Editors’ Picks for October 2019

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.

book covers

Brunson, James E. Black baseball, 1858–1900: a comprehensive record of the teams, players, managers, owners and umpires. McFarland, 2019. 3v bibl index ISBN 9780786494170 pbk, $99.00.

Brunson delivers an extraordinarily well researched guide to African American history in baseball. This three-volume set covers the years 1858–1900, so it does not extend into the integration of baseball and Jackie Robinson. That said, the level of detail and commitment to this research is impressive. While there are short essays on several topics including short biographies of players, this volume mostly reads like a textbook or encyclopedia. There is not a lot of heavy reading, which may make it ideal for accessing primary sources or teaching materials. The first volume lists different baseball clubs by state, organized alphabetically, while club rosters are organized chronologically. It also includes a directory of baseball managers. The second volume includes illustrations and essays on the cultural impact of African American baseball in various public formats. It also includes player biographies listed in alphabetical order. The third volume continues player biographies M-Z. Also included is a short-scripted list of black umpires and an essay on the same topic. The appendix offers family names and locations. This highly recommended set offers insight into the cultural, political, and historical aspects of African American baseball. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —J. T. Pekarek, SUNY At Cortland

Crosby, Alison. Beyond repair?: Mayan women’s protagonism in the aftermath of genocidal harm, by Alison Crosby and M. Brinton Lykes. Rutgers, 2019. 268p bibl index ISBN 9780813598970, $110.00; ISBN 9780813598963 pbk, $34.95; ISBN 9780813598987 ebook, $34.95.

Over many years, climaxing in the early 1980s, the Guatemalan government killed some 200,000 citizens, 2 percent of the population and largely indigenous Maya, in what is now universally termed genocide. Hundreds of thousands more were raped, tortured, displaced, ruined financially, or driven into exile. The US was involved in much of the genocidal activity. The perpetrators almost always went free. This book recounts a rare, small success: 54 women worked over years for justice, finally achieving the conviction in 2016 of two perpetrators of rape and sexual enslavement. Crosby and Lykes worked with the women over much of this time (2009–17), listening and learning while providing legal aid, psychological support, and connections with the wider world. This book examines participatory action research, providing an extremely thoughtful, valuable, and important set of reflections on how it can work or go wrong. Of course, there is no question of “values-neutral” scholarship here; the situation is more like medicine, in which the doctor must be as accurate and careful as possible in dealing with trauma. Valuable for studies of Latin America; extremely important for studies of genocide, mass oppression, and trauma. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —E. N. Anderson, emeritus, University of California, Riverside

Decolonizing ethnography: undocumented immigrants and new directions in social science, by Carolina Alonso Bejarano et al. Duke, 2019. 184p bibl index ISBN 9781478003625, $89.95; ISBN 9781478003953 pbk, $23.95; ISBN 9781478004547 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This work is distinctive on a number of levels, but is most innovative in its demonstration of the value of found and made collaborations in ethnographic research. The research is both distanced as fieldwork in the traditional anthropological manner and profoundly activist. Its distinction, marked by multiple authorship, is a result of the joining of two immigrant workers, first as research assistants to, and then as full partners within the original project of ethnographers Bejarano and Goldstein. The shifting form of ethnographic research in its deep affiliation with, and immersion within, activist social thought and movements has been argued for and documented within anthropology voluminously since the turn of the century. This work demonstrates specifically an exemplary form of ethnographic writing not necessarily as a model to follow, but as an encouragement and license to expand the direction of critical and reflexive thought that has been ascendant in American ethnographic research for the past 30 years. There are many lively “moves” in expressing the vitality of this collaboration, none more powerful and exciting than the concluding script of activist theater. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —G. E. Marcus, University of California, Irvine

Jones, Terry L. Foragers on America’s western edge: the archaeology of California’s Pecho Coast, by Terry L. Jones and Brian F. Codding. Utah, 2019. 291p bibl index ISBN 9781607816430, $50.00; ISBN 9781607816447 ebook, $40.00.

