Editors’ Picks for October 2018

Calloway, Colin G. The Indian world of George Washington: the first president, the first Americans, and the birth of the nation. Oxford, 2018. 621p index ISBN 9780190652166, $34.95; ISBN 9780190652173 ebook, contact publisher for price.

The Indian World of George Washington is a major contribution to the literature on George Washington and Native American history. Calloway’s deeply researched analysis, written in accessible prose, reveals the centrality of indigenous people in Washington’s life and thinking. In 20 gripping chapters, Calloway (Dartmouth) presents a picture of Native Americans as strategically skillful and a Washington who was often, as the author writes in the introduction, “out of his depth in a complex world of rumors.” Indeed, Washington struggled to grasp the nuances of indigenous diplomacy despite the fact that Native Americans, and their land, occupied so much of his mental energy. Land is a major theme in Calloway’s analysis. Be it George Washington the land speculator, the military man the Iroquois knew as “Town Destroyer,” or the president of a new republic who worried incessantly about the future of the US while it remained surrounded by sovereign Indian nations, battles over land were a constant in Washington’s life. The Indian World of George Washington underscores that to truly understand the history of the early republic and the life of the nation’s first president, one must grapple with the significance of Native American history. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —G. D. Smithers, Virginia Commonwealth University

Cheeseman, Nic. How to rig an election, by Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas. Yale, 2018. 310p bibl index ISBN 9780300204438, $26.00.

Authoritarian rulers have many reasons to want to maintain elections because acquiring office through elections provides legitimacy. But these rulers also want to avoid losing office, which results in vastly diminished influence, eliminates the possibilities of legitimate graft, and could result in imprisonment or worse. Given those worries, leaders rig elections. This book provides a review of the many ways to rig elections. Districts may be drawn in ways that diminish the influence of blocs of voters. Voter registration rules can be altered to reduce registration of opposing voters. Opponents can be excluded by enacting burdensome candidate entry requirements, such as large numbers of signatures. Rulers may use government resources to curry the favor of voters by distributing various benefits. It is also possible to consistently distribute distorted, biased, or false information to influence voters’ views of rulers. Finally, violence against opponents can be encouraged. Together, these actions can significantly influence election outcomes. Cheeseman (Univ. of Birmingham, UK) and Klaas (London School of Economics, UK) present this information in a very accessible way. For readers who wish to understand how leaders across a variety of countries can manipulate elections, this is an excellent book. Summing Up: Essential. General readers; upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —J. M. Stonecash, emeritus, Syracuse University

Faraone, Christopher A. The transformation of Greek amulets in Roman imperial times. Pennsylvania, 2018. 486p bibl index ISBN 9780812249354, $89.95.

This essential book, although readable, is so long and detailed that it may appeal mainly to scholars and graduate students. The introduction alone is a terrific brief review of the history of ancient amulets and the scholarship about them, providing a thorough redefinition of the term backed by ancient sources and a rethinking of earlier scholarly assumptions. Extensive footnotes and an excellent bibliography comprise nearly half the book. In addition, Faraone (classics, Univ. of Chicago) provides nine appendixes translating original curative and protective texts and glossaries of ancient authors, texts, terms, and corpora. Faraone aims to show how Greek amulets were transformed in the late Hellenistic and Roman periods, producing a new deluge of evidence. He presents his case in the introduction: the apparent increase in amulets in the first centuries of the Roman Empire is based not on new superstitions or Eastern influences but primarily on new iconography, the use of inscriptions, and miniaturization of domestic amulets, thus making visible an existing amulet repertoire. Faraone explores archaeological evidence, images, and once-spoken formulae, now inscribed. On the way, he also addresses magic versus religion and takes many fascinating side trips to eclectic but relevant topics, such as Greek herms. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students, researchers, faculty, and professionals. —S. Brown, J. Paul Getty Museum

Gender roles in American life: a documentary history of political, social, and economic changes, ed. by Constance L. Shehan. ABC-CLIO, 2018. 2v index ISBN 9781440859588, $198.00; ISBN 9781440859595 ebook, contact publisher for price.

