Editors’ Picks for October 2021

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.

Becker, Marc. The CIA in Ecuador. Duke, 2021. 336p bibl index ISBN 9781478010357, $104.95; ISBN 9781478011385 pbk, $27.95; ISBN 9781478012993 ebook, open access.

Becker (Truman State Univ.) presents a detailed historical analysis of the Communist Party of Ecuador throughout the 1950s, using declassified CIA surveillance documents. He delves into the organizational development of the Left during a pivotal time when the political climate shifted right and any communist activity was labeled subversive, reinforcing anti-communist Cold War rhetoric. Despite this hostile environment, Becker shows how the Communist Party struggled to build strategic alliances, even against internal divisions, in hopes of advancing their political agenda. CIA surveillance documents help to elucidate the party’s inner workings at the local level, and private communications reveal that the party sought to work within the established political system rather than support subversive tactics. The 1959 Cuban Revolution is often interpreted as a strategic moment that galvanized the Left throughout Latin America. However, as Becker’s analysis illustrates, the militant mobilization that unfolded in Ecuador in 1959 was not sudden, nor could it be solely attributed to Castro’s overthrow of Batista. Instead, the mobilization surge was made possible by the political activism that persisted throughout the 1950s, which paved the way for new movements. Challenging the previous narrative that suggests a decade dominated by the Right, this book fills a void in the Cold War literature on leftist movements in Ecuador. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals. —E. Acevedo, California State University, Los Angeles

The Cambridge companion to the Canterbury tales, ed. by Frank Grady. Cambridge, 2020. 320p bibl index ISBN 9781107181007, $79.99; ISBN 9781316632437 pbk, $24.99; ISBN 9781316853276 ebook, $20.00.

This essay collection lives up to its aim, as stated in the back matter: to “deliver an accessible introduction to the variety, depth, and wonder of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.” Grady (Univ. of Missouri, St. Louis) emphasizes the volume’s utility not just for students but also for faculty assigned to teach Chaucer and for the general reading public. That the collection actually addresses those varied audiences is unusual. Essays consider Chaucer’s use of form, manuscripts and scribes, and the most frequently anthologized and taught tales. The final two essays are Grady’s “Moral Chaucer” and “Chaucer’s Sense of an Ending,” by Patricia Clare Ingham and Anthony Bale. The collection concludes with an innovative section titled “Postscript: How to Talk about Chaucer with Your Friends and Colleagues,” which comprises brief essays such as “Reading Chaucer: Easier Than You Think?” and “Talking about Chaucer with School Teachers.” These really do widen the audience for this collection and give it a utility unmatched in previous companions to The Canterbury Tales. A final essay, “Who Will Pay?” by Stephanie Trigg, addresses the very real problem of how to advocate for expanding or keeping courses on Chaucer in a postsecondary environment that is increasingly unsupportive of such courses. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals; general readers. —D. W. Hayes, Lakehead University

Flanagan, Michael. All the classroom’s a stage: applying theater principles to teaching techniques, by Michael Flanagan and Rose Burnett Bonczek. Rowman & Littlefield, 2020. 222p bibl index ISBN 9781475853674, $60.00; ISBN 9781475853681 pbk, $30.00; ISBN 9781475853698 ebook, $28.50.

In All The Classroom’s a Stage, coauthors Flanagan and Burnett Bonczek, both experienced theater educators and directors, provide fantastic suggestions on how instructors can improve their teaching craft by applying principles and exercises common in the world of theater. While these suggestions are primarily directed toward those teaching in colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher learning, the lessons are applicable to teachers of all levels. The theater principles and exercises explored in this volume are a great way to reinvigorate classroom practice, engage with students collaboratively in the education process, and improve the knowledge and experience of emotional intelligence for both the reader and the students with whom they work. The creativity of the processes covered will also help instructors reconsider how they convey information to students and perhaps experiment with methods that are less traditional but more effective. The writing is approachable, fun, and enjoyable. In all, this is a fantastic work that this reviewer highly recommends to anyone attempting to teach in any subject. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty; professionals. —J. Newport, Illinois State University

Gale, Dennis E. The misunderstood history of gentrification: people, planning, preservation, and urban renewal, 1915–2020. Temple, 2021. 238p bibl index ISBN 9781439920428, $104.50; ISBN 9781439920435 pbk, $32.95; ISBN 9781439920442 ebook, $32.95.

