OATS 2020: Our Most Read Reviews, Part 1

Featuring some of our most read 2020 Outstanding Academic Title Reviews - Part 1

Enjoy this week’s select snippet from the Choice 2020 Outstanding Academic Titles list. The most read Choice reviews are listed in no particular order.

1. Social justice in globalized fitness and health: bodies out of sight
Azzarito, Laura. Routledge, 2019

In this important contribution to the discourse on the politics of identity and resistance, Azzarito (Columbia Univ.) problematizes the domain of health and fitness, particularly as experienced by minority and disenfranchised youth. Risk is inherent to deviation from the norm of a thin, toned body—a body that is ultimately a commodity in the marketplace of ideas. Against the totalizing discourse of the “monologue of one” fit body, Azzarito postulates that for young ethnic minorities, the body—and identity—inhabits the intersection of race, class, gender, and lived experience, rather than inhabiting one space. Young ethnic minorities may construct resistance and “re/imaging” in a variety of contexts, including physical education classes, performance in public spaces, and art exhibitions. Critical race theory and feminist theory inform Azzarito’s critique of an otherness made to be consumed and dominated, an identity that is always experienced as lacking and never truly assimilated. This work exposes how physicality can form resistance to a dominant discourse.
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2. Our great purpose: Adam Smith on living a better life
Hanley, Ryan Patrick. Princeton, 2019

This book will work extremely well as an introduction to Adam Smith’s thoughts on a central topic of moral philosophy: what counts as a life well lived? After a brief introduction to Smith’s life and philosophy, Hanley (political science, Boston College) offers 29 chapters, each on a carefully chosen quote on a particular subject-—for example, self-interest, imagination, friendship. The last four chapters discuss Socrates, Jesus, Hume, and God, furthering understanding of Smith’s broad views. The epilogue—“Why Smith Now?”—wraps things up with a discussion of Smith’s relevance today. Here Hanley maintains that Smith addresses the challenges of living in a modern economy and does so in accordance with “beliefs and categories that shape our world.” Earlier in the volume, in the chapter “On Loving,” Hanley makes an important related point: although there may be no single best way to live, Smith still believed that some ways of living are better than others. View on Amazon

3. HandiLand: the crippest place on Earth
Wheeler, Elizabeth A. Michigan, 2019

Part critical reading and part disability-rights activism primer, HandiLand is poised to become the definitive study of representation of disability in contemporary literature for young readers. Wheeler (Univ. of Oregon) charts the correlation between changes in disability rights and related legislation to an increasing number of literary works for children and young adults that center on the experiences of persons with disabilities, which in turn generates a much-needed, broader public understanding of disability and the lived experience of disabled people in contemporary society. Interwoven with critical reflections on a number of children’s and young adult titles (largely from the US, UK, and Ghana), the book reflects Wheeler’s own personal and familial experiences with disability as well as the experiences of other disabled people when engaging with literature that represents them explicitly, implicitly, or metaphorically.
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4. Nihilism
Gertz, Nolen. MIT, 2019

Gertz (applied philosophy, Univ. of Twente, The Netherlands) makes a valuable contribution to the “MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series,” which comprises pocket-size books on topics of interest. In fewer than 200 pages, complete with pull quotes decorously spread across entire pages, Gertz explains what nihilism is and is not, the history of nihilism (going back to Plato), and societal identification of nihilism in the settings of everyday life. Gertz is well versed in the subject matter at hand and has a strong command of both the philosophical roots of nihilism and the emergence of nihilism in popular culture. The questions Gertz raises about nihilism in today’s cultural milieu serve as the starting point, and he demands that one think about whether one is oneself a nihilist without knowing it.
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5. The Great Broadening: How the Vast Expansion of the Policymaking Agenda Transformed American Politics
Bryan D. Jones, Sean M. Theriault, and Michelle Whyman Chicago, 2019

The Great Broadening examines the years from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, a period when national policy-making on the part of the US federal government saw significant growth. Many scholars have scrutinized this expansion into areas previously belonging to state and local governments, or even civil society, but Whyman (Duke Univ.) and Jones and Theriault (both, Univ. of Texas, Austin) posit a new hypothesis. They argue that the underlying social movements of the time actually did more than change political party systems and public opinion at large. To make this claim the authors analyzed data from the University of Texas’s Policy Agendas Project, data that provides as a compelling narrative about federal expansion into health care, civil rights, and gender-related policies. Those who supported these policy areas became advocates on the government’s behalf, but those resistant to policy change worked to curb further expansions. Though this reviewer would have welcomed more discussion of the latter, the authors’ quantitative argument is strong, particularly in comparison with more qualitative narratives.
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