Editors’ Picks for June 2017

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.

The Eerdmans encyclopedia of early Christian art and archaeology, ed. by Paul Corby Finney. Eerdmans, 2017. 3v bibl index ISBN 9780802838117, $495.00.

With geographic coverage ranging from Ireland to Syria and from France and the Rhineland to Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya, and a temporal spread from early urban to late rural antiquity that spans 200–650 CE, this comprehensive, three-volume encyclopedia covers the remarkable range of stylistic and iconographic traditions incorporated into early Christian art. The signed alphabetical entries from contributors trained as archaeologists, art historians, historians, epigraphers, or theologians cover a wealth of objects—sarcophagi, mosaics, frescoes, ivories, pottery, glass, metalwork, textiles, architecture, sculpture, papyri, parchment, stone, and wood. Despite the erudition of the authors and their subjects, no specialized training on the part of readers is needed to understand these clarifying entries.

The set, edited by historian Finney (emer., Univ. of Missouri, St. Louis) features 164 color plates and 22 color maps supplemented by numerous black-and-white photos throughout the text, plus axonometric projections, floor plans, and line drawings. The length of entries varies from a few sentences to about 15 pages, and each has its own bibliography. Lists of entries, contributors, and a glossary are included. Ancient, modern, and general lists of abbreviations supplement the text. An index of maps and extensive cross-referencing allow readers to delve deeper into subjects of interest. The set is sturdily bound, especially necessary for the two volumes containing the bulk of its nearly 1,500 entries, each approximately 750 pages long. This encyclopedic work is impressive on many levels, in the expertise of its authors, the scope of information contained, and its careful organization and presentation. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. —N. Mactague, Aurora University

Goldsmith, William W. Saving our cities: a progressive plan to transform urban America. Cornell, 2016. 294p bibl index ISBN 9781501704314, $29.95; ISBN 9781501706035 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Timing is everything. Goldsmith (Cornell) proposes a set of policies to transform the urban US, pointing out that cities are favorite targets of conservatives and how austerity programs impoverish urban communities. Urban has come to be viewed as that which is problematic in society and has racial overtones when used as an adjective: urban music, urban dance, urban culture, urban art. Elsewhere in the industrial world, the urban center and inner city are repositories of culture and history; in the US, they have become synonymous with decay. After laying out his agenda, arguing that current policies—such as they may be—are not directed at the core problems cities face, Goldsmith provides a series of chapters focusing on schools, food, and drugs as significant factors in urban communities in crisis, detailing the nature of the problems, how policies fail to address them, and how this failure exacerbates urban problems. The book concludes with a careful exposition of how inequality imperils democracy and argues that good urban policies can alleviate inequality to ensure democracy. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —D. Fasenfest, Wayne State University

Karafel, Lorraine. Raphael’s tapestries: the grotesques of Leo X. Yale, 2017 (c2016). 190p bibl index ISBN 9780300181999, $65.00.

Karafel (Parsons School of Design) concerns herself with a set of tapestries, now lost, made for Pope Leo X and known as the grotesques. Writing about lost works is difficult, and Karafel handles the task with eloquence, offering a logical presentation, clearly written text, and outstanding illustrations. She treats Leo X as a patron, examines the multilayered iconography of the original tapestries, and explains their afterlife in copies and related works. The original tapestries numbered eight large weavings, six mythological and two allegorical, all evoking a Golden Age associated with Leo X, his Medici family origins, and his papal reign. Karafel presents much information—attribution of design to Raphael and his workshop c. 1515–16; attribution of weaving to Pieter van Aelst in Brussels c. 1516–25; original intended placement in the Vatican’s Sala dei Pontefici—as highly probable rather than certain, though always in a convincing manner. The tapestries were first recorded in the Vatican in a 1536 inventory, and copies continued to be woven from the cartoons that remained in Brussels, thus ensuring a lasting influence. Scholarly yet accessible, this book contributes nicely to discussion of understudied aspects of Renaissance art. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —A. V. Coonin, Rhodes College

Langdon, John H. The science of human evolution: getting it right. Springer, 2016. 220p bibl index ISBN 9783319415840, $79.99; ISBN 9783319415857 ebook, $59.99.

