Editors’ Picks for October 2020

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.

book covers

Armstrong, Paul B. Stories and the brain: the neuroscience of narrative. Johns Hopkins, 2020. 258p bibl index ISBN 9781421437743, $95.00; ISBN 9781421437750 pbk, $34.95; ISBN 9781421437767 ebook, $95.00.

Stories and the Braintakes an in-depth look at both current and classic research examining the prospective and retrospective perceptual processes involved in comprehending a narrative. The topics covered should be of interest to graduate students, faculty, and other researchers interested in human perception more broadly. Armstrong (Brown Univ.) takes a critical approach to theories of perception, cognitive science, aesthetics, and language, questioning many of the assumptions of early cognitive science and reevaluating these in light of the recent neuroscience literature. The individual’s experience of a narrative involves complex processes, which are holistic and inextricable from embodied cognitive processes involving motor and action sequences. This experience is not well accounted for either by the assumption of modularity or by computer-based models of human cognition. Moreover, the cognitive processes involved in comprehending a coherent narrative, the evaluating and reevaluating of previous material in light of current understanding, the emotional highs and lows in real time, and retrospective interpretation of a story are also applicable to the processing of other complex perceptual phenomena such as works of music or visual art. Overall, this book represents an important synthesis of new and classic research on cognitive narratology, making a significant step toward advancing the general discussion of human perception.–G. Seror III, Dickinson State University
Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty researchers.

Dossett, Kate. Radical black theatre in the New Deal. North Carolina, 2020. 338p bibl index ISBN 9781469654416, $90.00; ISBN 9781469654423 pbk, $34.95; ISBN 9781469654430 ebook, $26.99.

Theater productions from the 1930s by or about African Americans have often been marginalized, but Dossett (Univ. of Leeds, UK) offers fresh insight into this subject. As part of the New Deal, the Federal Theater Project sponsored “Negro Units” to produce theater productions in 17 cities from 1935 to 1939. Dossett examines the plays produced, especially the manuscripts, some written by black authors and others about black people but written by white authors, such as Stevedore, by George Sklar and Paul Peters. The drama, set in New Orleans, centers around a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. A lynch mob forms, black dock workers resist by arming themselves and erecting barricades, and a black woman shoots a member of the mob. At the last minute, white union workers intervene, pivotally “‘coming to the rescue of the besieged stevedores.'” For some audiences this play conveyed issues about class conflict and interracial unionism, yet many black audiences might rather have picked up on themes of black resistance and self-determination. Dossett illuminates these nuances and other long-neglected perspectives on black theater in the 1930s. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers through faculty; professionals. —W. Glasker, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Camden

Glazier, Jack. Anthropology and radical humanism: Native and African American narratives and the myth of race. Michigan State, 2020. 241p bibl index ISBN 9781611863505, $45.95; ISBN 9781628953862 ebook, $36.95.

This book provides an outstanding biographical and intellectual history of anthropologist Paul Radin (1883–1959), focusing primarily on Radin’s research experiences with elderly African Americans conducted at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. One chapter is also devoted to Radin’s fieldwork among the Ho-Chunk/Winnebago people of Nebraska and Wisconsin. Three chapters address Radin’s African American research with student and collaborator Andrew Polk Watson. Glazier (Oberlin College) is successful in situating Radin’s research methodology within the broader context of 20th-century anthropology. Unlike most early students of Franz Boas (1858–1942), Radin eschewed scientific generalizations, instead devoting most of his academic career to the collection of life histories. He presented each interviewee as a thoughtful, philosophically attuned individual. Although Radin himself posited no direct link between his Winnebago research and the interviews he conducted at Fisk, Glazier identifies this self-awareness as a common theme: African American and Winnebago informants both reported inner emotional and psychological stress prior to their religious conversions. Though it is unfortunate that Paul Radin’s name is not featured in either the book’s title or subtitle, this is ultimately an excellent study of an important and highly influential American anthropologist. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals. –S. D. Glazier, Yale University

Hoggan, Chad. Transformational learning in community colleges: charting a course for academic and personal success, by Chad D. Hoggan and Bill Browning. Harvard Education Press, 2019. 249p index ISBN 9781682534052, $66.00; ISBN 9781682534045 pbk, $34.00.

