Editors’ Picks for November 2019

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.

book covers

Ackerman, Bruce A. Revolutionary constitutions: charismatic leadership and the rule of law. Belknap, Harvard, 2019. 457p index ISBN 9780674970687, $35.00.

Change is never easy, especially in politics and law. This book comparatively and historically confronts two major questions. Under what conditions do political revolutions take place? Once they occur, how do the new regimes entrench change through constitutions? Ackerman (Yale), building upon his previous work on constitutional transformations and the growing theory of comparative constitutional law, builds a theory of regime change and subsequent political stability. The book employs Max Weber’s concept of charismatic authority, asking how revolutionary leaders use it to effect political change. The challenge: once a new regime is formed, how does it empower people to support and sustain new political norms via constitutional design and principles? Ackerman proposes a fourfold theory of revolutionary constitutions and applies it to several states and regime changes, including India, South Africa, France, Israel, Poland, Italy, and Burma. Each chapter focuses on the roles of charismatic leaders or movements. The book concludes by applying the framework and lessons to the USA, specifically the constitutional framers and George Washington to determine whether the US experience is unique, especially in the age of President Trump. Good for collections on comparative constitutional law. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers; upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —D. Schultz, Hamline University

Beek, Pieta van. My mother’s mother’s mother: South African women’s writing from 17th century Dutch to contemporary Afrikaans, by Pieta van Beek and Annemarié van Niekerk. Leiden University Press, 2019. 958p bibl index ISBN 9789087283186, $77.50.

Van Beek and Van Niekerk assemble a fascinating collection of Dutch and Afrikaans writing by South African women from the mid-17th century to the present. Profiling more than 70 writers and translating their narratives into English, the authors use the metaphor “literary mother” to analyze how “the maternal legacy of language becomes charged with ambiguity and fraught with ambivalence.” The earliest writer featured is Eva (Krotoa), a Khoi woman who lived intermittently with the Cape governor’s family, learned perfect Dutch, and battled to maintain her indigenous identity. Following Britain’s imperial intrusion into South Africa in the 19th century, the writer Elizabeth Murray Neethling recounts the struggle for Afrikaner political autonomy as well as the horrors she experienced in British concentration camps during the South African War (1899–1902). In more recent years, Afrikaner women poets, novelists, and journalists grapple with questions of gender and racial inequality. In the post-apartheid era, the internationally known writer Antjie Krog tries to reimagine her identity as a white person and come to grips “with the motherland and the mother tongue.” Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —J. O. Gump, University of San Diego

Bradford, James Tharin. Poppies, politics, and power: Afghanistan and the global history of drugs and diplomacy. Cornell, 2019. 281p bibl index ISBN 9781501738333, $95.00; ISBN 9781501739767 pbk, $27.95; ISBN 9781501738340 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Afghanistan grows more than 90 percent of the world’s opium. This is not new; growing opium has been a part of Afghan society for more than 1,000 years. Bradford describes the long history of opium in Afghanistan, including the use of opium in the Mughal dynasty, the British introduction of Afghan opium to China, and the introduction of opium to the West. The various governments of Afghanistan since the 1900s have wavered on whether to make opium production illegal or to see it as a means of economic development. Chapters include a discussion of opium production up to 1929, the attempt to ban opium production in the 1930s and 1940s, the 1958 attempt to control opium production in Badakhshan, the arrival of hippies in the 1960s, Nixon’s war on drugs in the 1970s, and the role of opium in the American occupation of Afghanistan beginning in 2001. The book is well-written and a major contribution to an important but often forgotten aspect of Afghanistan. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —G. M. Farr, emeritus, Portland State University

Chandler-Olcott, Kelly. A good fit for all kids: collaborating to teach writing in diverse, inclusive settings. Harvard Education Press, 2019. 222p index ISBN 9781682533444, $64.00; ISBN 9781682533437 pbk, $33.00.

