Editors’ Picks for May 2018

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.

Drake, H. A. A century of miracles: Christians, pagans, Jews, and the supernatural, 312–410. Oxford, 2017. 312p bibl index ISBN 9780199367412, $35.00; ISBN 9780199367436 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Drake (history, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara) employs the concept of the miracle to explain how in the fourth century CE the role of Christians in the Roman Empire was altered, setting a pattern for religion-social relations for centuries to come. The account Drake offers shows the development from pagan public religion to Christian public religion, and includes reference to Jewish as well as Christian miracles and the purposes those miracles served. Drake discusses how miracles as divine intervention in the natural order were less open to investigation than were stories of miracles. He examines the miraculous windstorm that turned likely defeat to striking victory for Theodosius in 394 CE, and the function of the miraculous “vision of the cross” that appeared to Constantine in 312 CE. Common to both instances are the stories that both demonstrate divine support for citizens who correctly worship and provide a basis for social support for religious convictions and behavior. In the context of external military threats and internal civil war in Rome, the favor of the gods was crucial for emperors Constantine, who made Christianity licit, and Theodosius, who made it an exclusive public religion. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. —L. J. Alderink, emeritus, Concordia College

Davis, Evan. Post-truth: why we have reached peak bullshit and what we can do about it. Little, Brown, 2017. 347p index ISBN 9781408703311, $26.99; ISBN 9781408703335 pbk, $18.08.

In a “dysfunctional era in public and private communication,” this critique of bullshit is vital. The issues here are to understand the “sheer volume” of bullshit and its “irrational appeal.” The text has three sections: what are the forms of bullshit? How can kinds of bullshit be explained—that a lie may reveal a truth, that humans are not rational beings and can be psychologically exploited, that truth may emerge in the long run though people be fooled in the short term, and that when a culture of bullshit becomes the norm, people may irresistibly conform? Why do people need to protect them selves from attempts to deceive and need to be open-minded and care about evidence? Many examples from real life clarify and confirm. Very clearly written, well organized, and insightful, this text is an important examination of the current “peak” in bullshit rhetoric. Here bullshit is defined in a “broader context” than that of Harry Frankfurt, whose pioneering works made study of bullshit respectable. Endnotes. Highly recommended for the general public and all levels of classroom use: English, rhetoric, communication, political science, and business classes. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —T. B. Dykeman, formerly, Fairfield University

Etiquette and taboos around the world: a geographic encyclopedia of social and cultural customs, ed. by Ken Taylor and Victoria Williams. Greenwood, 2017. 373p bibl index ISBN 9781440838200, $100.00; ISBN 9781440838217 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Much of the literature on etiquette in recent decades has focused either on polite behavior in US society, or on proper comportment for travelers doing business abroad. The need to advise the corporate world has spawned many titles by Roger Axtell, especially, of which the most general is Dos and Taboos around the World (3rd ed., 1993), a close counterpart to the work under review. Axtell’s book has chapters of general discussion on various facets of etiquette, with a section entitled “A Quick Guide to the Ways of the World” arranged by country. Information on etiquette in any given country, however, is very brief, usually less than a page. By contrast, the Taylor-Williams title, arranged alphabetically mainly by country or region, has entries of two-four and more pages for each entry, with references for further reading. It also covers 26 peoples (e.g., “African American,” “Hmong,” “Roma”). The selected bibliography is more extensive than Axtell’s. Some entries also include information on electronic communication etiquette. For readers wanting detailed, current information on cross-cultural etiquette and breadth of coverage, Etiquette and Taboos is an indispensable purchase. Summing Up:Essential. All public and academic levels/libraries. —C. Hendershott, The New School