To varying degrees it is fair to state that community colleges are primarily defined as open-door, open-access, non-selective institutions. This results in large numbers of non-traditional students, e.g., older, part-time, and first-time college students, often poor and both educationally and culturally underprepared. However, many aspects of these schools are modeled on four-year colleges and universities that cater to traditional students. Many of the underserved students must therefore undergo a process of transformational learning (TL), during which they “are wrestling with issues of identity, adapting to new demands and social contexts, and questioning long-held understandings about the world, how it works, and their place in it.” In this volume, Hoggan (North Carolina State Univ.) and Browning, an independent consultant, do the best job this reviewer has seen of describing in realistic terms the steps to implement TL. They do an excellent job integrating illustrations and quotes from students into TL and related psychological theory and research, and of noting ways in which faculty and institutional structures and cultures must become more supportive of underserved students as they undergo TL. Excellent for community college faculty, counselors, advisors, and administrators in academic and student support services. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Faculty and professionals. —M. Oromaner, formerly, Hudson County Community College

Kaiser, David. Quantum legacies: dispatches from an uncertain world. Chicago, 2020. 342p index ISBN 9780226698052, $26.00; ISBN 9780226698199 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This interesting anthology on selected topics from the rich history of quantum mechanics, especially during its glory days, will engross any reader who has even a modest acquaintance with quantum theory. From Einstein and Ehrenfest through Dirac and Schrödinger—including the story of the neutrino, involving aspects of the Manhattan Project and a “defector-physicist” who abandoned the West for the Soviet Union—the book offers a treasure chest of fascinating facts on a variety of topics related to quantum physics, from its genesis to the present. Composed of four parts (“Quanta,” “Calculating,” “Matter,” and “Cosmos”), the text includes essays on the computer and on the Cold War nexus of politics and physics, as well as one titled “Zen and the Art of Textbook Publishing,” where inevitably the names of Richard Feynman and David Bohm appear. This chapter explores the connections between quantum mechanics and Eastern mysticism, as popularized by Fritjof Capra, Gary Zukav, et al. Readers also learn about some aspects of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Drawing on voluminous sources including biographical literature and scientific papers, the text is enhanced by a number of little-known photographs. This book adds frosting to the cake of quantum physics, a must-buy for any library supporting physicists and students of physics. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. General readers. —V. V. Raman, emeritus, Rochester Institute of Technology

Lane, Julia I. Democratizing our data: a manifesto. MIT, 2020. 186p index ISBN 9780262044325, $24.95.

Lane (New York Univ.) here offers readers a manifesto (true to her title) advocating for reform in the collection, analysis, and use of public data. More impressively, she provides a detailed account of nearly 40 years of involvement with academic/government partnerships around large data efforts, including the Institute for Research on Innovation and Science at the University of Michigan and the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Program of the US Census Bureau. Describing these partnerships, Lane details the challenges of establishing a new and trusted technical and analytic infrastructure, as well as those of gaining buy-in from stakeholders and developing the needed governance and implementation milestones. Throughout, Lane underscores the ethical dangers of relying on commercially produced data and ultimately proposes a hypothetical “National Lab of Community Data” as a remedy. Her perspectives on modernizing public-sector data efforts for the public good are particularly cogent when considered alongside contemporary works exposing the “toxic cocktail” represented by commercially developed models, as in O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction (2016). Worthy of mention is that Lane is currently a founding director of a project at NYU designed to achieve her goals (https://coleridgeinitiative.org/). This work is an exceptionally valuable read for any student of data analytics, whether working in public health or public affairs. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —A. K. Rinehart, The Ohio State University

Making sense of race in education: practices for change in difficult times, ed. by Jessica A. Heybach and Sheron Fraser-Burgess. Myers Education Press, 2019 (c2020). 250p bibl index ISBN 9781975501884, $149.95; ISBN 9781975501891 pbk, $42.95; ISBN 9781975501907 ebook, contact publisher for price.