Langdon (biology and anthropology, Univ. of Indianapolis) offers a series of vignettes as a framework to address fundamental concepts and questions in human evolution. Among other explored questions, Langdon asks what the defining features of a bipedal skeleton are, how modern scientists can reconcile seeming conflicts between data from fossils and molecules, and how historical climate change has shaped human evolution. The result is a highly engaging, clearly written account that portrays the scientific process, rather than merely the passage of time or even key archaeological discoveries, as the force behind the deepening understanding of human evolution. Plots of data and photos of fossils clarify scientific concepts; reproductions of paintings place 20th-century discoveries in social and historical context. The book will be of greatest value for undergraduates seeking intellectual and chronological continuity among breakthroughs often presented in narrower contexts. Instructors will appreciate the thoughtful discussion questions included at the end of each section. Extensive references ensure that the book will also be of value to more advanced students who seek to read in greater depth on individual topics. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above; faculty and general readers. —D. P. Genereux, Broad Institute of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Moseley, Ray. Reporting war: how foreign correspondents risked capture, torture, and death to cover World War II. Yale, 2017. 421p bibl index ISBN 9780300224665, $32.50.

Moseley covers the challenges and contributions of more than 50 international journalists during WW II. In addition to the Battle of Britain, Pearl Harbor, and D-Day, the book describes how journalists reported from the war’s other diverse fronts, such as Finland, Norway, Denmark, Greece, Yugoslavia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Burma. One of the book’s memorable chapters describes what reporters experienced and wrote when they first entered Nazi concentration camps in 1945. The book provides brief insights and vignettes about celebrated as well as lesser-known journalists, which underscore their often-unheralded professionalism and perseverance. Moseley, who had a distinguished career with UPI, briefly notes some of the post-war contributions of the book’s profiled reporters. The text is well written and contains comprehensive notes. The book is an excellent companion to Samuel Hynes, Anne Mathews, and Nancy Caldwell Sorel’s Reporting World War II: American Journalism, 1938–1946Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through professionals. —R. A. Logan, University of Missouri—Columbia

Ridgely, Susan B. Practicing what the doctor preached: at home with Focus on the Family. Oxford, 2016. 297p bibl index ISBN 9780199755073, $29.95; ISBN 9780190619091 ebook, contact publisher for price.

In this authoritative and nuanced study, Ridgely (Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison)—a scholar of American religions—examines the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family and its founder, physician James Dobson. Ridgely’s longitudinal research balances the complex relationships between the founder, his organization, and the target audience over a 30-year span. The result is a descriptive study that is far more complex than cultural stereotypes of the organization suggest. Ridgely’s methodology—a participatory case study, with Ridgely planted within an evangelical Christian church—brings out varied responses on the parts of interviewees. Along with in-depth archival research and an impressive body of secondary literature, the author draws on research-based information and thus challenges presuppositions readers may have. This reliance on the research data results in a study of exceptional strength and validity. To her credit, Ridgely carefully parses generational and gender-related differences in her audience’s responses to the organization’s political and religious agenda, including the changes that occurred over the selected period. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals. —B. W. Hamilton, Northeastern Seminary

Rollyson, Carl. Understanding Susan Sontag. South Carolina, 2016. 144p bibl index ISBN 9781611176803, $39.99; ISBN 9781611176810 ebook, $21.99.

Like the other titles in South Carolina’s “Understanding Contemporary American Literature” series, this book is aimed at students and “good nonacademic readers.” Also author of the biography Susan Sontag (CH, Dec’00, 38-2035; rev. ed., CH, Mar’17, 54-3122) and Reading Susan Sontag (CH, Mar’02, 39-3846), among other works, Rollyson (journalism, Baruch College, CUNY) here offers summaries of almost all of Sontag’s broad body of work and its critical reception. Among the most stridently cosmopolitan of the US’s public intellectuals, Sontag (1933–2004) was a polemicist, provocateur, and aphorist best known for introducing important European writers and filmmakers to a US audience. Although she wrote fiction and screenplays, her strongest work can be found in her essays, particularly those gathered in On Photography (CH, Sep’78) and Illness as Metaphor (CH, Dec’78). Sontag loved the clash of ideas, and as Rollyson notes she often seems to be arguing with herself—not only in later essays in which she rethinks earlier claims, but sometimes within a single essay. Because her rhetoric is so aggressive and her claims often extreme, she got considerable push back, but she seemed to revel in the give-and-take of argument, and she remains among the major American writers of the late 20th century. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates; general readers. —G. Grieve-Carlson, Lebanon Valley College

