Editors’ Picks for November 2020

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.

book covers

Detours: a decolonial guide to Hawai’i, ed. by Hōkūlani K. Aikau and Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez. Duke, 2019. 432p ISBN 9781478005834, $109.95; ISBN 9781478006497 pbk, $29.95; ISBN 9781478007203 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This important book challenges readers to think critically about the violence of colonialism that is expressed through tourism. Images and ideas of Hawaiʻi as a place for tourist consumption ignore the reciprocality of what aloha actually means and misappropriate the term as an invitation to gratify colonial appetites. Legal scholars, artists, humanities scholars, scientists, social scientists, and, crucially, Kanaka ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiian) leaders and activists contribute to this varied collection. In the vein of more prosaic guidebooks, it examines particular places, events, and practices, but rather than attempt to make an unfamiliar place more accessible to the outsider, it advocates an ontological shift from colonial ways of approaching and understanding Hawaiʻi to Kanaka ʻŌiwi ways. This pushes the reader to join in the decolonial project of reimagining sovereign Hawaiʻi. Offering decolonial tours that a reader visiting the islands may use, part 3 is particularly effective, demonstrating how visitors can help work toward a decolonial future. Detours is valuable not only to those studying Hawaiʻi, but more broadly to scholars of indigenous studies and anyone interested in the colonial legacies of tourism. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels. —L. Kessler, Consortium for History of Science, Technology & Medicine

Disaster Lit: Database for Disaster Medicine and Public Health. National Library of Medicine, 2020. Contact publisher for pricing. Internet Resource. https://disasterinfo.nlm.nih.gov/disaster-lit

Disaster Lit: Database for Disaster Medicine and Public Health is an open access database created and maintained by the National Library of Medicine (NLM),” providing “access to biomedical research, journal research, and grey literature on disaster medicine and public health,” wrote Marcia Salmon for ccAdvisor. As she also noted, Disaster Lit was created as part “of the Disaster Information Management Research Center, which provides comprehensive disaster health information,” and “is an important database for research in emergency management, disaster preparedness, and public health.” Content includes “guidelines, reports, proceedings, training, and fact sheets,” as well as disaster and public health information from PubMed, MedlinePlus (CH, Jul’18, 55-3869), and 1,400 noncommercial, disaster-related resources, Salmon added. The database itself is freely available to access and search, although some content may require users to subscribe to the publications where that content resides.

To navigate these sources, Disaster Lit includes a basic search box and an advanced search function, and allows for Boolean searching and keyword searching by title, source, date published, format, annotation, authors, type, access notes, and URL. Results can then be filtered by source, publication type, publication year, author, and whether the database includes research tools. Also helpful, as Salmon detailed, is the site’s ability to enable “discovery of disaster health information in other NLM databases by running a search in PubMedMedlinePlus, and National Institute of Health/National Library of Medicine.”

Several databases cover aspects of the same content included in this database, such as NIH Disaster Research Response (DR2), PubMed and PubMed Central, and the WHO’s Global Index Medicus, to name a few, although as Salmon concluded, “[t]here does not appear to be a database that competes directly with Disaster Lit.” —Abstracted from, ccAdvisor

This review is a summary of a longer review by Marcia Salmon, York University, originally published in ccAdvisor.orgCopyright © 2020 by The Charleston Company.

Duan, Xiaolin. The rise of West Lake: a cultural landmark in the Song Dynasty. Washington, 2020. 247p bibl index ISBN 9780295747125, $95.00; ISBN 9780295747101 pbk, $30.00; ISBN 9780295747118 ebook, contact publisher for price.

For more than eight centuries, China’s West Lake (Xihu in Chinese) has functioned as sightseeing destination, water source, and cultural symbol both regionally, in southern China, and at the national level. Celebrated in verse by the literati, spotlighted by landscape painters, and visited by emperors and common people alike, the lake was—and still remains—a vibrant nexus where economy and ecology interact, business combines with leisure, and people of all types encounter one another. Skillfully weaving together the cultural histories of tourism and travel, Duan’s masterful study focuses on the emergence of West Lake as a key geographic repository of multivalent meanings during China’s middle imperial period (from the late Tang to the Ming dynasties). Culling delightfully colorful anecdotes from a variety of journals from the Southern Song period to flesh out her observations, the author deftly incorporates poetry, prose, and the visual arts to provide the reader with a multisensory vision of the ways in which West Lake shaped Chinese statecraft, the development of Chinese commercial culture, and the daily lives of Hangzhou urbanites. The result is an eminently readable history of place that defies easy categorization with regard to scholarly genre. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. —M. Landeck, Austin College

Elster, Jon. France before 1789: the unraveling of an absolutist regime. Princeton, 2020. 280p bibl index ISBN 9780691149813, $39.95; ISBN 9780691200927 ebook, contact publisher for price.