Over four years, Chandler-Olcott, the Meredith Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Syracuse University School of Education, observed and participated in the Robinson Summer Writing Institute, where students collaborate with instructors to improve student writing and aid instructor professional development. Although Chandler-Olcott designed the book for middle school and high school instructors, community college and four-year college writing instructors can also benefit from her findings. Those who work with diverse student populations will appreciate the “Tips and Takeaways” section at the end of each chapter. The final chapter, “Pulling the Thread Through,” offers a synthesis of the previous chapters in the areas of curriculum, collaboration, community, and linkages beyond the program and encourages the reader to “pull his/her own thread through” to enhance student summer writing programs, to consider intensive electives, and to reconceptualize co-planning and co-teaching. An important theme in the program design is to provide opportunities for instructors to improve their own writing, to enhance evaluation skills, and to strengthen interactions with student writers. This reviewer read the book in one sitting, made extensive notes, and is eager to share the “noticings” with fellow instructors. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students, researchers, and practitioners. —A. W. Petersen, emeritus, Buena Vista University

Fridkin, Kim L. Taking aim at attack advertising: understanding the impact of negative campaigning in U.S. Senate races, by Kim L. Fridkin and Patrick J. Kenney. Oxford, 2019. 256p bibl index ISBN 9780190947569, $99.00; ISBN 9780190947576 pbk, $27.95; ISBN 9780190947590 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Taking Aim at Attack Advertising is a richly researched and persuasive account of the impact of negative advertising on voter attitudes and mobilization. Fridkin and Kenney (both, Arizona State) theorize that the effect of negative advertising varies according to voters’ tolerance of negativity, and the relevance and civility of the negative message. Tolerance for negativity varies by party, gender, and age. Voters with little tolerance for negativity are likely to be demobilized by uncivil and irrelevant negative advertising. The authors support the argument by analyzing survey data, focus groups, and experimental evidence. This book is well written, persuasively argued, and a useful addition to scholarship on elections. It is aimed at readers with a strong background in political science scholarship and substantial quantitative fluency. It would be appropriate for advanced undergraduate and graduate classes. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —P. Hanson, Grinnell College

Olson, Roberta J. M. Cosmos: the art and science of the universe, by Roberta J. M. Olson and Jay M. Pasachoff. Reaktion Books, 2019. 303p bibl index ISBN 9781789140545, $49.95.

The compelling introduction in Cosmos invites examination of the connection between art and science. The volume comprises a series of richly illustrated chapters, each focused on a particular aspect of astronomy. Olson (emer., art, Wheaton College) and Pasachoff (astronomy, Williams College) devote two-thirds of the book to the sun, moon, eclipses, comets, and meteors—objects that have inspired artists in their work. The authors selected important examples from a trove of images that persuasively demonstrate the postulated relationship. (It is unfortunate that more examples of art from the Middle East and Asia are not included.) Later chapters introduce images from instruments of the details of planets, nebulae, and even the moons of the solar system, images made possible as science developed. The book concludes with a collection of recent images. The emphasis throughout is on the images, and the narrative offers informed comments about selected paintings. The accompanying description of the science is very basic. Even so, the illustrations span millennia, which enables the authors to illuminate the fascinating morphing of astrology, the original science of the heavens, into astronomy, the current scientific view of the cosmos. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates; general readers. —D. E. Hogg, emeritus, National Radio Astronomy Observatory

Mackie, Gregory. Beautiful untrue things: forging Oscar Wilde’s extraordinary afterlife. Toronto, 2019. 287p bibl index ISBN 9781487502904, $80.00; ISBN 9781487516277 ebook, $80.00.

Mackie (Univ. of British Columbia) examines how Oscar Wilde’s life, works, and “afterlife” were reflected in attempts at imitation or forgery. Four chapters describe four case studies: the cultish devotion Wilde’s friends (e.g., collector Walter Ledger, biographer Robert Ross, bibliographer Christopher Millard) applied to their documentary endeavors; the elaborate forgeries that a literary fraud (now revealed to be American poet Brett Holland) peddled under the pen names “Dorian Hope” and “Sylvestre Dorian”; the “psychic messages” medium Hester Travers Smith said she received via Wilde’s spirit and her publication of those messages in 1924; and a forged play titled For Love of the King, issued by a Mrs. Chan-Toon, who claimed that Wilde had written it for her in 1894. The volume concludes with an examination of Wilde’s “The Portrait of Mr. W. H.” in its original 1889 version and the much longer and more explicitly homoerotic edition of 1921. In that story, three Shakespeare fans want to prove that the 1609 Sonnets were dedicated to the “boy-actor” Willie Hughes (“W. H.”). Wilde’s 1893 plans for an enlarged illustrated edition were abandoned after he was convicted of homosexual conduct. The book is well documented with notes and a bibliography. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —G. Divay, formerly, University of Manitoba

