Editors’ Picks for September 2021

10 reviews handpicked from the latest issue of Choice.

Andrews, Erin E. Disability as diversity: developing cultural competence. Oxford, 2019 (c2020). 240p bibl index ISBN 9780190652319 pbk, $45.00; ISBN 9780190672591 ebook, contact publisher for price.

The first three chapters of this well-written volume in the Oxford “Academy of Rehabilitation Psychology Series” summarize disability history (especially the growth of disability rights in the US), various models of disability, and social attitudes to disability (including ableism). The fourth chapter addresses disability culture, establishing the foundation for subsequent chapters presenting “disability language” and identity formation; cultural competence and how it should inform testing, assessment, and informed interventions; and performing culturally competent disability research. Andrews (Univ. of Texas) uses the terms “cultural competence” and “cultural humility” interchangeably. The latter concept is fascinating because it implies acceptance of one’s own ignorance and taking responsibility to overcome it. According to Andrews, the new generation of disability scholars and activists, also known as the “ADA generation” or those who grew up after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), value diversity and are impatient with the slow progress made in our struggles to become a nation that takes care of and respects everyone. Showing that cultural humility can be a valuable tool for addressing the complexities of disability, race, gender, and ethnicity, this book is a gift not only for psychologists, but also for clinicians, researchers, disability studies scholars, disability rights activists, and scholars of women’s and ethnic studies. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —P. A. Murphy, emerita, University of Toledo

Berdan, Frances F. Everyday life in the Aztec world, by Frances F. Berdan and Michael E. Smith. Cambridge, 2020 (c2021). 259p bibl index ISBN 9780521516365, $99.00; ISBN 9780521736220 pbk, $32.99; ISBN 9781108889315 ebook, $26.00.

Berdan (California State Univ., San Bernardino) and Smith (Arizona State Univ.) are among the uppermost senior scholars to write about the Aztecs (Mexica or Culhua-Mexica) of central Mexico and their 38-province empire. Between them, the authors have written over two-dozen books and numerous professional publications on the subject. Here, they bring together ethnographic data, written documents (codices), and archaeological evidence in a highly readable, novel two-part approach. In part 1, they provide in-depth narratives and vignettes focusing on occupations within six social classes, looking at an actual emperor (Ahuitzotl, 1480–1502) and a fictive temple priest, feather workers, travelling professional merchants, subsistence farmers, and domestic slaves. The reader learns about daily life cycles and societal interactions. In part 2, these individuals intersect in four life events: birth (encompassing midwifery and naming ceremonies); market day shopping (involving bartering and money); cases of criminal judgment and punishment; and an actual city-state battle (Mexica and allies vs. the Gulf Coast Papantla), conveying how war is “a way of Aztec life.” A vast amount of sociocultural information is cleverly interwoven in this carefully crafted narrative designed as a unique textbook and discourse for a larger readership. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers, advanced undergraduates through faculty, and professionals. —C. C. Kolb, independent scholar

Big data and democracy, ed. by Kevin Macnish and Jai Galliott. Edinburgh University Press, 2020. 250p ISBN 9781474463522, $110.00; ISBN 9781474463553 ebook, $104.00.

Macnish (Univ. of Twente, Netherlands) and Galliott (holding multiple appointments, including Australian Defence Force Academy, United States Military Academy, and Univ. of Oxford) offer a collection of 15 essays that reflect both the challenges and promise of exploiting big data and big data analytics in democratic societies, contextualized to recent political and judicial events in the US and Europe. While tending toward optimism, the essays (divided into four sections) demonstrate not only value but also risks associated with big data, social media, and machine learning, problematizing their use through lenses of privacy, anonymity, opacity, and ethics. This text will age well as a model application of philosophy, behavioral psychology, and social theory to current events, treating big data as an evolving phenomenon. By presenting current trends in the political use of social media, the essays capture an emerging area of study. The concluding essays deal with issues of trust and ethics, finally proposing a path forward (or “ethical compass”). The interplay of philosophy and social theory as extended to big data in light of recent events makes this an excellent text for a social science ethics or philosophy course focused on technology. It would also work well in a course designed around a big data or social media analysis project. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students. —J. Forrest, Georgia Institute of Technology