In archives Alexis de Tocqueville found “the ways men thought and felt, their habits and their prejudices,” as he wrote in The Old Régime and the Revolution (1856). In this volume, the first of a planned trilogy on the French and American constitutions, Elster (Columbia Univ.) similarly mines the archives to construct a sociological and psychological analysis of France’s ancien régime. He focuses on changing absolutism from the 17th century to 1787, drawing on renowned intellectuals, historians, and de Tocqueville to describe a “complex social system” with agents influenced by desires and beliefs shaped by passions and information. Elster establishes motivations of significant social groups, royal officials, courts, and deliberating bodies. The ancien régimeemerges fatally heterogeneous because of exemptions, exceptions, and obsessions with préséance (rank). He links kings’ wars with economic destabilization and general short-term thinking that discouraged investment and reform, exemplified by an emergence of peasants resentful of arbitrary taxes without former seigneurial benefits. Elster finds pervasive passive resistance amid inefficient egocentric courts, divided estates, and hamstrung kings. He suggests revolution became inevitable when the Third Estate grew angry, foreshadowing de Tocqueville’s claim that distinctive “antecedent circumstances” led to a uniquely “drastic” revolution. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals. —L. A. Rollo, formerly, Millersville University

Leza, Christina. Divided peoples: policy, activism, and indigenous identities on the U.S.-Mexico border. Arizona, 2019. 223p bibl index ISBN 9780816537006, $45.00; ISBN 9780816540556 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Leza (Colorado College), an anthropologist, analyzes a diverse set of indigenous voices bifurcated by the US–Mexico border, chronicling the recent efforts of organizations such as Alianza Indígena, which organizes indigenous borderland communities to advocate for easier “rights of mobility and passage.” She begins by discussing the Yaquis, who suffered under the reign of Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz, causing thousands to flee north into what became the US state of Arizona. Similarly, the Tohono O’odham people became a divided nation during the 19th century owing to the Gadsden Purchase of 1853. In chapter 3, Leza adds other groups to the discussion, such as the Akimel O’odham and Lipan Apaches, many of whom have advocated across community lines for border-crossing rights. Even in the modern period, however, there are still “no set policies or written procedures specifically regarding Native peoples who cross the U.S.-Mexico border for cultural, social, or ceremonial purposes” (p. 107). In chapters 5 and 6 Leza examines the many complexities in indigenous border identities and the various challenges activists face in overcoming intra- and intercommunity divisions. Hopefully, Divided Peoples will provide a ready blueprint for Native peoples to challenge nation-state restrictions on transborder movements. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. —T. P. Bowman, West Texas A&M University

Siemann, Wolfram. Metternich: strategist and visionary, tr/ by Daniel Steuer. Belknap, Harvard, 2019. 900p bibl index ISBN 9780674743922, $39.95; ISBN 9780674245907 ebook, contact publisher for price.

In this biography of Clemens von Metternich—a work of unusual clarity and depth—Siemann (emer., Ludwig Maximilian Univ. of Munich, Germany) traces the career of the Austrian chancellor and foreign secretary and presents a larger picture of the history of Europe in the first half of the 19th century. Although he despised Napoleon Bonaparte, Metternich initially temporized while skillfully building the coalition that defeated Napoleon, eventually becoming the principal architect of the peace that followed. Throughout his career, Metternich believed that stability could be maintained only if Germany survived as a confederation, if the European powers avoided war, and if radicalism, whether socialistic or nationalistic, were held in check. A disciple of Edmund Burke, Metternich was not a reactionary (this is a key point for Siemann) but a progressive conservative. He knew that in the end he would fail; his failure was guaranteed by the bureaucratic obstructionism of the Austrian bureaucracy, the limitations of the emperors he served, and the growth of that very radicalism he so opposed. He also hoped that future historians might understand him, and Siemann certainly does, as evidenced by this excellent study. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —S. Bailey, emeritus, Knox College

Stacher, Joshua. Watermelon democracy: Egypt’s turbulent transition. Syracuse, 2020. 286p bibl index ISBN 9780815636779, $75.00; ISBN 9780815636878 pbk, $29.95; ISBN 9780815655008 ebook, contact publisher for price.