Fellion, Matthew. Censored: a literary history of subversion and control, by Matthew Fellion and Katherine Inglis. McGill-Queen’s, 2017. 431p index ISBN 9780773551275, $34.95; ISBN 9780773551893 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This comprehensive look at the scandals, legal debates, and political fallout created by writers from John Cleland to Marjane Satrapi provides a forceful argument for enthusiastically supporting Banned Books Week each fall. Taking a chronological approach, Fellion (independent scholar) and Inglis (English, Univ. of Edinburgh, UK) neatly combine absorbing details about the publication history of 25 texts with a convincing explanation of how suppression has changed—and why it is still going strong. Readers will appreciate the fact that each chapter is solid enough to cover, without overkill, the central issues surrounding the work discussed. Well-chosen illustrations and photographs throughout the book are an added bonus. Where this compendium loses some of its appeal, however, is in its focus on the usual suspects and dependence in spots on material that other volumes have already capably covered. Does one need another reminder that Huck Finn has never been universally worshiped as a hero? How many ways can the story of Lady Chatterley’s Lover passing the so-called Roth test be told? Chapters on more recent books are a valuable addition to the literature, though, so this lovely volume is an excellent choice for fleshing out a conversation on censorship. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers. —D. C. Greenwood, Albright College

Haskel, Jonathan. Capitalism without capital: the rise of the intangible economy, by Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake. Princeton, 2017. 278p bibl index ISBN 9780691175034, $39.50; ISBN 9781400888320 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Haskel (Imperial College London) and Westlake (Nesta) investigate the rise of intangible assets, such as design, R&D, and software, relative to tangible assets, such as machinery and buildings, and the consequences for the economy. The first part discusses how intangible assets become an integrated part of today’s business, how they should be measured, and how the rise of intangible assets is more scalable, how their costs are more likely to be sunk, and how they can have spillovers and synergies with each other. The second part discusses consequences of intangible assets in the economy, secular stagnation, and the rise of inequality. Haskel and Westlake move on to financing intangibles and the role of managers and leaders, and finally consider public policy in an intangible economy. The title is an eye-opener for readers interested in the new economy that is characterized by intangible assets. This title starts excellent conversations on how to correctly account for intangible assets and how to face the challenges involved. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals. —D. Li, University of Texas at Dallas

Pappé, Ilan. The biggest prison on earth: a history of the occupied territories. Oneworld, 2017. 273p index ISBN 9781851685875, $30.00; ISBN 9781780744339 ebook, contact pubisher for price.

Historian Pappé (Univ. of Exeter, UK) is one of the leading writers of Israel’s “New Historians,” a group that, by delving into Israeli archives, challenges readers to confront Israel’s past and upend the dominant “David and Goliath” narrative. Here, Pappé brings that critical eye to the structures created around the West Bank and Gaza following the 1967 June War. He describes the Israeli occupation as the imposition of a “mega prison” that assumes two forms: an “open air prison” that allows some semblance of “autonomous life under … Israeli control,” and a “maximum security prison” that strips away even that limited autonomy and imposes harsh penalties. The author follows the ways in which both models have been deployed, as well as the reasons behind those decisions and the reactions to them. This is not a comprehensive history of the occupation, nor does it focus on the Palestinians, other than to explain movements in reaction to the prison policies (including the rise of the PLO and the two intifadas). However, Pappé’s book is critical for understanding the present situation and looking forward to possible solutions. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All public and academic levels/libraries. —D. E. Jenison, Kent State University

Schreyach, Michael. Pollock’s modernism. Yale, 2017. 328p index ISBN 9780300223262, $45.00.

Schreyach’s ambitious, phenomenological study of Jackson Pollock’s experimental art is not for the impatient. In deliberate, self-conscious prose, Schreyach (Trinity Univ.) addresses readers as purposefully as Pollock (1912–56) did viewers’ acts of beholding, bringing close looking to bear on theoretical discourse and historical criticism. Acknowledging that Jungian theory, mythic imagery, and artistic influences have played significant roles in bringing out the possible meanings of Pollock’s art, Schreyach focuses his analyses on the art’s pictorial dimensions and painterly effects by employing the theories of Michael Fried and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The five chapters—”Autonomy,” “Anamorphosis,” “Automatism,” “Embodiment,” and “Projection”—treat what Schreyach regards as the “strategies of pictorial address” that Pollock employed to find “new ways of expressing the world” and the importance of these new ways to painting itself. Schreyach questions the common assertion that Pollock’s art results in an experience of oneness; instead, one must interpret his art through the separateness of close looking at his techniques and strategies. In his detailed observations and astute analyses of Pollock’s works, Schreyach proves an unmatched guide. His discussion of works such as Lavender Mist amply rewards readers’ time. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —J. Simon, University of Georgia