The misunderstood history of gentrification: people, planning, preservation, and urban renewal, 1915–2020 book cover

Gale (emer., public affairs and administration, Rutgers Univ.) offers an intriguing analysis of a previously unrecognized chapter in the history of urban gentrification. He documents what he terms “embryonic gentrification,” which began in the early 20th century. Misunderstanding the timing of gentrification as well as its grassroots nature, planners have identified incorrect causal explanations for this process. The book is organized into three sections; the first, and longest, provides chapter case studies of Georgetown, Greenwich Village, and Beacon Hill. A follow-up chapter on additional cities effectively argues that the three detailed examples were far from isolated attempts to restore and preserve older building stock and residential neighborhoods. However, before the 1960s term gentrification emerged, earlier efforts were understood as “remodeling,” even when this activity extended beyond individual households to characterize a neighborhood. Gale reveals that people of different socioeconomic statuses engaged in gentrification before discussing the post–WW II era when federal policies provided funding to demolish and rebuild rather than restore urban decline. A new wave of gentrification repudiated this destruction but was mistakenly identified as elite. Gale establishes gentrification as a promising grassroots strategy for revitalizing urban neighborhoods. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels. —A. E. Krulikowski, West Chester University

Hägel, Peter. Billionaires in world politics. Oxford, 2021. 368p bibl index ISBN 9780198852711, $90.00; ISBN 9780191887079 ebook, contact publisher for price.

The author offers an extended examination of why Forbes-list billionaires deserve more attention from students of world politics. The first four chapters examine how traditional concepts of agency and structural context are limited in helping to explain the role of “super actor” billionaires. The next three chapters, drawing heavily on US examples, are case studies focusing on Sheldon Adelson (security for Israel), Charles and David Koch (anti–climate change positions), Rupert Murdoch (international media influence), Bill Gates (world health), and George Soros (regime changes). For Hägel (international and comparative politics, American Univ. of Paris) these billionaires are motivated to act internationally for a variety of reasons, which range from ideology to profit motive to self-esteem. All, however, benefit from being US citizens and from the Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited political spending by groups and individuals. In particular, both Soros and Murdoch found it advantageous to become citizens. In a summarizing analysis the author concludes that these individuals have engaged in a form of “stealth politics” that lacks democratic legitimacy and renders the idea of class irrelevant. Their ability to “orchestrate” international policy positions is persuasively presented in this heavily documented study. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. —R. Heineman, emeritus, Alfred University

Harvey, Miles. The king of confidence: a tale of Utopian dreamers, frontier schemers, true believers, false prophets, and the murder of an American monarch. Little, Brown, 2020. 416p bibl ISBN 9780316463591, $29.00; ISBN 9780316453912 ebook, contact publisher for price.

The king of confidence: a tale of Utopian dreamers, frontier schemers, true believers, false prophets, and the murder of an American monarch book cover

Known in particular for his Island of Lost Maps (2000), Harvey (English, DePaul Univ.) has now written a readable, engaging biography of American religious figure James Strang (1813–56), who challenged Brigham Young for the allegiance of Latter Day Saints after the assassination of LDS founder Joseph Smith in 1844.  Harvey’s facility with language results in a narrative that will interest a broad audience, and in that regard the book stands opposite Vickie Cleverley Speek’s “God Has Made Us a Kingdom”: James Strang and the Midwest Mormons (CH, Dec’07, 45-2234), Roger Van Noord’s King of Beaver Island (1988), and Milo Milton Quaife’s The Kingdom of Saint James: A Narrative of the Mormons (1930). Harvey’s method is to take readers into the world of a character reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn’s Dauphin, except that Strang was real. Other biographers have interpreted Strang more seriously as a religious figure; Harvey approaches him as a straightforward con man and his religious career as a grand confidence scheme. Easily the most readable account among the several Strang biographies. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates; general readers. —R. L. Saunders, Southern Utah University

Mays, Simon. The archaeology of human bones. 3rd ed. Routledge, 2021. 452p bibl index ISBN 9781138045606, $160.00; ISBN 9781138045675 pbk, $48.95; ISBN 9781315171821 ebook, $48.95.

