vocal apparatus in language development and evolution. The second half turns to the ways in which people use their voices socially and politically: Colapinto considers the sociolinguistics and stereotypes of dialect and accent; explores the ways in which voice is related to sex, gender, and biology; and illustrates the use of the voice as a political and an artistic tool to persuade, exhort, divide, and enrapture. This Is the Voice is engaging popular science, readable, well researched, and thought-provoking for readers of all stripes. Summing Up: Essential. All readers. —E. L. Battistella, Southern Oregon University

Elvis, Martin. Asteroids: how love, fear, and greed will determine our future in space. Yale, 2021. 312p index ISBN 9780300231922, $30.00; ISBN 9780300258387 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Elvis is an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who has researched X-ray astronomy, black holes, quasars, and now asteroids. Here, he discusses three possible motives for studying asteroids: love (of knowledge), fear (that they can strike the Earth), and greed (for the valuable raw materials that could potentially be mined). Each motive is discussed in authoritative detail in a text that includes an explanation of the author’s original research and calculations. The discussion is up-to-date and is supported by 34 pages of endnotes. Yet, the writing style is breezy, clear, and at times humorous: “astronomy is often called the second oldest profession (after accountancy).” The book concludes with three fascinating chapters on the future of space exploration and the commercial potential of space. Regrettably, the volume features only a few illustrations, and they are rendered as black and white. The book should appeal to a wide audience, including not only astronomers but also engineers, entrepreneurs, and even lawyers (as space law is still quite literally a wide-open field). It is a strong candidate for acquisition by all libraries. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —T. Barker, emeritus, Wheaton College (MA)

Environmental postcolonialism: a literary response, ed. by Shubhanku Kochar and M. Anjum Khan. Lexington Books, 2021. 240p index ISBN 9781793634566, $100.00; ISBN 9781793634573 ebook, $45.00.

To skeptics, “environmental postcolonialism” may seem like odd cognates, reflecting the desperate scramble of scholarly and scientific disciplines to appear green. Ostensibly, a prefix (environmentalism) is all it takes to do so. This collection of superb scholarship, however, rises far above this fad, arguing that ecocriticism in former colonies chronicles the ways in which colonialists robbed them of nature and culture. Chapters also flag the basic contradictions marking the philosophical assumptions about nature and culture of European colonizers and the non-European colonized (e.g., Native Americans, Africans, Indians). European colonizers, according to contributors, inherited and were reared on a disregard for nature and culture in the colonies. Inversely, their colonies were populated by animists, nature-worshippers, and nature-culture unitarians who all venerated nature as part of their lived experience. The collection features 16 well-researched and well-written essays by early-career and established scholars. It encompasses environmental postcolonial scholarship from across Africa, the Americas, and Asia, and is equally diverse in its topical treatment, covering natural resources, place-based identities, gendered ecology, eco-consciousness, and capitalist predation of nature. In short, Environmental Postcolonialism makes a memorable contribution to an eponymous field, and to the literature on ecocriticism and postcolonial theory. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty. —T. Niazi, University of Wisconsin

Ethical practice in participatory visual research with girls: transnational approaches, ed. by Relebohile Moletsane et al. Berghahn Books, 2021. 240p bibl index (Transnational girlhoods, 2) ISBN 9781800730335, $120.00; ISBN 9781800730342 ebook, $27.95.

In this collection, part of the “Transnational Girlhoods” series, each of the contributing authors delves deeply into the ethical considerations of doing participatory visual research with girls in transnational settings at sites in Canada, South Africa, Cameroon, and Kenya. Each chapter discusses the ethical deliberations facing the researchers with the methodology itself, and then the complications and challenges of navigating the ethics review process in their respective institutions. Chapter by chapter, the contributors exquisitely and approachably articulate the inherent ethical complexities of conducting research in rural areas with indigenous or transnational minor girls, using a methodology that always poses problems for ethics review boards. As an institutional review board (IRB) professional, this reviewer found the discussions of the stilted applications of ethical standards, the rigid adherence to a positivistic interpretation of consent, and the inflexibility around standards of privacy and confidentiality all too familiar. The authors provide an authentic explication of years of experience with the challenges of and barriers to communicating with their ethics review boards. An excellent text for researchers of participatory research and also for all IRB and REB (review ethics board) members. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty; professionals. —K. E. Murphy, formerly, Northwestern University