The two-volume documentary history Shehan (Univ. of Florida) assembled examines the influence of religion, policy, and technological and economic developments on the social construction of gender roles in the US from 1775 to the present. Organized chronologically, excerpts encompass perspectives from women activists, political and religious leaders, industrialists, authors, journalists, and other notable figures. Each chapter begins with an overview of key events that shaped gender roles in the period. Brief biographical sketches of their authors preface document excerpts; references conclude each chapter. Volume 1 offers a balance of gendered perspectives on issues ranging from women’s suffrage to the division of labor. For example, Susan B. Anthony counters Alexander Graham Bell’s essay on women’s “extremism” in 1875 with her 1877 speech, “Homes of Single Women”; Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1898 study decrying women’s economic dependence on men is juxtaposed with Theodore Roosevelt’s 1901 speech extolling “American manhood.” Volume 2 focuses on challenges to traditional gender boundaries and includes the writings of Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Phyllis Schlafly. The volume ends with an array of writings illuminating gender dynamics in the context of the rise of social and political activism in the early 21st century. This skillfully curated work will engage and foster thoughtful discussion among students of historical, cultural, and gender studies. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduates. —A. I. Fritz, University of Notre Dame

Hillegas-Elting, James V. Speaking for the river: confronting pollution on the Willamette, 1920s–1970s. Oregon State, 2018. 334p bibl index ISBN 9780870719165 pbk, $29.95; ISBN 9780870719172 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Told in the broader context of Willamette Valley and Columbia River drainage, the environmental history of the Willamette River is full of parallels to struggles across the nation, both past and present. Hillegas-Elting (independent scholar) begins his account of the region with the arrival of European American settlers in the 1800s and the permanent changes they soon wrought on the watershed. Dams, industrial infrastructure, and wastes from paper mills, meat processing plants, and city sewage altered the once braided, meandering Willamette so severely that it functioned more as a canal than a natural river. This scholarly work is exceptionally readable, compelling, and highly relevant to any situation in which citizen groups and state and federal government bodies grapple with polluters. The author summarizes a valuable lesson from the Willamette in the introduction: “Both significant environmental changes and a core set of advocates were often required to force the broader American society to adjust its accustomed ways of living.” The challenges of maintaining clean waterways are more complex than ever. This story demonstrates that persistent advocacy is essential, and the book—with its extensive bibliography, bibliographic essay, 50 illustrations, and detailed index—will inform policy makers and environmentalists alike. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —A. S. Ricker, Oberlin College

Leatherbarrow, Bill. Moon. Reaktion Books, 2018. 182p bibl index ISBN 9781780239149, $40.00.

To ancient civilizations, the Moon was an important aspect of many mythologies. With the advent of the telescope and the theories of Kepler and Newton, the Moon was recognized as a close companion of the Earth, coupled to it by gravity. The discussion evolved into speculation about the Moon’s origin, what it was made of, and whether it ever supported life. The dawning of the space age enabled a profound advance in our understanding of this familiar object. In a remarkably engaging and lucid narrative, Leatherbarrow (emer., Univ. of Sheffield, UK) guides the reader through the steps that achieved answers to many of these important questions. It is now hypothesized that the Moon was formed as the result of a collision between the Earth and a smaller protoplanet, resulting in the remnant, the nascent Moon, slowly cooling and evolving. It might have suffered a major collision itself. Most of the visible craters resulted from impacts, but some are extinct volcanoes. There is still much to be learned, and the final chapter suggests opportunities for studies by amateurs, even in the space age. The Moon is an excellent example of science writing at its finest. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and general readers. —D. E. Hogg, emeritus, National Radio Astronomy Observatory

Schallegger, René Reinhold. The postmodern joy of role-playing games: agency, ritual and meaning in the medium. McFarland, 2018. 250p bibl index ISBN 9781476664934 pbk, $55.00; ISBN 9781476631462 ebook, contact publisher for price.