Minard, Peter Maxwell. All things harmless, useful, and ornamental: environmental transformation through species acclimatization, from colonial Australia to the world. North Carolina, 2019. 196p bibl index ISBN 9781469651606, $90.00; ISBN 9781469651613 pbk, $32.95; ISBN 9781469651620 ebook, $25.99.

In this book, Minard (La Trobe Univ.) examines an interesting experiment in the mid-1800s in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, and elsewhere in Australasia—the numerous attempts on the part of colonists to introduce and establish animals from England and other countries to replace native fauna. One hope was to transform newly occupied lands to duplicate the home country in appearance and behavior. Australia has several ecosystems, so it is not surprising that some attempts were unsuccessful. And few thought of the consequences of such replacement if it succeeded. Many ignored the basic native body of indigenous forms. Some fauna were successfully established: certain animals and fish were hardy and capable of surviving the trip and the environment of their new surroundings. The 1851 gold rush was a substantial impediment to establishing fish; gold mining damaged the land, making the streams unsuitable. Some of the successes had negative consequences. One was the rabbit, which simply overwhelmed the native fauna. A major driving force of this project was the wish to have big hunts, raising deer and using the rabbits to train dogs. This effort was only marginally successful. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. —F. W. Yow, emeritus, Kenyon College

Trans people in higher education, ed. by Genny Beemyn. SUNY Press, 2019. 310p bibl index ISBN 9781438472737, $90.00; ISBN 9781438472744 pbk, $34.95; ISBN 9781438472751 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Beemyn (Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst) has edited an important and timely book. They have thoughtfully structured the book to begin with voices of faculty, staff, and students who document and explore their personal experiences. The book is separated into two parts. Part 1 includes narratives of individual trans people—stories and experiences that are often invisible on college campuses. Part 2 includes research-focused chapters that help even average readers understand and incorporate the results into practice. To help readers better understand the context of the research-focused chapters, Beemyn opens the book with a history of studies of trans people. The personal accounts of coming out as trans, navigating chosen names/pronouns, and understanding and challenging policies and procedures are powerful examples of the complexity of living, studying, and working in a campus setting. The research-focused chapters allow readers to understand the actual experiences of trans people in higher education. Beemyn wisely positions the last two chapters of the book to leave readers with practical, actionable interventions for change, inclusion, and hope for the future. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. —J. S. Hodes, West Chester University

Ziomek, Kirsten L. Lost histories: recovering the lives of Japan’s colonial peoples. Harvard University Asia Center, 2019. (Dist. by Harvard.) 406p bibl index (Harvard East Asian monographs, 418) ISBN 9780674237278, $35.00; ISBN 9780674237285 pbk, contact publisher for price.

Ziomek (Adelphi) presents a unique view of the Japanese colonial empire from the ground up in an imaginative effort to “recover the lives of Japan’s colonial peoples.” Focusing on four groups of colonial subjects—Ainu, Taiwan’s indigenous peoples, Micronesians, and Okinawans—during the first half of the 20th century, the author reconstructs the life histories of individuals from a wide array of primary and unconventional written sources, graphic representations, oral histories, and photographs. These life stories provide a new perspective on the colonial experience in the Japanese Empire and support Ziomek’s conclusions that Japan depended on its colonial subjects to implement its rule, and that ethnoracial differences among colonial subjects were used by both colonial administrators and colonial subjects to their advantage. The author not only traces the lives of these colonial subjects in colorful detail but also illuminates their movement within and without Japan’ empire. Well written and fascinating, the book demonstrates that these lives tell us as much about colonialism as about the impact of colonial subjects on the conduct of Japanese colonial practices. Highly recommended for readers interested in the Japanese colonial empire, modern Japanese history, and colonialism in general. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —M. D. Ericson, University of Maryland University College