Stryker, Susan. Transgender history: the roots of today’s revolution. Rev. ed. Seal Press, 2017. 301p bibl index ISBN 9781580056892 pbk, $17.99; ISBN 9781580056908 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Stryker (gender and women’s studies, Univ. of Arizona) charts “a history of transgender people in the United States, concentrating mostly on the years after World War II.” This book is a substantial update to the original edition, published in 2008 (CH, May’09, 46-5351). The first chapter defines terms like “gender” and “identity politics” and brilliantly foregrounds the rest of the text. The five chapters that follow narrate a history of transgender people in the US through the aftermath of the 2016 election within “an expansive feminist framework.” Each chapter also includes small breakout sections that expand on terms like “gender dysphoria” and “drag balls” to guide less familiar readers through the text. Stryker deftly contextualizes the political divisions within the GLBT+ movement, especially during the movement to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2007, and explores the divisions between the gay and transgender communities in regard to their relationships with the medical establishment. This book is required reading for historians, but it also represents an invaluable text for anyone who wants to better understand evolving concepts of gender. Summing Up: Essential. All libraries at all levels. —C. Pinto, Mount Holyoke College

Sussman, Steven Yale. Substance and behavioral addictions: concepts, causes, and cures. Cambridge, 2017. 404p bibl index ISBN 9781107100350, $120.00; ISBN 9781107495913 pbk, $49.99; ISBN 9781316944332 pbk, $40.00.

Sussman (Univ. of Southern California) synthesizes and integrates research from a variety of disciplines to further our conceptual understanding of addictive behaviors (substance and behavioral), their prevention, and their treatment. The text introduces several innovative models, including the Associated Memory Appetitive Systems Relations Model (AMASR) and the Pragmatics Attraction Communication Expectations Model (PACE). AMASR provides a broader perspective of addictive behaviors, demonstrating how both substance and behavioral addictions may share common underlying mechanisms. PACE identifies those factors that contribute to unique patterns of addictive behaviors among people. Grounded in current, multidisciplinary research and theory, Sussman’s book provides novel insights and suggests new approaches to preventing and treating addictive behaviors from an intrapersonal, extrapersonal, and policy perspective. Experts and novices, researchers and clinicians will find their preexisting notions of addictive behaviors challenged by the ideas presented in this text. The volume’s organizational structure facilitates learning by providing within each chapter learning objectives, clinical cases demonstrating key concepts, summaries of the material presented, and highlights of the major ideas covered. The reader’s understanding is further enhanced through a glossary that defines new terms and concepts. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals. —C. L. Mejta, Governors State University

Wood, B. Dan. Party polarization in America: the war over two social contracts, by B. Dan Wood with Soren Jordan. Cambridge, 2017. 371p bibl index ISBN 9781107195929, $120.00; ISBN 9781108173957 ebook, $96.00.

Most political science literature on party polarization focuses on current circumstances or looks back two or three decades. Wood (Texas A&M) and Jordan (Auburn) take a different path. Using sophisticated yet understandable quantitative analysis and historical narrative, they make a straightforward case that polarization has been a part of American politics since the founding. Downplaying the role of social issues, Wood and Jordan demonstrate a rather cyclical nature to polarization that is based on the conflict of parties representing the patrician and plebeian classes in American society. The system of government, though created before the party system, ingrains and strengthens this class-based polarization. This notion can be reassuring for those who think the current polarized politics is unique and stands as a symbol of declining democracy. The authors’ cyclical approach to polarization provides optimism that this is just a recurring phase in the democratic system of government. With the more difficult methodological material relegated to appendices, this work is a must read for anyone seeking perspective on the current hyperpolarized political environment. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —Jim Twombly, Elmira College