In this groundbreaking study, Schallegger (game studies, Univ. of Klagenfurt, Austria) argues that critical and scholarly study of role-playing games (RPGs) reveals crucial insights about how collaborative participation in storytelling contributes to cultural progress. The author methodically unpacks his thesis by first describing how postmodern approaches to language, authorship, and texts upended traditional assumptions about narrative and authority, in turn encouraging radical critical considerations of story. This open critical environment, in which traditional boundaries between people and art were destabilized, created room for play, both as concept and as activity. In many ways, RPGs exemplify such a postmodern milieu. In RPGs, relationships between gamers and the games they play are fluid. RPG authorship, for example, is a collaboration between the writer of the particular rule set or module being used, the game master, and players. RPGs also provide an imaginative space where people can assume alternative identities and explore different responses to social and historical forces, such as discrimination, loss, and violence. In this regard, RPGs encourage cultural progress by responding to social problems and pressures. The latest volume in McFarland’s “Studies in Gaming” series, this volume is required reading for RPG and gaming scholars. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates and above; professionals. —J. G. Matthews, Washington State University

Shane, Scott. Is entrepreneurship dead?: the truth about startups in America. Yale, 2018. 251p index ISBN 9780300212112, $30.00.

Shane (Case Western Reserve Univ.) takes on a fascinating investigation about entrepreneurship in the US. The goal is to draw from various data sources to paint a picture about the nuances of entrepreneurial activity, which, counter to popular opinion, is doing pretty well. He asserts that what has changed is the nature of entrepreneurial activity: established companies are doing better than before while many newly formed companies do not employ as much. Each chapter thoroughly examines a popular opinion through the lens of various credible data sources. For instance, Shane illustrates that the American entrepreneurial landscape does not lack capital and that regulators, taxes, or lack of immigration are not limiting factors, as well as a host of other issues. Together, these chapters make up a wonderful mosaic of entrepreneurial activity in the US and give readers an informed opinion that is scientifically backed and thoroughly explained. The book is a must read for anyone interested in entrepreneurship, economics, economic policy, and politics. Summing Up: Essential. General readers; upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —C. Winkler, Iona College

Webb, Michael. Architects’ houses. Princeton Architectural, 2018. 303p index ISBN 9781616897024, $50.00.

Including a multitude of beautiful photographs but relatively limited text, this large-format volume highlights 30 houses (mostly 21st century) around the world designed by architects for their own use. Webb (who is based in Los Angeles and writes on architecture and design) selected the houses and discusses each briefly. He supplements these discussions with brief comments on and a photograph of 27 architect’s homes from the late 18th century to the late 20th, from Jefferson’s Monticello to the Frank Gehry house in Los Angeles and a few even more recent. The main part of the volume is a handsomely illustrated survey of the genre, featuring architects both well known and less familiar. Each house is amply illustrated in color and many are accompanied by floor plans and sections. There are also lists of the buildings in both groups, though mainly the older ones, with information on location and accessibility, and thumb-nail biographies of the architects of the houses that are the focus of the book. This is an impressive and beautiful volume, but the bibliography is limited. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers and professionals. —D. Stillman, emeritus, University of Delaware

Zaretsky, Natasha. Radiation nation: Three Mile Island and the political transformation of the 1970s. Columbia, 2018. 285p bibl index ISBN 9780231179805, $105.00; ISBN 9780231179812 pbk, $35.00; ISBN 9780231542487 ebook, $34.99.

Radiation Nation is a fascinating study of the impact of the Three Mile Island disaster that occurred in Pennsylvania in March 1979. Zaretsky (Southern Illinois Univ.) weaves a masterful tapestry of different political movements to make a seamless argument, beginning with a discussion of the impact of technology in the wake of the atomic bomb’s first use in 1945. Anti-nuclear organizations such as SANE focused on the effects of strontium-90 on children and the unborn. In 1964, Democratic operatives accentuated these dangers in devastating ads against Barry Goldwater. The initial reaction following the Three Mile Island accident blamed private industry, but the event quickly became just another reason to hate big government. Suddenly, issues such as abortion and over-regulation were conflated with governmental overreach and dishonesty as demonstrated by Vietnam and Watergate. The working-class population living near the reactor gradually began to harbor resentment toward environmental activists. This “blame the messenger” approach helped shape the politics of the new right. A superb narrative. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —D. R. Turner, Davis and Elkins College