The world of cultural resources management (CRM), or contract and compliance archaeology, has long made contributions to scientific understandings spanning prehistoric and historic contexts and findings from throughout the US. Despite this fact, the unrelenting pace of such work, academic biases afflicting “dirt” archaeologists, and those strictures that constrain scholarly dissemination (beyond contractual and archaeological compliance protocols) have necessarily obscured signal contributions made for elucidating an archaeologically rich North American cultural heritage. Jones (Cal Poly) and Codding (Utah) have brilliantly succeeded in articulating the inherent value of this dynamic body of lab and field-based scientific endeavors, often prompted by historic preservation concerns. At the same time, they do so by interrogating the profoundly significant cultural histories of California’s archaeologically sensitive Pecho Coast through the lens of some 10,000 years of human adaptation elucidated in their own work. Drawing on a critical reappraisal of the pioneering works of archaeologist Roberta Greenwood and those many who followed, the authors admirably craft a nuanced and data-rich narrative of indigenous marine resource coastal adaptations forcefully mediated by way of climate change, specialization, and cultural interactions spanning the contact era. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —R. G. Mendoza, California State University, Monterey Bay

Miller, Theresa L. Plant kin: a multispecies ethnography in indigenous Brazil. Texas, 2019. 297p bibl index ISBN 9781477317396, $90.00; ISBN 9781477317402 pbk, $29.95.

Miller’s multispecies ethnography explores the deep bonds of kinship, care, and affection that structure human-plant relations among the Canela of the Brazilian Cerrado. The fascinating study proves the empirical applicability of post-humanist theories and reveals that indigenous people have long anticipated the findings of western biologists concerning the perceptual and behavioral capacities of plants to communicate, learn, and adapt. Adopting a sensory ethnobotany and the ontological perspective of the Canela, Miller treats people and plants as ethnographic subjects to illustrate how their lives, histories, and well-being are inextricably intertwined. The author examines the myths, taboos, rituals, horticultural practices, epistemologies, and landscape aesthetics underwriting the complex and changing relationship between the Canela and the 320 named varieties of plants that make up the multispecies collective. More specifically, Miller investigates six overlapping “pathways” (together forming an Ingoldian meshwork)—ranging from gendered gardening practices and the nurturing of seeds as children to shamanic alliances with the master spirits of plants—to demonstrate how the Canela have adjusted to the endemic loss of flora and fauna in the northeastern Amazon. Plant Kin offers a glimmer of hope in the Anthropocene of the possibilities of alternative and sustainable engagements with plants and their ecologies. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —E. R. Swenson, University of Toronto

Newton, Kenneth. Surprising news: how the media affect—and do not affect—politics. L. Rienner, 2019. 277p bibl index ISBN 9781626377660, $85.00; ISBN 9781626377707 pbk, $28.50; ISBN 9781626378254 ebook, $28.50.

In an overview of international research, Newton (Southampton, UK) finds that the mass media’s impact on voting and public opinion is less direct than most politicians and press critics posit. In a memorable conclusion, Newton notes though some politicians and researchers argue the news media are powerful and distort and undermine democratic institutions, the evidence suggests these enduring beliefs are inaccurate and counterproductive to sociopolitical progress. Instead of reprimanding the news and mass media, Newton explains that research from the US, UK, and several other democratic nations suggests more attention should be paid to how public opinion is shaped by a diversity of influences that may or may not include mass media sources. In one of the book’s many interesting chapters, Newton summarizes the role of everyday knowledge and experience in cultivating opinions and beliefs. The book is well-written and contains chapter notes, a bibliography, and a helpful index. The book is an excellent companion to Maxwell McCombs’s Setting the Agenda: Mass Media and Public Opinion (CH, Jul’05, 42-6312). Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —R. A. Logan, emeritus, University of Missouri—Columbia

Proteins, pathologies and politics: dietary innovation and disease from the nineteenth century, ed. by David Gentilcore and Matthew Smith. Bloomsbury Academic, 2018 (c2019). 253p bibl index ISBN 9781350056862, $114.00; ISBN 9781350056879 ebook, $102.60.