Simmons, George F. Differential equations with applications and historical notes. 3rd ed. CRC Press, 2016 (c2017). 740p indexillustrations ISBN 9781498702591, $79.96; ISBN 9781498702607 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This is an attractive introductory work on differential equations, with extensive information in addition to what can be covered in a two-semester course. The order of the topics examined is slightly unusual in that Laplacians are covered after Fourier transforms and power series. The chapter on power series contains a section on hypergeometric equations, which could well be the first time that an introductory book on the subject goes that far. The book has plenty of exercises at the end of each section, and also at the end of each chapter. The solutions to some of these are included at the end of the book. Most chapters contain a few appendixes that are several pages long. Their subject is either related to the life and work of an exceptional mathematician (such as Newton, Euler, or Gauss) or pertains to an area of mathematics in which the theory of differential equations can be applied. The historical appendixes put the material in context, and explain which parts of the material were the most difficult to discover. The writing is pleasant and reader-friendly throughout. This work is an essential acquisition for all math libraries; no competing works have put the material in such a deep historical context. Summing Up: Essential. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates. —M. Bona, University of Florida

Steinmetz, Kevin F. Hacked: a radical approach to hacker culture and crime. New York University, 2016. 285p bibl index ISBN 9781479866106, $89.00; ISBN 9781479869718 pbk, $28.00; ISBN 9781479898435 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Popular culture portrays hackers as technological magicians who are frequently stereotyped as mischievous online vandals, ruthless cyber criminals, creepy privacy violators, dangerous deviants, or idealistic whistle blowers. Sociologist Steinmetz (Kansas State Univ.) reveals the far more mundane world of the typical American hacker through extensive content analysis, observation, and in-depth interviews. He uses his empirical study as a springboard for a sophisticated yet clearly written investigation into hacker activities through the lens of radical criminology. Steinmetz’s Marxist-influenced analysis explores such issues as the ideological role of the perceived necessity of defending the public from shadowy villains in maintaining the legitimacy of the intrusive US criminal justice apparatus. The author places hacker resistance to government authority within the long-established liberal tradition of distrusting centralized power and valuing individualism. Steinmetz argues that the laws of intellectual property are being stretched to allow the building of private fortunes at the expense of the US digital commons, engendering increased resistance. The dominant narrative of hackers as “something to be dealt with” blinds too many observers from viewing this cultural phenomenon as a reflection of the sociopolitical realities of late modern capitalism. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —T. H. Koenig, Northeastern University

Williams, Brian Glyn. Counter jihad: America’s military experience in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Pennsylvania, 2016. 367p index ISBN 9780812248678, $39.95; ISBN 9780812293463 ebook, $39.95.

The literature on the wars on terror, including Afghanistan, Iraq, al Qaeda, and ISIS, is becoming voluminous. Unfortunately many studies are not for the intelligent layperson. Williams (Dartmouth), an academic specialist on warfare and terrorism with practical experience with the CIA, offers the best comprehensive overview now available on recent US activity. The volume bridges the gap between the national security specialist and the general reader. In the captivating tales of warlords, jihadists, US operatives, and policy makers, Williams’s critiques of policy failures are measured and apt. The author of an earlier book on the notorious Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, Williams often invokes this colorful character as a means of understanding the byzantine politics of the region. Extremely well written, this very useful source skillfully weaves together the historical record and the several theaters in the counterterrorist campaigns. A very good read with lots of fascinating and intriguing details, it reminds one of the classic works by Lawrence Wright The Looming Tower (CH, Apr’07, 44-4704) and The Terror Years (CH, Feb’17, 54-2970). Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —J. P. Dunn, Converse College