OATS 2020: Our Most Read Reviews, Part 2

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

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. Necropolis
Khodasevich, V. F. tr. by Sarah Vitali Columbia, 2019

Vitali (PhD candidate, Slavic languages, Harvard) performs a great service for those who do not read Russian by providing a smooth, exemplary translation of Vladislav Khodasevich’s Nekropol’, in which Khodasevich provides memoirs of his contemporaries in pre- and post-revolutionary Russia. Khodasevich covers the poets Bryusov, Biely, Blok, Sologub, Esenin, and Gumilyov; the literary critic Gershenzon; and the writer and activist Gorky. Khodasevich mainly discusses the Symbolists, and he creates a fine picture of that period. In his brief foreword, he vows to report only his direct observations of the writers and to note when he relies on secondary sources (a rare occurrence). Khodasevich’s honest appraisals—whether positive or negative—impart an immediacy that brings the main players of the era into sharp focus without ever sounding a gossipy note. In an excellent introduction, David Bethea (emer., Slavic languages and literature, Univ. of Wisconsin) places Khodasevich in context and provides guidance on how to read the memoirs.
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2. Information wars: how we lost the global battle against disinformation & what we can do about it
Stengel, Richard. Atlantic Monthly, 2019

Clear evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and Russia’s renewed efforts to skew 2020 voting, reveals the urgency for counter-weaponized disinformation. Stengel, former editor of Time and Obama’s undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs (2013–16), addresses the “global information war.” His book is part narrative as participant in the war and part argument for a more robust response to cyberthreats and disinformation. The narrative points to some successes in response to cyberattacks  and disinformation campaigns, but is also points to failures in response not only to Russian efforts but to threats of others. Stengel concludes with recommendations that have been on the public agenda but not effectively implemented: requiring social media platforms to police content, shoring up privacy to prevent targeted deceptive messaging, and bolstering media literacy to decrease vulnerability to “fake news.” View on Amazon

3. Banned: immigration enforcement in the time of Trump
Wadhia, Shoba Sivaprasad. New York University, 2019

This is a timely resource on Trump’s immigration policies, which at this writing are in the news. Wadhia’s intent is to describe and advocate, but the latter is a minor note until the last chapter. In the book’s seven chapters Wadhia (law, Penn State) explains the range of discretion that can be exercised in immigration enforcement, the Trump travel bans and shift in enforcement priorities, deferred action policies, types of speedy deportation, and refugee policy. Wadhia’s explanations of rules are clear, and his citations of statutes, regulations, and executive branch documents will help readers find the original sources easily. Wadhia also draws on 21 interviews with former government officials, immigration attorneys, and individuals directly affected by the changes in immigration policy, but the interviews are more a source of commentary and examples rather than the central data source.
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4. The abortionist: a woman against the law
Solinger, Rickie. California, 2019

An independent historian, Solinger has consistently produced groundbreaking books on abortion, adoption, and reproductive politics for over two decades. In this updated 25th-anniversary edition of her classic work The Abortionist (1994), she recounts the biography of abortion provider Ruth Barnett as a means to present a broader history of abortion in the pre–Roe v. Wade years. In the first half of the 20th century, Solinger argues, abortionists like Barnett were able to provide safe abortions in sanitary environments in part because their practices, albeit illegal, were tolerated as a necessary service. When politicians, legal authorities, and journalists began to expose and crack down on abortion during the prosperous postwar years, the women who sought out abortions and the largely female abortionists who provided them became subject to scrutiny, scorn, and prosecution, putting their lives and livelihoods at risk.
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5. Islamic Art: past, present future
ed. by Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair Yale, 2019

This exciting volume, magnificently illustrated in color, cannot be adequately described in so brief a review. Seventh in a series produced by its distinguished editors (both, Virginia Commonwealth Univ.), the book is unlike its predecessors, which focused on medieval and early modern art in and from Islamic lands. Here the concentration is on the very recent past and the contemporary scene. The volume includes contributions by important collectors and patrons, interviews with several contemporary artists working in Islamic countries and in the diasporas of Europe and the US, and stimulating essays by important scholars. Topics include architecture, photography, cinema, and painting, and the geographic range is broad, including the Arab world from Morocco to Iraq, Iran, Australia, and Southeast Asia. One of many highlights for this reviewer was the conversation with Pakistani artist Shahzia Sikander, who draws on historical styles and subjects of classical Islamic painting of the Indian subcontinent to produce phantasmagoric images presenting a transnational feminist perspective.
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