Hird, Myra J. Canada’s waste flows. McGill-Queen’s, 2021. 336p bibl index ISBN 9780228005285, $34.95; ISBN 9780228006466 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This is not a textbook per se, but rather more of an in-depth assessment and discussion of basic concepts surrounding the cradle-to-grave waste flows of Canada in historical and cultural context. It could just as well have been written about the US, or pretty much any modern industrialized nation, with the exception of part 2, which deals exclusively with Canada’s unique arctic wastes, from exploitative Canadian settler waste treatment (chapter 4) to unethical “wasting” of animals (chapter 6). Hird (Queen’s Univ. at Kingston) is a true expert on this subject matter and has authored a well-organized text that will be instructive to interested readers. Unfortunately, the included figures and illustrations are somewhat scarce—the latter appear as very poor quality black-and-white photographic images. On a more positive note, the text is incredibly well referenced. Indeed, the book includes an amazing 61 pages of references. In this reviewer’s estimation the book could be appropriate for use in a discussion-type environmental sciences seminar, or as supplementary reading material in a more conventional environmental sciences class. It is a very timely book. Both well researched and effectively written, it has the potential to be an exceptionally useful student reference on the nature of waste generation and its various flows once generated. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —M. S. Field, formerly, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

SAGE Campus. SAGE Publishing, 2021. Contact publisher for pricing. Internet Resource.

SAGE Campus provides 18 courses that students, staff, and faculty can take to learn more about topics such as critical thinking, research skills, programming in R and Python, data science, how to present your research, and how to get published,” as Joseph R. Kraus wrote for ccAdvisor. It is best suited for graduate students in the social sciences, though “undergraduate and graduate students of all disciplines may find courses that are worthwhile to investigate,” and in fact “many librarians and teaching faculty may recommend that students take these courses to supplement their education,” Kraus added.

“Self-paced and led by experts and authors in their fields,” the courses “contain a mix of video presentations, textual explanations, interactive elements, and short quizzes for learners to check their understanding of the content.” It can be difficult to tell when a module is completed, but otherwise the interface is relatively clean and easy to use, and the vast majority of the videos are high quality and have closed captions. As Kraus maintained, “teaching faculty may [wish to] assign these courses [to] students who need remediation, or [to] students who wish to supplement their education,” and they “can keep track of student progress on the faculty portal.”

“There are many other places where people can take online courses in some or all of these topics,” including “LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com), Learn without LimitsedXKhan Academy, and Codecademy,” as Kraus noted. “However, the courses on these other platforms may not have the same focus on academic research in the social sciences, and they will not have the instructors and authors found in SAGE,” Kraus concluded.

This review is a summary of a longer review by Joseph R. Kraus, Colorado School of Mines, originally published in ccAdvisor.orgCopyright © 2021 by The Charleston Company.

Seife, Charles. Hawking Hawking: the selling of a scientific celebrity. Basic Books, 2021. 400p bibl index ISBN 9781541618374, $39.00; ISBN 9781541618381 ebook, $17.99.

Few educated people in today’s world have not heard of Stephen Hawking, the physically handicapped scientific genius whose writings ranged from the most esoteric themes (cosmology and black holes) to popularizations such as A Brief History of Time (1988) and his own mini-autobiography, My Brief History (CH, Aug’14, 51-6807). But few know about the obsession of this renowned physicist with scientific glory and immortality. He wanted to be another Isaac Newton, an ambition perhaps not as uncommon as was his striving to achieve it in awkward ways. In this fascinating book, Seife (NYU) narrates Hawking’s life and doings, including his marriage, complaints about fellow scientists, and wrecking the reputations of other physicists. In so doing, Seife exposes the “dirty linen” behind Hawking’s well-deserved fame as an unusually brilliant mind. Readers get to know about Hawking’s petty rivalries, paltry complaints, and pampering of the rich and the mighty to “hawk” his own reputation. Aside from covering Hawking’s interactions with the press and his publishers, the text also presents a few scattered but intelligible expositions of technical physics. This is a fascinating biography of a truly great (intellectually speaking) human being. Sadly, it is perhaps the only biography in this reader’s experience that brings down a hero from the pedestal he occupied until now. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —V. V. Raman, emeritus, Rochester Institute of Technology