Chen, Lingchei Letty. The great leap backward: forgetting and representing the Mao years. Cambria Press, 2020. 304p bibl index ISBN 9781604979923, $114.99; ISBN 9781621964926 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Inspired by Holocaust studies of recent years, Chen (Washington Univ. in St. Louis) here examines collective Chinese memory of the Mao years. While the title readily reminds readers of Mao’s Great Leap Forward campaign, launched in 1958, the book covers much more beyond that. The text deals with a diverse body of contemporary memory about what the country went through during the 1950s and 1960s. Chen, a literature professor, engages mainly with literary works in her reconstruction of the collective memory of this period—what has been forcibly forgotten and selectively remembered of the fierce decades under Mao’s communist rule. Through the lens of these memories, she persuasively argues that what the Chinese people endured in those decades was tragic and traumatic, comparable in severity to what others suffered through the Nanjing Massacre, the Holocaust, and Stalin’s ethnic and national purges. In her own words, Chen hopes “to understand the human cost behind these political campaigns” (p. 7). Toward the end of the book, she also includes Anglophone literature on the Mao years. In sum, what Chen has accomplished here is a valuable exercise in memory study of modern China. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —Q. E. Wang, Rowan University

Gale Case Studies. Gale, part of Cengage Learning, 2021. Contact publisher for pricing. Internet Resource. https://www.gale.com/case-studies

Released in October 2020, Gale Case Studies (GCS) is an online resource “designed to introduce lower-division undergraduates to primary sources in cross-disciplinary topics,” consisting of topical modules relating to social justice, wrote Kyle D. Winward for ccAdvisor. Each module consists of 10 to 12 case studies and are available as one-time purchases. At the time of writing this review, two modules were available: “Intersectional LGBTQ Issues” and “Public Health Issues,” with plans “to introduce four modules per calendar year,” Winward added. Each module is developed by an academic in the field and includes case studies drawn from primary sources (such as organizational and government reports) available in Gale Primary Source (GPS) collections with the aim of helping undergraduate students become familiar with incorporating primary sources in their own research. This is especially notable considering that “primary sources can be challenging to find and utilize in research processes, especially for lower-division undergraduates,” as Winward elaborated. 

“The GCS interface looks very similar to other Gale Academic databases,” with a “top banner [that] includes a library menu (local links may be added).” As Winward continued, “the main entry point for GCS content is the visual menu of modules and included case studies,” noting that “clicking on a case study takes the user to its content, which includes background,” as well as a bibliography, primary sources, and discussion questions.

Winward found that the majority of other case study collections or databases focused on LGBTQ+ rights or public health tend to be more specific in scope and not as introductory in nature as GCS. As a result, GCS appears to be a unique product, specifically intended to introduce undergraduate researchers to multidisciplinary, primary-source research with a modular layout that encourages further exploration of the topics covered. 

This review is a summary of a longer review by Kyle D. Winward, Central College, originally published in ccAdvisor.orgCopyright © 2021 by The Charleston Company.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. All undergraduates.

Jelinek, Donald A. White lawyer, black power: a memoir of civil rights activism in the Deep South. South Carolina, 2020. 296p bibl index ISBN 9781643361178, $89.99; ISBN 9781643361185 pbk, $29.99; ISBN 9781643361192 ebook, $29.99.

Over the last two decades, historians of the Civil Rights Movement have produced studies that provide a more nuanced understanding of the struggle for racial justice than the previous narrative, which emphasized the events between 1954 and 1965. These new studies have focused on events and persons that shaped the movement both before Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and after the Selma to Montgomery marches. However, what has been missing is the story of the interpersonal relationships between white and Black activists, especially those committed to the cause of racial equality but not the victims of racial inequality. Jelinek’s memoir of his time as an attorney for civil rights advocates between 1965 and 1968 is an important corrective to this omission. His work in Alabama, especially with Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, reveals the sometimes-tenuous association that northern whites experienced while working in conjunction with Black movement leaders. His work also highlights the often-overlooked tension between African American community members and Black activists from outside the community, as the former did not have the luxury of fighting the good fight and then leaving. Jelinek’s memoir is a welcome addition to the complicated story of those who demanded that the country enforce its legal and ethical obligations for all citizens. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels. —D. O. Cullen, Arkansas Tech University

Katz, Yarden. Artificial whiteness: politics and ideology in artificial intelligence. Columbia, 2020. 352p bibl index ISBN 9780231194907, $95.00; ISBN 9780231194914 pbk, $28.00; ISBN 9780231551076 ebook, $27.00.

