Editors’ Picks for June 2020

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.

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Foster, Thomas A. Rethinking Rufus: sexual violations of enslaved men. Georgia, 2019. 174p bibl index ISBN 9780820355214, $99.95; ISBN 9780820355221 pbk, $22.95; ISBN 9780820355207 ebook, $22.95.

The story of Rufus, an enslaved man compelled into sexual relations with an enslaved woman, Rose Williams, briefly appears in Williams’s ex-slave narrative, illustrating the ubiquitous sexual violence African American women endured during slavery. Recentering the saga to focus on Rufus, Foster (Howard Univ.) offers a compelling contextualization of the myriad ways enslaved men also experienced sexualized violation. While enslaved women remain the central victims of US slavery, Foster delineates five general categories of exploitation enslaved men endured: the objectification of their bodies as symbols of prowess and danger; the loss of agency in developing their own intimate relationships with women; the costs of forced reproduction to individual black males and the enslaved community; the challenging power dynamics of white female attention to black bodies; and the destructive role of the master’s power in same-sex relationships. Persistent racism, especially an assumption of black men’s hypersexuality, and the self-evident reality that enslaved women endured even greater sexual abuses, have hitherto kept this topic hidden in plain sight. Foster’s exploration offers new avenues of further gendered study and augments the history of US slavery as an inherently and completely abusive enterprise rooted in white self-interest and inhumanity. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers through faculty. —E. R. Crowther, emeritus, Adams State University

Johnson, Charles A. U.S. inspectors general: truth tellers in turbulent times, by Charles A. Johnson and Kathryn E. Newcomer. Brookings, 2019 (c2020). 270p bibl index ISBN 9780815737773 pbk, $34.99; ISBN 9780815737780 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Waste, abuse, and fraud have plagued the US government since the Revolutionary War. This trilogy of problems, along with significant growth of the executive branch and federal government after the New Deal, led Congress to pass the Inspector General Act of 1978. The act created semi-independent, nonpartisan officials across the entire federal government to audit the performance and spending of agencies. The primary goal of these individuals is to improve government performance and accountability and at the same time identify criminal activity and recover stolen resources. In this book Johnson (emer., Texas A & M Univ.) and Newcomer (Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, George Washington Univ.), both specialists in public policy, examine these inspectors general and their officers, and how well they perform their duties. The authors provide a history of the 1978 act but, more importantly, they interview inspectors general and provide case studies and performance evaluations of their offices. Readers will learn the varieties of performance inspectors general monitor across different government agencies, and also the specific things they must confront—the latter particularly fraught in the present partisan, polarized time. The book concludes with recommendations for reform. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals. —D. Schultz, Hamline University

LGBTQ Americans in the U.S. political system: an encyclopedia of activists, voters, candidates, and officeholders, ed. by Jason Pierceson. ABC-CLIO, 2019 (c2020). 2v bibl index ISBN 9781440852763, $204.00; ISBN 9781440852770 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This two-volume encyclopedia is a welcome and competent new resource for anyone with exploratory questions, as well as an ideal quick-reference guide for seasoned scholars in the field. Pierceson (Univ. of Illinois, Springfield), a professor of political science and published writer on politics relating to gender, sexuality, and marriage equality, has edited this accessible text, which includes an in-depth chronology, a cross-referenced guide of related topics, pertinent primary sources, and a selection of substantive essays for context. The encyclopedia, written in a suitably readable manner for undergraduates, is filtered through the lens of political science, yet remains highly attentive to its intersections with the tenets of LGBT history, queer theory, and gender and sexuality studies. For example, the entries on the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), the LGBTQ Victory Fund, and Reverend Troy Perry contain background history, cross-references, and options for further reading. This encyclopedia is a crucial addition for libraries, and for those who teach, write, and conduct research on the politics of sexual minorities and the history of this field. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals. —J. Goins, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Morris, Edmund. Edison. Random House, 2019. 783p index ISBN 9780812993110, $38.00; ISBN 9780679644651 ebook, contact publisher for price.