The volume’s curious title appropriately uses a joke familiar to Egyptians, which might translate to “bait and switch” or “easy talk” in English. Displaying a rich green exterior, the watermelon poses a gamble for the hopeful buyer, who won’t know what’s inside until the melon is opened. Stacher (Kent State Univ.) adopts this perspective to analyze the turbulent transition of Egypt’s most violent modern period from the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 to the deposition of Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and the military’s subsequent struggle under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to create a new authoritarian regime. With the military increasingly pulling the strings, the generals of the old era seized power and sought to entrench their own regime on the ruins of the potentially democratic transition it had sabotaged—hence the watermelon theme. The author concludes that Egypt is currently in dire straits. To enhance his analysis of contemporary Egypt, Stacher refers often to political transitions in other states as well. This is not a chronological survey but a penetrating analysis of the transition from 2011 to 2013 and the devastating consequences for Egypt today. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —B. Harris Jr., emeritus, Occidental College

Swamp souths: literary and cultural ecologies, ed. by Kirstin L. Squint et al. Louisiana State, 2020. 303p bibl index ISBN 9780807172384, $55.00; ISBN 9780807173510 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This collection makes a major contribution to several fields: southern US literature, ethnic studies (especially Black studies), and ecology. The essays touch on but transcend local color and regionalism. They encompass music and film as well as literary texts. The historical span ranges from colonial literature to postmodern writing. Five major swamps are covered: the Terrebonne-Atchafalaya Basin (Louisiana), the Okefenoke Swamp (Georgia), the Mississippi River Delta (Louisiana), the Everglades (Florida), and the Great Dismal Swamp (Virginia and North Carolina). The essays deal with such well-known authors as George Washington Cable, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty, but also take in Sidney Bechet’s classic jazz autobiography Treat It Gentle (1960), an album by Beyoncé, and Benh Zeitlin’s film Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012). There is even an essay on Civil War theater in Richmond, Virginia. The scholarship is deep and supported by interesting notes, maps, and an extensive bibliography. Most readers will not have given thought to swamps in southern culture, but this important book shows how significant this “chronotope” (as Mikhail Bahktin would call it) really is. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —B. Almon, emeritus, University of Alberta

Wong, Rebecca Wing Yee. The illegal wildlife trade in China: understanding the distribution networks. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. 170p bibl index ISBN 9783030136659, $84.99; ISBN 9783030136666 ebook, $64.99.

This work of green criminology provides an engaging ethnography of the illegal wildlife trade in China, probing wildlife trafficking as it mirrors and differs from other forms of organized criminal behavior. The text considers the different stages of the illegal trade in animal parts and food consumables and the various actors who navigate the legal regime. Wong (City University of Hong Kong) engages in some discussion of the global legal framework governing the trade but focuses more on the commercial practices of poaching, smuggling, and selling the relevant products, unveiling processes and relationships that enable the flow of goods and the emergence of criminal networks. The author’s interviews reveal a complex enterprise highly reliant on relationships of trust, both in terms of those profiting from and those consuming the products. In addition, the circulation of wild animals as consumer goods demonstrates the creation of a market generated in part by the goods’ illegal status, which boosts their value. The ethnographic detail, described in transparent terms, offers a rare and valuable sociological snapshot of the trade but provides less insight into some of the broader political, social, and economic factors shaping the trade. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers through faculty; professionals. —C. E. Rasmussen, University of Delaware

Young, Ken. Super bomb: organizational conflict and the development of the hydrogen bomb, by Ken Young and Warner R. Schilling. Cornell, 2020 (c2019). 221p bibl index ISBN 9781501745164, $39.95; ISBN 9781501745188 ebook, $19.99.

In Super Bomb, Young and Schilling (both now deceased) analyze Harry S. Truman’s fateful decision on January 31, 1950, to pursue the hydrogen bomb, colloquially “the super,” and that policy’s momentous consequences. The authors deftly illustrate that conflict existed on multiple levels, not only in the international arena between the US and Soviet Union but also on the US domestic stage among the various institutions and individuals involved, including the White House, Congress, the Pentagon, and the Atomic Energy Commission, and among such notable personalities as David Lilienthal, Brien McMahon, Curtis LeMay, and J. Robert Oppenheimer. The resulting contentious debates, both public and private, revealed clashing perspectives regarding appropriate roles of the various US military services, especially the Air Force and its Strategic Air Command. Super Bomb is well written, cogently argued, and deeply researched. The narrative is supported with robust archival materials and illuminating contemporaneous interviews with myriad policy makers, scientists, and officers who personally witnessed—and in many cases influenced—this critical episode. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals; general readers. —W. A. Taylor, Angelo State University