Editors’ Picks for July 2018

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.

A Companion to Simone de Beauvoir, ed. by Laura Hengehold and Nancy Bauer. Wiley-Blackwell, 2017. 530p bibl index ISBN 9781118796023, $195.00; ISBN 9781118795996 ebook, $43.99.

Beauvoir (1908–86) wrote books for all time. With every passing year, she gains greater international attention among general readers and academics alike. In 2014, Google marked what would have been her 106th birthday by creating a Doodle in her honor. In 2015, the Guardian placed The Second Sex at the top of its “ten books that changed the world.” Around the globe, both young professionals and established scholars underscore the breadth and acuity of Beauvoir’s insights by regularly publishing important critical analyses, translations, thematic collections, and reeditions. Yet even amid an already rich field, this ambitious volume stands out as a landmark contribution to Beauvoir scholarship. International and interdisciplinary, it is divided into four parts: “Re-Reading The Second Sex,” “Beauvoir’s Intellectual Engagements,” “Beyond The Second Sex,” and “Beauvoir and Contemporary Feminism.” The 40 distinguished contributors approach the subject from widely divergent perspectives (literary, philosophical, historical, anthropological), challenging established notions and opening intriguing new perspectives. Time and again, readers are left to reevaluate Beauvoir’s pioneering work in light of its startling depth and relevance today. A magnificent resource. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. —C. B. Kerr, Vassar College

Dallek, Robert. Franklin D. Roosevelt: a political life. Viking, 2017. 704 pages ISBN 9780525427902, $40.00; ISBN 9780698181724 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Nearly 40 years ago, preeminent presidential scholar and biographer Dallek first wrote about the nation’s 32nd president in Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy (1979). His fascination and respect for the political longevity of FDR’s career and the sheer weight of his political accomplishments frame the narrative of this new book. From Roosevelt’s first election as an undergraduate at Harvard (a losing effort) through his second reelection campaign in 1944, Dallek regards FDR’s drive and political instincts as nothing short of brilliant. He credits FDR for his extraordinary leadership as a campaigner in 1932 and then as the ambitious launcher of the New Deal. Roosevelt’s ability to steer public opinion in 1940 when it came time to oppose Hitler and his allies also garners praise. But Dallek also doles out equal shares of criticism, holding Roosevelt accountable for his failure to support anti-lynching legislation (and civil rights), for lending support to the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans, and for failing to be more proactive about assisting victims of the Holocaust. The fact that Dallek writes beautifully will only be seen as a bonus when reading this extraordinary book. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. —B. Miller, University of Cincinnati-Clermont

Irving, Andrew. The art of life and death: radical aesthetics and ethnographic practice. Hau Books, 2017. 245p bibl index ISBN 9780997367515 pbk, $35.00.

This beautifully written and constructed book weaves together sophisticated social theory, philosophy, art work, and vivid biographical narratives to offer insights into how HIV/AIDS patients have learned to “live a meaningful existence in the pre- and post-antiretroviral eras while negotiating a terminal illness.” Basing his book on 20 years of work with adults living with HIV/AIDS in New York, visual anthropologist Irving (Univ. of Manchester) has carried out a compelling anthropological study of the “complex inner world” of those who struggle, cope, fight, and ultimately come to terms with their own impending deaths. The author draws on philosophical writings and social theories to contextualize his results, but is at his best when allowing his subjects to speak for themselves. The evocative words of subjects like artist Albert Velasco provide fascinating insights into the ways that dying persons with HIV/AIDS grapple with the mundane, like keeping medical appointments, as well as the profound reckoning with their own mortality and purpose. An engaging read that will enrich upper-level and graduate collections on death and dying, ethnographic methods, and HIV/AIDS. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —D. S. Carr, Boston University

Lehoux, Daryn. Creatures born of mud and slime: the wonder and complexity of spontaneous generation. Johns Hopkins, 2017. 177p bibl index ISBN 9781421423814, $44.95; ISBN 9781421423821 ebook, $44.95.