Thies, Wallace J. Why containment works: power, proliferation, and preventive war. Cornell, 2020. 240p bibl index ISBN 9781501749483, $49.95; ISBN 9781501749490 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Following the Cold War the prevailing US strategy of containment was thought to have lost its relevance, but no one offered a credible, well-tested alternative national security strategy, least of all with respect to regional “rogue states” and terrorists. Academics, policy professionals, and successive administrations offered contending assessments of the post-Cold War world and how to navigate it. Enter Wallace Thies (emer., Catholic Univ. of America), who advances a carefully reasoned, stout defense of the continued relevance and value of containment, arguing not only against containment’s detractors but also in opposition to its likely targets. Constructing a set of alternative “theory of victory” policy frameworks derived from the basic premises, i.e., containment versus preventive war as manifested in the (George W.) Bush Doctrine, Thies analyzes, in turn, five cases (Qaddafi’s Libya, dual containment of Iran and Iraq, containing Iraq between the two Persian Gulf wars, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and containing Iran). His final chapter evaluates with systematic, critical rigor six propositions that undergirded preventive war theory and the cases and conditions under which containment either worked or failed. This book should be read by scholars and policy makers alike, and will best be procured by college and university libraries with specialized collections in international relations. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals. —J. P. Smaldone, Georgetown University

Tominski, Christian. Interactive visual data analysis, by Christian Tominski and Heidrun Schumann. CRC Press, 2020. 362p bibl ISBN 9781498753982, $80.00; ISBN 9780367898755 pbk, $69.95; ISBN 9781315152707 ebook, $69.95.

Visual data analysis is a fundamental topic in modern computer science and beyond. The last decade brought exponential growth in data volume and progress in machine learning and data mining. To cope with big data, data analysis methods had to evolve. The addition of interactivity enables iterative analysis and incremental comprehension, two fundamental aspects of human comprehension. Tominski and Schumann (both, Univ. of Rostock) offer a thorough introduction to the field and a wealth of information essential for students, with enough depth to appeal to practitioners and researchers. Chapter 1 begins with basic principles (e.g., visualization as a “method of computing,” the “Five W’s of Interactive Data Analysis,”) but soon delves into current visualization methods and techniques (code for a graph of 77 nodes and 254 edges with their attributes, followed by different visual renderings). Subsequent chapters explain the fundamentals of interactivity and the methods that use it; provide examples of automatic analysis to simplify, focus, group, or transform complex data sets; and explore more-advanced concepts for interactive data learning and multi-display presentations. Abundant visual examples complement the text perfectly. Although the field is rapidly advancing, this book will remain a useful reference for many years to come. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals. —L. Benedicenti, University of New Brunswick

Vandenberg, Kathleen M. Joan Didion: substance and style. SUNY Press, 2021. 184p bibl index ISBN 9781438481395, $95.00; ISBN 9781438481388 ebook, $20.95.

In her introduction to this volume Vandenberg (rhetoric, Boston Univ.) notes that Didion’s biographical details have “likely commanded as much attention as her prose, if not more.” Earlier critical works offer themes and chronologies of her life, but Didion is a “writer with enormous reserve.” In this book Vandenberg examines Didion’s nonfiction prose of the past four decades through the lens of rhetoric, dissecting its power and charm. Whether looking at aging, delving into grief, or inspiring other women journalists and writers, Didion is a model and iconic essayist. Vandenberg shows the reader the ways in which Didion elegantly lifts the curtain on popular culture and political events while keenly aware of “the control that sentences exert over content” (p. 5). With her hallmark repetition, placement of commas, vivid metaphors, cadence, and parenthetical asides directed at the reader, she maintains precise control of form. Vanderberg offers a unique examination of how Didion’s later nonfiction and essays are constructed. She offers close readings of Salvador (1983), “New York: Sentimental Journeys” (The New York Review, January, 1991), Political Fictions (2001), The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), and Blue Night (2011), providing an engaging look at how Didion’s recent work mirrors an urbane style yet continues familiar patterns in her writing. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals; general readers. —E. L. Bagley, Agnes Scott College