Editors’ Picks for May 2019

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.

book covers

Dinces, Sean. Bulls markets: Chicago’s basketball business and the new inequality. Chicago, 2018. 304p index ISBN 9780226583211, $45.00; ISBN 9780226583358 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This excellent book contributes to the body of work confirming that publicly subsidized sports facilities are unwise investments for taxpayers, described by experts as a “massive reverse Robin Hood scheme.” This lesson, however, is not as easy to see in the case of the wildly successful Chicago Bulls. Led by Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, the Bulls captivated Chicago and dominated the NBA in the 1990s. They helped change Chicago’s image of crime and rust, driving a revitalization that included Navy Pier, Millennium Park, and much more. As Capone faded and Jordan became the city’s brand, the Bulls were universally lauded as socially responsible and upright corporate citizens. But Dinces (Long Beach College) observes that “this was mostly a façade for the aggressive and predatory profit seeking of [owner] Jerry Reinsdorf and his colleagues” (p. 12). By telling the story of property tax breaks and other corporate welfare in building the United Center, Dinces reminds readers that their beloved sports teams will take advantage of an adoring public every time. The only thing left to figure out is why people allow it to happen again and again. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —H. Barreto, DePauw University

Fauvelle-Aymar, François-Xavier. The golden rhinoceros: histories of the African Middle Ages, tr. by Troy Tice. Princeton, 2018. 264p bibl index ISBN 9780691181264, $29.95; ISBN 9780691183947 ebook, contact publisher for price.

In this history of Africa spanning the 7th through the 15th centuries CE, French historian Fauvelle asks his readers to embrace his book as “an arrangement of fragments illuminated” (p. 7), akin to a stained-glass window. He explains that his sources, whether texts or recovered artifacts, are often incomplete and lack the context that originally produced them. The stories are both familiar—Zheng He’s giraffe, Kilwa, an inventory of artifacts at Great Zimbabwe—and revealing in their telling. The story of the Golden Rhinoceros of Mapungubwe, which gives the book its title, is one example. The tiny artifact, only 6 inches long and covered in gold foil, was discovered in 1932 by a group of young white South Africans exploring a farm. In a then-segregated white-minority state—more inclined to deny than to celebrate African history—the government purchased the site. Over several decades, archaeologists would excavate settlements dating back to the 10th century CE. Fauvelle claims no grand narrative, but there is a unifying message in the vignettes he presents. They masterfully describe a continent of diverse cultures connected actively to a global network of intellectual and commercial exchange. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —C. Higgs, University of British Columbia, Okanagan

Guha, Ramachandra. Gandhi: the years that changed the world, 1914–1948. Knopf, 2018. 1,083p index ISBN 9780385532310, $40.00; ISBN 9780385532327 ebook, $17.99.

This is the second part of a two-volume biography of Gandhi by noted historian Ramachandra Guha. The first volume, Gandhi before India (CH, Aug’14, 51-6881), describes Gandhi’s early years in London and South Africa. This second volume picks up the story on his return to India in 1914, through his ascension to a leading role in the movement for Indian independence, up to his assassination in 1948. Like much of Guha’s other works, it is engaging, thoughtful, thoroughly researched, and immensely readable. The complicated personal and political relationships between Gandhi and both his supporters and adversaries, including the Nehrus, Ambedkar, Jinnah, various viceroys, the Ali brothers, right-wing Hindu nationalists, and left-wing socialists, are handled deftly and sensitively but also with a critical eye toward the political machinations of all involved. Equally interesting is the emphasis given to the role of women in the movement, and particularly of Gandhi’s wife and adopted daughter, Kasturba and Mira, respectively, as well as the international reception and reputation of Gandhi in America, Britain, Germany, and elsewhere. As Guha notes, each generation writes its own biography of influential figures of its past. Perhaps this will be Gandhi’s biography for our generation. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —J. A. Jaffe, emeritus, University of Wisconsin Law School