For millennia, people relied on firewood, candles, and kerosene for light, until Thomas Alva Edison introduced electric light, and then homes and streets became bright with incandescent lamps. This much is common knowledge, but few may know that Edison was no ordinary inventor. Like gifted poets drafting epic poems or prolific composers creating countless pieces of music, he made scores of inventions that now play indispensable roles in the modern world. In this exhaustive account, Morris, a well-known biographer, draws on numerous archival resources, many from Edison’s own laboratory, to convey a well-rounded portrait of this genius who was nearly deaf, covering his childhood and family, his conflicts, and his companies, as well as reactions to him. As Morris recounts, some scientists saw Edison as a money-making inventor and were reluctant to accept him into the National Academy of Sciences. A French science-fiction writer, meanwhile, thought this “Wizard of Menlo Park” would create new synthetic human beings. These and many other fascinating tidbits are included in this must-read volume about the great inventor, whose obsession with recording technology paved the way for modern-day sound and video recordings. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. —V. V. Raman, emeritus, Rochester Institute of Technology

Needell, Jeffrey D. The sacred cause: the abolitionist movement, Afro-Brazilian mobilization, and imperial politics in Rio de Janeiro. Stanford, 2020. 361p bibl index ISBN 9781503609020, $75.00; ISBN 9781503611030 ebook, contact publisher for price.

The broader outlines of the end of slavery in Brazil, from halfhearted attempts to end the trade after independence, through passage of the Law of the Free Womb in 1871 (granting freedom to children born to slaves), and to the “Golden Law” of 1888, which finally abolished slavery, are well known. Indeed, the relatively late date of Brazilian abolition makes seeing this process as inevitable tempting. In this encyclopedic study, Needell (Univ. of Florida) investigates the political process behind this history, offering a much-needed sense of contingency to the sequence of events that ended slavery in the hemisphere. The first chapter reviews the years before 1871, a history documented extensively in Needell’s The Party of Order (CH, Mar’07, 44-4033). The following chapters provide details on the next two decades. Beyond offering vital information about what happened, this work is valuable for its analysis, which links a traditional narrative of high politics in the late Empire of Brazil with an examination of how popular forces, particularly Afro-Brazilian political mobilization, factored into the history. In this regard, the book is a complete work of history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —J. M. Rosenthal, Western Connecticut State University

Nickels, Ashley E. Power, participation, and protest in Flint, Michigan: unpacking the policy paradox of municipal takeovers. Temple, 2019. 255p bibl index ISBN 9781439915660, $94.50; ISBN 9781439915677 pbk, $32.95; ISBN 9781439915684 ebook, $32.95.

In this superb book, Nickels (political science, Kent State Univ.) tackles questions that are fundamental to democratic governance at the local level. Using the case of Flint, Michigan, Nickels analyzes the causes and consequences of state takeovers of municipal governance. She documents the severity of Flint’s fiscal shocks, the speed with which they debilitated the city, and local actors’ (often acrimonious) ways of facing these shocks. In a thorough review of the literature, Nickels reveals that municipal takeovers are often portrayed as necessary to avoid bankruptcy. State takeovers of municipalities purport to take the politics out of policy-making by embracing a technocratic approach to balance local budgets. Nickels’s analysis illuminates the cost of blind implementation of neoliberal measures, as municipal takeovers prioritize fiscal savings at the cost of engaging the polis. She notes that municipal takeovers are far from being apolitical; they are inherently political and create new winners and losers by changing the status quo. In Flint, municipal takeovers favored the interests of development initiatives at the expense of average citizens. Nickels also highlights the ways in which municipal takeovers exacerbate racial disparities; in Michigan in 2013, almost half the black population lived in cities in which democratic governance had been suspended. This is a well-written, accessible study of local governance. Summing Up: Essential. All readers. —M.-F. T. Malone, University of New Hampshire

Owen-Moore, Tina M. The Alliance way: the making of a bully-free school. Harvard Education Press, 2019. 293p index ISBN 9781682532881, $66.00; ISBN 9781682532874 pbk, $34.00.