This volume features papers from a 2016 conference that offer compelling narratives of food and health within contexts of changing ideologies, economics, industrialization, and gender roles over almost 200 years. The chapters proceed in a roughly chronological order, from untangling the mysteries of beriberi among maize-fed Italian workers to fierce contemporary debates over the relative dangers of dietary sugars and fats and the role of scientists as dietary advisors. Along the way, readers are introduced to the discovery that disease may be caused by the lack of as-yet-unidentified nutrients, the appropriation of vegetarianism in fascist ideology, ambivalence about food processing and additives, and legislation on food identity. (When do additives alter a food to the point where it is loses its identity as bread, ice cream, or cheese?) Analytic tools include textual and discourse analysis, cultural and ethnographic studies, philosophical studies of scientific and public knowledge, and more traditional historical methods. The volume is well framed by an introduction and a final chapter on the ambivalence that remains over food additives. All chapters are well-written and extensively referenced, with 44 pages of endnotes and a 30-page bibliography. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty and professionals. —M. D. Lagerwey, Western Michigan University

Schmalzbauer, John. The resilience of religion in American higher education, by John Schmalzbauer and Kathleen A. Mahoney. Baylor, 2018. 283p index ISBN 9781481308717, $49.95; ISBN 9781481308885 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This richly researched and hopeful book tackles a critically important aspect of American higher education. Rejecting the longstanding theory of secularization creep, the authors argue that the death of religion on campus has been greatly exaggerated. In fact, they argue, there is much to cheer about the place of religion in higher ed, institutionally, intellectually, and socially, over the last three decades. This resilience, which in this account reads more like a resurgence, resembles a social movement—financed by wealthy philanthropists; championed by well-meaning and ecumenical local, national, and even international groups; and inspired by a renaissance of scholarship about, and of, religion. In an age of globally insurgent religious right-wing nationalism, the book’s uncritical and selective accounting of the unsavory aspects of American religion, including no engagement with racism and just a few paragraphs on homophobia and patriarchy, is a problem and a lost opportunity. Nevertheless, this thoughtful book is indispensable reading in multiple fields—religious studies, higher education, and intellectual history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —B. Justice, Rutgers University

Sperling, Joshua. A writer of our time: the life and work of John Berger. Verso, 2018. 293p index ISBN 9781786637420, $29.95; ISBN 9781786637413 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Sperling (Oberlin College) has written a first-order intellectual biography of John Berger (1926–2017), one of the most important critical thinkers and Leftist public figures of the post–WW II era. Tracking Berger’s intellectual development through his roles as artist, journalist, television presenter, and activist, Sperling explores the context of Berger’s development with reference to the rapidly evolving social and political climate. Each of the eight chapters examines a specific philosophical question through a study of Berger’s work in a particular form. For instance, the first chapter explores his search for the place of realism in a postmodern world in the context of his art criticism. This book is an excellent introduction not only to Berger but also to the aesthetic and political issues of his era. Sperling is a clear and elegant writer, and the book is very well researched. It would make an excellent companion to Berger’s 1972 television series Ways of Seeing (1972) and the 1973 book it spawned. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers. —J. W. Miller, Gonzaga University

Vigil, Tammy. Moms in chief: the rhetoric of Republican motherhood and the spouses of presidential nominees, 1992–2016. University Press of Kansas, 2019. 258p bibl index ISBN 9780700627486, $29.95; ISBN 9780700627493 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Vigil examines the rhetoric of the spouses of US presidential candidates between 1992 and 2016. This study uncovers public expectations for first spouses and reveals the gender-role expectations and influences that political rhetoric can have on gender norms. In eight chapters, Vigil details how candidate’s spouses are used as both negative influences and as assets during campaign rhetoric. Rhetorical themes that emerge include “Republican motherhood,” “dutiful and accomplished,” and “mom-in-chief.” Women highlighted are Hillary Rodham Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Melania Trump, among others. The author also explores the role Bill Clinton’s rhetoric had on his wife’s campaign during her run for president. A conclusion reveals that there are still gender and sex-based assumptions surrounding political power that influence public dialogue and gender norms. Other books cover the gendered roles of presidential spouses, such as American Presidential Candidate Spouses: The Public’s Perspective (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), but none include as in-depth an examination of the rhetoric of spouses of losing presidential candidates. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —K. L. Majocha, California University of Pennsylvania