Pollack, Kenneth M. Armies of sand: the past, present, and future of Arab military effectiveness. Oxford, 2019. 676p bibl index ISBN 9780190906962, $34.95; ISBN 9780190906986 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Armies of Sand is an encyclopedic treatment of a provocative theme: Why have Arab armies lost almost all wars they have been involved in since the end of World War II? Pollack (American Enterprise Institute), a renown military historian and analyst, covers the combat performance of 15 Arab armies and air forces, looking at all the regional states from Jordan and Syria in 1948 to Hizbollah in 2006, as well as the Iraqis and ISIS in the period 2014–17. But there is far more offered with a comparative analysis to the military performance of the Argentinians against the British, the Chinese and the North Koreans during the Korean war, the Cubans in southern Africa, and the South Vietnamese during their civil conflict. Pollack examines the performance of Arab militaries, searching for commonalities that explain their poor performance. The conclusion he reaches falls on several factors: an exceptionally heavy reliance on Soviet military doctrine while simultaneously benefiting from their assistance, the overly politicized civil-military relationship, the various elements connected to the effect of sociopolitical underdevelopment, and certain patterns of Arab culture. Pollack brings to bear his extensive military and intelligence experience to provide an essential read for anyone interested in politico-military affairs in the Middle East. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —S. R. Silverburg, emeritus, Catawba College

Ravalli, Richard. Sea otters: a history. Nebraska, 2018. 189p bibl index ISBN 9780803284401, $45.00; ISBN 9781496212207 ebook, $45.00.

Histories of animals continue to proliferate with the ongoing “animal turn” in the humanities and social sciences. Ravalli’s Sea Otters: A History joins these still-swelling ranks, contributing significantly to our understanding of the contingent nature of the historical experiences of one animal species and human’s relationships with it. In particular, Ravalli’s deft reading of the history of the sea otter (Enhydra lutris) as a history of a global Pacific, and especially the trade in highly valued sea otter pelts, demonstrates how global events might affect a raft of otters and regional otter populations. Likewise, the long chronological scope of Ravalli’s study affords the opportunity to see how otter populations were managed much earlier than we might imagine, a topic also largely unexplored in previous scholarship. Ravalli (history, William Jessup Univ.) is laudably candid on the limitations of this brief work, noting areas deserving of further research. The fifth and final chapter, “Nukes, Aquaria, and Cuteness,” which addresses the elevation of sea otters to the pantheon of contemporary celebrity mammals, is his most engaging, original, and provocative; like the entire work itself, it would make for an exceptional text in undergraduate courses that treat global environmental history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All academic levels. —J. W. Cox, Dartmouth College

Roberts, Andrew. Churchill: walking with destiny. Viking, 2018. 1,105p bibl index ISBN 9781101980996, $40.00; ISBN 9781101981016 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Acclaimed author and historian Andrew Roberts has produced a striking cradle-to-grave biography of Churchill. Churchill biography is a crowded field but, drawing on previously untapped sources, Roberts’s contribution is well worth the read. Roberts is the first Churchill biographer to examine King George VI’s extensive notes from his weekly meetings with Churchill throughout the Second World War. He also had exclusive access to transcripts of War Cabinet meetings, unpublished diaries, letters, and memoirs from Churchill’s contemporaries, as well as Chequers visitors’ books during Churchill’s premierships and his wartime monthly engagement cards. The familiar elements are all here—the dramatic background of great events, the dominating figure of the famous statesman glowering his invincible determination—but we also see his vulnerability as a child, his humor, and his generosity toward political foes. Criticisms and mistakes are also dealt with. No doubt the percentages of this blend will not satisfy everyone, but one must appreciate how enormously difficult it must be to encapsulate in a single volume a life that was by no means uneventful and intersected some of the most momentous events in human history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Advanced undergraduates and above; general readers. —J. D. Lyons, Cedarville University

Sabeti, Pardis. Outbreak culture: the Ebola crisis and the next epidemic, by Pardis Sabeti and Lara Salahi. Harvard, 2018. 255p index ISBN 9780674976115, $25.95; ISBN 9780674916272 ebook, contact publisher for price.