The Alliance Way presents an innovative framework for how an educational setting can embrace both individuality and creativity. Owen-Moore, the cofounder and former lead teacher of The Alliance School of Milwaukee, the first school in the nation with a mission to be bully-free from its inception, examines a timely topic, namely how to create truly inclusive and bully-free academic environments. The author delves into the core values that made Alliance a success (The Alliance School’s “Six Agreements”) to provide an example of how commitment from all parties (students, teachers, home, and community) can create a lasting impact on a student’s educational journey. While this framework is not meant as a one-size-fits-all model, the embedded components can be applied in a variety of educational contexts by teachers and professionals with the same passion to develop bully-free schools. Ultimately, this volume will serve readers across private and public sectors as a valuable contribution to the foundational literature on education. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers through faculty; professionals. —M. Wong-Lo, Biola University

Strickler, Yancey. This could be our future: a manifesto for a more generous world. Viking, 2019. 285p index ISBN 9780525560821, $25.00; ISBN 9780525560838 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Strickler, the cofounder of Kickstarter, provides a compelling account about the limits of economic systems that are centered on financial maximization, and proposes a framework that invites readers to rethink how we define (or redefine) value. The first part of his book outlines how prioritizing profit has impacted a broad spectrum of people’s lives based on a value system that favors short-term financial returns and shareholder maximization. The second part then elaborates on a new and more broadly defined value system by using well-researched and wonderfully illustrative examples, such as fairness maximization, as well as “Future Me” (the person one wishes to become) and “Future Us” (indicating the world one wants to leave behind for future generations) value orientations. This engaging, thought-provoking, and visionary work is a must read for anyone interested in economics, entrepreneurship, and a sustainable, value-driven future. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. —C. Winkler, Iona College

Voisin, Dexter R. America the beautiful and violent: black youth & neighborhood trauma in Chicago. Columbia, 2019. 302p index ISBN 9780231184403, $90.00; ISBN 9780231184410 pbk, $30.00; ISBN 9780231545471 ebook, $29.99.

Voisin (Univ. of Toronto, Canada) has written a robust and captivating book detailing the impacts of neighborhood violence on the lives of impoverished black youth. Resisting the tendency to overgeneralize the behavior of black adolescents, he addresses the complex historical and structural forces that have created the conditions of the inner city, dating back to American chattel slavery and Jim Crow laws, up to the war on drugs. Voisin incorporates both survey and qualitative data to provide an intimate picture of what life is like for black families in the poor neighborhoods of Chicago. The data reveal it is no coincidence that high levels of neighborhood violence coexist with high incidences of substance abuse and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Indeed, the continuous trauma associated with living in neighborhoods with high levels of violence is related to both higher levels of aggression and riskier behavior. Voisin provides policy and mental health recommendations to address these disparities, and reflects on his position as an academician engaging with these issues. The book is excellent in its overview of the problems at hand and the ways to address them. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. —J. A. Beicken, Rocky Mountain College

Wallace, Lewis Raven. The view from somewhere: undoing the myth of journalistic objectivity. Chicago, 2019. 239p bibl index ISBN 9780226589176, $25.00; ISBN 9780226667430 ebook, contact publisher for price.

In an age when traditional journalistic practices and assumptions are failing, this book should be on the desk of every journalist and every student of journalism. Wallace grapples with a time-honored journalistic assumption: the insistence that journalists can stand apart from their topics, reporting both accurately and dispassionately from above the fray. This is perhaps the greatest problem facing journalism today. Wallace left traditional news media, refusing to bow to its ruling assumptions, and is now working to craft new directions for the troubled profession. In this book he shows how journalism can move away from the traditional, self-destructive professional model to a more effective model of public journalism and citizen journalism. Inserting in the narrative his personal story and experience, Wallace discusses how journalists can use this new model in news stories, with the emphasis on “story.” Though the model that Wallace suggests is not new, the changes it signifies are more important today than they have ever been and are absolutely necessary if journalism is to survive as something more than propaganda and curated aggregation. Summing Up: Essential. All readers. —A. J. Barlow, New York City College of Technology (CUNY)