This edited collection incorporates diverse voices to elucidate interactions relating to race within education systems covering early childhood to academia. Discussions are organized and progressively introduce academic terms (e.g., critical race theory, microaggressions) that may be unfamiliar to some readers, while deconstructing key concepts such as privilege to convey their daily and long-term effects. Although topics are varied, the editors offer many contemplative analyses across settings with specific examples of addressing controversies as teachable moments rather than as negative occurrences to be avoided. This philosophical approach grants authors the opportunity to discuss identity, intersectionality, and the detrimental effects of such instances on individuals from diverse backgrounds. The chapter examining the deleterious repercussions of zero tolerance best illustrates the positive potential of this approach. Zero-tolerance policies have unfairly targeted K-12 students of color, resulting in disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates for those students over time. The authors not only explain the complicated topic of zero tolerance/school discipline, but communicate the urgency in identifying effective alternatives. While chapters may not be equally helpful to all readers (depending on their settings), the collective discussion offers beneficial insights into race in education for all readers. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals. –G. Moreno, Northeastern Illinois University

The Monster theory reader, ed. by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock. Minnesota, 2019 (c2020). 560p index ISBN 9781517905248, $140.00; ISBN 9781517905255 pbk, $35.00; ISBN 9781452960395 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Published in 1996, Monster Theory: Reading Culture, ed. by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, arguably formalized and legitimized monsters as a credible subject for critical inquiry. Weinstock (English, Central Michigan Univ.) reprints Cohen’s influential introductory essay from Monster Theory, “Monster Culture: Seven Theses,” as a keynote for this new collection. Cohen’s essay provides context for the pieces Weinstock selected for the present volume as well as a theoretical framework for the critical scope of the selections. In addition to Weinstock’s lucid introduction and Cohen’s seminal piece, this reader comprises 24 essays organized into four sections: “The Monster Theory Toolbox,” “Monsterizing Difference,” “Monsters and Culture,” and “The Promises of Monsters.” Weinstock’s organization is carefully considered, and the overlap between some of the arguments and works cited between essays suggests that the discipline of monster theory has been built on a bedrock of canonical sources, several of which—most notably Freud’s “The Uncanny”—are included in the first section of this book. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —J. G. Matthews, Washington State University

Rogers, Melissa. Faith in American public life. Baylor, 2019. 338p bibl ISBN 9781481309707, $34.95.

In 1789 there was no place on the planet where states permitted people to choose their religion (or no religion). The US refused religious tests for any national office—not permitting establishment of a state religion nor prohibiting free exercise of religion—and enshrinement of this principle in the Constitution and Bill of Rights helped to create a nation in which people of many faiths could live together and religious cooperation could be a force for good in society. This book traces the history and contours of the evolving relationship of faith and public life—a relationship at times contentious and at times creative and cooperative. Civil magistrates are not competent judges of religious truth, and American separation of church and state is unlike France’s prohibition of religion in public life. Rogers is a Baptist, and her denomination’s long and proud heritage of preserving separation of church and state, for the benefit of both, is on display. As a lawyer, Rogers emphasizes legal aspects of the church/state issue, especially the Supreme Court’s fluctuating, sometimes puzzling decisions. She points out that religion and government can be—and have been—good partners in many fields. She begins each chapter with salient, established statements of the topic discussed and concludes each with sound, practical directions for the future. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —D. A. Brown, emeritus, California State University, Fullerton

Stein, Sarah Abrevaya. Family papers: a Sephardic journey through the twentieth century. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019. 317p bibl ISBN 9780374185428, $28.00; ISBN 9780374716158 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Investigating a vast trove of epistolary treasures, photographs, and other family memorabilia, Stein (Univ. of California, Los Angeles) paints a compelling family history emblematic of the lost world of Jewish Salonica (today’s Thessaloniki in Greece) and its echoes in the modern Sephardic diaspora. The history of the a-Levi/Levy/Lévy family, beginning with the family patriarch Sa’adi a-Levi (1820–1903) and following his descendants’ immigration to England, France, Brazil, Israel, and India, presents an intimate and unvarnished portrait of an often overlooked segment of the Jewish population. The account spans the period from the end of Sa’adi’s life through the Balkan Wars, Greek independence, both World Wars, and up to the present, chronicling the various family members to describe Jewish journalism, Jewish dairy farming in England, the Alliance Française school system, Jewish entrepreneurial efforts in the import-export business in Brazil, and, shockingly, Jewish treachery and collaboration with Nazis. Stein adds an important and unique chapter to Sephardic cultural studies, exploring subjects frequently neglected in Jewish history courses. This book will be of significant value to undergraduates and others interested in cultural and modern history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals. —S. V. Greenberg, Gratz College