The study of human skeletal remains from archaeological sites provides important information about past peoples and their lives. This includes insights into demography and migration, disease and trauma, occupational activity, diet, and funerary practices. This third edition of the work originally published in 1998 is comprehensively updated and provides an authoritative, accessible review of the study of osteoarchaeology. Although a number of books and manuals that focus on human skeletal biology are currently available, this book stands out for its broad coverage of the basics and for reviewing the latest analytical methods and ethical issues. Separate chapters cover, among other topics, assessment of age and sex, skeletal variation of various types, different types of disease and injury, and stable isotope and DNA analyses. The final chapter is devoted to ethical issues. The extensive bibliography provides a useful resource for readers who want to delve more deeply into specific topics. Students and professional scholars with an interest in archaeology and forensic anthropology will find this an excellent addition to their libraries, especially if they are looking for an authoritative reference that covers the full breadth of the subject in a single volume. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals. —T. Harrison, New York University

Michalopoulos, Constantine. Ending global poverty: four women’s noble conspiracy. Oxford, 2021 (c2020). 304p index ISBN 9780198850175, $40.00; ISBN 9780191884627 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Ending global poverty: four women's noble conspiracy book cover

Four women (Eveline Herfkens, Netherlands; Hilde Johnson, Norway; Clare Short, United Kingdom; and Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Germany) started working together in 1998 as representatives of their respective governments for improvements in the delivery of development aid and ending world poverty. Serving in ministerial-level positions in their home countries, they became known as the Utstein Four (U4). As recounted by Michalopoulos (author of Developing Countries in the WTOCH, Oct’02, 40-1034), the U4 women successfully collaborated to improve foreign aid policies, primary education for women, debt relief for poor countries, and international trade policies. They contributed to the UN Millennium Development Goals and the transition to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One principle to emerge from their collaborative leadership is that the country receiving foreign aid needs to be listened to in developing a specific plan, replacing the old model of advancing developed-country interests while stretching capacity of the developing country receiving aid. The twelve chapters cover the international context and events from the 1990s through 2020. Color plates document the U4 partnership and visits to different world venues. Text boxes throughout highlight definitions and the history of key aid and development concepts reflecting their work. A table of organizational acronyms is included, and an appendix provides statistical indicators relative to particular SDGs. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —E. P. Hoffman, emerita, Western Michigan University

Remes, Justin. Absence in cinema: the art of showing nothing. Columbia, 2020. 264p filmography index ISBN 9780231189309, $95.00; ISBN 9780231189316 pbk, $28.00; ISBN 978023154828 ebook, $27.99.

A brilliant entry in Columbia’s “Film and Culture Series,” this extraordinary work begins with a wry graphic reference to the title of the book—a blank page that states “This page intentionally left blank.” Yet at its heart, this project “fills the gap,” considering the portrayal of absence in cinema and “interrogat[ing] the role that absences have played in experimental works of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.” Building on the revolutionary work and ideas of Duchamp, Beckett, Cage, and Rauschenberg, Remes (Iowa State Univ.) examines films by Walter Ruttmann, Stan Brakhage, Naomi Uman, and Martin Arnold, analyzing the dynamics of sound and silence, “blank” screens, slowness, erasure, and the “peekaboo principle.” As in his analysis of the “cinema of stasis” (Motion(less) PicturesCH, Jun’15, 52-5233), the genius of this text lies in Remes’s ability to analyze work labeled as “inaccessible” in a manner both accessible and engaging, yet never reductive. Remes includes anecdotes from his pedagogical adventures teaching such challenging films. In all, this volume stands as a work of scholarship that fully reinvigorates and reanimates ideas and approaches to experimental cinema and documents its unique relationship to absence. It is an important, vital contribution to film studies that will appeal to all scholars, students, and (especially) teachers of cinema. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students and faculty. General readers. —S. B. Skelton, Kansas State University

Smith, Steven B. Reclaiming patriotism in an age of extremes. Yale, 2021. 256p index ISBN 9780300254044, $28.00; ISBN 9780300258707 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Reclaiming patriotism in an age of extremes book cover

As an exponent of exceptionalism, Smith (Yale Univ.) follows the political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset in stating that the US is “the first, and perhaps still the only, nation founded on a creed.” This exceptionalism is rooted in the biblical idea of chosenness with humility. Although one may disagree with certain right-of-center comments and positions found here, this timely, informative, and jargon-free book will appeal to readers interested in the philosophical and political background to ongoing popular debates in the US. Although “patriotism” is the most fundamental political value, the term is out of favor today, challenged by “nationalism” on the Right and “cosmopolitanism” on the Left. Basically, patriotism “is a form of loyalty to one’s own … people, one’s community, but especially to one’s constitution or political regime.” However, today the Left forgets the grounding provided by loyalty to these others, and the Right forgets loyalty to the values, albeit aspirational, expressed in the Constitution. Included among these are equality, the rule of law, pluralism, and respect for diversity and, yes, exceptionalism. General readers and undergraduate students of political philosophy will appreciate this book. It would be ideal for use in American studies, history, and government courses. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates. General readers. —M. Oromaner, formerly, Hudson County Community College