In March of 2014, the single largest Ebola viral outbreak to ever occur began in West Africa. Eventually, over 30,000 people contracted the disease and 17,000 died. Using this outbreak as their background, authors Sabeti (biology, Harvard) and Salahi, a journalist, examine factors which inhibited a unified response to this outbreak. Containing nine chapters, Outbreak Culture presents the results of personal accounts and qualitative research questionnaires of those most closely involved in the outbreak. They discuss factors that hindered the initial response and the impacts of those factors on the eventual number of deaths. The authors consider issues such as the lack of collaboration, the distrust between responding agencies and researchers, and the fear that arose from this lack of communication. The discussion of the Ebola outbreak throughout is presented in the context of outbreak responses in general. In the final chapter, Sabeti and Salahi present a framework to address these issues and what needs to be done to effectively address future global outbreaks. This book is a must read for anyone with an interest in disease outbreaks, pandemics, and the international response during an emerging crisis. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —K. R. Thompson, Missouri State University

Simanowski, Roberto. The death algorithm and other digital dilemmas, tr. by Jefferson Chase. MIT, 2018. 174 pages (Untimely meditations, 14) ISBN 9780262536370 pbk, $18.95.

These essays can be provocative, incisive, or just liberal musings, but no matter how readers interpret them, they are timely and worthy of inclusion in the current discourse. Some essays run long, so the best way to read this work is to start with the chapter that is this work’s namesake, “The Death Algorithm,” which will satisfy the immediate curiosity that creates the draw to the work. Then pick a chapter and learn about cell phone zombies, the social effects of the sharing economy, cannibalism and new media, and why Mark Zuckerberg is the anti–Donald Trump. Prior familiarity with some of the topics will make it easier for readers to grasp the underlying humor inserted into the discussions. The essays are well researched and at times come across with a one-sided political philosophy, which once set aside reveals discussions on algorithmic control, the regulation of artificial intelligence, and society’s need for greater information literacy and media education. As society continues to let technology make decisions based on algorithms, these discussions show there will still be a need for human intermediaries. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers. —R. I. Saltz, Independent scholar

Stewart-Williams, Steve. The ape that understood the universe: how the mind and culture evolve. Cambridge, 2018. 368p bibl index ISBN 9781108425049, $27.95; ISBN 9781108577526 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This eloquent and comprehensive book is a go-to guide to navigating comfortably and insightfully through any treacherous nature versus nurture debates about the origins of the human mind and behavior. Stewart-Williams (Univ. of Nottingham, UK) employs the design and logic of solid scientific inquiries about the evolutionary and cultural underpinnings of human psychology, carefully considering both biological and environmental hypotheses without the off-putting academic jargon. Each chapter (and even each page!) is filled with funny, controversial, and evolutionarily relevant anecdotes pertaining to sex differences in behavior and genetic contributions to intelligence, altruism, childbearing, parental investment, the fear/disgust systems, weird habits, cultural gadgets, etc. After catching the reader’s interest and curiosity, these stories are systematically tested against the most up-to-date empirical findings from the literature, and followed by some theoretically grounded interpretations. This must-read book is a thought-provoking and entertaining introduction or refresher on the Darwinian forces that shaped human bodies, minds, behaviors, and societies, including adaptations and evolutionary by-products, gene/meme coevolution, and cultural group selection. It is also a timely heuristic tool to avoid the naturalistic fallacy and win arguments with some biophobic social scientists and their misleading “blank slate” view of the mind. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —J-B. Leca, University of Lethbridge

Violence and trauma in the lives of children: v.1: Overview of exposure; v.2: Prevention and intervention, ed. by Joy D. Osofsky and Betsy McAlister Groves. Praeger, 2018. bibl index ISBN 9781440852589, $110.00; ISBN 9781440852596 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This two-volume work edited by Osofsky (Louisiana State Univ.) and McAlister (Boston Medical Center) is a comprehensive examination of all aspects of violence and trauma in children and adolescents. Based on current evidence in the field, it explores a variety of relevant theoretical models. There are many figures and tables that illustrate concepts clearly. This may be the definitive work on the topic to date. It tackles a difficult subject in an easy to understand format, interspersed with case studies that further illuminate the issues involved. Volume 1 defines and explores the different types of trauma that children may experience and the impact of such exposure on physical, social, and emotional health and development. Volume 2 explores various models of prevention and intervention, as well as trauma-informed care in a variety of settings. The effects of trauma on individuals, families, and communities are reviewed. The concept of cultural or historical trauma is introduced as a way to further understand the far-reaching effects of violence and exploitation. This two-volume set is essential for anyone working with children in any capacity, and for professionals and students involved in identifying and treating children who have experienced trauma. Summing Up: Essential. Advanced undergraduates and above; professionals. —C. Reed, Stockton University