The long-dead idea of spontaneous generation gets new life from this short historical treatment by Lehoux (philosophy, Queen’s Univ., Canada). The idea that some forms of life arise spontaneously from rotting organic matter—or, in the more fanciful phrasing of the book’s title, from “mud and slime”—is often considered redolent of prescientific attitudes, and its overthrow a signature success of sound method. This book shows instead why ancient and early modern thinkers had good reasons to believe that spontaneous generation did occur in some circumstances, and reconstructs the care and diligence with which they reasoned to reach that conclusion. The smooth writing makes for quick, pleasurable reading, and although some experts might find that individual cases do not reach the depth they might like, the author skillfully links these cases to mount a persuasive argument that spontaneous generation was itself a highly generative idea. In the process, the book raises a number of general philosophical issues and reflects on the principles of good historical interpretation with a clarity that makes it a flexible classroom aid. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —J. D. Martin, University of Cambridge

Nelson, Michael. Trump’s first year. Virginia, 2018. 208p ISBN 9780813941448 pbk, $19.95; ISBN 9780813941431 ebook, $19.95.

Providing one of the earliest objective evaluations of President Donald J. Trump’s administration, Nelson (UVA) demonstrates why he remains a leading figure in the field of presidency studies. Nelson’s analysis is wide-ranging, covering Trump’s election and approach to governing, his early forays into domestic and foreign policy making, his interactions with the other constitutional branches as well as unilateral activities, and his unorthodox but often effective communications activities. Across this comprehensive terrain, Nelson juxtaposes Trump’s actions against the backdrop of modern presidential history, demonstrating how Trump’s unique approach to the presidency, from his lack of preparation for high office to his persistent violation of presidential norms, has undermined his effectiveness in office and could potentially affect the future of the presidency as an institution and the US as a democratic republic. Tellingly, one chapter focuses entirely on the prospects for Trump’s removal from office, an outcome that depends as much on the 2018 midterm elections as on Trump’s ongoing actions in the White House. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —J. Vaughn, Boise State University

Rubin, Avshalom. The limits of the land: how the struggle for the West Bank shaped the Arab-Israeli conflict. Indiana, 2017. 318p bibl index ISBN 9780253028884, $80.00; ISBN 9780253028976 pbk, $35.00; ISBN 9780253029102 ebook, $34.99.

This thoroughly sourced study of the political dynamics over the interaction between Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians deals with a part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Rubin (US Department of State), who is comfortable in three related languages and their archival materials (Hebrew, Arabic, English), examines the impact and importance of this particular geographic area of mandated Palestine, focusing on the overall character of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Excluding one glaring omission (there is no substantive mention or discussion of Jordan’s annexation of the West Bank in 1950), this is an outstanding historical analysis of a core component to the current Middle East dilemma between Israel and the Palestinians, not only because of the density of the Palestinian population but also its proximity to Jerusalem. The author points out that the Israeli leadership may have sought to control the West Bank to reduce its vulnerability of attack from the east at some point, but it was not considered feasible, at least until the conclusion of the 1967 conflict. This is a clear requirement for inclusion in any collection dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —S. R. Silverburg, emeritus, Catawba College

Sacks, Oliver. The river of consciousness. Knopf, 2017. 237p bibl index ISBN 9780385352567, $27.00; ISBN 9780385352574 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Sacks outlined the contents for this compelling collection of essays two weeks prior to his death in 2015. Three colleagues were entrusted to see the book through publication. (Most of the essays had previously, though obscurely, been published.) In typical Sacks style, the topics covered reflect the author’s vast range of knowledge and his natural gift for storytelling. Topics include Darwin’s work with plants; speed, movement, and time; a glimpse of Freud as a neurologist; memory and its errors; the nature of mishearings; and reflections on both evolution and consciousness. The essays are all enlightening, entertaining, and a pleasure to read and are of value to scholars and lay readers alike. The author’s love of learning is evident in each well-crafted piece. Sacks’s reputation as a neurologist and an accomplished writer is well known, and this volume is an excellent addition to his other works—most recently, On the Move (CH, Dec’15, 53-1809) and Hallucinations (CH, Apr’13, 50-4720). Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —J. Bailey, Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute

Siemens, Daniel. Stormtroopers: a new history of Hitler’s Brownshirts. Yale, 2017. 459p index ISBN 9780300196818, $32.50; ISBN 9780300231250 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Siemens (European history, Newcastle Univ., UK) has written three previous books, most recently an excellent study on the murder of Horst Wessel and the creation of the Nazi icon myth (The Making of a Nazi Hero, 2013). History is replete with scenes of Nazi Brownshirts marching through German cities chanting nationalist and anti-Semitic songs and slogans. From its inception in 1920s Bavaria, the Sturmabteilung (SA) swelled with WWI veterans, nationalists, the unemployed, anti-communists, and some who thrived on violence. Hitler’s army of thugs became the spine of the Third Reich, bullying reluctant citizens, rounding up Jews in Eastern Europe, and stiffening the government’s dictums. The organization changed organically after Hitler’s 1923 putsch to reflect society’s insecurities: political urban violence and growing disdain for the weak Weimar government. The expansion into the countryside unified the nation. While numerous studies exist on the Brownshirts, they generally end with the Night of the Long Knives in June 1934, when Hitler’s paranoia led him to assassinate the SA leadership. Siemens’s excellent history continues the story until 1945, as many SA men served in the army, helping to form the postwar myth of the “Good German.” This authoritative, elegantly written book on the Storm Troopers will doubtless stand as the final story of the Brownshirts. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —A. P. Krammer, emeritus, Texas A&M University

Slobodian, Quinn. Globalists: the end of empire and the birth of neoliberalism. Harvard, 2018. 381p index ISBN 9780674979529, $35.00.

Was Friedrich A. Hayek a founder of libertarian economic and philosophical thought? In this exhaustive work, Slobodian (Wellesley) weaves a different tale that requires readers to reconceive long-held notions about economics and beliefs regarding how ideas originate and metamorphose. Slobodian argues forcefully that members of what he labels the “Geneva School” were supposed prophets of the small state who were actually advocates for supranational government. Hence, the subtitle really says it all. As empires were ending in the tumult of the 1930s and global capitalism was threatened, neoliberalism was born, the principles of which Slobodian summarizes in his conclusion. Only through this “ordoglobalism” could the market order be defended against the dangers of democracy. That doesn’t sound very libertarian. This powerful headlong dive into the history of neoliberalism necessitates rethinking the ways of perpetuating an idea central to the 20th and 21st centuries. An exceptionally thorough scholar, Slobodian appends a wealth of notes referencing almost every conceivable English and German source and an accurate index as well. Globalists should be required reading for graduate students and scholars whose interests intersect with 20th-century Europe, economic history, and, most broadly, the history of ideas. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —D. N. Nelson, Center for Arms Control & Nonproliferation

Wasson, Sam. Improv nation: how we made an American art. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 449p index ISBN 9780544557208, $28.00; ISBN 9780544558250 ebook, $28.00.

Eminently readable, entertaining, and informative, this volume traces the history of the Chicago improvisation movement from Viola Spolin, Paul Sills, the Compass Players, Nichols and May, and the founding of Second City through the subsequent generations’ work, including Saturday Night Live, SCTV, 1980s film comedies, the mockumentaries of Christopher Guest, and the rise of The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and the Upright Citizens Brigade. Wasson’s treatment is detailed and benefits from extensive interviews with the book’s many subjects. This comprehensive study supplements (and perhaps even surpasses) Jeffrey Sweet’s Something Wonderful Right Away (1978), heretofore the most thorough history of Chicago improv. Though Wasson gives brief attention to the contributions of other cities (Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco), The Groundlings, the Premise Players, and The Committee are mostly relegated to the sidelines along with more alternative groups. This volume can be paired with Amy Seham’s Whose Improv Is It Anyway? (CH, Feb’02, 39-3289) for a truly comprehensive history of American improv. Wasson’s argument that improv is as much a contribution to world theater as the musical is spot on and thoroughly proven. Summing Up: Essential. All readers. —K. J. Wetmore Jr., Loyola Marymount University