Katz (currently a fellow in systems biology at Harvard Medical School) has made an auspicious debut in the world of book publishing—that is, if this volume released in late 2020 has predictive value. With a PhD in brain and cognitive sciences from MIT, Katz appears well prepared for this frontal assault on the flexible and nefarious association between whiteness and artificial intelligence–an assault drawing on an admixture of recognizable disciplines (including brain and cognitive sciences) and certain data-rich but theory-poor domains such as, e.g., “predictive policing.” Throughout the text Katz helpfully informs the reader what is coming next and how successive chapters comprise a cohesive structure. Strategically placed tables, photos, and illustrations also act as virtual signposts throughout the text. Hence, Katz’s core arguments sting as much at the conclusion as when they were introduced, namely, that AI is “a technology that serves whiteness by advancing its imperial and capitalist projects,” and that it “performs this function by mimicking the structure of whiteness as an ideology.” At a time when the nation is experiencing a festering crisis of racial (in)justice, few descriptions of insidious malfeasance could be as poignant. Aiding the reader in finding additional resources are Katz’s meticulous notes, a comprehensive bibliography, and a more than adequate index. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals. —D. N. Nelson, Center for Arms Control & Nonproliferation

The Oxford handbook of electoral persuasion, ed. by Elizabeth Suhay, Bernard Grofman, and Alexander H. Trechsel. Oxford, 2020. 1,128p index ISBN 9780190860806, $200.00; ISBN 9780190860837 ebook, contact publisher for price.

If the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections taught us anything, it is that persuasion is one of the most pervasive aspects of today’s politics. Whether operating through dark money in advertising, pontificating presidential candidates, or in the blurring of televised news and opinion shows, using persuasion to influence voting is often the key to winning elections (and to making voting more difficult). This hefty volume takes a multidisciplinary look at the machinations involved in electoral persuasion. Including nearly 50 chapters from over 70 contributors from US, Canadian, and European universities, the book provides an in-depth treatment of the topic. Although heavily focused on US politics, there is some international coverage, particularly looking at so-called developing nations. Chapter topics fall into six categories, ranging from the introduction of political persuasion models to media influence, and including a section (the final four chapters) on empirical methodologies useful for the study of these phenomena. Each chapter is substantial—approximately 20 pages each—and concludes with an extensive bibliography. Contributed essays touch on diverse issues from racism and gender inequality to misinformation and conspiracy theories. Individual chapters can stand alone and could easily be used selectively as required, or as supplemental readings in political science, communication, or sociology courses. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students and faculty. —J. A. Hardenbrook, Carroll University

Prost, G. L. North America’s natural wonders: v.1: Canadian Rockies, California, the Southwest, Great Basin, Tetons-Yellowstone country; v.2: Appalachians, Colorado Rockies, Austin-Big Bend Country, Sierra Madre. CRC Press, 2020. 2v bibl index ISBN 9780367859466, $450.00; ISBN 9780367821258 pbk, $159.95.

This two-volume set in what appears to be a new series from the publisher (“Geologic Tours of the World” appears on each cover) guides readers through the geological landscape of some of the most interesting territory in North America, covering destinations in Canada, the US, and Mexico. From the Appalachians to the Colorado Rockies and Big Bend National Park (eastern and central North America, volume 2) to Banff, the Teton Range, and Yellowstone’s geysers (western North America, volume 1), each tour is well delineated, supported by maps and information about each potential stop. The text focuses on geologic formations, geologic history, and mining and extraction history. The books are beautifully illustrated with photographs, charts, and maps. These self-guided tours explain what the tourist, student, and geologist will want to see. Comparing the guided-tour section on Yellowstone with her own experiences, this reviewer found it useful and easy to follow. Many areas covered have older, out-of-print field guides, most of them difficult to locate. Having all these potential field experiences combined in one resource is useful. The author is an experienced geologist with a knack for making geology understandable to nonprofessionals. Each volume features references for further reading and a good index. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —B. Galbraith, Washington State University

Schafer, Tyler. Community gardening in an unlikely city: the struggle to grow together in Las Vegas. Lexington Books, 2020 (c2021). 202p ISBN 9781793623126, $100.00; ISBN 9781793623133 ebook, $45.00.

The Las Vegas desert environment poses significant challenges to transforming a debris-strewn plot of land into a community garden. Beyond climate, the transient population attracted to Vegas casinos does not maintain a tradition of community gardening as in other US urban areas. Schafer (California State Univ., Stanislaus) alludes to these horticultural hurdles but, as a volunteer, observer, graduate student, and sociologist, he focuses on the urban, cultural, historical, sociological, and interpersonal factors impacting the implantation of the Vegas Roots Community Garden (VRCG) at the edge of historic West Las Vegas, a predominantly Black neighborhood. Grounded in carefully documented sociological theory and ethnographic methodology, this case study focuses a close lens on VRCG’s 2011 implantation and its evolution to the present. A main force in the garden’s creation and survival, its director steered the garden’s focus from addressing local food insecurity to catering to a diet-conscious clientele. Although not a how-to manual, this study will provide food for thought to anyone involved with, studying, or interested in initiating community gardening. The detailed notes and solid bibliography encourage further investigation. A must read for anyone interested in urban agriculture. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers through faculty; professionals. —M. Nilsen, Indiana University South Bend